The AIF in Asia and the Pacific 1941-1945: a reorientation in attitudes toward Asia, Empire and Nation

2017-02-08T05:16:41Z (GMT) by Grant, Lachlan
With a population of approximately seven million at the outbreak of the Second World War, the half-a-million soldiers, sailors, airmen and nurses of the Australian military forces that served overseas during the conflict, represent an extraordinary group who helped shape Australian understandings of Asia, empire and nation. Before the age of jet travel in the 1960s, the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) represented the largest group of Australians to have entered Asia and the Pacific until that point of time. This thesis shows how this remarkable group of Australians – including those who had the misfortune to become Prisoners of War (POWs) – helped shape Australian understandings of empire, Asia and Australia’s role and place in regional affairs. Whilst historians have demonstrated the important role the Second World War played in setting Australia on a more independent political path, this thesis will show how soldiers on the ground had developed a clear understanding of what it meant to be ‘Australian’ during this period. Furthermore, where historians have documented Australia’s changing attitudes toward Asia at a political level, and the role played by politicians, journalists, academics, diplomats and businessman in this process – a group that could loosely by described as ‘social elites’ – this thesis demonstrates how an important group of ‘ordinary’ Australians influenced change. This study, therefore, considers whether an important reorientation in attitudes towards Asia by Australian soldiers took place. In the British colonies of Southeast Asia, Australian soldiers’ relations with Asians – as reported within the press and by official historians – were central to the way in which Australians defined themselves. As well as investigating this important development in Australian attitudes towards Asia, the thesis investigates the different ways in which Australian soldiers reacted to encounters in Southeast Asia and New Guinea, reflecting on how the different colonial structures in place affected their behaviour. Furthermore, it will show how by war’s end, Australian soldiers were well informed, and held strong opinions in regard to the issues of colonialism and self-determination in Asia. Drawing upon the Atlantic Charter, the Declaration by United Nations, and United Nations Charter, troops recognised the importance of Asia and Asian affairs in relation to questions on why the war had been fought and Australia’s future role in regional affairs. These issues are made more relevant and important by the emerging ‘Battle for Australia’ movement which has been influential in shaping popular Australian understandings of World War II in Asia and the Pacific at the beginning of the twenty-first century. [11 pages of photographs throughout the manuscript not included in the PDF]