ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SPECTATOR AUSTRALIA
As its name makes clear, the Australian War Memorial exists to memorialise the service and sacrifice of Australians in war, as a reflection of our shared commitment to our country and each other. It does not exist to denigrate our national character nor to pander to the worst kinds of elite self-hatred so lamentably prominent across our national institutions. Yet there is a danger now that this place of honour might be turned to these subversive ends.
In the wake of the Brereton report on alleged war crimes committed by Australian SAS troops in Afghanistan, there have been calls for the War Memorial to immediately reflect the allegations in its exhibitions. Memorial director Matt Anderson has suggested that curators will indeed do just that. Similarly, former Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie has suggested that the SAS exhibit be removed altogether. The prime minister has responded meekly, saying only that all such changes will need to be approved by the War Memorial’s board.
But it should be clear that it would not fit the purpose of the War Memorial to foreground the bad acts of a few soldiers. Of course, wherever criminality is proved, it should be punished to the fullest extent, and if this comes to pass, no one would suggest that it be whitewashed from the history of Australia’s war in Afghanistan. Yet it would not be, and should not be presented as, the sum total, or even the most important part, of that history. Nor should the war in Afghanistan, despite its unprecedented length, be allowed to overshadow Australia’s larger military history.
The War Memorial’s curators are charged with telling the full story of Australians at war. That story is overwhelmingly a story of courage, discipline, loyalty and other virtues, demonstrated in defence of our home, our values and our traditional liberties. Australians have fought honourably from the Sommes to Kokoda to Long Tan and beyond, including in Afghanistan.
This is the truth to which the War Memorial is dedicated. Undue emphasis on the bad acts of a few at the expense of this larger story would not be truthful. It would, in fact, be deeply misleading.Continue reading