Honest History E-newsletter No. 39, 11 November 2016

ISSN: 2202-5561 ©

Special edition for Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Australian War Memorial

The Honest History book is coming in April 2017; donate to UNSW Press Literary Fund

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

That famous army of generous men: some stories and reflections for Remembrance Day: Richard Reid writes

Two years of commentary on the Australian War Memorial: from the Honest History archives

The Memorial and its people‘: the speech delivered in 2001 for the War Memorial’s 60th anniversary by its then Principal Historian, now Honest History’s President, Peter Stanley

Making Australia great again: ‘The Call to the People of Australia’, Remembrance Day, 1951: highlights reel

When a motley crew of Canberra stirrers protected the War Memorial from competition: from the files of the Lake War Memorials Forum

Recent posts on the Honest History site, including ‘”Awkward humility”: the speeches of the Hon Brendan Nelson AO’


Known unknowns. (This is a compare and contrast exercise. Please read closely.) Prime Minister Keating’s speech on Remembrance Day 1993 at the interment of the Unknown Australian Soldier at the Australian War Memorial has become famous for the words, ‘He is all of them. And he is one of us’. These words were inscribed on the tomb in 2013, after considerable discussion and controversy over the proposed removal of the words ‘Known unto God’. (As it turned out, these words stayed.) War Memorial Director Brendan Nelson had foreshadowed the Keating change in a speech to the National Press Club in September 2013: ‘And at the end as you walk into the hall it will say “He is one of them, and he is all of us”’. (Keating’s speech and other material)

Just the facts. ‘Facts. Always get them right. The wrong information about a bumblebee in a poem is annoying enough, but inaccuracy in nonfiction is a cardinal sin. No one will trust you if you get your facts wrong, and if you’re writing about living or recently alive people or politics you absolutely must not misrepresent … No matter what you’re writing about, you have an obligation to get it right, for the people you’re writing about, for the readers, and for the record. … [I]t’s a slippery slope from the things your stepfather didn’t actually do to the weapons of mass destruction Iraq didn’t actually have.’ (Rebecca Solnit, ‘How to be a writer’, 2016)

Professor Frankfurt (of Princeton) on bullshit (1). ‘[The bullshitter] is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.’ (Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit, 2005)

Abysmal. ‘I don’t know whether this amnesia [in British tertiary students about Britain’s colonial history] is due to embarrassment or fear of reparations or, indeed, a sinister desire to keep the electorate ignorant and pliable. Whatever the original rationale, the ugly xenophobia unleashed since the EU referendum has brought home the urgent need to reform history textbooks and address this abyss at their heart. Without it, they are distorted, dishonest.’ (Moni Mohsin, Guardian, October 2016)

Professor Frankfurt (of Princeton) on bullshit (2). ‘Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled – whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others – to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.’ (Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit, 2005)

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