Honest History E-newsletter No. 38, 11 October 2016

ISSN: 2202-5561 ©

New on the Honest History website (honesthistory.net.au)

Honest History: Beyond Anzackery: announcing the Honest History book due out in April 2017

‘Awkward humility’: the speeches of Brendan Nelson (Part I: Thrice more with feeling): David Stephens writes

Turks did the heavy lifting: a longer look at the story of the Ataturk Memorial in Anzac Parade, Canberra, 1984-85 (Part I)

Honest History highlights reel: Nick Dyrenfurth’s Mateship: A Very Australian History

Elizabeth Tynan’s Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, reviewed by Richard Broinowski

Divided sunburnt country: Australia 1916-18 (13): DVA materials help children today debate about conscription then

Honest History goes to the pictures: reviews of movies and television series from the Honest History archives

‘A material triumph and an aesthetic calamity’: the work of Australian architect Robin Boyd as seen by Humphrey McQueen in 2002

Recently on the Honest History site

Centenary Watch

Fairly quiet on the Western District front (but Camp Gallipoli report received). New exhibitions at the War Memorial (and another important work). And by the way …


Over to you. ‘When war is in the air, politicians and other public speakers quite sincerely stir their audiences to enthusiasm for the notion that many of their countrymen are prepared to forgo “life itself” for the sake of national interests which those who govern them have failed to settle by other means.’ (Charles Bean in 1932, quoted in Peter Rees, Bearing Witness: The Remarkable Life of Charles Bean, Australia’s Greatest War Correspondent, 2015)

That’s a relief. ‘On the 23rd of August 1916, Second Lt Edward Lionel (“Leo”) Butler wrote to his wife after [Pozieres]. “I couldn’t help wondering if it was worth it – whether there was anything gained in this war which justified such sacrifices.” … As if to answer Leo Butler’s question – the very question asked by the families of every one of the 102,700 Australians listed on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial, those assembled at the church and the broader community heard these words said to Malcolm Southwell’s family [at a memorial service]: “It must be their chief consolation to know he laid down his life in the noble cause of righteousness and liberty, and therefore died not in vain”. For righteousness and liberty, 2 million Australian men and women serve – and have served this nation over more than a century, upholding values enshrined in Magna Carta.’ (Australian War Memorial Director Brendan Nelson, ‘Magna Carta and the Australian Defence Force’, speech, 14 June 2015)

Striking home. ‘What caused most soldiers to loathe war was not the danger to themselves, but the notion of the destruction of millions of bodies and brains that should have enriched mankind . . . If every soldier, when he fired his rifle or let off his howitzer, could not merely see that bullet or shell strike some man opposite, but could see the results strike home among that man’s family standing close behind him – if he could see the direct effect of his action on the face of that man’s wife as she receives the news, and the crashing blow to children, and parents – could the ordinary, civilised man fight?’ (Charles Bean in 1932, quoted in Rees, Bearing Witness)

Highly polished. ‘You will see some guns inside the Memorial and some outside. There are big guns and small guns and many of them are highly polished. The Memorial is rightly proud of its collection of guns. You will not see much in the Memorial’s galleries, however, about what guns do to people … Why do you think statements like this [Bean’s description of the effects of guns at Pozières] are not displayed prominently next to, for example, the paintings of charges at Gallipoli or the dioramas of men charging guns?’ (Honest History’s Alternative Guide to the Australian War Memorial, 2016)

Baton passed. ‘In the beginning, mythology told stories about events or experiences that would otherwise leave us mystified – how the world was created, what happens after we die. The first myths were mostly optimistic fictions, but our ancestors longed to believe in them: that’s how religion established its hold … In our society, it is publicists, spin doctors and advertisers who devise the myths.’ (Peter Conrad, Guardian, 2016, writing about Air Force One, the US presidential plane)

Bullshit becomes real. ‘“Not for the first time”, Bacevich says, “in America’s War for the Greater Middle East, narrative was displacing reality”. That’s the thing about spin – or what goes under the banner today of “communications” – you begin to believe your own bullshit. Spin is the stuff that myths are made of.’ (Don Watson, Quarterly Essay 63: Enemy Within: American Politics in the Time of Trump, 2016, quoting American defence writer, Andrew Bacevich)

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