Wareham, Sue: Australian War Memorial must better educate kids on seriousness of war

Sue Wareham

Australian War Memorial must better educate kids on seriousness of war‘, Canberra Times, 15 July 2023 updated; pdf from our subscription

Update 24 July 2023: Richard Llewellyn, ex War Memorial staff, writes in Pearls and Irritations:

So often we hear the term ‘sacred’, or even ‘most sacred’ binding the AWM to ‘The ANZAC Spirit’. This is both wrong and stupid – the AWM is not consecrated, by intent. In fact, the phrase is more often than not used by those seeking some advantage for themselves or their close interests by proclaiming this false sacrament. Those who protest their patriotism too much frequently seek to wallpaper over some less than admirable activity.

Any activity trying to create an inherent ‘goodness’ about engaging in warfare is in no way an admirable activity. Creating game-play interactives of real-life devastation of civilians that invite children to ‘compete’ is reprehensible. Doing so with no realistic acknowledgement of the human cost is utterly, deeply contemptible.

Update 17 July 2023: Andrew Fraser, War Memorial Last Post ceremony piper and Canberra solicitor, writes in Pearls and Irritations in similar vein to Dr Wareham.

My worst fears are that, after a day of “interactive experiences” and videos, they will be herded through a merchandise shop and emerge with strollers weighed down in showbags and kids fighting over who broke the model plane/tank/aircraft carrier or who got the bigger score on “Dambusters” …

I guess there will be more of what Dr Wareham calls “gee-whiz weaponry” on display and I could probably live with that if, in the hoped-for absence of a gift shop, the only way out for visitors would be through sections on the United Nations, the costs of conflict, and how future wars might be avoided.


Hard copy page 23 is headed ‘Memorial sullied by child’s play approach’. Previously on Pearls and Irritations.

The War Memorial has a long history of normalising and sanitising war for children and the prospects for the post-redevelopment Memorial do not look much different. ‘[T]he memorial’s history of glossing over the human and other costs of our wars is extensive, and extends even to inciting children to regard such raids [as the Dambusters 1943] as an adventure.’

In November 2020, AWM director Matt Anderson gave evidence to the inquiry of the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee into “nationhood, national identity and democracy”. He stated: “We develop in young learners a deeper understanding of the connection between civic responsibility and military service by exploring the stories of Australians who have served.”

Honest History has resources on the Memorial’s approach to accustoming children to war. See particularly this article on the old Discovery Zone and the related pitch to children, this from 2022 which includes Osbert Sitwell’s poem ‘The next war’ as well as the awful outburst from then Minister Ronaldson in 2014 on the bloody responsibility hovering over today’s children, as well as our Alternative Guide to the Australian War Memorial.

Director Anderson has written bland books for children about war.

These are books [our review says] mostly about what Australians have done in war, less about what war has done to Australia and Australians, and almost nothing about what war does to other people, non-Australians …

Nor is Mr Anderson strong on the really important question: are wars worth it? ‘Q is for Questions’ in the first book, but the questions are of the order of ‘when is ANZAC Day?’, ‘where is Gallipoli’, and ‘who was the man with the donkey?’, rather than anything mildly controversial, like ‘do you think a legless man returning from the war would think it was all worth it?’ There is a page, ‘Coming Home’, in the second book which could provoke questions of this type, but it explicitly avoids the question of how to measure the cost to Australia of World War I. The World War II book has a summary of how the war began and ended, but, in between, the article is mostly an overview of battles.

Dr Sue Wareham OAM is the president of the Medical Association for Prevention of War.

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