Myths of War. This really is an excellent program, even though I’m rather disconcerted that Mark Dapin sounds quite old, even though he’s actually younger than I am! He also sounds more English than I thought he would, given that he emigrated here in 1989. In Episode 5: Was There Ever a Battle for Australia? he follows Dr Peter Stanley in challenging the idea of a Battle for Australia Day, (a celebration which dates only from 2008) and the idea that there was an actual Battle for Australia. Certainly, people were fearful during WW2, especially during 1942 (and I think that Kate Darian-Smith’s On the Home Front captured this beautifully), but he notes that there wasn’t actually one battle, but a series of Allied battles. He argues the Japanese Army didn’t actually land in Australia or have plans to do so (the Solomon Islands, Papua yes, but not Australia; air bombing of Darwin and subs in Sydney yes, but as a way of distracting attention and disrupting the Allies rather than actual invasion and occupation). Instead, the idea of a ‘Battle for Australia’ arose in the 1990s, with the 50 year anniversary in 1995, promoted largely by the children of WWII veterans. He speaks with Dr Karl James from the AWM, who suggests that the Keating-era emphasis on Kokoda risks sidelining the Rats of Tobruk and El Alamein, battles without the easy availability of tourism to keep them in the public consciousness. Episode 6 The Thai-Burma Railway and the Bridge on the River Kwai does not at all refute the suffering of POWs working on the Thai-Burma Railway. But if you’ve visited ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ in your travels, it’s a tourist invention that isn’t even on the River Kwai. And the ‘mateship’ on the Railway that John Howard lauded so fulsomely was not exclusive to Australian soldiers. In Episode 7 Gay Servicemen in Vietnam, he rejects Bruce Ruxton’s views about the impossibility of gay servicemen, focusing instead on gay soldiers who wanted to serve in Vietnam. He continues this theme in the final episode 8 Vietnam: The War’s Forgotten Supporters, reminding us that the majority of Australia’s supported compulsory military service- it was the Vietnam part that was controversial. Just as in WWI, with the white feather movement, we don’t want to ‘own’ those pro-war supporters any more. And just as in WWI, our ideas about Vietnam have been shaped largely by the film industry, especially American cinema. This is a fantasic series- check it out.
History Extra and Start the Week. I’ve just finished reading The Human Tide by Paul Morland, so I searched out a few podcast interviews where he talks about his book. It’s a long book, and often a podcast interview encapsulates it. The History Extra interview from May 2019 How Population has shaped world history is a good summary with him one-on-one. The Start the Week interview from February 2019 (BBC) has an interesting panel of guests: Paul Morland (who reprises much of the same information), Julia Blackland whose recent book Time Song – Searching for Doggerland is about the disappearance in approx. 5000 B.C. of a land bridge that connected the east coast of England with Europe, and Diarmaid Ferriter, whose book The Border: The Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics has been very apposite, given the concern about the border with Ireland in Brexit times.