Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/July 2013/Book reviews

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Forgotten War - Henry Reynolds

Fighting between Burke and Wills' supply party and Indigenous Australians at Bulla, Queensland during 1861

3.5/5 stars

By Nick-D

While publishers like to pump out books claiming to be about "forgotten" periods of history, they're generally exaggerating. That isn't the case with the Australian historian Henry Reynolds' new book Forgotten War. The book covers the Australian frontier wars, and is mainly focused on explaining why the often-overlooked conflict between European settlers and Australian Aborigines did in fact constitute warfare.

Reynolds was one of the pioneering authors in raising awareness of the frontier wars from the 1980s, and was attacked by conservative politicians and some historians during the so-called "history wars" which took place (mainly) in the 1990s. In this book he sets out to explain the nature of the fighting to a general audience. In doing so he draws heavily on letters and reports from frontier newspapers published during the 1800s to illustrate the brutal and long-running conflict as Aboriginal Australians tried, and almost always failed, to stave off white settlement of Australia. Reynolds also quotes modern historians extensively to - in my view successfully - make the case that there's a general consensus among military historians that the conflict on the frontier constituted a significant war, and needs to be widely recognised as such. Reynolds is particularly scathing of the Australian War Memorial's refusal to acknowledge the fighting, and contrasts the large scale and heavy casualties of the frontier wars with the minor colonial engagements the AWM does recognise.

The weakness of the book is that at times Reynolds seems to focus on preaching to the converted instead of tackling the views of people who argue that the fighting was small scale or not really warfare. While Reynolds argues towards the end of the book that the nature of the fighting did meet Carl von Clausewitz's definitions of warfare, the book would have been much stronger if this had been demonstrated in the early chapters. Some of the middle section wanders a bit off topic, and Reynold's argument that the one-sided massacres of Aboriginal Australians should be considered elements of a long-running war rather than isolated atrocities is not clearly stated. More material on the tactics and strategies used by Aboriginal Australians would have also strengthened the book - on these grounds John Connor's excellent The Australian Frontier Wars, 1788–1838 is likely to be more satisfying to military historians, though he only covers the first 50 years of what was an 100 year-long conflict.

Recent external reviews

Guelzo, Allen C. (2013). Gettysburg : The Last Invasion. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780307594082. 

Trumble, Tom (2013). Rescue at 2100 Hours. Melbourne: Viking. ISBN 9780670076239. 

Mulley, Clare (2013). The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville. New York City: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 1250030323. 

Marble, Sanders, ed. (2012). Scraping the Barrel: The Military Use of Sub-Standard Manpower. New York City: Fordham University Press. ISBN 978-0823239788. 

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Has motivated me to buy a copy of "Scraping the barrel". :) Hchc2009 (talk) 19:26, 25 July 2013 (UTC)

That's also on my to-buy list: it looks like a fascinating book! Nick-D (talk) 10:11, 9 August 2013 (UTC)