Stanley, Peter: The Australian War Memorial goes AWOL

Peter Stanley

The Australian War Memorial goes AWOL‘, Pearls and Irritations, 1 September 2022

Post from military historian and former Principal Historian, Australian War Memorial. The Memorial has plugged an inaccurate book, The Digger of Kokoda, and refuses to debate those who have criticised it for doing so.

What has the Memorial offered to justify its decision to promote the book? Nothing. It has gone AWOL; it has declined to comment. A place that extols bravery on the battlefield, confronted with expert criticism of a book it has unwisely puffed, turns out to be craven in even responding to public criticism.

The Memorial has also relied on mealy-mouthed and legalistic arguments to support its refusal to properly recognise and commemorate the Australian Frontier Wars.

What has been the Memorial’s reaction? Again, inaction; it has stonewalled, evaded the issue; gone silent. Perhaps it hopes that the issue will go away. It won’t: the recognition of Frontier Conflict and a full and just response to it is a vital part of the fulfilment of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a cause Anthony Albanese embraced within minutes of his election victory becoming clear.

Stanley’s conclusion: ‘I am ashamed, embarrassed by the institution I once loved’.

Comment from David Stephens, editor, Honest History website

World War II began in Europe 83 years ago today. Just over two years later the Australian War Memorial opened. You’d think that the passage of 83 years would have seen the Memorial change, growing in courage and wisdom and respect for evidence. Most cultural institutions change and evolve, but the Memorial is mostly frozen in time.

It is time we moved past teary remembrance a la Brendan Nelson (a 2017 speech, watch around mark 32.00 and on) – former Defence Minister, former Director of the Memorial, now Chair of its Council, while his day job remains Australia-Pacific head of Boeing, one of the world’s leading arms manufacturers – the collection of military knick-knacks and Large Technology Objects, and euphemisms like ‘service and sacrifice’ and ‘the fallen’. Australia deserves better than this.

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