As we approach Anzac Day in the centenary year of the beginning of the First World War, we are sure to see outpourings of reminiscence and myth about the ‘Great’ War. Francesca Beddie brings to the attention of fellow historians some of the efforts being made to encourage balance and honesty in the history being presented.
First is the recently established Canberra-based association called Honest History. It aims to get across these important messages: ‘there is much more to Australian history than the Anzac tradition’ and ‘much more to our war history than nostalgia and tales of heroism’. The association will also challenge the misuse of history in the service of political or other agendas.
Honest History’s latest newsletter lists some of the plethora of events about to take place. One of those will be at the Lowy Institute in Sydney on 2 April. Historian Peter Edwards and former soldier James Brown, will explore the conflicts in Vietnam and Afghanistan to assess what lessons Australia has learnt from war – and those we have yet to learn.
Another organisation set up to inform policy and to uncover the myths of the past so often mobilised in contemporary political rhetoric is the UK History and Policy Network. In January it published an opinion piece by Dr Karine Varley commenting on the political use of war commemoration and the role of historians in war remembrance. She explains that the historian’s role is to analyse why and how a war was conducted. Varley argues this does not necessarily conflict with commemorating the sacrifices of those who fought and died, although it may draw some uncomfortable conclusions about war.
One more initiative relevant to this discussion about the uses of history is the UK government’s History of Government blog, now curated by the National Archives but also a result of a collaboration between the History and Policy Network and 10 Downing Street. Pertinent to this discussion about war is Professor Richard Toye’s post placing on record the facts about Winston Churchill’s most famous speech: We shall fight on the beaches.
2014 should be a good year for history but do keep your eye out for its misuse and hold perpetrators to account!
Image: Anzac Day at Manly, Queensland, 1922