Tiffen, Rodney: Strategic omissions: Howard on Menzies

Tiffen, Rodney

Strategic omissions‘, Inside Story, 29 January 2015

A review of John Howard’s The Menzies Era: the Years that Shaped Modern Australia.

The greatest appeal of the book is that it is written from the perspective of an experienced practising politician with an understanding of the everyday problems surrounding the great issues of the day, of the interaction of different personal trajectories and interests, and of the political rewards and dangers attending each decision …

Howard observes that a leader’s three important relationships are with the public, with his broad party membership, and with those he immediately leads, especially his ministers.

Although Tiffen says the book is insightful he adds that it is unsurprisingly partisan towards the conservative side of politics and gentle on Menzies’ failings. Nor does Howard recognise changes in the Menzies of 1949-66. He also overstates Menzies’ interest in Asia and downplays his narrow approach to the Third World generally. On Vietnam:

Howard is the master of the strategic omission. He notes that 521 Australians and almost 50,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam war, but makes no mention of the number of Vietnamese killed, usually estimated to exceed two million.

Tiffen concurs with Howard’s positive conclusions about the (second) Menzies era but advances the caveats that our economic prosperity during this time was matched by much of the Western world and that, at home, public investment did not keep up with private affluence.


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