The War Game
Australian war leadership from Gallipoli to Iraq
by David Horner
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $45.00 in paperback
Author David Horner is an emeritus professor in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU. He served as an infantry platoon commander in the Vietnam War and later, as a colonel, was head of the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre. He is the author or editor of 37 books on Australian military history, defence and intelligence which means his credentials are unrivalled in his field as Australia’s preeminent military historian.
So why, he asks, has Australia gone to war nine times in a century? And how has its political and defence force leaders handled the greatest challenge a nation can face?
Committing the nation to war is the gravest decision its leaders can make. Horner explores the relationships between some of the most dominant political leaders in Australian history – Billy Hughes, Robert Menzies, John Curtin, Harold Holt, John Gorton, Bob Hawke and John Howard – and their top military commanders, including William Birdwood, John Monash, Brudenell White, Thomas Blamey, Vernon Sturdee, Douglas MacArthur, Sydney Rowell, Frederick Scherger, John Wilton, Peter Gration and Peter Cosgrove.
He also raises important questions about the process of war leadership. Should political leaders leave the conduct of the war to their top military commanders or should they interfere? Have Australia’s war leaders always made wise decisions?
Given that Australia has always fought as a junior partner in a coalition, either within the British Empire or as part of the US alliance, how should Australia’s leaders manage these alliance arrangements? And how should Australia’s future war leaders prepare for the tasks ahead?
Ultimately, it is the soldiers, their families, and the Australian people who must endure the legacy of war.
What price, for example, did then Prime Minister John Howard pay for supporting the war in Iraq based on the false claims of weapons of mass destruction?
In declaring that the lessons drawn from the past century are still relevant today, Horner finishes with a word of warning: ‘… Australia would be wise to treat any US plan for war with deep suspicion; and Australia should not smugly assume that it might not engage in the same faulty process in the future.’
That, indeed, is food for thought.