Stephens, David: Afghanistan, Matt Anderson, the Australian War Memorial $498m megabuild, Brendan Nelson, the Brereton Report, Nine Newspapers, the Prime Minister, Ben Roberts-Smith, Seven Media, Kerry Stokes, and lots of lawyers

David Stephens*

‘Afghanistan, Matt Anderson, the Australian War Memorial $498m megabuild, Brendan Nelson, the Brereton Report, Nine Newspapers, the Prime Minister, Ben Roberts-Smith, Seven Media, Kerry Stokes, and lots of lawyers’, Honest History, 7 June 2021

Some important Federal Court defamation cases are getting under way today. Ben Roberts-Smith is suing the publishers of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Canberra Times.

The following dot points are derived from the coverage on the Honest History site since November 2017. Our coverage has focussed particularly on the impacts of the Brereton Report on the received image and role of the Australian War Memorial, but the matters covered are also part of the context of the court proceedings. (We recognise that, in the criminal justice system, individuals are innocent until proven guilty, and, on the civil side, a finding of defamation depends on the balance of probabilities.)

We make no attempt here to join the dots. On the other hand, many of the articles at the above link argue that Australia has tended to define itself by its military history, as encapsulated in the Anzac legend. Look for items by Crotty, Daley, De Maria, Lockhart, Reynolds, Smith, Stanley, Alan Stephens, David Stephens, Stuart, Warhurst and others. Many of these articles refer to the Afghanistan revelations.

The Australian War Memorial has been the main repository of that Anzac-centric view of our nation, and the imminent $498m redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial will mean that much more space can be devoted to telling the same old simplistic, sanitised stories. Unless we change the stories.

Some essential points about the War Memorial-Afghanistan link were posted on the Honest History site on 19 November, after the Brereton story first broke. These points are repeated in the Appendix to this post.

Mr Roberts-Smith at the War Memorial with relay torch for Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018 (gc2018.com)

Mr Roberts-Smith with then War Memorial Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, c. 2018 (AAP/SMH)

Appendix: Five points about the War Memorial-Afghanistan link (first posted 19 November 2020)

  • The War Memorial in recent years has to a large extent come to run its own show.
  • The Memorial has been protected by the ‘Anzac cloak’ (which makes critics – and media – careful for fear of being seen to be anti-Anzac or anti-veteran or anti-soldier), by lax accountability mechanisms (especially in Senate Estimates, but also to government), and by the close connections between Memorial (narrowly-based) management and government.
  • A sharp focus of the Memorial ‘show’ has been simplistic stories about ‘heroes’. (Former Director Nelson complained more than once that the Afghanistan probes were ‘tearing down our heroes’.)
  • Consequently, Brereton’s revelations that there is much more to our war stories than heroes is particularly problematic for the Memorial. (The Memorial has traditionally focussed on how we have fought our wars, and not on more complex issues, like why, was it worth it, and the consequences.)
  • If the Memorial’s $498m redevelopment is to be no more than a bigger, glitzier telling of heroes’ stories (complete with lots of retired military kit, made by the Memorial’s donors), that makes the project even more egregious.

* David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and convener of the Heritage Guardians group, opposed to the War Memorial redevelopment.

 

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One comment on “Stephens, David: Afghanistan, Matt Anderson, the Australian War Memorial $498m megabuild, Brendan Nelson, the Brereton Report, Nine Newspapers, the Prime Minister, Ben Roberts-Smith, Seven Media, Kerry Stokes, and lots of lawyers
  1. Leighton View says:

    An appreciated very well summarized overview of where the AWM is now and what (and who) has had a role in pushing it there. I wonder how Bean would view all of this? If emphasizing the museum aspect of the AWM is such a good idea, I wonder why Arlington Cemetery hasn’t thought move along such a trajectory? Many times, less is ultimately more.

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