Heroism no boast: Herald Sun Editorial 22 October 2012

MILITARY historian Professor David Horner has every right to opine that Australia has developed a tendency to exaggerate the significance of our country’s military campaigns, including the Kokoda battle.

It’s his belief, and freedom of speech was among the democratic values more than 100,000 Diggers have given their lives to protect.

However, few are likely to agree with his claim.

The World War II Kokoda campaign, waged by brave young men in the most appalling conditions, must receive due recognition in our history.

Prof Horner says the efforts of our soldiers at Kokoda did not save Australia from Japanese invasion because Japan did not intend to invade our shores.

His assessment rankles with surviving Kokoda veterans, such as Bob Iskov. The 92-year-old discovered maps of Darwin and its defences on the body of a dead Japanese colonel and concluded the soldier wasn’t coming to Australia to “play golf”.

Australia will continue to recognise and honour the achievements and the sacrifices of our Diggers at Kokoda.


  1. This is a shallow editorial that reflects a poor understanding of the Kokoda campaign and denigrates two of the most eminent miltary historians of our time, Professor David Horner and Anthony Beevor.

    I attended the two-day confernece hosted by the Australian War Memorial titled: ‘Kokoda – beyond the legend’.

    Anthony Beevor opened the conference as the keynote speaker. He provided a brilliant synopsis of the political and military of World War 11 – Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. He did not denigrate a single campaign or action – all he did was put the world at war from 1939 to 1945 in perspective.

    Professor David Horner then addressed the conference in regard to Kokoda and its place in Australia’s history. Credible commentators would be well advised to read Professor Horner’s biographies on Field Marshall Sir Thomas Blamey, Generals Vasey and Rowell, his books on Strategic Command, Crisis of Command and Sir Frederick Sheddon and numerous other publications and articles.

    Anthony Beevor and David Horner have a shared experience that sets them apart from commentators. They both served in the military. They both studied strategy at high levels and tactics at unit and formation level. Horner is a Vietnam Veteran. Following are their biographies:

    Lieutenant Colonel David Horner AM is the Professor of Australian Defence History in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1969 and served as an infantry platoon commander in Vietnam in 1971. Following various regimental and staff appointments, he graduated from the Australian Army’s Command and Staff College in 1983. From 1988, until he retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel towards the end of 1990, he was a member of the Directing Staff of the Joint Services Staff College.

    He is the author or editor of 30 books on Australian military history, strategy and defence, including High command (1982), Blamey: the commander-in-chief (1998), and Strategic command, General Sir John Wilton and Australia’s Asian wars (2005). He has been a consultant to various television programs and has lectured widely on military history and strategic affairs. He was editor of the Australian Army’s military history series from 1994 to 2012. As an Army Reserve colonel, from 1998 to 2002 he was the first Head of the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre. In 2004 Professor Horner was appointed the Official Historian of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post–Cold War Operations. He is the general editor of this six-volume series and is writing two of the volumes, the first of which, Australia and the ‘New World Order’, was published in January 2011.

    In addition, Professor Horner is a member of the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal. In the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to higher education in the area of Australian military history and heritage as a researcher, author and academic. In 2009 he was appointed official historian for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

    Antony Beevor was educated at Winchester and Sandhurst, where he studied under John Keegan. A regular officer with the 11th Hussars, he left the Army to write. He has published four novels, and nine books of non-fiction. His work has appeared in over thirty foreign editions. His books include Inside the British Army; Crete — The Battle and the Resistance, which was awarded a Runciman Prize, and Paris After the Liberation, 1944-1949 (written with his wife Artemis Cooper). He has also contributed to several books including The British Army, Manpower and Society into the Twenty-First Century, edited by Hew Strachan and to Russia – War, Peace & Diplomacy in honour of the late John Erickson.

    Stalingrad, first published in 1998, won the first Samuel Johnson Prize, the Wolfson Prize for History and the Hawthornden Prize for Literature in 1999. The British edition, a number one bestseller in both hardback and paperback. Berlin – The Downfall 1945, published in 2002, was accompanied by a BBC Timewatch programme on his research into the subject. It has been a No. 1 Bestseller in seven countries apart from Britain, and in the top five in another nine countries. The book received the first Longman-History Today Trustees’ Award.

    In May 2004, he published The Mystery of Olga Chekhova, which describes the experiences of the Chekhov and Knipper families from before the Russian revolution until after the Second World War. His Russian research assistant Dr Lyubov Vinogradova and he have edited and translated the war time papers of the novelist Vasily Grossman, published in September 2005 as A Writer at War – Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945.

    He has also published a completely revised edition of his 1982 history of the Spanish Civil War, with a great deal of new material from Spanish sources and foreign archives. This came out in Spain in September 2005 as La guerra civil española where it became the No.1 Bestseller and received the La Vanguardia prize for non-fiction. It appeared in English in spring, 2006, as The Battle for Spain – The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. It has been a top ten bestseller in eight countries.

    His most recent book, D-Day – The Battle for Normandy, published in June 2009, has been a No 1 Bestseller in seven countries, including the UK and France, and in the top ten in another eight countries. It has received the Prix Henry Malherbe in France and the Duke of Westminster Medal from the Royal United Services Institute. His books have so far sold just over five million copies.

    Antony Beevor was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1997 and in 2008 was awarded the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana by the President of Estonia. He was elected a Fellow He was made a Cheavlier of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He was the 2002-2003 Lees-Knowles lecturer at Cambridge. In 2003, he received the first Longman-History Today Trustees’ Award. He is also Visiting Professor at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck College, University of London.

    In September 2003, he succeeded Philip Pullman as Chairman of the Society of Authors and handed over to Helen Dunmore in September, 2005. He has received honorary degrees of Doctor of Letters from the University of Kent and the University of Bath. He was a judge of the British Academy Book Prize and the David Cohen Prize in 2004, and is a member of the Samuel Johnson Prize steering committee.

    It is an interesting footnote that the editor of the Herald Sun denigrates the name of the Battle Honour of the 10 Australian and the Papuan Infantry Battalion that fought in the Kokoda campaign i.e. the ‘Kokoda Trail’ by referring to it as the ‘Kokoda Track’.

    Those who have served understand and respect the symbolic significance of a Battle Honour and would never dare to attempt a politically correct interpretation – certainly not in the presence of it’s custodian – the Regimental Sergeant Major!

    I am happy to provide a response from the editorial writer who took what I regard as a cheap shot against two of the most eminent miltary historians of our time. Neither attempted to denigrate the Kokoda campaign in any way – all they did was put it into perspective.

    Charlie Lynn

  2. What was Horner trying to say? I only ask because I have read another article http://www.news.com.au/national/veterans-fury-as-history/story-fndo4bst-1226500261130 which has quotes from Horner…. Are these quotes, or has the journalist taken liberty in his translation to make sense of it? i do appreciate his final comments included in the article however: re respect, and the campaign speaking for itself. It will always be the battle that saved Australia to me…. perhaps “one of the battles” would better describe it.

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