‘Uneasy peace‘, Inside Story, 15 December 2019
Review of a new collection of essays, The Great War: Aftermath and Commemoration, edited by Carolyn Holbrook and Keir Reeves, and published by UNSW Press. The book was launched last month. Chapter headings and authors.
Carolyn Holbrook is a former member of the former Honest History committee while Peter Stanley is a former president of Honest History. The book includes a chapter by Honest History website editor, David Stephens.
Regardless of any impatience or annoyance we may feel [says Stanley] about the boosting of the 2014–18 Anzac centenary (with extravagant funding from the federal government and many other agencies and bodies), the anniversary of the Great War represented both a significant opportunity for new, substantive histories of the conflict and its many consequences, and a chance to reflect on the importance of the experience and its effects. This book handsomely represents both strands. It includes essays on individual and collective experiences in and of the war, discussions of its various legacies — positive and (mostly) negative — and reflections on how the war was recorded and interpreted then and since.
In his review, Stanley makes useful distinctions between younger and older contributors and between traditional academic historians and passionate advocates. He also makes telling points about the politics of history, noting for example, that the Australian War Memorial’s ‘historians had been largely silent, if not silenced, for the duration of the Anzac centenary, partly by a draconian approvals regime imposed by its departing showman/director’, but wondering whether historians based in institutions like the Memorial still labour under some constraints.
Stanley concludes that ‘the centenary has persuaded me that Great War history in Australia is unavoidably political. Perhaps that is because Australian society and politics has become even more polarised at a time of social and environmental change, a schism reflected in the politics of war memory.’
Stanley singles out the contributions of Henry Reynolds (what is still wrong with Anzac), Marilyn Lake (New Zealand in Anzac), David Stephens (lessons learned from the Honest History venture) and Bruce Scates (the Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux) because they ‘write with passion and a sense of commitment’. Scates produces the outstanding essay, as ‘he documents both the shortcomings of the [Monash] centre and its lack of quality and integrity when compared to less nationalistic Great War interpretative centres in France and Belgium’.