When Dr Peter Stanley's controversial rewriting of Australia's 1942 war history first came to my notice in June 2002, I could not determine whether his errors were attributable to monumental ignorance of Australia's strategic situation in 1942 or the fashionable sceptical neo-Marxist postmodernism* that began to infect the study of Australian history in the 1980s. My research led me to an article published in "The Australian" newspaper of 20 December 2002 called "Charge of the rewrite brigade". The article suggested that some Australian historians, including Dr Peter Stanley acting on behalf of the Australian War Memorial, had attended a conference relating to Gallipoli convened in Turkey by the Australian War Memorial and Curtin University. The article suggested that some historians attending the conference intended to rewrite the Anzac story from a perspective that would debunk the heroism and sacrifice that established the Anzac tradition. One of these "historians" was reported as saying: "We must stop calling the Anzacs heroes.." Another "historian" was reported as saying: "...the so-called heroic Anzacs were not even particularly good fighters but were often cowards..."

* On neo-Marxist postmodernism, see below.

If the quotes have been accurately reported, then I believe that most Australians would view them as outrageous, and possibly disgraceful. I personally find it difficult to avoid concluding from the tenor of the reported comments and proposals that the trip to Turkey was anything but an outrageous junket for postmodern* historians intending to debunk the Anzac tradition and funded by the long-suffering Australian taxpayer.


"The Australian" newspaper reports that Dr Peter Stanley and his fellow historians attacked the "myths" surrounding the Anzac experience at Gallipoli. Historians at this conference are reported as saying of the Anzacs and Gallipoli:

"We must stop calling the Anzacs heroes.."

"The landing was nothing but an unjustified invasion of foreign soil.."

"...schools should be prohibited from commemorating what was essentially a disaster.."

"... the November 11 one-minute silence should be banned because it is passing on the wrong values."

"the so-called heroic Anzacs were not even particularly good fighters but were often cowards..."

"(We academic historians) have a great responsibility to interpret Gallipoli properly because we are the prism through which the public understands the Gallipoli story."

Dr Peter Stanley does not stand aloof from this denigration. He is reported as saying of the Anzacs:

"We are just rediscovering Gallipoli and what it means to Australians today....We cannot get sucked in by the patriotic propaganda."

FROM the article "Charge of the rewrite brigade" by Jonathan King. Courtesy of News Limited. See full text of article.

Although this may appear to be a bizarre activity to be undertaken on behalf of Australia's national war memorial, it is consistent with the currently fashionable sceptical neo-Marxist "postmodern"* approach to Australian history that tends to denigrate the "grand narratives" that inspire Western nations, and claims there is no such thing as objective truth or fact. The Kokoda and Anzac stories can both be characterised as "grand narratives" that inspire Australians, and consequently, become fair game for postmodern denigration. With reported attacks of this kind being mounted against the Anzac tradition, it is not surprising that Prime Minister John Howard was moved to deplore the currently fashionable negative postmodern approach to Australian history when he used these words in a speech to the National Press Club on 25 January 2006:

"..too often, history, along with other subjects in the humanities, has succumbed to a postmodern* culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated."* For an explanation of the neo-Marxist postmodern approach to Australian history, see below.

It is not clear whether this appalling denigration of Australia's revered Anzacs had been brought to the attention of Prime Minister John Howard when he spoke these words, but the reported involvement by Dr Stanley of the national war memorial in this activity deserves the attention of the Australian government.

It was the content of this extraordinary article "Charge of the rewrite brigade" that caused me to be uncertain whether Dr Peter Stanley's controversial rewriting of Australia's 1942 war history and his criticism of Prime Minister Curtin's wartime leadership were solely attributable to inadequate scholarship, or possibly, also influenced by fashionable neo-Marxist postmodern scepticism towards Australian achievements as a nation. Whatever the reason, I was deeply concerned that views of this kind were emanating from a historian employed at Australia's national war memorial.

* What is Postmodernism? In its application to the humanities and social sciences, postmodernism is a subversive movement that was initiated in France in the late 1960s by a small group of radical French academics, most of whom were Marxists. One of its founders, Jean-Francois Lyotard, has described the defining feature of postmodernism as scepticism towards the "grand narratives" of Western civilisation. In plain language, what this means is that the achievements, heroic or otherwise, that inspire nations and the values of Western democratic societies should be viewed with scepticism or incredulity. The Anzac and Kokoda stories both fall within the description of Australia's "grand narratives" and consequently, become fair game for the neo-Marxist "postmodern" historian to denigrate and subvert. Other features often associated with neo-Marxist postmodernism are rejection of objective truth, objective knowledge, and absolute moral values. This is bad enough for those who believe that the study of history should be an objective discipline, but neo-Marxist postmodernism goes further and holds that there are no such things as facts. This view of knowledge, called irrealism or nominalism, claims that nothing can be proved. The French wisely refused to allow this neo-Marxist postmodern ideology to infect their education system, but it was exported to English-speaking countries where it was welcomed by trendy second-rate academics in the burgeoning humanities and social sciences departments of universities in the 1980s. Neo-Marxist postmodernism is still very fashionable in Australian universities and the education bureaucracies that engineer school curricula to produce high school graduates who struggle to write an essay or read a textbook. Perhaps the only way to rid Australia of this corrosive neo-Marxist blight on education would be to introduce the International Baccalaureate in English as the standard for entrance to universities. Whether the bizarre attitudes and proposals quoted above derive from the intrusion of extreme Left postmodernism into Australian history may be disputed. However, In a situation like this, I tend to apply the the aphorism: "If it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck, then absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have a warrant to conclude it's a duck."