The Cost of War

War, Return and the Re-Shaping of Australian Culture


Stephen Garton

Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2020

Paperback   308pp  RRP $40.00

Reviewer: Mike O’Brien, July 2020


War is an all-encompassing event. It affects combatants before, during and afterwards. It changes relationships, families, friends and nations. The understanding war must go well beyond the bounds of actual conflict. That is why a well-structured military library has so many dimensions other than fighting: economic, sociological, political, psychological, religious, legal, artistic, ethnic – the list does not really end. To quote the cost of war purely in the terms of those killed, captured or maimed is as ill-informed and misleading as the assertion that James Cook discovered Australia.

Professor Garton brings us a revised version of his 1996 book. He reinforces the view that war has changed Australian individuals and society in lasting and frequently unexpected ways. Sadly, most of these issues are on the darker side of the Anzac legend. He takes an informed thematic approach. The return of the AIF was far from straightforward and the reception given to veterans uneven and disjointed. Garton’s analysis of the process of remembering the war at personal, institutional and national levels is incisive. His account of the development and administration of the repatriation system is a model of enquiry. The chapters on soldier settlement, shellshock, re-entry to life at home and prisoners of war are informative and saddening. He has added consideration of the Korean War to his first edition’s consideration of the Vietnam War but left subsequent conflicts aside.

I miss the powerful photographs in the earlier edition of this book. I welcome its re-issue and revision. It remains an important landmark study on the effects of war on Australia.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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