Hughes Henry, Adam: Nationalism, politics, history and war

Hughes Henry, Adam

‘Nationalism, politics, history and war’, Australian Rationalist, 74, Winter, 2006, pp. 23-38

The article ranges widely, addressing the remembrance of war, death in conflict as a righteous sacrifice, war criminality, the distortion of history through the filter of remembrance, and other themes. The author uses examples of the Fall of Singapore and East Timor, among others, and moves on to the lack of context in the way children are taught about Gallipoli , the multiple meanings of memorials and the missing elements in our remembrance of war.

The author notes that the article ‘was offered first to the AWM journal but was rejected on the basis that it did not seem to suit the journal and was more suited to another publication’. The author has provided a copy of the article. p23-38_henry_ar74_web Extracts are below.

Therefore how we choose to remember and commemorate does have an influence on perceptions of the event in question, and impacts on our sense of “righteous nationalism”. This process … is already sociologically complex, and can be intruded on by political and establishment elites. Using high office, they can assume public ownership of most aspects of institutionalised remembrance such as Anzac Day in Australia or Veterans’ Day in the US. They can invoke the symbolic legacy of past wars to rouse nationalist spirits for a myriad of possible reasons. (p. 27; the article notes an Australian example from 2005.)

Nationalism requires, at its core, an act of faith and trust in core values and ideas. This jingoism can be seen in the criticism expressed by self-appointed custodians of nationalist culture (politicians and patriots) when serious military and political academics expand and/or challenge the cherished myths. (pp. 35-36)

Courage and sacrifice are the most common themes seen in war remembrance statues both here and in the British Isles, yet I cannot recall ever seeing one that depicted a soldier in the act of killing… The act of killing is not central to nationalistic remembrance of war, yet it would seem to be the forgotten aspect of nationalism, war commemoration and remembrance. (pp. 36-37)

To remember war without acknowledging the fullest context of the decisions to go to war, and the lifetime of nightmares inflicted on those who were asked to “endure” the battlefield for the sake of the nation-state, is to allow our sacred myths to become the tools of politics and nationalistic manipulations and sit above serious examination. If this is the case then the preferred themes that are espoused through war remembrance and days of ritualised ceremony, while moving and sometimes poignant, can never paint the entire story and can only serve those who would obscure the sheer horror that is war. (p. 37)

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