Cor­re­spon­dents wrote the truth

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News -

The old say­ing ‘to the vic­tor goes the spoils’ might as well ex­pand to in­clude ‘and his­tory is al­ways writ­ten by the vic­tors’.

What this sug­gests is that what we can be­lieve for a life­time as truth about con­flict might only be one ver­sion of his­tor­i­cal re­al­ity.

For ex­am­ple, the so­phis­ti­cated and all­con­quer­ing Ro­mans doc­u­mented much of what we know about the an­cient world.

Yet, in many cases, we’ve lit­er­ally had to dig deeply to find out more about their en­e­mies and the is­sues sur­round­ing their con­flict with the in­vaders.

In times of con­quest, the phe­nom­e­non of mas­sag­ing the truth, to ei­ther put the win­ning side at ease in re­sponse to the cost of vic­tory, or to place it on the side of right­eous­ness, has no use-by date.

It ap­plies as much to­day as it did in the past.

There are al­ways peo­ple who iden­tify a need for his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy dur­ing con­flict and work hard to tell the truth or make sure peo­ple know the real story.

Aus­tralia Post has hon­oured one such per­son as part of its 2017 Cen­te­nary of World War One com­mem­o­ra­tive stamp is­sue, which fo­cuses on the war dur­ing 1917.

The name Charles Ed­win Woodrow Bean prob­a­bly means lit­tle to the av­er­age Aus­tralian but as we ap­proach Anzac Day, armed with a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of Aus­tralian First and Se­cond World War sac­ri­fice, Bean and oth­ers like him are part of the rea­son we know what hap­pened.

We could have eas­ily been caught up in a lie that Aus­tralia, as part of Al­lied vic­tory, had won glory and for­tune – in­stead of los­ing a gen­er­a­tion of young men.

Bean was Aus­tralia’s of­fi­cial First World War cor­re­spon­dent and although hav­ing hu­man fail­ings and prej­u­dices like any­one else, was metic­u­lous in his doc­u­men­ta­tion of what Aus­tralians ex­pe­ri­enced at Gal­lipoli and on the Western Front.

Such was his ded­i­ca­tion to the task there was a sug­ges­tion that he ‘even counted the bul­lets’.

One of Bean’s big­gest prob­lems, apart from dodg­ing shrap­nel along­side ser­vice­men in the trenches, was get­ting hon­est re­ports back to Aus­tralians – peo­ple in far­away places such as the Wim­mera who were des­per­ate for ac­cu­rate news from the front.

Strict cen­sor­ship was in place but Bean also needed to pro­tect his sources. It is hard to imag­ine how he worked through the ‘mine­field’ that in­cluded ev­ery­thing from his own con­science to diplo­macy and is­sues of na­tional se­cu­rity.

Bean, apart from his di­rect ac­counts of ac­tion on the front and writ­ing vol­umes on the his­tory of the con­flict, was also in­sis­tent that the sol­diers who made the supreme sac­ri­fice had of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion through the cre­ation of the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial.

While he was a stand­out war cor­re­spon­dent of the time, he wasn’t on his own in de­mand­ing the right to pro­vide a truth­ful ac­count of the tragedy and bar­bar­ity of war.

Oth­ers such as the cel­e­brated Keith Mur­doch, whose let­ter to Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Fisher brought an end to the Gal­lipoli dis­as­ter, and pho­to­jour­nal­ist Phillip Schuler, killed on the Western Front, were among oth­ers de­ter­mined to ac­cu­rately record his­tory.

Their ef­forts in pro­vid­ing a truth­ful ac­count of bat­tle­field cir­cum­stance saved many lives and en­sured that some mil­i­tary lead­ers were ul­ti­mately brought to ac­count.

For­tu­nately, it is all on public record, much of it free of ma­nip­u­la­tion and with­out taint.

• Anzac Day pre­view, see pages 10 and 11.

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