Criteria for inclusion on the AWM Roll-of-Honour

The criteria supposedly governing inclusion on the Roll-of-Honour at the Australian War Memorial are inconsistent historically, flawed conceptually and indefensible morally.

Letter to The Canberra Times

Tuesday, 18 December 2012
(not published)

Eugene Holzapfel (Letters, December 18) misunderstands Peter Londey’s article (Canberra Times, December 14).

The title of Dr Londey’s comprehensive 2004 history of Australian peacekeeping operations, “Other People’s Wars”, aptly sums up the crux of the issue.

There will also always be cut-off dates for inclusion on the AWM Roll-of-Honour or indeed for campaign medal qualification.

But it is the duty, deployment and dangers involved, not overly bureaucratic definitions of whether it is an “Australian war” or not, that should primarily govern inclusion.

In 1989 I wrote the first complete history of Australian peacekeeping (to that date) and was later the author of the Army’s peacekeeping manual.

I soon received a deputation of very angry young captains.

The commandant of RMC Duntroon had vetoed the inclusion of their classmate, Captain Peter McCarthy, on the college flag station where graduates killed in the line of duty overseas are honoured.

This decision was misinformed rather than ill-intentioned and was subsequently reversed after careful discussions.

It largely stemmed from the historical trend whereby some in each era of war veterans come to believe that only their experience was a “real war” and that succeeding operational experiences are not or are of lesser value.

Just as some World War II veterans were dismissive of Vietnam as a real war, some Vietnam veterans fundamentally misunderstood the peculiar dangers and stresses of the more dangerous forms of peacekeeping.

They wrongly believed, for example, that peacekeeping could never result in PTSD or indeed provide worthwhile operational experiences.

On 12 January 1988 Peter McCarthy was blown up by a landmine in Lebanon doing his duty as an Army officer on an overseas operational deployment at the direction of his government.

The dangers Peter faced and the one that killed him were no less than that faced by thousands listed on the AWM Roll-of-Honour and greater than many.

The AWM Roll properly includes those killed by illness, injuries or in training accidents during both World Wars, including in Australia, not just those killed in action or died of wounds when fighting overseas.

Peter has a widow, children, siblings, parents and he will have generations of descendants.

They too should be able to draw some comfort from his inclusion on the AWM Roll.

Bureaucratic definitions of warlike and non-warlike merely govern compensation and medallic recognition arrangements and try to rigidly classify necessarily fluid concepts anyway.

They can also change over time as with the Namibia, Cambodia and Rwanda  deployments.  

Captain Peter McCarthy’s death, when deployed on dangerous duties overseas in a war, is now honoured on the flag station at RMC. It should also be recorded on the AWM Roll-of-Honour.

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