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April 23rd 2014 print

Mervyn Bendle

Debate? Not When You Can Silence

Writing in Quadrant, Mervyn Bendle took to task the new breed of historians who seem bent on destroying the Anzac Legend. One of his subjects, rather than the debate the issues he raised, reacted by demanding that the essay be removed from public view. Alas, such arrogance is entirely typical

anzac sunA prominent professor at the Australian National University has sought to suppress a recent Quadrant article I wrote critical of the negative academic attitude towards the Anzac Legend. Professor Joan Beaumont, of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, emailed the editors of Quadrant and Quadrant Online, claiming that her book Broken Nation had been “distorted, misrepresented and misread” by Mervyn Bendle, in his article “The Military Historians’ War on the Anzac Legend”  in Quadrant‘s April edition.

“It does Quadrant no credit to publish such prejudicial reviews, and I request that you withdraw it from the web”, she told the editors. She insisted that she has “no issue with reviewers engaging critically with my book”, but believed that I had not done this. (editor’s note: the author was Senior Lecturer in History and Communications at James Cook University, where he taught a course on war and remembrance, but resigned in 2012 in protest at the leftist domination of academic life in Australia. He insists his critical view of Broken Nation is entirely justified.)

My Quadrant article discusses her book in the context of a broader appraisal of the anti-Anzac campaign centred on the ANU, the Australian Defence Force Academy, and the Australian War Memorial. It follows up earlier articles dating back five years detailing this campaign”.

See: “The Intellectual Assault on Anzac
Anzac in Ashes
How Paul Keating Betrayed the Anzacs, and Why
Lest They Forget To Sneer
“Gallipoli: Second Front in the History Wars”

Taken together, these reveal the systematic assault on the Anzac Legend undertaken by Australian historians leading up to the centenaries of the outbreak of the Great War and the Gallipoli campaign. These historians have made it quite clear that they wish to destroy the Anzac Legend.

I wasn’t surprised at Professor Beaumont’s reaction, as I imagine it’s easier for her to seek the article’s suppression than face up to addressing the issues it raises. I feel compelled to note that Professor Beaumont’s first reaction was to demand my article be withdrawn from the public view, not to debate the questions raised in my article. Alas, many Australian academics prefer to suppress criticism rather than engage in free and uninhibited exploration of ideas and their validity. In my experience they resent attempts to hold them to account and always try to avoid discussions that might reveal inadequacies, mistakes, prejudices and ideological commitments.

The simple fact is that academics take refuge in their exalted status. They don’t feel any need to justify themselves — nor is there very much in the way of pressure to do so, as academic history in Australia has become a closed shop. Indeed, when it comes to considering ideas outside the narrowly “acceptable” range, the profession is hermetically sealed. Prof Beaumont might be more used to dealing with robust discussion, and more prepared to confront my criticism of her work, if the history profession in Australia wasn’t so stitched up and insular.

Beaumont’s is typical behaviour and I have experienced it before. Academics attacked me over articles I wrote for Quadrant and The Australian discussing their sympathetic attitudes towards terrorism. They refused to debate the issues and instead mounted a determined attempt to have me sacked and also threatened legal action. One even threatened physical violence

See “Hijacking Terrorism Studies
Terrorism and the Rise of Radical Orthodoxy
Radical pacifists deny a murderous reality”

They wanted me to apologize to them and to have all the copies of Quadrant recalled and pulped! I was able to detail all this in a submission to the Senate Inquiry into Academic Freedom, which was included in their report. This eagerness to resort to threats rather than academic debate in these types of dispute reflects the excessively comfortable situation of Australian academics.

It is undeniable that the Humanities, Arts, and the Social Sciences in the universities are dominated by a leftist intellectual monoculture, which everyone is expected to agree on if they want to survive. Academics review each other’s books, give favourable referees’ reports to each other’s’ grant proposals and academic articles, give scholarships and jobs to each other’s graduate students, and generally perpetuate the same leftist orthodoxy.

Academically, it’s incestuous and stultifying — and that critical mass of like-mindedness and intolerance of dissent has now turned its attention to destroying the Anzac Legend,  doing everything in its power to achieve this. The last thing they want to hear is criticism.

My grandfather was an Anzac who fought at Gallipoli and in France, and Australians of his generation and later made a pledge very nearly a century ago that must be honoured and redeemed.

As a nation we declared, ‘Lest we forget’. We should now be allowed to honour these centenaries without constant sniping from an anti-Anzac elite of obsessive academic leftists.