E-Newsletter No. 33, 15 March 2016

ISSN: 2202-5561 ©

New on the site

In the matter of Agent Orange: Vietnam veterans versus the Australian War Memorial. Jacqueline Bird describes a 20 year struggle to properly tell the story of servicemen’s exposure to chemicals in Vietnam.

Constructing nationalism: telling us how it is on Anzac. John Brookes writes about the roots of the Anzac phenomenon and other products of nationalism.

Martyrs’ Day in Turkey and what probably did not happen on 18 March 1934. Recent research from Cengiz Ozakinci and Honest History leaves some famous words on even more shaky ground.

After the Fall: David Stephens reviews Australia and the Great War: Identity, Memory and Mythology, a collection of essays, including one on how Empire historians helped kick-start a Turkish reputation.

Half the world away at home: Derek Abbott reviews Connor, Stanley and Yule’s The War at Home, the fourth volume in Oxford’s centenary history of Australia and the Great War.

When history does more harm than good: highlights reel from David Rieff’s new book In Praise of Forgetting.

In case you missed them: recent posts on the ever-updating Honest History website. By no means only Anzac.

Doing interesting history and want a gig on ABC Radio? Find out more.

Centenary Watch

Situational awareness spreads like the cane toad. Teezily done. Martyrs’ Day 18 March. Turkey today. Soldier On and the rorts of Picardy. WA skint. Starting young. Agent Orange. Nationalism. Khaki politicians. Book reviews.


Definitions (I). ‘Betty didn’t want to tell him what she’d learned: that the human body was just a breathing, eating, bleeding machine. It wasn’t sacred. It had been defiled. It was meat, that was all, and one day it would be dead meat, and the real glaring, blaring, screaming, gigantically obvious wrong thing wasn’t using your body for love or sex, it was men organising themselves to kill each other, and calling it war so it didn’t look like crime.’ (Mark Dapin R&R, 2015, a novel about the Vietnam War)

Definitions (II). ‘”Chasing popularity is the death of purpose”, she [Julia Gillard] insisted to me. I was thinking about perfection in politics, the leadership trifecta of purpose, policy and PR. Were two out of three enough for a prime minister trying to defy the pull of political gravity? No, and Gillard knew it.’ (Mary Delahunty, Gravity, 2014)

Past imperfect (I). ‘Of History – of its depth and complexity – today, we are only shown a utilitarian use. The past has become a warehouse for identity and political resources, from which everyone draws as one pleases what can serve one’s immediate interests.’ (Henri Rousso, ‘Un marketing memoriel’, Liberation, 2008, translation Romain Fathi.)

Past imperfect (II). ‘Istanbul is a city of collective amnesia. [In London, memory is kept alive.] Not so in Istanbul. And where there is such lamentably poor memory, it is easier for the state’s selective memory to survive unquestioned. A subjective way of reading the past, introduced from above, means the majority view triumphs over individuality and diversity.’ (Turkish writer Elif Shafak, Guardian, January 2016)

Australian disease (I). ‘[I]n present-day Australia, it doesn’t matter what you do or what you have done, so long as you conform to power. The only true crime in an ever-more bland Australia is to not conform. I don’t mean to suggest that conformity is a national characteristic. It is an aspect of the human condition, but only one part. But of late it seems to have become a predominant condition of Australian life.’ (Richard Flanagan, The Australian Disease, 2011)

Australian disease (II). ‘Does Australia still have the courage and largeness it once had when it pioneered the secret ballot and universal suffrage? Or will it simply become the United Arab Emirates of the West, content to roll on for a decade or two more, glossing over its fundamental problems while brown coal and fracked gas keep the country afloat? Does Australia have the desire to move into the twenty-first century, or will it continue its retreat into a past as a colonial quarry for the empires of others, its public life ever more run at the behest of large corporations, its people ever more fearful of others, its capacity for freedom and truth with each year a little more diminished?’ (Richard Flanagan, The Australian Disease, 2011)