For the last few months, anyone who's been unlucky enough to blunder into my path has been assaulted with the arguments in my book Anzac's Long Shadow: The Cost of our National Obsession. If you're time poor, this review in the Spectator Australia does a great job of capturing them. If you're really time poor, here it is in 18 words: Australia's thinking about war is massively overbalanced towards largely emotive and superficial reflections on the First World War.
A case in point comes via the latest disclosure about the research the Australian Army's History Unit is funding. Keep in mind, money is being jealously husbanded all across Defence and this is one of the few areas of Army with a budget to commission external research. And also keep in mind that this research is coming from the Army's budget, not the Australian War Memorial. This is funding to help develop the Army's capability.
Of the twelve studies Army committed to funding this year, nine relate to the First World War. Some of these are relevant to current Army operations. For example, if his book Climax at Gallipoli is any guide, I am sure ANU academic Rhys Crawley will unearth useful observations from his study of logistics in the First World War.
But a lot of the research seems quite frivolous.
It's hard to see how Soul of the Battalion: Battalion Bands in World War One, to be authored by Jillian Durrance, will help an Army adjusting to amphibious operations and hybrid threats. Stained glass consultant Bronwyn Hughes is no doubt an expert in her field, but does her forthcoming work Lights Everlasting: ANZAC Memorials in Stained Glass really have a place in Army's capability budget? Dr David Woods might produce a riveting work on his chosen subject (Downtime: Activities Undertaken by the Australian Light Horse Regiments in and Around their Contributions to the Palestine Campaign in 1917-19), but it seems unlikely to help inform modern cavalry operations.
Somehow, since it was launched, the Army History Research Grants Scheme has been corrupted to support a cottage industry of folksy but largely irrelevant histories. And the last 60 years of Army history seem to have been entirely forgotten.
Partly this is a supply problem: there don't seem to be a lot of researchers applying for these grants who are focused on improving military capability. But part of the problem is on the demand side: Army is accepting that it should grant money to feel-good projects that are unlikely to improve capability. The money might seem small fry (approximately $50,000 in total this year), but it could fund better, more meaningful research (on autonomous ground vehicles for example, which Army seems to have done very little applied thinking about).
And this is one of the few funding lines that gets reported. I imagine there are plenty of others that the forthcoming Defence First Principles Review might unearth.
Photo by Flickr user Wi Bing Tan.