A huge statue of Matron Vivian Bullwinkel, survivor of the Bangka island massacre and formidable post-war presence, was unveiled in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial. The main theme of reports, like this one, was that the statue was paid for by nurses’ and others donations and not by the Memorial itself, which is keeping its $550m for the Big Build. Former War Memorial Director and (briefly) Council Chair, Brendan Nelson, was seen in the background of a television shot; he is now a big wheel in London with Boeing, manufacturer of military and other kit, and donor to the Bullwinkel statue.
The Japanese perpetrated the Bangka atrocity and some Australians at the time may have seen the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as just revenge for actions like that. Most of us, we hope, have moved on and now see Hiroshima-Nagasaki in a profoundly different way. The Conversation marks Hiroshima Day, tomorrow, 6 August, by publishing a piece by Jindan Ni on Ibuse Masuji’s documentary novel Black Rain, which was first published in 1965.
Black Rain calls for a proper remembering of the war [writes Ni] … Hiroshima is allowed to speak more and remember more. Through [the character] Shigematsu’s voice, Ibuse expresses the anger and despair of the people forced to endure the war: “I hated war. Who cared, after all, which side won? The only important thing was to end it all soon as possible: rather an unjust peace, than a ‘just’ war!” (For other Honest History material on Hiroshima-Nagasaki use our Search engine.)
A more recent war occupied Vietnam veteran, historian, and Honest History (see our Search engine) contributor, Greg Lockhart, who wrote in the Canberra Times (paywall) and Pearls and Irritations about the Vietnam Veterans’ Vigil held on 3 August to mark the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam. The Vigil is distinct from the projected commemoration on 18 August of the departure of the last Australian troops from Vietnam 50 years ago and it involved surviving veterans, family members, and friends visiting the graves of all 523 soldiers who were killed or died on active service in Vietnam. Lockhart’s article goes on to make important general points about Australia’s overseas military adventures.
Lest we forget democracy. As AWPR [Australians for War Powers Reform] seeks more accountable decisions for war, the very fact of the Vigil points to the need for a more transparent process when it comes to overseas deployments.
Academic Clinton Fernandes, author of a number of thoughtful books on defence and foreign policy, wrote in Arena, sounding a strong note of caution directed to defence buffs and others who were basking in the glow of recent announcements about ever closer ‘co-operation’ between Australia and the United States. The much vaunted AUKUS, said Fernandes,
is an investment in US shipyards rather than the Australian economy. We are not buying submarines so much as subsidising the US Navy’s submarine budget. Some submarines will eventually be located in Australia, with Australian flags and some Australian personnel, but they will be essentially US boats operated in the great-power interests of the United States. Australia is financing the expansion of US submarine manufacturing capacity. (For more on AUKUS in Honest History, use our Search engine.)
Finally, there is promise of a better future, one hopes, in the Prime Minister’s speech today at the Garma Festival. How does this one fit the war and peace theme? Simply, that any proper reconciliation has to include dealing honestly with all of Australia’s black and white history, with specific reference to the Australian Frontier Wars which may have – no-one knows for sure – killed more Australians than all of our overseas wars combined. Among other important remarks, the Prime Minister said this:
More than 17 million of our fellow Australians are enrolled to vote in this referendum. The highest number of voters in our nation’s history. Including a record number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters. In this decisive moment, each of us holds an equal responsibility. And each of us has an equal opportunity. Yes, we can make history together. More importantly, we can shape the future together.
5 August 2023
David Stephens is editor of the Honest History website and a member of Defending Country Memorial Project Inc., formed to encourage the Australian War Memorial to properly recognise and commemorate the Frontier Wars.