Peter Stanley has become a target for the tabloid press along with those of similar ilk, and he has done it based on events over 60 years ago. His book, Invading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942 (Amazon or cheaper in Australia) is an easy read and it is well argued. The first section sets the scene, not just in describing the build-up to war but also the development of invasion phobia. From the late 1800s there began to appear what is sometimes described as invasion literature. Stories about Australia being attacked and invaded by various different countries depending on the concern at the time. Think of techno thrillers like Tom Clancy but playing on popular concerns. Not everyone in Australia probably read those books but it is easy to imagine that with limited communications (no TV nor internet) that perception was the strongest reality. (As an aside I ended up searching out one of these invasion books and found that it bore the library stamp of the Australian Intelligence Corps, SA District,17 May 1910. Maybe it was as popular then as Tom Clancy was during the 1990s.)
The next section deals with what happened during the war and it is this section that Dr Stanley uses to convey the thrust of his argument. The argument is not new; he only needs to use the sources that already exist. It is not like he has searched through newly opened archives to garner a new insight; he is bringing to light what has already been shown. He repeatedly refers to the so-called invasion money, although stringing the reader on by leaving discussion on that subject until it fits his narrative. There was invasion money, printed with denominations similar to Australia’s, but he points out that this was for the mandated territories such as PNG. He proves that point simply by using the half-shilling denomination that did not exist in Australia but was legal tender in PNG. I thought that it was accepted by all historians that Australia was not under direct threat during World War Two. Yes, Australia was attacked from the air and by submarines but this was to isolate th country, not invade it. The ‘invasion threat’ in the public’s mind was supported by a government information campaign as the threat was a good motivator to work hard as well as for enlistment. Dr Stanley recognises that ordinary people thought that Australia could be invaded, but that is different to Australia actually being under the threat of invasion.
The last section is about what has happened to change fact to perception since the war. Dr Stanley notes that he is actually writing a ‘revisionist history’ after the populist historians have already confused the issue that was clearly spelled out in the official histories in the1960s; there was no planned invasion of Australia. Some people seem to have read articles about Dr Stanley’s arguments and used those articles to lambast him. They have also assumed that he is somehow denigrating the sacrifices of those Australians who died in the battles around Australia while Australia was on the defensive. He tackled an emotional subject by pointing out that as the Japanese invasion convoy on its way to Port Morseby was halted in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the overland attack, the Battle for Kokoda, against that city was Plan B, then the Japanese force along the Kokoda Track was no invasion force against Australia as the Japanese could not get from PNG to Australia. He does acknowledge that had the war gone differently, that is had PNG been taken by the Japanese and the Solomon Islands were secured against an Allied attack then maybe Australia might have come back into planning – if of course China was defeated and Russia was defeated by Nazi Germany. There is now a Battle for Australia Day in Australia, although the official announcement avoided talking about an invasion.
Dr Stanley is not trying to denigrate the sacrifices of Australians during World War Two, he has too much respect for them having spent so many years publicising those sacrifices at the Australian War Memorial. What he is saying is that the whole war was a Battle for Australia, as Australia was part of the allied effort to defend freedom against Nazism, Fascism and Imperial Japan. In his own words:
But I would argue that we should indeed always remember that between 1939 and 1945 Australians mobilised to fight for values that we still hold dear today. In both Asia and in Europe, Australians made a clear contribution to Allied victory, to the defeat of oppression and to the restoration of the international rule of law. Just as the conflict was a global war, so Australia’s response was global. That gives a longer-lasting and more secure claim than to a concentration on a perceived threat to Australia itself. (Source)
The above quote was taken from a speech that Dr Stanley gave at the Australian War Memorial in 2006, in an effort to balance the populist history view. The whole article can be read here if you do not want to read the book. However, I can thoroughly recommend the book as a good read about how attitudes are formed and about an interesting period in Australia’s history.