Stephens, David: Making the best of the Ben Roberts-Smith fiasco

David Stephens*

Making the best of the Ben Roberts-Smith fiasco‘, Pearls and Irritations, 2 August 2023 updated

There may be an upside to the Ben Roberts-Smith case. Not for the family of Ali Jan or the people of Afghanistan. Not particularly for Roberts-Smith and the men of the SAS, past and present, or their commanders, only some of whom deserve an upside. No, an upside for the rest of us, Australians all …

First and foremost, we may be able to retrieve from the mess a useful version of Anzac and Anzac Day … [for example by] extending the coverage of Anzac Day to include the Australian Frontier Wars …

Then, we need to recognise that it is not all about a rogue soldier.

Many Australians believe Ben Roberts-Smith trashed Anzac as national icon and role model. The bigger problem, however, has been the use made of him by panting fanboys, such as the then Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, who wanted a larger-than-life mascot for the Memorial, and the then Chair of the Memorial Council, multi-billionaire Kerry Stokes, who liked collecting Victoria Crosses and the men who received them …

The article also argues for a more realistic view of the reasons for gallantry awards in war. There is politics and chance involved.** The greater need is for adequate support for serving and returning soldiers.

Earlier material.

*David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and a member of Defending Country Memorial Project Inc., formed to encourage the War Memorial to properly recognise and commemorate the Frontier Wars.

**Update 4 August 2023: Argument about whether Roberts-Smith deserved his VC or his other awards is a theme throughout the Chris Masters book, Flawed Hero. See particularly the Appendix: ‘Gong Hunting’ and this at page 550, which makes clear that the problem was not just jealousies between those on the front line: ‘The heart of the problem of honours and awards from Tizak [where Roberts-Smith earned his VC] is not in the battle itself, but in the bureaucratic machinations that followed it’. That, presumably, is where the fanboys and multi-billionaires and government Ministers played a part.

Update 5 August 2023: Review of Masters book by Albert Palazzo in Sydney Morning Herald:

Roberts-Smith’s supporters … had invested in the myth of the man and the infallibility of the ANZAC and were committed beyond the point of altering their positions … [F]or those who believe unquestioningly in the ANZAC spirit, this book offers an important corrective – hero worship must not be blind. Masters has told a tale that should resonate with our time and that goes to the heart of the type of Australia its citizens aspire to create. Decent and fair societies are built on a foundation of truth.

Update 9 August 2023: Review of both Masters and McKenzie books in The Conversation, from Andrea Carson

Carson is a journalism academic and focuses sharply on the implications for journalism of the Roberts-Smith case. She recommends reading both books.

Update 10 September 2023: War Memorial dithering about Roberts-Smith: how to explain what he did next to displays of his weapons and kit; how to explain why artworks depicting him are no longer on display.

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