Australia from the Colonial Era to the Present

Jeffrey Grey and Craig Stockings

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Australia from the Colonial Era to the Present

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The global wars of the 20th century have had a defining effect on the course of Australian history. Despite its relative youth and small size, the Australian nation has chosen to become embroiled in conflicts such as the two world wars, the limited conflagrations of the Cold War such as Korea, Malaya, Borneo, and Vietnam, and more recently in places like Iraq and Afghanistan; this involvement has been a consequence of both particular and enduring themes. The nation’s historical connections to Britain, its unique security dilemmas, and policies designed to solve them have all been central in this regard. Apart from the various “wars” of the 20th century, in the post–Vietnam era Australian military forces have also been involved in numerous international peacekeeping missions. In total, nearly 103,000 Australians died during the course of these conflicts. The social impacts of Australian experiences of war in the 20th century were dominated by the “Anzac” myth. Indeed, no discussion of Australian military history can proceed without an acknowledgment of the importance of this phenomenon. The word itself is derived from Australian and New Zealand Army Corps—a formation that participated in the Gallipoli landing in 1915. As Australians learned of the tragedy and the loss of life in the events unfolding in the Dardanelles, so, too, were they told that such bloodletting had forged their nation’s rite of passage into the international community. Their country had passed its test. At the same time, deeds at Gallipoli, and later in Flanders and Palestine, filled a vacuum for the “newborn” nation. In the 1920s and 1930s the idea of Anzac also came to represent a distinct collection of social values embodying the perceived comradeship of frontline soldiers, the rejection of conventional discipline, physical strength, egalitarianism, loyalty, self-sacrifice, courage, and early-20th-century Australian conceptions of masculinity. It became impossible to escape the myth—and it still is. Anzac is, in fact, getting stronger. The number of politicians invoking the term to hit a social chord bound to reverberate, the size of Anzac Day marches despite the dwindling number of veterans, the number of Australians on annual pilgrimages to Anzac Cove—flags in hand or draped over their shoulders—provide evidence enough of this. This issue here from a historiographical perspective is that efforts at objective and historical analysis often run up against the social expectations of Anzac. Any student of Australian military history must be aware and cautious of the ever-present tension. Partially as a consequence, as it stands, those interested in Australian military history should also be aware that the genre is dominated by populist, nonacademic authors and that the volume of academic work is relatively small. This is particularly so with regard to works dealing with the more technical aspects of military history such as command, operations, doctrine, logistics, and the role of technology.

Article.  18521 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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