Hugh White on Australians and War from Honest History.

In my blog of 20 October ‘It is becoming much easier to go to war’ I highlighted the reasons and the background  to developments since the Vietnam War that are making it much more likely that we will commit ourselves to war. 

In an earlier posting of March 23 – see below –  I carried an interview with Hugh White.

We are venturing into very dangerous territory. John Menadue


In this interview in November 2013 and related articles, Dr David Stephens of Honest History has drawn together comments by Hugh White on ‘Australians and war’.

Hugh White is professor of Strategic Studies at the ANU and a former senior public servant in the Department of Defence. He considers several themes about Australians and war.

  • How ‘soft’ wars have made Australians more bellicose.
  • How the perceived need to preserve the American alliance makes most wars acceptable in Australia.
  • How Australians are reluctant to focus on the purpose of war.
  • How Australians celebrate the experience of war while downplaying the reasons for particular wars; the centrality of Anzac.
  • How romanticising war makes future wars more likely.
  • How these chickens might all come home to roost in the East China Sea in the not too distant future.

The link for this interview can be found at:  and click on 188 Hugh White on Australians and War.

Honest History ( is a coalition of historians and others supporting the balanced and honest presentation and use of Australian history during the centenary of WWI.


Hugh White is emeritus professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University.

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1 Response to Hugh White on Australians and War from Honest History.

  1. Avatar Michael Keating says:

    Thank you for bringing to our attention Hugh White’s very perceptive analysis of Australians/ attitudes to war. A few comments are in order.

    I don’t see so much of a contrast between Australians’ attitudes when we entered the Vietnam war and our attitudes to more recent wars as White seems to imply. At the time that Australian troops first departed for Vietnam in 1965, we were widely enthusiastic and Labor lost the subsequent election in 1966 in a landslide mostly because of its opposition. This Australian popular support for fighting in Vietnam only changed after many people in the US came out in opposition to that war, which had the effect of making opposition respectable. Indeed, consistent with White’s analysis, from then on such opposition posed less risk to the continuation of the US alliance.

    Another factor in our changing attitudes to Vietnam was that the fighting in Vietnam was shown up close every night on television in both the US and Australia. This graphically brought home the horror and futility of the fighting in Vietnam. But since then the military (and governments) have avoided repeating that ‘mistake’. The media do not get the same access as they had in Vietnam and so we now only see what the authorities want us to see about our more recent engagements.

    Finally I wonder how different we are today from other previous generations and other nations. My assumption is that all wars are popular until they go wrong, with the possible exception of a country like France, which had paid such a heavy price only twenty years previously that it could not count on much popular support in 1939 for yet another World War.

    As regards our own attitudes to war in 1939, I have read letters from my father who, shortly before he was killed in January 1942 fighting the Japanese in Malaya,, was quite certain that Australians would be sure to prevail because of our superior fighting capability and martial spirit.

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