April 2014

Arts & Letters

James Brown’s ‘Anzac’s Long Shadow’

By Judith Brett
Redback; $19.99

This is the most interesting and original book I have read on contemporary Australian public policy for a long time. Its author is a former member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), writing from the other side of the chasm that separates today’s military personnel from the society they serve. James Brown was an army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now a military fellow with the Lowy Institute for International Policy. Had Brown still been in the ADF, his book would have been subject to lengthy processes of formal review and clearance that discourage all but the most persistent from writing. The novelty of Brown’s arguments and examples is evidence for the case he is making, so rarely do we hear what our professional soldiers think about what they do.

For, although the marketplace is flooded with books about Australians who served in the two world wars and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam, there is very little published material on Australia’s recent military engagements. There is no official history of Australia’s role in the conflicts in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Iraq or Afghanistan, and almost no unofficial history. And while a fascination with the wars of the past is put to all sorts of political, cultural and commercial uses, those Australians who fight the wars of the present are on the margins of public interest, only visible when they return in flag-draped coffins to increasingly elaborate state commemorations.

Brown argues there is a profound ignorance among Australians about the nature of contemporary warfare, a general indifference towards our current military engagements, and no interest in serious discussion of the nature and justification of war. When he tells a well-known journalist he was a cavalry officer, the journalist wants to talk about horses. For Australians, war is first and foremost history, seen through the myth of Anzac and grainy black-and-white photos of diggers in slouch hats. Many, especially politicians, want a slice of this history. According to Brown, Australia’s efforts to commemorate World War One will cost more than three times as much as those of the UK.

Brown is engaging and persuasive on the impact that our national obsession with Anzac has on Australia’s defence forces and operations: the way contemporary military personnel can feel they have not lived up to the legend, the army’s focus on egalitarianism and tactics at the expense of officers and strategy, the need for reform of Australian veterans’ charities such as the RSL, the paucity of public critical debate about everything to do with defence, and the slowness of the ADF to admit to and learn from its mistakes. One would have thought there was nothing more to be said about Anzac; this book proves that wrong.

Judith Brett

Judith Brett is an emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University. Her latest book is The Enigmatic Mr Deakin.

April 2014

From the front page

Image of ‘The Arsonist’ by Chloe Hooper

The Detectives

Inside the hunt for the Black Saturday arsonist – an extract

Image of Scott Morrison

Backing in a backflip

Thank the Wentworth by-election for this outbreak of good sense

Image of Sydney Opera House

Promo ScoMo and commodifying public space

The crass commercialism of last week’s promotion on the Opera House was a step too far

Cover of ‘The End’

‘The End’ by Karl Ove Knausgaard

The ‘My Struggle’ series arrives at a typically exhausting conclusion


In This Issue

The triumphalism of Tony Abbott

The Liberals' winner-takes-all political payback

© Lisa Tomasetti

Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Defence Force’s ‘The Long Way Home’

The lives of returned soldiers

Oil, gas and spy games in the Timor Sea

Australian scheming for the Greater Sunrise oilfield has a long history

© Cybele Malinowski

Sally Seltmann’s ‘Hey Daydreamer’

The fourth solo album from the Sydney singer-songwriter


More in Arts & Letters

Detail of a painting of Barron Field

Barron Field and the myth of terra nullius

How a minor poet made a major historical error

Still from Christopher Robin

A man and his bear: Marc Forster’s ‘Christopher Robin’

Adults will find this new tale of Winnie the Pooh surprisingly moving

Image of Cher in 1979

Eternally Cher

The queen of reinvention turns her attention to the works of ABBA

Image of Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein: show tunes and symphonies

Centenary celebrations highlight the composer’s broad ambitions and appeal


More in Noted

‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer

The Pulitzer Prize–winning novel is an engaging story of love and literary misadventure

Hannah Gadsby: ‘Nanette’

Believe the hype about the Tasmanian comedian’s Netflix special

Cover of A Sand Archive

‘A Sand Archive’ by Gregory Day

Day grasps landscape as an intimate living thing

Cover of The Lebs

‘The Lebs’ by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

A fresh perspective on Muslim youth in Sydney’s west


Read on

Image of ‘The Arsonist’ by Chloe Hooper

The Detectives

Inside the hunt for the Black Saturday arsonist – an extract

Image of Sydney Opera House

Promo ScoMo and commodifying public space

The crass commercialism of last week’s promotion on the Opera House was a step too far

Image from ‘Watt’

‘Watt’ at the Melbourne International Arts Festival

Beckett’s knotty novel is masterfully interpreted for stage by Barry McGovern

Image of Abdul Aziz Muhamat in Lorengau

‘How are you today’ at the Ian Potter Museum of Art

Audio messages from Manus Island reveal what it sounds like to live in limbo


×
×