Rose, James: Here’s looking at us #1: the Australian War Memorial

James Rose

Here’s looking at us #1 – the Australian War Memorial‘, Crikey, 13 August 2013

Blogger reviews the Memorial and asks whether we should see the dead commemorated there ‘as the War Memorial encourages us, as young men and women sacrificing all for freedom and future generations, or as pawns in a series of often senseless forays by governments and political elites which may not have needed to occur in the first place?’ The writer believes the Memorial is weak on context – the history behind the deaths – and glosses over some realities of war, including the aftermath and the effects on those who fought. This is particularly the case in the messages it puts to children.

Despite an apparent endeavour to not celebrate victory, the War Memorial can be guilty of celebrating – or at least assuming the necessity of – the act of war itself. Parts of the memorial are like a fun park. You can be in the trenches, in a navy ship’s bridge, and watch a spectacular Peter Jackson-produced short film about fighter pilots in WWI. It’s shamelessly loud, exciting, fun and gung-ho. It’s hard not to see it as a kind of imprinting. Squealing kids are a sign that something is missing here – that war and fun go together. While victory is not directly exalted, it seems the message is that that war can be ok. If you win. Even if you die and win you can find honour. Dead losers stay silent in their unmarked graves.

The author concludes that the Memorial is not the place to go to learn about the politics of war and peace and how war is used as a nation-builder.

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