Overly focusing on Monash demeans both him and the 1st AIF as a highly successful team-based and adaptable learning organisation across the board. Its also unfair to other leaders of the 1st and 2nd AIFs. No serious Australian military historian supports the idea or the claims being made about its supposed need. Posthumously promoting Monash also exemplifies the continuing problem of emotive or ideological mythology about our military history hampering informed discussion of the modern strategic security situation Australia faces.
Letter to The Australian
Thursday, 12 April 2018
Published (with substantial editing) Saturday, 14 April 2018
The proposal to further promote Sir John Monash posthumously to field marshal demeans Monash by exaggerating his undoubted record beyond the wider context and facts in which it occurred.
For example, the first Australian-born officer to command a division was not Monash, it was Sir Harry Chauvel and he won his corps command and promotion to lieutenant general a year before Monash.
Chauvel also headed our Army 1919-30, was Inspector-General of our homeguard 1940-45 (dying in the job) and chairman of the 1920 committee which advised the government, accurately and in detail, why primarily basing Australia’s defence on an imperial fleet base in Singapore was doomed to fail.
Monash, then retired for seven years, was only promoted to full general in 1929 because Chauvel (then still in harness) insisted he could not be so promoted without Monash also being included.
Or what about General Sir Vernon Sturdee, the Army Chief who held the defence of Australia together in late 1941 and early 1942 1942 – amid widespread panic by our political class (largely responsible for the perilous situation), officialdom and much of the populace.
Over the last 15 years, working with expert military historians from the Australian War Memorial, the Army History Unit, the Australian Defence Force Academy and various universities, I have yet to meet or even hear of one anyone who supports the Monash promotion proposal.
The only two authoritatively-objective Monash biographies, by Geoff Searle and Peter Pedersen, detail his many strengths and achievements, record his human flaws, and refute both the themes and claims made by those pushing Monash mythology.
Monash himself specified his gravestone was to read only “John Monash” with no title, rank or awards.
Finally, by overly focusing on Monash we wrongly obscure why the 1st AIF as a whole was such a successful learning and team-based organisation.
And why – being part of broader British Commonwealth and French incorporation of innovative logistics, tactics and technology throughout latter 1916 and 1917 – they forced Germany to a crushing defeat in 1918.
An objective that only a few, such as Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, foresaw as both possible and necessary that year to achieve an end to the bloodshed.
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