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April 25th, 2006

The day before Anzac Day might not seem the best time to publish a piece claiming that the significance of the Australian victory at Kokoda was a myth propagated by the Labor party, but that’s what we got from Stephen Barton, a political scientist and former Liberal apparatchik.

The second part of the claim is both the most offensive and the most easily demolished. I got the full Kokoda legend taught to me at school in South Australia in the early 1960s, straight after saluting the flag and reciting our loyalty to the Queen at Assembly. That was about thirty years into the premiership of Sir Thomas Playford. The idea that the Labor party, or radical historians, managed to sneak the story into the school curriculum as propaganda is as unbelievable as it is offensive.

Now let’s turn to the substantive claim. I’m not an expert on military strategy, but neither is Barton, and he doesn’t cite anyone who is. He defends Churchill’s strategy of fighting Germany first and Japan second, and claims that

Japanese supply lines were overextended, their best troops were in China and their southern thrust had run out of steam


Had the Japanese driven south to Port Moresby it would have been a grim setback, but not a decisive blow.

This argument sounds plausible, but it would sound even more plausible if you crossed out “Port Moresby” and substituted “Townsville” or “Rockhampton”. The lines would have been extended even further then and the Japanese occupiers could have been left, as Barton suggests, to “wither on the vine” until the war was over. In effect, Barton has reinvented the Brisbane Line.*

* There’s no reason to believe the claim made by Eddie Ward that the Menzies government adopted, or even considered, a “Brisbane Line” plan. But it’s an obvious corollary of reasoning like Barton’s and there’s little doubt that such ideas were discussed.

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  1. Katz
    April 25th, 2006 at 11:51 | #1

    Barton’s arguments against the danger of Japanese advance to Port Moresby were akin to the arguments against the threat the Japanese posed to Singapore.

    The Japanese shocked the world rigid at Singapore. Only in retrospect did the world learn that the Japanese were much stronger than expected at Singapore. And only in retrospect did the world learn that the Japanese much weaker than expected in 1942 in New Guinea. God may have known these facts, but God wasn’t a member of the Allied High Command.

    (Barton has a point about the irrelevant campaigns against the Japanese in New Guinea later in the war, but this is irrelevant to the main thrust of his argument.)

    Barton’s own argument can be used to challenge his assertion that Al Alamein was the last strategically important battle of WWII in which Australians took part. Even if Rommel had occupied Egypt, it would have been impossible for Germany to continue to supply the Afrika Corps. They too, like the Japanese in New Guinea, would have “withered on the vine”.

    In reality, WWII was lost as soon as Germany failed to defeat the Soviet Union. After the desperate defence of Moscow, geopolitically the most interesting puzzle of WWII was the eventual geographic location of the Iron Curtain.

    But only God knew this in the dark days of late 1941 and early 1942.

  2. April 25th, 2006 at 12:02 | #2

    The significance of defeating the Japanese at Kokoda should not be underplayed but it was preceded by victory in the battle of Milne Bay. The first time the Japanese had been defeated in a land battle during their Pacific campaign.

    I attended the Dawn Service at Bomana War Cemetry in Port Moresby this morning. Excellent production there by the ANZAC High Commissions and PNGDF with a strong emphasis on Kokoda (apart from the NZ Hi-Commissioners speech which focused on Gallipoli).

  3. gordon
    April 25th, 2006 at 12:20 | #3

    How nice that Prof. Quiggin was taught the Kokoda story at school. My son was taught nothing at all about it at school in the ACT 1998-2003.

    And re: Milne Bay – weren’t the Japanese sort of preoccupied with fighting the Americans at Guadalcanal during the Milne Bay action? Could this have meant that the Milne Bay invasion was a bit underresourced?

  4. pl12
    April 25th, 2006 at 12:50 | #4

    ‘My son was taught nothing at all about it at school in the ACT 1998-2003.’

    He probably went to a state school. It’s never the wrong time to step up the degree of military triumphalism and nationalist dogma in secondary schools. The kids are gagging for it.

  5. April 25th, 2006 at 13:17 | #5

    Like most Liberals, Barton is not strong on history especially when the simple facts contradict their dogmas.

    The fact is the the tories in Australia cannot get over the fact that in the 20 year run up to World War 2 their philosophy and and practices ran the full gamut between appeasement and outright facism.

    Subsequent to WW2 they have spent most of their time wrapping themsleves in the flag but as with Howard, Downer and Robert Hill cowered in dark corners when others marched off to fight the wars they so warmly espoused.

  6. jquiggin
    April 25th, 2006 at 13:27 | #6

    “How nice that Prof. Quiggin was taught the Kokoda story at school. My son was taught nothing at all about it at school in the ACT 1998-2003.”

    Deplorable as this is, it doesn’t exactly square with the idea that Kokoda is a legend invented by the Keating government and its army of radical historians.

    I think in this context, the issue isn’t Kokoda specifically, but about Barton’s claim that the whole Pacific war (including Milne Bay and Guadalcanal) was a sideshow. As Katz says, this claim could be made more plausibly about North Africa when you consider the war as a whole. And if you’re worried about Australia, as Barton apparently isn’t it, the fact that we were peripheral and expendable in Churchill’s strategy is not of great comfort.

  7. April 25th, 2006 at 15:01 | #7

    When civilisation has it’s back to the wall, lots of things become peripheral and expendable. One cannot blame Churchill for that.

    Was taught nothing about Kokoda at school, except how to spell it. However we were encouraged to “look it up”.

    Thank you Ugly Dave for the anti-liberal party political bit, just what I needed with my morning coffee.

    Pl12: Couldn’t agree more. As high school kids we couldn’t get enough of battles, massacres, etc etc. Hehehehehe 🙂

    Gordon has an interesting point.

    Katz’ closing line settles the matter of course. Any battle, when in progress, seems desperately important. It is only afterward when all the facts/responses/reactions by generals have been done, that we can see what was strategically vital, and what was a sideshow.

    Of course, the power of perception is often more important than the power of the gun. The “Tet offensive” was a shocker of a setback for the communists in Vietnam, but the political perception here was the opposite.

    Look forward to further comments in this thread.

  8. Michael
    April 25th, 2006 at 15:50 | #8

    To add to UglyDave’s point, the Liberals still dont seem to be able to get over the fact that their hero, Menzies sent Iron ore to Japan immediately prior to the outbreak of conflict, and as a result was shown up for the goose he was.

    He was then tossed out of office by the electorate to allow Curtin’s ALP to fight the war, which the Tories clearly weren’t capable of fighting, or winning.

    As a result they’re still trying to rewrite history in their own favour. Meanwhile Howard seems hell bent on reliving it.

  9. April 25th, 2006 at 16:00 | #9

    One line of Katz’s otherwise well-argued contribution doesn’t sound right to me:

    Even if Rommel had occupied Egypt, it would have been impossible for Germany to continue to supply the Afrika Corps. They too, like the Japanese in New Guinea, would have “withered on the vine�.

    Surely occupation of Egypt would have constituted decisive victory in the Mediterranean? With the loss of the Seuz canal, the British would not have been able to maintain a serious presence in the Middle East (not to mention its other strategic implications, which would have had a significant bearing on the war against Japan). After that, where would the threat to the Nazis’ supplies have come from?

  10. April 25th, 2006 at 16:56 | #10

    I am with you John. I learned about Kokoda in the early 1960s when Labor had not been in power for quite a while. My parents voted Liberal – and my dad fought in New Guinea – so I can’t see how I could have picked up impressions about Kokoda from Labor Party myths.

    The responses in The Australian today suggest Stephen Barton is blessed with ex post wisdom regarding strategic importance. And the day before the one day of the year where we should celebrate being Australians not party-political creatures I think he certainly got his timing seriously wrong and probably his facts too.

    The strategic significance of particular campaigns can be debated but isn’t ANZAC Day supposed to make us think about the meaning of war and the heroism of those who made sacrifices. Barton’s claim can only offend.

  11. Katz
    April 25th, 2006 at 17:54 | #11


    1. In late March 1941, the British Navy won the Battle of Matapan, off the coast of Greece. This victory denied seaborne access by the Germans to North Africa.

    2. The British Naval base at Malta also choked off Rommel’s supplies. The Second Battle of Al Alamein ended 3 November 1942.

    3. The Allies landed in Morocco virtually unopposed early November 1942. (Operation Torch). Air operations from that secure base would also have interdicted supplies to the Afrika Korps, even as far away as Cairo.

    Rommel was a dead duck regardless of victory at Al Alamein.

  12. April 25th, 2006 at 18:42 | #12

    I’ve never much liked this Big Picture military history -it smacks too much of tripey breathless journalism. See.The.Decisive. Battle.Of…

    As I understand it, the real threat to Australia by the Japanese is a lot less than we knew. The point is that the people living in the flat I am typing from certainly felt under threat and edured the privations of war and separation (and the particular enticements of living in a St Kilda alive with American soldiers).

    Kokoda doesn’t speak of stopping the evil Jap. The story and the inspiration is much more about very ordinary fellas fighting an appalling war under atrocious conditions. The fact that they collided with the exhausted and undersupplied tendrils of the Japanese army just adds to the poignance and the viciousness.

    Like John, I was taught this stuff at school in the 1950s and 60s. Admittedly in Darwin. I have been a bit bemused since that the story of Kokoda and the bombing of Darwin slid off the radar until very recently.

    As often happens, we seem to be seeing a bit of projection with the charge that the ALP is writing military history. Haven’t we seen the Liberals building the story of Gallipoli?

  13. April 25th, 2006 at 18:43 | #13

    Okay, I probably shouldn’t be condensing the African theatre down to the November 1942 battle of Alamein (ditto Barton). What if the British had been unable to resist earlier German offensives and Cairo and Suez had fallen? It seems to me that they would have been thrown on the defensive at Malta and perhaps confronted by a challenge to their naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean. Worse, the Allies’ political position in the Middle East would have collapsed with potentially momentous consequences for Russia as well as the West. Also, would the Americans still have been willing to come on board for Operation Torch if it didn’t form one end of a pincer movement?

  14. April 25th, 2006 at 18:44 | #14

    If the Axis powers had captured Egypt, even as late as November 1942, there could never have been a walk over between Operation Torch and Kasserine, and the Germans would have had a forward port for resupply as well as a strong chance of Arab oil and again destabilising British hegemony in the Levant/Middle East (Turkey might have come in, which would have allowed more transport routes).

    North Africa was never a sideshow as (say) Abyssinia was, since the Germans were obliged to tie up forces to prevent Italy becoming a genuine soft underbelly of Europe.

    The thinking behind not drawing an arbitrary line on the map and issuing a standfast order is that that way you don’t become a sitting target. Kokoda was valuable from tying up the Japanese without being a last stand situation; it could (militarily if not politically) been lost and still allowed further regrouping. But it was still valuable to stand there.

    But making Germany a priority was sound, since there was much more strategic depth available in the Pacific Theatre, space that could be traded off for time. That wouldn’t have been much comfort for FNQ if that had happened, of course, but it was still sound thinking.

  15. Katz
    April 25th, 2006 at 19:19 | #15

    Always better to win battles than to lose them.

    Yes, any loss makes the task more difficult.

    I therefore agree with PML’s assessment, which does not contemplate ultimate defeat.

    And WB is probably correct in predicting greater difficulties again if Rommel had triumphed in the first Battle of Alamein.

    However, the American troops were already in transit to Morocco before the begining of the second Battle of al Alamein. There was no turning back, and no need to, even if Rommel had been able to overcome his severe shortage of supplies and followed up on an unlikely victory at Al Alamein by driving all the way to Alexandria.

  16. Hal9000
    April 25th, 2006 at 22:11 | #16

    The forces involved in the Kokoda campaign were tiny by Eastern Front or even North Africa standards, but the effect of the campaign on morale was real. The Japanese committed the cream of their elite marines to the campaign – one notable characteristic that shocked the Australians being their average height was greater than the average Australian soldier’s, contrary to racial stereotyping. It might also be recalled the reputation of the Japanese military for victory – it was on the basis of Japanese martial invincibility that Hitler declared war in their support. The New Guinea campaigns may not have been crushing strategic blows for the Japanese, but they were vital good news for a terrified Australian population, and . The more important strategic battle fought around the New Guinea campaign was the Coral Sea engagement, which effectively restricted Japanese naval movement to the north Pacific. However the sustained hand to hand savagery of the Kokoda battles and the inaccessibility of the battlefields also mark them as extraordinary feats of arms, mythologised by both sides in the campaign.

    I would imagine the latest revisionism arises from the emphasis Paul Keating placed on Kokoda. But Keating was surely correct to stress the poignancy of the campaign as arising from its other unique feature – that this was the first serious military campaign fought entirely by Australians to defend the Australian mainland.
    Australia may have entered the war, as in 1914, simply by virtue of its membership in the British Empire, but the New Guinea campaign was fought against the wishes of the imperial centre. As such, Kokoda has as much claim as marking the baptism of Australian nationhood as does Gallipoli.

    One last thing – anyone imagining Paul Keating dreamt up the Kokoda myth needs to confront the reality of Damien Parer’s Academy Award for Kokoda Front Line. Clearly the story resonated even among the members of Hollywood’s academy.

  17. Nabakov
    April 25th, 2006 at 22:39 | #17

    Hal9000 has a good point about the morale impact of a citizen army stopping an apparently invincible army in their tracks. T’was brillant home front propaganda regardlessly of the strategic implications.

    And as Katz points out, Rommel’s supply lines were just getting totally shredded while Monty was systemically building up a massive materiel advantage. And not least ‘cos the Brits had so throughly broken the key German naval codes for the Mediterrean to the point they were letting ships through in order not to tip Rommel off they knew where they were.

  18. April 26th, 2006 at 00:18 | #18

    some argue that Germany could have broken the strategic impasse resulting from the Battle of Britain with a well-planned, fully-resourced Mediterranean strategy. Other commenters on this thread have pointed out what could have been achieved – cutting the Suez Canal, giving Germany access to Middle Eastern/Caucasus oilfields etc. That the Brits would have been in a poor position to resist such a committed thrust is evident from the trouble that Rommel’s shoestring force caused them. Certainly they (and the Soviets) were sufficiently worried to invade both Iraq and Iran in 1941.

    However it’s unlikely the Germans could have mustered the inter-service cooperation and commitment needed for such a strategy given the Nazi system’s incoherence, particularly the lack of a ‘combined chiefs’ body. Instead the steering came from Hitler, whose ideology, impatience and simple lack of creativity demanded a direct assault on the USSR

    re Kokoda, I don’t think you can objectively argue that it was a decisive campaign in any sense, including saving Aus from Japanese invasion. He’s right to say that the men’s heroism and sacrifice should be separated from the campaign’s objective singificance, but can’t because this violates political convention. Witness how Beazley etc carp about the ANZAC/Aus ‘legend’, as if this were a criterion for analysing military history. There really is a witch-burning element in the treatment Barton’s received over the last 48 hours.

    Still Barton’s political point-scoring was a tad gratuitous. The idea of conspiracy btwn the ALP and leftie historians is flogging a dead horse, though what he says about Labor asserting ownership of the US alliance has some merit. And it’s certainly unrealistic to expect Curtin (or Menzies, or the Aus public) not to have seen a Japanese advance on Port Moresby as a threat to Australia’s direct security. Barton’s claim on Lateline that a Japanese occupation of northern Queensland would have been tolerable – the very ‘Brisbane line’ point that JQuiggin made in this post – was an argument too far.

  19. April 26th, 2006 at 03:31 | #19

    The suggestiong that the “Brisbane Line” was not a reality comes as news to those who lived north of it at the time.

    None of those here who lived through it “blame” any authority for a such a plan, to them it makes sense. Desperate times make for desperate measures. Station managers were instructed (in the event of Japanese invasion) to render inoperable all water points, by use of explosives or poison, to shoot as many livestock as possible, and all civilians were informed that they would have to walk south (thousands of km) and be personally responsible for keeping starvation at bay.

    It is somewhat curious that nobody is pointing out that the Labor Party of the time refused to form a government of national unity in wartime, instead choosing to fight elections on the platform of opposing conscription, then upon winning office, introduced consciption.

  20. brian
    April 26th, 2006 at 03:41 | #20

    It is true ,from several sources that Churchill didn’t have much concern for Australia,and if Curtin has allowed him to send the 7th and 9th Divisions, then en route in early 1942 ,home to Australia,to Burma….as he proposed to Curtin…they would have been lost in an even greater disaster than Singapore.!..and Australia would have been defenceless.
    The argument of Barton’s,that even if New Quinea and North Q’Land had fallen,it would still have ultimately liberated,when the Allies won in Europe,is astonishing.
    As one who actually lived in Geelong as a 9 year old schoolboy,I can tell Barton that that opinion would have just about got him lynched in 1942!
    I can remember reading in the “The Age”an article about the terrible Japanese atrocities in Hong Kong ,which fell on Boxing Day 1941. My mother was horrified that I had read it,but no one had any doubts about how Australians would have fared under Japanese occupation!
    My wife’s Mother actually planned to suicide with her two children rather be taken by the Japs.
    Barton , I’m afraid, is as far from those times,as he is from the Wars of the Roses!…living though a period of history gives one a different perspective.
    I fear that Barton,is just another conservative historian(wasn’t he on Downer’s staff in Canberra until recently?)..who wants to denigrate and
    play down John Curtin’s role…..and somehow divert attention from Menzies poor wartime record.All in all a contemptible and false depiction of our history.Shame on him !!

  21. Ros
    April 26th, 2006 at 07:42 | #21

    I can’t ask my Dad, but I do remember him believing that Blamey and MacArthur did waste the lives of Australian soldiers in strategically useless operations against the Japanese. My memory is that he saw the actions as being political rather than necessary. Not a man prone to bitterness but that was something that caused him some anger and pain. He was with the 2/48 throughout the war. He fought at El Alamein and at Tarakan. He believed that the most critical battle in which he fought (and was injured along with most of the 2/48) was El Alamein.

    While the Australian printed Barton’s article prior to this ANZAC Day he was saying this well before.

    Sep 2002

    “However, Curtin was a good man, and there can be no doubting the importance of defeating the Japanese in New Guinea, it was not a question of saving Australia, it was one of holding and checking the Japanese advance. Many of the Militia were men who had no desire to fight Japanese or German expansion, that was for the AIF. But they did. What those battalions of men did is amazing enough, whether they wore the ribbons of the Desert War on their chests or were the chocolate soldiers of the Australian Military Force. They fought a determined enemy on Australia’s doorstep, outnumbered and in horrendous terrain; there is no need for the hyperbole that they saved Australia�

    “there can be no deeper spiritual basis to the meaning of the Australian nation that the blood that was spilled on this very knoll, this very plateau, in defence of the liberty of Australia.”
    I don’t know but would suspect that my Dad might resent that claim of Keating’s. He thought that all of his horrible war, and the death of so many of his mates, deserved to be thought of so.

    Do not challenge Labour great myths it would seem. And what would a soldier who fought for 5 years know.

  22. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2006 at 08:58 | #22

    Ros, plenty of people hated Blamey or Macarthur (rightly so, from all I’ve heard). That doesn’t mean that, like Barton, they were willing to countenance an invasion of Australia.

    If the Liberals want to make Kokoda a Labor party issue, I guess that’s their call, but I think they’ll pay a high price for it.

  23. Ros
    April 26th, 2006 at 10:10 | #23

    From his article in the Australian I think Barton is countenancing the capture of Port Moresby, as you yourself say JQ. He doesn’t canvas the acceptability of an invasion of Australia. He seems fairly strong on the fact that it wasn’t a goer.

    In his debacle of an interview with Tony Jones his position is essentially one of considering a hypothetical case, not a strong reality, of the consequences of an invasion of northern Australia.

    “Now let’s take the worst-case scenario, that say they did a diversionary raid or they occupied part of Queensland.â€?

    He says in his article of 2002
    “Though concerned, Churchill and Roosevelt acquiesced to Curtin’s request.
    They knew, or at least suspected, that Australia was not to be invaded. She might be the victim of bombings or even a diversionary attack, but Japan could not hold her.�

    He is not conceding that an invasion of Australia would be OK, he is saying that as it was either extremely unlikely or if mounted unlikely to succeed or last, therefore that military priorities dictated other decisions.

    I also remember from my Dad that what resonated particularly with AIF members was that these were the sniffed at conscripts and rejects who surprised everyone with their valour and determination. They could serve in New Guinea because it was mandated Australian territory. It wasn’t until 1943 that Curtin, the consummate politician, achieved the Defence (Citizen Military Forces) Act 1943, which provided for the use of Australian conscripts in the South West Pacific Area during the period of the war. It is not the done thing to say so now, but it mattered a lot to many of those serving voluntarily that some had to be coerced to stand. The militia were also known as Koalas, they were not to be shot at, not to be exported and were protected by the Government

    The attack on Barton is interesting, in that this is Dr Peter Stanley, Principal Historian, Australian War Memorial at the Australian War Memorial site “Remembering 1942�

    “Curtin is hailed as the “Saviour of Australia”. He saved Australia from a threat that was never real, and he knew it. Curtin was an inspiring leader, but he was also a good politician. He knew that banging the invasion drum did no harm, and that the Japanese threat served to motivate the nation.

    But sixty years on we ought to break free of the invasion myth.�

    Apologies to Dr Stanley for putting him in the firing line, but it doesn’t seem that Barton is standing alone in having different views to the current dominant memes.

  24. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2006 at 10:31 | #24

    Ros, that’s an exceptionally charitable reading of Barton. Would you say the same about someone contemplating a “hypothetical” invasion of Australia today, on the presumption that our armed forces had been sent far away in the pursuit of a global strategy decided in Washington? I ask because Barton explicitly draws the analogy between WWII and the present.

  25. April 26th, 2006 at 11:22 | #25

    Have you read “Chester Wilmot Reports”? The opinions and view of Wilmot on the relationship between Blamey and Curtin were interesting and certainly coloured my view of both men.
    If correct, Curtin’s failure to sack Blamey cost thousands of Australian lives. Given Wilmot’s well known political leanings his critism of Curtin is particularly strong.

  26. Katz
    April 26th, 2006 at 11:41 | #26

    Barton’s main target isn’t to restore the Kokoda Track to its proper magnitude in the history of WWII. That is merely a means to the greater end of delegitimising a “left wing” view of history.

    Barton alleges that this “left wing” view revolves around the central belief that Australian military feats of arms were achieved not in Australian interests, but in Imperial interests.

    To make good this argument, Barton must do the following:

    1. Demonstrate that there is a “left wing” view of Australian military history. He hasn’t done that, but let’s give him that one.

    2. Disprove the thesis that Australian and imperial military, geopolitical and diplomatic interests at some point diverged. This is necessary for Barton because without that substantiation he simply doesn’t have a case.

    I don’t think that Barton would argue that Imperial and Australian interests never diverged, especially when one considers that Britain withdrew its strategic thinking west of Aden during the 1960s. The question is: were Australian-Imperial interests seen by non-left-wingers to diverge before Kokoda? The answer has to be yes. Menzies himself, when he was PM, suffered defeat within the UAP/Country Party Conservative Coalition for refusing to send more troops and materiel to Britain after the fall of France in May 1940. Menzies, the Empire man that he was, believed that Britain could fall without the automatic capitulation of Australia. And he believed that Australian interests could be distinguished from the interests of the Empire as a whole, or even the interests of the UK.

    Thus there was a recognition of the potential divergence of Imperial and Australian interests that pre-dated Kokoda. And this recognition was shared by no less a personage than Robert Gordon Menzies.

    Unless Barton wishes to include Menzies in his left-wing conspiracy to drive a wedge between the Empire and Australia, his major thesis just falls to the ground.

    More fruitful to historical understanding rather than partisan points-scoring is to ask a more modulated question:

    What were the circumstances under which different leaders and interest groups were prepared to terminate their primary commitment to the Empire and to act upon a recognition of Australian national interests?

  27. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2006 at 11:45 | #27

    I haven’t read this, though the quick Google links I could find suggested a more favorable view of Curtin than you imply. Still, I’ll look out for it next time I’m at the ABC shop.

    In any case, I’m not suggesting that Curtin should be above criticism, or that the received view on WWII should be taken as gospel. Barton’s piece goes way beyond legitimate criticism, and I think his substantive view is both wrong and dangerous.

    Ros, I’ll follow this up, but I must say it seems a pretty big stretch to claim that, if New Guinea had been abandoned to the Japanese that an invasion of Australia would not have followed, with the aim of denying Allied access to bases in Townsville, Darwin and other Northern ports. The revisionists on this appear to be dodging the issue by defining an invasion as an occupation of the entire country.

  28. April 26th, 2006 at 13:20 | #28

    As to whether Barton countenances an invasion of Australia, here’s part of the Lateline transcript from last night:

    What I was saying was that it was an important campaign, but it wasn’t the battle that saved Australia. Australia was engaged in a world war. What that means is that events far beyond our control and far beyond our borders are ultimately going to secure our future. Now let’s take the worst-case scenario, that say they did a diversionary raid or they occupied part of Queensland. Now ultimately did that mean that Australia would lose the war? Well, once the allies won in Europe and the full might of the allies came to bear on the Japanese, ultimately the Japanese would be defeated. So it would have been a terrible situation, it would have been grim and appalling, but it ultimately would have been a temporary situation. We have to remember that this was a world war and when we talk about the battle that saved Australia, we’re sort of putting these parochial blinkers on and seeing the centre of the war’s gravity in New Guinea. We’ve got to sort of step back from that and recognise that it was a world war.

    Remember that the context is his opposition to Curtin’s moves to bring troops back to Australia and that he argues that deploying our forces in the Middle East was a higher priority.

  29. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2006 at 13:25 | #29

    As Ros notes, Barton seems to be relying on Peter Stanley, whose criticism of the “myth” of invasion is based on the claim that the Japanese had no intention of incorporating Australia into the Co-Prosperity Sphere. Since this would have required conquering the entire country, this claim seems plausible, though continued easy victories might have changed their mind.

    But this doesn’t mean that the Japanese wouldn’t have occupied Townsville, Darwin and so on and done their best to knock Australia out of the war, presumably behaving even more brutally than they did as a rule in order to generate the required terror. Stanley is, at best, engaged in some fancy rhetorical footwork here, and Barton has taken his position to its logical conclusion.

  30. Chris C
    April 26th, 2006 at 13:35 | #30

    IMHO, WWII was indeed lost at a strategic level when Germany decisively failed to defeat the USSR after Stalingrad ie mid 1942.

    In that respect, Barton is essentially correct when he argues that eventually (given the Europe first strategy) the US would likely have rolled up the Japanese.

    However, a Japanese invasion of Australia, even a partial one, would have:

    a) delivered an enormous propaganda blow to the Allies, the importance of which should not be underestimated;
    b) delivered significant resources to Japan, thereby likely extending the duration of the war (or even, decisively altering the result – remember Japan’s inability to deliver the knockout blow to China was mainly due to its paucity of resources); and
    c) provided a self-sufficent base for Japan to conduct operations in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

    For these reasons, in hindsight, I consider that Kokoda was a strategically important campaign.

    Without hindsight, this is even more the case.

    Besides, it would have been politically untenable for Curtin to have left Aussie troops in the M-E while Australia was being invaded, while trying to tell people:

    “Keep calm everyone, just wait a while, the Yanks will come!”

  31. Chris C
    April 26th, 2006 at 13:38 | #31

    Sorry, the upshot of my post is that, in hindsight, Kokoda PROBABLY did not alter the result of the war.

    However, given the information at the time (and the possibility that Kokoda would be strategically decisive), the decision to fight the campaign was the right one.

  32. rossco
    April 26th, 2006 at 14:01 | #32

    The musings of armchair warriors 60+ years after the events of what might have happened if things had happened differently are interesting but in the grand scheme of things are really irrelevant. All that is relevant is what did happen over the course of history. We can’t go back and redo battles or political decisions to see what if happened if only it had been different.

    In the realm of speculation here is one to consider. What if the Japanese fleet had attacked Sydney Harbour in 1941 instead of Pearl Harbour? Would Australia have capitulated?
    One thing I am sure of is that the Americans would not have come rushing to save us from the Japanese.

    As a baby boomer, b 1946, I knew about Kokoda when growing up but also about the Rats of Tobruk, Gallipoli, France, Battle of the Coral Sea etc.

    My father was a WW11 digger in the Middle East and the Pacific but he died when I was only 9 so I can’t say I really had the opportunity to discuss the issues with him.

  33. brian
    April 26th, 2006 at 14:54 | #33

    In one sense ,the Australian people delivered an” on the spot ‘judgement in the election of 1943,when the conservatives parties were all but wiped out in the biggested landslide vote in our history.
    So great was the defeat that Menzies had to create a new party in 1945…the disgrace and loathing which prompted the 1943 result was so great !

  34. gordon
    April 26th, 2006 at 15:21 | #34

    Reinterpretations of history can often be traced to the desire to reinforce some contemporary view. In many Australian minds the US/Brit-backed War on Terror (with its focus in the Middle East) is not seen to be going well, and is falling behind issues like Indonesian and Chinese relations in the minds of many. Drawing a parallel with WWII, and trying to prove that that Middle Eastern campaign of 60 years ago was really more important than a local (New Guinea) campaign might be seen in some quarters as useful propaganda.

  35. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2006 at 15:36 | #35

    Gordon, you’re spot on. Barton makes it pretty clear that the real point is that we should send troops wherever Washington wants them, rather than worrying about defending ourselves.

  36. April 26th, 2006 at 15:50 | #36

    One of my business partners has been hiking the Kokoda trail this week. Maybe when he gets back from PNG he can tell me a bit more about the history because I don’t remember hearing anything about it at school. Or maybe I’ll go watch the movie.

  37. Ros
    April 26th, 2006 at 16:00 | #37

    J. Thomas Schieffer addressing the Coral Sea celebrations in Pert in 2004

    “We know today the consequences of victory. We can only imagine the consequences of defeat. Some argue that the Japanese had no immediate plans to invade Australia. That may be true in the short run but would it have remained so in the long run? At the very least, Japan was prepared to impose a naval blockade on Australia to knock it out of the war and force upon it a dubious peace. So what would have happened if we had lost the Battle of the Coral Sea? What would have happened if the fleet at Midway had been sunk? Can anyone seriously argue that an expansionist Japanese Empire was prepared to tolerate a functioning, free democracy on its doorstep?�

    The same logic would seem applicable to the Kokoda fight and the saving of Port Moresby.

    I struggle to remember what my Dad had to tell about the war, much to my regret. I don’t have anything that he wrote other than his words to my daughter doing a school assignment when she was 14. A lot of interest, but in light of this discussion, though he fought in Bougainville, he chose to tell her about Kokoda. He described the struggle in detail and told her

    “The Kokoda Track battles were to remain in the survivor’s (of the war) thoughts forever.’

    And the stats, lost 169 officers, 1996 other ranks and 3533 wounded.

    Whatever, very brave blokes forever honoured by their peers.

    Rossco, would agree what happened is done, how my Dad dealt with it all most of the time. But whatever you feel about Americans, their soldiers fought in New Guinea (Buna in particular) and were dealing with the horrors of Guadalcanal while the fight for New Guinea went on. If you don’t mind me asking, which battalion was your Dad’s?

  38. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2006 at 16:15 | #38

    Ros, Schieffer is spot-on. (I assume he’s the then US Ambassador).

    BTW, my father was also in New Guinea, but has never been willing to talk about it.

  39. rossco
    April 26th, 2006 at 16:37 | #39

    I have no idea about my Dad’s batallion.

    There is no doubt soldiers on all sides fought bravely. However I have strong feelings about the myth that the USA “saved” Australia from the Japanese and that we still owe them a debt which means fighting in their wars whenever they ask. America was fighting their war against Japan after Pearl Harbor and Australia was a convenient base. If Australia had fallen before the Americans got involved they would not have lifted a finger to “save” us. Thats my opinion but of course I can’t prove it one way or the other because thats not how events transpired.

  40. Hal9000
    April 26th, 2006 at 17:02 | #40

    If we’re revisiting the Pacific War in this context, it is instructive to consider the difference in reputation between Gordon Bennett’s flight from Singapore in a sailing junk strafed by Japanese aircraft, and Macarthur’s abandonment of the Phillipines by air. Bennett was a divisional commander under the command of British general Percival. Macarthur was the theatre commander. Percival’s last order before surrendering was to tell all who could escape the island to do so. Percival spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. Macarthur handed over command of his embattled men, leaving instructions to hold the fortress of Corregidor to the last man, to a junior general and fled by air to Australia.

    Bennett was regarded as little more than a traitor, while Macarthur was received as a hero. Macarthur complained ceaselessly about the slow progress being made on the Kokoda campaign and subsequently relegated Australia to pointless and costly campaigns against isolated Japanese garrisons in Borneo and New Britain. Blamey accused 39 Battalion survivors of cowardice. Yet today Macarthur has his very own shrine here in Brisbane and is adulated by one and all. Blamey is still something of a national hero and Bennett is forgotten.

  41. avaroo
    April 26th, 2006 at 17:15 | #41

    “However I have strong feelings about the myth that the USA “savedâ€? Australia from the Japanese”

    Why do you think Japan would have had no interest in Australia? To the extent that the US effectively ended WWII with Japan by dropping A-bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, isn’t it true that anyone and everyone in Japan’s path was thereby “saved”? Perhaps it’s the word “saved” that bothers you. Maybe “removed the threat of Japan throughout the Pacific” would be more appropriate.

    “and that we still owe them a debt which means fighting in their wars whenever they ask. ”

    There are Australians who see their interests as being very similar to the interests of Americans. And vice versa. I don’t think I’d use the term debt. It’s more that we have mutual interests. Australia, as much as anyone, has a huge interest in preventing islamic terror. Probably even more so than the US, as Australia is probably more vulnerable than the US.

    “America was fighting their war against Japan after Pearl Harbor and Australia was a convenient base. If Australia had fallen before the Americans got involved they would not have lifted a finger to “saveâ€? us. ”

    Would Australia not have been “saved” after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, een if it had fallen before the US was dragged into it?

  42. rossco
    April 26th, 2006 at 17:47 | #42

    You have missed the point. Yes America beat the Japanese, dropped the bombs etc and to that extent “saved” Australia from possible invasion. But the Americans fought the Japanese for their own purposes ie response/revenge for Pearl Harbor. The American entry into WW11 was not to save Australia – that was an incidental benefit for us. As I have said if the Japanese had attacked Australia rather than the USA, the Americans would not have cared less. So assume we were occupied by Japan and America had not come into the war – then there would have been no Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    Further if America had not come into WW11 as a result of Pearl Harbor who knows what the outcome of the war in Europe would have been. Ah hypotheticals, hypotheticals.

  43. avaroo
    April 26th, 2006 at 17:59 | #43

    “Yes America beat the Japanese, dropped the bombs etc and to that extent “savedâ€? Australia from possible invasion.”

    As I said above, it’s more that the US removed the threat of Japan from the Pacific. It’s not just about Australia.

    “But the Americans fought the Japanese for their own purposes ie response/revenge for Pearl Harbor. ”

    Occasionally, we like to act in our own best interests. I’m not sure why removing the Japanese threat wasn’t also in everyone else’s best interest, including Australia’s.

    “As I have said if the Japanese had attacked Australia rather than the USA, the Americans would not have cared less.”

    I don’t know and I don’t think you do either. After all, the Germans never attacked us.

    “So assume we were occupied by Japan and America had not come into the war – then there would have been no Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

    Well, several European countries were occupied by Germany and the US entered the war in Europe, which it could easily have avoided. After all, the US was in no danger from Germany.

    “Further if America had not come into WW11 as a result of Pearl Harbor who knows what the outcome of the war in Europe would have been.”


  44. avaroo
    April 26th, 2006 at 18:06 | #44

    rossco, it requires quite a leap in logic to say that if the US entered the war in the pacific because it was attacked, then it could not also have been in anyone else’s best interest for the US to enter the war. Is it reasonable to demand that the US, or any country, take action not in it’s best interest, solely because it is in anyone else’s best interest? No, I don’t think it is.

    We sink or swim together. There’s no peeling oneself off from the world, demanding the right to be left alone and unmolested simply because you’re you (Australians). It would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t.

  45. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2006 at 18:09 | #45

    Avaroo, you’re monopolising the comments threads. Please reduce your frequency of posting (say, to one comment per thread per day) or I’ll have to moderate you.

  46. avaroo
    April 26th, 2006 at 18:19 | #46

    I have 3 comments on this thread today, the same number as rossco and ros.

  47. Ros
    April 26th, 2006 at 19:00 | #47

    Excuse me John, one more comment and message.

    Yes Ambassador Schieffer. My father in law only spoke of his experiences about 5 years ago (RAAF North Africa)

    And if you feel that you want to Rossco at this site you can find your father’s service record, which includes unit, and also get a full service record.


  48. April 26th, 2006 at 23:21 | #48

    Ah – the North Africa supply line thing, and the idea that the Americans were already en route to Morocco.

    The difficulty with supply lines was how far they had to stretch overland from convenient ports, and the vulnerability of ships en route to (say) Tunis. There were very few ports, and had Alexandria fallen a great many intermediate legs wouldn’t have been needed any more (since between Crete and Egypt, there would have been Axis air superiority). In turn, the morale effect might well have stiffened Vichy resistance so that they fought a running retreat all the way back from Casablanca to Tunisia, instead of only the Vichy forces in Tunisia putting up any resistance.

    So the outcome of El Alamein was significant.

    Incidentally, the Japanese very nearly got a useful base in the Indian Ocean anyway, if only they had been able to throw enough submarines into the Vichy base at Diego Suarez in Madagascar. As it was, a scratch British Empire force was able to invade. Considering the great feats of egg juggling going on at the time, it’s a bit unfair to blame the British for dropping the Singapore egg without noticing the deft catching of the Madagascar and Iraq/Iran eggs that were at least as vital for supporting Australian interests.

  49. Katz
    April 27th, 2006 at 08:28 | #49

    Ah, the endless splitting of straws.

    Either German victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein was the key to the Thousand Year Reich, or it would not have been.

    If you don’t believe it would have been, stop quibbling.

  50. Katz
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:11 | #50

    “So the outcome of El Alamein was significant.”

    Given the materiel advantage of Montgomery, only criminal negligence would have altered the outcome of Second Alamein. The Battle was a turkey shoot.

    But let us imagine the almost unimaginable. Rommel wins and seizes the Suez Canal.

    Psychological shock? Certainly. But greater than Dunkirk or Singapore? Certainly not. The British didn’t cave in a wave the white flag under much more taxing circumstances.

    Let us imagine that Rommel’s unlikely victory at El Alamein lengthened the war by six months.

    The only possible outcomes of this would have been:

    1. A delay on D-Day, which sees the victorious Soviet Army in Paris.

    2. The A-Bomb is dropped on a German target, for which it was being developed in the first place.

    Rommel’s hypothetical and unlikely victory at El Alamein would have been strategically important for the Cold War, not WWII.

  51. Chris C
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:11 | #51

    “Further if America had not come into WW11 as a result of Pearl Harbor who knows what the outcome of the war in Europe would have been.�

    Given that by the time the US landed troops in Europe, the Russians had already rolled the Nazis back into Poland, and given that 4 out of every 5 German soldiers were on the Eastern Front, the answer is quite obvious:

    The Soviets would have “liberated” Europe, just like in the 1810’s

  52. Chris C
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:15 | #52


    I hear you.

    For the record, I doubt that El Alamein was the single most strategic battle of WWII.

    I would suggest that the destruction of von Paulus’ 6th Army at Stalingrad sealed the fate of the Axis.

    And for those that consider Japan’s refusal to attack the USSR as an outcome-changing decision, I would further suggest that Japan was quite incapable of conducting such a campaign given how stretched it was at that time.

  53. Chris C
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:22 | #53

    My apologies Katz – I see you already arrived at the same conclusion re: hammer and sickle hoisted on the Eiffel tower

  54. Katz
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:35 | #54

    Chris, 8.11 am was a rare moment of synchronicity.

  55. April 27th, 2006 at 19:03 | #55

    jquiggin Says: April 26th, 2006 at 8:58 am

    If the Liberals want to make Kokoda a Labor party issue, I guess that’s their call, but I think they’ll pay a high price for it.

    The LN/P are barking mad to play this revisionist game about Kokoda, which actually is a caricature of the old Left wing stereotype of conservatives as lap-dogs of British imperialism. The Old Left should make them pay for playing this wicked game. This is a splendid opportunity for “bomber Gough” to get up on his hind legs and give the revisionists a tremendous thrashing.

    It is possible to be pro-internationalist (eg pro-UK and US) and still an Australian nationalist. As was Menzies and Curtin.

    But to suggest that Curtin’s overt nationalism at a time of maximum national security threat was somehow parochial is false, offensive and goes against the grain of several centuries worth of realist strategic thinking.

    The Chockos (and Curtin) were heros to most Australians, right or left wing. The war killed Curtin as certainly as a Japanese bullet. To denigrate the Chockos and belittle Curtin’s strategic nous in this spiteful and mischievous way is to spit on the grave of “better men”.

  56. April 27th, 2006 at 19:28 | #56

    jquiggin Says: April 26th, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Barton makes it pretty clear that the real point is that we should send troops wherever Washington wants them, rather than worrying about defending ourselves.

    This may be the wish of some lapdogs of US imperialism in the coalition, and caricaturists thereof amongst the Broad Left, but it is not the case now.

    The LN/P is still overwhelmingly committed to the bipartisan policy of focusing on Australia’s national and regional defence ie border protection and failed state prevention. Most of the ADF’s recent global military committments have been in the service of UN-sponsored or approved expeditions esp. peace-keeping/enforcing.

    But it occasionally makes globalistic noises in deference to US imperialists. This kind of “talking loudly carrying a small stick” will dwindle as the US retrenches its overseas committements in the wake of its defeat in Iraq.

    Dibb’s “concentric circles” defence strategy does allow for the ADF to make some token contributions to US military adventures. As we see in Iraq. This kind of low-level assistance is useful as payback for US military support in our region. As we saw in Timor. Its called “the favour bank”.

    But anything beyond that is a betrayal of Australia’s national interests. Particularly with the current US admin in the military saddle. Certain members of which may find themselves facing indictments for serious breaches of national security should the DEM’s win back the White House or Congress.

  57. April 27th, 2006 at 19:43 | #57

    jquiggin Says: April 26th, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    BTW, my father was also in New Guinea, but has never been willing to talk about it.

    One can hardly blame him. My (part-time) bosses father was in NG (“Z” force) and, to my knowledge, could bring himself to mention only one hair-raising aspect of that conflict. This was regarding Japanese cannibalism, which seems to have been a major a reason for the taboo on war stories. You cant talk about these things in front of children.

    My father was proud of his wounds but was mortified by his experiences with a partisan firing squad which he was pressed into. Fortunately the one bloke he thought he had to execute was left off at the last minute. It seems that for some it is easier to be shot at than to shoot.

    Dad was dead-set against US involvement in the Vietnam War and I dareay he would have found the Iraq War a no-brainer. Veterans are probably better judges of these things than academics out to make a name for themselves as contrarians.

  58. Stephen Barton
    April 27th, 2006 at 20:43 | #58

    I certainly appreciate Ros’ attempt at expanding my argument. He has captured the thrust of what I was saying.
    I guess I’d just like to reiterate my point- given the odd things some critics have been trying to read into my arguments.
    Kokoda was an important battle, but it did not save Australia. We were engaged in a world war, and events beyond our control were going to ultimately going to ‘save’ Australia.
    There were two underlying themes I was trying to get across. The first is that I am uncomfortable with the way in which Kokoda has been cast as the defining Australian battle. Not least at the expense of some very important battles in the Middle East, including El Alamein. I think it’s a rather limited and blinkered approach to Australia’s involvement in the war. I do happen to think it a tad unfair to elevate the 39th Bn above all other battalions and formations in that war.
    I’m will freely admit I’m a little uncomfortable with what I see as the parochial nationalistic embrace and elevation of Kokoda. I don’t care if it’s from the left or right.
    By the same token, I don’t think it should be earth shatteringly controversial to point out that many on the Left have been uncomfortable with the tradition of the AIF, and are more comfortable with Kokoda. Hence it is the campign of choice.
    Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Prof Quiggan took the view that the 1st and 2nd AIF were used in wars to secure British interests not Australian, and that perhaps our troops should never have been deployed. That’s fine; you’re entitled to that view.
    I don’t think it should be a matter of huge controversy that Curtin was less forceful with McArthur than he should have been. There were things that happened from 42-45 that don’t reflect well on Australia’s political leadership. Just as events in 30s don’t reflect well on the political leaders then.
    That these points generate such an emotive and in some cases vicious response is a little disturbing. But that’s fine; I’m very comfortable with my knowledge of the subject matter.
    And my second theme is that Australia’s security is secured beyond our borders. And yes, I happen to agree with Australia’s deployment to Iraq. I happen to think that building democracy in the Middle East is important, not least in the war against Islamofascism. Kennedy observed in 1940 that Americans were willing to fight for liberty to the last Englishman. Equally I think it could be said that the world is now willing to fight for democracy to the last American. Now, of course not everyone will agree with that point, but that’s fine.
    And thank you Professor Quiggan for the description of me as a Liberal Party apparatchik- it certainly added to the debate.

  59. jquiggin
    April 27th, 2006 at 21:02 | #59

    Since you’re here, Stephen, would you like to defend your primary claim, that Kokoda was “a myth invented by Labor”? As I and others have pointed out, this is ludicrously false.

    And feel free to spell out your concern with my observation that you are a former Liberal Party apparatchik – do you think this fact, not acknowledged in your tagline, is irrelevant?

    Finally, if you’re going to get into historical debates you might take the trouble to copy my name correctly from the top of the page into the comments threads. Not that I mind, but it gives an impression of sloppiness that might carry over into other things.

  60. April 27th, 2006 at 21:33 | #60

    It is a shame that Kokoda seems to have become a bit of a political football. The bravery and sheer hard work of the men (and a few women) who were out there fighting in terrain with which they were not familiar against an army that; outnumbered them, had better logistics, had trained in similar terrain and were equipped properly for it to me at least means this campaign would have been significant even if a side show.
    No, it most probably did not affect the outcome of the war. Stalingrad and Midway were respectively possibly the most important battles. However, for Australia, this had huge significance, just as (say) the battle of Britain had for the UK.
    If Japan had succeeded in New Guinea and then launched systematic attacks on the north and carrier attacks further south the possibility is that Australia could have been taken out of the war, to become a semi-occupied country, like France, which at no stage was fully occupied but had tributary status. The communist influenced parts of the union movement on the left and the fascist right were already campaigning to get out of the war.
    IMHO, this would not have affected the ultimate outcome, which was determined elsewhere, but it was important for Australia. To me, this is reason enough to remember their achievements, honour their memory and work to ensure that we never have this situation again.

  61. Katz
    April 27th, 2006 at 22:30 | #61

    “Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Prof Quiggan (sic) took the view that the 1st and 2nd AIF were used in wars to secure British interests not Australian, and that perhaps our troops should never have been deployed. That’s fine; you’re entitled to that view.”

    Barton seems to be equally adept as a mind reader as he is as an historian.

    To elaborate on that very left-hand compliment, allow me to point out the debater’s trick in the above.

    By lumping the 1st and 2nd AIF together Barton is trying to imply that Australia fought the First and Second World Wars under same legal and constitutional aegis, i.e., as an integral part of the British Empire.

    This was certainly the case between 1914 an 1918. But it plainly ceased to be the legal case when Australia ratified the Statute of Westminster in October 1942.

    And as Barton has so assiduously insisted during his recent eruption into the public eye, Curtin began following a foreign policy through his deployment of elements of the 2nd AIF that was at odds with Imperial policy even before the ratification of the Statute of Westminster.

    Knowing all this, is it any motive besides mendacity that would cause Barton to lump the 1st and 2nd AIF together in his startling attempts at clairvoyancy?

  62. FNQ
    April 28th, 2006 at 00:16 | #62

    I would gather that most of the posters here have never been to Far North Queensland. If they had they would know that it would take a miracle to get an invading force into Australia from Port Moresby.

    Assuming the Japanese had managed to get ashore somewhere (unlikely) they’d then have to contend with the Bruce Highway which is often impassable during the wet season to people with less far less evil intent . When it’s not flooded it just dissolves in the rain and he potholes need filling on a daily basis. The road improvement money from Canberra still hasn’t arrived despite all the promises and several surveys.

    Then there’s the caravan-towing “grey nomads” from south of the NSW border to get past. Every winter the roads become a local driver’s nightmare just as the wet season finishes. The Japs wouldn’t have stood a chance…

  63. brian
    April 28th, 2006 at 00:33 | #63

    So,Steven Barton still hasn’t answered Prof Quiggan’s remarks about “Liberal apparatchnik”…Was he , a staffer to Alexander Downer…?????It would tell us something of inmportance..come on,Steven..don’t be shy !!!

  64. jquiggin
    April 28th, 2006 at 02:14 | #64

    FNQ, you’re forgetting that the Japanese had a crucial advantage. One the numerous one-lane bridges, northbound traffic has to give way to southbound. This fact (in the context of a possible invasion) was the subject of a good deal of sardonic humour when I lived there.

  65. FNQ
    April 28th, 2006 at 02:29 | #65

    John, the bridges have improved somewhat since then (two lanes now) but the moment the Japanese saw the price of property up here (thanks to the so-called Seachangers who have priced the locals out of the market) they would have headed directly to somewhere cheaper…like New York, London or even Sydney.

  66. Stephen Barton
    April 28th, 2006 at 10:32 | #66

    A mea culpa for spelling your name wrong- and I’ll certainly refrain from citing moments of your sloppiness. I’d prefer to play the ball here.
    As to the notion that Kokoda was a myth generated by the ALP, that’s certainly the line the Oz has given it. If you look at the piece again you’ll see that I’m arguing that Kokoda has been embraced because it can fit the preferred narrative of the Left. This has elevated the battle above some of the other campaigns of the war. Because after all, I think the Left has helped fashion how we see the whole Australian story. I think that it would be difficult to argue against this, they have been very successful in doing so.
    And again, I’ll stress that the battle was important and the conduct of that fighting withdrawal was amazing.
    This point notwithstanding, I’ve always taken the view that it is the role of the historian/political scientist to question myths. It appears one may question some and not others.
    As to the Liberal staffer thing, I don’t see it as relevant. I worked for a couple of them when I finished my post-grad. And I was a pretty junior staffer at that. I’m not a party member, and if you see from some Op-eds I’ve joint authored with a colleague here, I have been, on occasion, quite critical of the Govt and elements of the Liberal Party.
    Your obsession with that angle, with all due respect, reflects more on you than me. But I suspect something like that is always going to be an issue for you and some of your readers. Fine, whatever.
    I don’t have time to address some of the other criticisms you made, I got a few classes to teach. But suffice to say, I more than happy to debate these issues with you, or where, any time.

  67. January 27th, 2008 at 07:04 | #67

    I was in the 32nd. American in the battle for Buna & Ataipe. I was a witness in viewing the remains of a human being used in cannibalism on the Sanananda beach in New Guinea. I had to sign a document that I was a witness. There was a container cooking with meat in it. It wa taken off of a leg of a dead body nearby. I will never forget it. I am 88yrs. old.

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