Saturday, February 05, 2005

Waltzing Matilda

Mark Grimsley has a post up with links to useful sites for Australian military history.

As a Brit, I have mixed views on Australian military history - or perhaps more accurately Australian military historiography. Australian nationalism, as with so many nationalisms, grew out of war - in the case of the Aussies, the Great War. Unfortunately, this has had something of an impact on Australian military history writing. Because Australian military prowess has been so key to the development of the notion of the Australian identity, many of Australia's "necessary illusions" are tied up in bashing the military performance of other nations alongside whom the Australians have served (hardly a phemonenon unique to the Australians, indeed it is present in all countries, but I find it most ingrained in the Australian experience for some reason) - most notably the British, but also the Canadians.

This Australian attitude sometimes manifests itself through the "Breaker" Morant story but it finds full bloom through the Great War. We see this not only through films such as Gallipoli (a good film, but an historical farrago) but in numerous works by Australian authors such as Denis Winter and the late John Laffin (both of whom are extremely popular, in spite of the fact that their books have very little [or, in the case of a lot of the Laffin canon, no] historical merit). Thus we are presented with the notion that the Australians did all the fighting on the Western Front while British troops sat around in the trenches drinking tea and that John Monash, who never commanded a formation larger than a Corps and whose performance at various levels ranged from genuinely top notch to merely pretty good (as was the performance of plenty of other Corps commanders on the Western Front, including the Canadian commander, Arthur Currie), was a serious candidate for being leapfrogged into command or an army group consisting of five full sized British armies.

It is a source of continuing interest to me that the Canadians have never seemed to manifest this sort of antagonistic approach.

Anyway, I would commend the links to you with specific reference to the work of the Australian War Memorial, whose staff have been at the forefront of coming up with fine, rigorously researched work into Australia's genuinely impressive military heritage.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the topic and can find a copy, the now sadly out of print Oxford Companion to Australian Military History is a fine resource, prepared to a very high standard.


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