Four takes on war and how to look at it

We wanted to run these again, particularly a week ahead of the simultaneous (pretty much) anniversaries of Lone Pine and Hiroshima. The first two items put our war history in perspective; the third might look like an easy mark but it reminds us how rhetoric works – even rhetoric that looks harmless at first; the fourth shows how history is what people make (as well as what makes people).

Legacy. ‘In the warehouses the liberators found about 370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s coats and dresses, huge amounts of children’s clothing, about 44,000 pairs of shoes, 14,000 carpets, and prostheses, toothbrushes, household goods and, in the former leather factory near the parent camp, 7.7 tonnes of human hair packed ready for transport. They calculated that it must have come from about 140,000 women.’ (Sybille Steinbacher, Auschwitz: a History, 2004)

Priorities. Number of items on ‘Gallipoli’ in the collections of the Australian War Memorial = 13 836; number of items on ‘Auschwitz’ in the collections of the Australian War Memorial = 24, including 13 sketches by Sidney Nolan, four items of clothing (all meticulously described) belonging to Lieutenant M. Lewinski of the Polish Infantry, and two cartoons, dated 2000, of a family standing in front of a pile of victims’ shoes.

Precedent? ‘Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.’ (Herman Goering, interviewed by Gustave Gilbert, Nuremberg 1946)

Constructing history. ‘If the past is a place we construct – one that says as much about us as it does the people we remember – then this South isn’t erasing history; it’s working to build a more truthful narrative of the Civil War for a broader, more diverse generation of Southerners. And the push against Confederate flags is just the beginning. With a vast landscape of monuments and plantations, Southerners of all colors will have to place this constructed past in its honest context before they try to build a more usable history for themselves and their descendants.’ (Jamelle Bouie,

31 July 2015

Click here for all items related to: ,