How did Gough change the way we are educated?

Pre-Whitlam educational policy was overlooked and indicative a preoccupied government prior to the 1970s. The progressive and ambitious nature of the Whitlam administration allowed for educational reform which remains crucial to contemporary education. But what was all the fuss about? Did Whitlam really change the way we are educated now? Or was it short lived?

The Whitlam government’s changes to primary, secondary and tertiary education were some of the most powerful and notable changes to the Australian constitution since federation. The changes made to education policy during the Whitlam term were poignant, specific and effective. The formation of the Australian Schools Commission in 1972, the Schools Commission Act and the Students Assistance Act of 1973, and, perhaps most importantly, the abolition of tertiary education fees in 1974 were revolutionary alterations in the Australian education sector. The effects of these changes are still very much relevant in contemporary education. So how do they affect us?

After the Whitlam government came into office in 1972 it swiftly moved to make changes to Australia’s educational system. First and foremost, the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission was chaired by Professor Peter Karmel and appointed in December, 1972. This Committee was set up to investigate the needs of government and non-government schools and assess their individual requirements to ensure longevity. The setting up of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission was one of the most significant efforts to changing the educational system in Australia during the Whitlam term.

The Karmel Report was the lovechild of the Australian Schools Commission and the Australian school system. It was a needs-based assessment of Australian schools. The Report found inequalities in resource distribution, a lack of human and material resources and a lack of quality of teaching and school organisation. It suggested that there should be set standards of achievement for all students through curricula and adequate resourcing. The Report was important for other reasons. In particular, it highlighted the disparity between male and female school completion which, naturally, drew attention to gender inequality. Whitlam himself acknowledged this in his 1974 Election Policy Speech, stating that “the greatest inequality in the system is its bias against girls: the fact that so few girls compared to boys sit for their final school exams or contribute to technical trades or enter the professions.” He went on to infer that, “this is why women are concentrated in the less well paid jobs in our society.”

Following the guidelines of the Karmel Report, one of the most important Acts introduced by the Whitlam government was the Schools Commission Act (1973). At the midpoint of the Whitlam administration this Act formed the basis for real change in government and non-government schools throughout Australia. The Schools Commission Act represented the ALP’s push into the educational world in an authentic and tangible way. The Act itself declared that “in the exercise of its functions, the Commission shall have regard to such matters as are relevant, including the need for improving primary and secondary educational facilities in Australia and of providing increased and equal opportunities for education in government and non-government schools in Australia and the need for ensuring that the facilities provided in all schools in Australia, whether government or non-government, are of the highest standard.”

This led directly to the Students Assistance Act of November 1973 which was a significant piece of legislation during the Whitlam administration. The Act was designed to cater to those whose financial limitations would have otherwise rendered them unable to attend university. Its intention was “to make provision for and in relation to benefits to students by way of assistance in the form of Senior Secondary Scholarships… Tertiary Education Assistance… and Post-graduate Awards.” A key piece of legislation the Whitlam government introduced was the abolition of tertiary education fees from January 1, 1974. This landmark moment was met with great excitement yet also great criticism. The abolition of fees extended to all universities and technical colleges. It set the bar for universal education standards and put Australia on the global educational map. Further, it immediately enhanced not only a student’s ability to be educated, and thus have higher chances of later employment, but it aimed to ensure future economic stability within the country. How would you have responded to the newfound ability to attend university?

During Whitlam’s 1972 Election Policy Speech, he stressed the urgency to have quality education in Australia, outlining his expectation that “under a Labor government, Commonwealth spending on schools and teacher training will be the fastest expanding sector of budget expenditure. This must be done, not just because the basic resource of this nation is the skills of its people, but because education is the key to equality of opportunity. We can have education on the cheap… but our children will be paying for it for the rest of their lives.”

There was a sense of immediacy and social justice instilled in the Australian public during this time which was powerful in the sense that it mobilised thought, if not action.

Gough Whitlam’s legacy rests on an array of innovative yet precarious changes to Australian policy. It is both reinforced and contested in contemporary society and, in particular, in the realm of education. Education is a broad, complex and demanding sector of Australian society which deserves functional support on every level. I believe that even though direct correlation between Whiltam’s reforms and our current education system isn’t often explicitly seen, he changed Australia’s core values in education.

So, how do you think Whitlam’s reform has affected your own education?

Would you have had the same opportunities to learn had it not been for the efficiency and dexterity of him and his government?


Australian Schools Commission. Schools in Australia: Report for the Interim Committee for The Australian Schools Commission. Canberra, 1973.

McLaren, John. ‘Karmel Report: Schools in Australia’. Dictionary of Educational History in Australia and New Zealand. Victoria, 2014.

Commonwealth of Australia. Schools Commission Act. Canberra, 1973, Section 13.

Commonwealth of Australia. Students Assistance Act. Canberra, 1973, Section 1.

Whitlam, Gough. “Election Policy Speech.” Speech given at Blacktown Civic Centre, NSW, November 13, 1972.


The Limitations of Feudalism in New France

France’s feudal society was all encompassing. The context of the metropolitan affected not only the lives of those living in France’s European territories, but particularly its North American colonies. The nature of French feudal society prevented its development of a strong and stable New France in North America.

The political, social and economic contexts of feudal France were all closely intertwined. Those with power in the seigneurial system relied on the surplus of the peasantry, who made up the vast majority of the population. This low-level farming provided the basis of France’s economy. Predominantly composed of subsistence agriculture, there was a fear that increased production or improved standards would result in higher taxation. As a result of this taxation, alongside other factors, it was seen as unwise by the peasantry to increase their output. Surplus that was produced was taken by tax collectors, and was dispersed amongst the monarchy, church and nobility.

Adding to a lack of surplus was the ability to purchase noble titles and land to solidify power and status. Merchants who were able to build up enough capital often chose to improve their social standing, rather than invest in the market. This desire for nobility meant that there was little chance to develop into a capitalist economy. The wealthy wasted resources on extravagance instead of developing production methods. Once titles were gained, those with land gained much of their income from what little surplus the peasantry produced. In France, this economic hierarchy left insufficient demand for the development of capitalist economies. While most had enough to survive, there was little push for change. This focus on short-term benefits would hinder the development of France’s economy, and have devastating effects on its North American colonies.

Comparison to the English

Unlike the English, France had not made significant steps towards a capitalist economy. Capitalist England had access to surplus resources and a large urban workforce that could be sent to its colonies. France, however, was still predominantly reliant on its peasant population and this showed in its development. Unlike England, the monarchy was wary of sending men and women across the Atlantic, fearing it would affect its own strength. With the wealthy in England having taken control of much of the land from its peasantry, it had produced its own labour market, one of which France was severely lacking. Any excess population in France was quickly swallowed up by its military, or what little urban workforce had developed. It did not have the same numbers as England that could be sent to the New World, regardless of overall population sizes.

New France

Life in the colonies was difficult. Those that travelled to New France faced a variety of hardships. Practices by the feudal French government, which favoured protectionist strategies and legislation, meant that the wrong mix of people was making the journey. Those developing New France’s agriculture were often not from the peasantry. Instead, soldiers and labourers, used to working under the guidance of others, were left to farm themselves. This made the production of enough food difficult in the newer colonies.

Fur traders in canada 1777

There was also a reluctance to send necessary resources to New France. The lack of a significant population meant that they also did not offer an attractive new market, like the English had created in its colonies. There was, therefore, a reliance on Native Americans for survival and the development of the fur trade.

Native American assistance allowed the fur trade to continue to operate under a feudal society. By working with the Native Americans, the French did not need to send over a population to take on the role of collecting the fur, which would have added to the colonies’ population. This lack of population and resources left much of New France in relative poverty, and led to them trading with the Native Americans and English where they could.


Feudal society in France, and its reliance on its peasant population, had left few making the journey to the New World, with only 3,000 ‘permanent’ colonists being received between 1670-1730. While its population did rise, it was predominantly due to natural increases rather than emigration levels. Coupled with inadequate trade, New France was not able to expand to significant levels. So while there were other contributing factors to New France’s lack of stable success, the nature of feudalism was particularly damaging. With an increased population, New France could have diversified its trade, and provided the metropolis with a new market for its goods. Instead, the maintenance of a subsistence economy that relied on the production of its peasants left its North American colonies threatened by hostile Native Americans and an expanding English empire.

Further reading

Beik, William. A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

de Charlevoix, Pierre François Xavier. History and General Description of New France. Translated by John Gilmary Shea. New York: John Gilmary Shea, 1871.

Hamilton, Roberta. Feudal Society and Colonization: the Historiography of New France. Gananoque, Ontario: Langdale Press, 1988.

Pritchard, James. In Search of Empire: the French in the Americas, 1670-1730. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

“Necessary for the human good”: Marriage and Divorce in the Royal Commission on Human Relationships

The 1970’s were turbulent and challenging times in Australia. Talk of everything from social activism around Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation and the anti-war movement to debates on abortion and family life was circulating through Australian media and society. In 1974 the Whitlam Government established the Royal Commission on Human Relationships in order to give a voice to the people on how they thought the government should best tackle these new social issues. The Commission uncovered and explored a host of controversial and emotional issues in their public hearings and written submissions. One issue that the Commission covered that was firmly divided in opinion between the conservative and the radical was the state of marriage and divorce in Australia.

Given the strength and dominance of the nuclear family in post-war Australia, we might assume that the quote in the title, taken from a transcript of the Commission’s public hearing, is suggesting that marriage is “necessary for the human good.” However, the truth is in fact the opposite. The above statement comes from a member of the Australian National University demography department, Lincoln Day, who put forward in his submission that higher divorce rates would probably mean good things for Australian society. Day was one of the more radical people who gave submissions regarding marriage and divorce in Australia. His conceptualisation of marriage was that rather than being a fundamental aspect of society, it was a means through which people were able to satisfy their basic needs. Some of the needs that he mentions include emotional, economic and sexual needs. Day argues that the reason a higher divorce rate is “necessary for the human good,” is because of the social changes it reflects. Day suggests that a higher divorce rate reveals that the social and economic position of women in 1970’s Australia is changing for the better, meaning that women are able to meet their economic needs outside of marriage and “to think of themselves as something in addition to wives and mothers.” Because of this, women were no longer required to stay in unhappy marriages or argue in court that the requirements for divorce have been satisfied.

No fault divorce

No-fault divorce petitions being signed in Canberra, in 1974 (National Archives of Australia A6180, 13/11/74/11) – (

As many scholars have shown in their work, marriage is a key way that many people achieve full citizenship and gain access to the benefits that being a citizen provides. The group CAMP NSW (Campaign Against Moral Persecution) brought attention to this in both their formal written submission and in their oral submissions at the public hearings, arguing that such benefits should be available to all citizens, not just married couples. At the public hearing one CAMP member questioned some of the reasons why people wanted to marry, asking “whether those are really benefits of marriage or more general benefits being sought.” They proposed a reformulation of the definition of “family” to move away from the legislative definition that was largely limited to straight, married couples. CAMP was lobbying to have the legal definition of a family be “a group of people, however constituted, which considers itself a family,” whether this be de facto couples, same-sex couples, single parents and children or adult siblings, meaning that all of these families would have access to the same benefits as married couples. In CAMP’s proposal, marriage and the nuclear family are no longer the cornerstone of society.

In opposition to these more radical views, there were those who spoke at the Commission who were far less progressive when it came to marriage and divorce. One witness from the Lutheran Church of Australia, Daniel Overduin, spoke to the Commission about his concerns regarding Australia’s rising divorce rate. He and a number of other witnesses from various religious denominations were involved in “marriage preparation courses,” where young, soon to be wed couples were disciplined on the responsibilities of married life. Many of the more conservative witnesses, including Overduin, thought that the responsibilities of marriage were being ignored or put in jeopardy by changing lifestyles. In Overduin’s opinion, as women make the choice to get married and have children, they take on responsibilities towards “her marriage and partner and her child,” which is threatened by the threefold responsibility of a career. Throughout the conservative leaning submissions the typical nuclear family is reinforced as the ideal.

Throughout 1975 when the Commission’s public hearings were taking place, the Whitlam government was debating the Family Law Bill in parliament which would see the introduction of no-fault divorce in Australia. The decision to implement this law meant that our understanding of marriage in Australia had fundamentally changed. As the Commission shows, many Australians were no longer viewing marriage as a contract for life or as an institution at the heart of Australian society.


Campaign Against Moral Persecution, Submission to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships, 1975, State Library of NSW, Sydney.

Daniel Overduin, Royal Commission on Human Relationships Transcripts, 08/07/1975, State Library of NSW, Sydney.

Lee, Royal Commission on Human Relationships Transcripts, 28/07/1975, State Library of NSW, Sydney.

Lincoln Day, Royal Commission on Human Relationships Transcripts, 25/06/1975, State Library of NSW, Sydney.

Further Reading:

Mary Bernstein and Nancy Naples, “Sexual Citizenship and the Pursuit of Relationship-Recognition Policies in Australia and the United States” Women’s Studies Quarterly 38 (2010): pp, 132 – 156.

Henry Finlay, To Have But Not to Hold: A History of Attitudes to Marriage and Divorce in Australia 1858 – 1975, Sydney: The Federation Press, 2005.

Shurlee Swain and Danielle Thornton, “Fault, Gender Politics and Family Law Reform,” Australian Journal of Politics and History (2011): pp, 207 – 220.

The darkside of Piracy: The relationship between Piracy and Slavery in the Early Modern Period from a British perspective

These days when one thinks of Piracy they think of the famous pirates from the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ that are anarchists sailing for freedom such as Jack Sparrow (who regrettably never existed). This has been propagated a lot by the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Franchise and the video game ‘Assassin’s creed IV: Black Flag.’ One interesting aspect that little attention is given in popular culture however is the Piracy/slavery relationship that occurred throughout the Early Modern period, with the British perspective being quite interesting. How these piracy/slavery interactions differed; some pirates were former slaves, pirates and privateers would employ slaves on their crew, capturing people to sell into slavery, it differed from crew to crew. The reason for the pirates working in the slave trade also differed as well; finances played the most important reason but there was religious slavery, performed by the Barbary pirates of North Africa, and racial slavey by privateers during the early modern period.

Barbary Pirates

The Barbary Pirates originated from the North African Coast from the Kingdoms of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and the Ottoman Empire. These people performed their piracy not for anarchist reasons but for economic and religious reasons, generally being given permission to perform piracy by their home kingdoms, making them privateers. These Barbary pirates would attack ships containing non-Muslim Europeans and take prisoners to be ransomed or sold into slavery. There are stories where these pirates would attack not just Ships but coastal settlements along Britain to gain captives to be sold for slavery. Nabil Matar has collected many useful British sources about the many slaves who were captured and their experiences during their slavery (Piracy, Slavery, and Redemption: Barbary Captivity Narratives from Early Modern England, 2001). This includes actions such as being forced to work as ship crewmen, working in city infrastructure alongside many other slaves for the government of the kingdom they were sold to and working for private masters, doing housework and possibly being treated quite cruelly. Of course, what sources collected are from those slaves who escaped or were set free, which only tell a small part about the many thousands of stories from British men captured by the Barbary pirates.

European Privateers

Compared to the Barbary pirates the European privateers seemed similar in performing their piracy and slave trade in the name of their home kingdom. The main difference however is that the reasoning these privateers traded in slave was originally to make a good fortune. Accounts on Francis Drake in the 1500’s show him in his youth travelling to the ‘Gold Coast’ along the West African Coast with another privateer and buying slaves to sell. Shortly after this he raided Spanish plantation sites in the Caribbean, using slaves to help with this piracy. This early form of the British Slave trade was primary focused on profit rather than with little racial elements but this would later develop into the racial slavery that occurred often during the 17th and 18th century. This racial slavery can be better seen with privateers like Woodes Rogers, as slaves purchased by him were treated lower than livestock, as they were seen as objects for profit. By the ‘Golden Age’ racial slavery had risen dramatically.

Golden Age Pirates

Slaves during the Golden Age of Piracy from 1696 to 1726 had more freedom compared to those captured by privateers- if they could obtain this freedom that is. It was quite common for pirates to raid the Slave trading vessels, and sell captured slaves when they needed more money and had the room on their ships. There were plenty of slaves who became pirates themselves for the freedom they wished to gain. The main reason for this is that each crewmember had equal say on the happenings of the ship, with these individual pirate societies being the most equal and democratic societies in the world at the time. Blackbeard’s crew was said to have had a third of its members being former slaves and one of his most trusted subordinates was a man named Black Ceasar, a former slave from the West African coast. Racial influences would even affect pirates who were captured, as while most pirates were hanged; if the pirate was black they would be forced into slavery again.

If one looks at all the interactions between piracy and slavery it is obvious that the primary reason the slaves were captured and sold were for financial reasons. It was not uncommon for the captain of the pirate ships to become rich from the slaves sold or ransomed. Pirates who were former slaves themselves would take part in the trade for this easy money. With this put into interpretation, while nationalism, race and religion did have a major impact on slavery it was the rise of economics and primitive forms of capitalism which caused the interaction of piracy and the slave trade.



Cordingly, David, Spanish Gold: Captain Woodes Rogers and the True Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean, London, Bloomsbury, 2011

Friedman, Ellen, “Christian Captive at Hard Labor”. The International Journal of African Historical Studie, Boston, Boston University African Study Centre, 1980

Johnson, Charles, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, London, 1724

Matar, Nabil, Victus, Daniel, Piracy, Slavery, and Redemption: Barbary Captivity Narratives from Early Modern England, New York, Columbia University Press, 2001

Woodard, Colin, The Republic of Pirates, Pan Macmillan, London, 2007

Women’s Religious Radicalism – Confronting Gender Rules and Social Order in 17th Century England

England from around the mid 17th century had its share of dramatic changes. After civil conflicts, King Charles I was beheaded and in place of his rule arose a republican government. The Interregnum period where England had no monarch led to a society of various social, cultural and political shifts. For women, their place within society was traditionally dictated by Protestant religious understandings, and this period of ‘revolution’ allowed space for them to move against this. Religious radicalism can be seen as one example of how women confronted these gendered societal norms and constructs. We have many examples of women using religion as a source of agency, and because of the rise of pamphlet culture during this period, we have various writing examples from these religious radicals. Some of these women are described by historian Maria Margo (2004) as the “Bad Girls of the English Revolution.”

So, just what was so “bad” about them and their texts?

Katherine Chidley’s pamphlet ‘The Justification of the Independent Churches of Christ” (1641) is an example of how women were able to use a growing interest in pamphlet culture to spread ideas through print. We can consider this pamphlet of hers to be an act of religious radicalism because of its content and purpose. Chidley is writing more than random thoughts on religion. Rather, this pamphlet is part of a debate and intellectual attack against a Presbyterian minister named Thomas Edwards, who publicly wrote out against religious toleration across the sexes and varying religious groups. Chidley takes direct opposition to Edwards’ views, believing in what he does not— a ‘spiritual equality’ for all. Going against gendered and socio-cultural constructs of this time period, Chidley supports her claims with direct quotations from religious texts. Interestingly, and paradoxically, Chidley also frames this argument with contextual ideas about male superiority. For example, she says that men are the “superior power,” which she reasons with Biblical reference. But, she then says that “he hath authority over her [his wife] in bodily and civil respects, but not be a Lord over her conscience,” which she also supports with religious texts. Chidley is thus promoting the empowerment of women’s religious rights, of ‘spiritual equality’, by countering culturally accepted reasonings behind the ‘dominance’ of men.

If masculine ‘authority’ in 17th century England was underpinned by religious backing, then according to Chidley, why can’t female religious power be found in the same way?


‘Womens Speaking Justified’ from the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC.

The writings of Margaret Fell are a similar case in that we can see gendered constructs being confronted via religion once more. In her pamphlet ‘Womens Speaking Justified,’ (1666) Fell directly challenges social understandings surrounding women’s rights to participate in religion. Specifically she is focusing on women’s public participation, such as speaking in church and preaching publicly, where there’s a cultural expectation of female ‘silence’ and of “being under obedience.” (Anonymous, 1646) Importantly, in this pamphlet she is presenting a defence of why women should have identical religious rights as men do and does this exactly how Chidley supported her argument— through direct reference to religious texts. This method of Biblicism is shown no better than in the final paragraph of the pamphlet: “You that deny women speaking, answer: Doth it [the bible] consist of Women, as well as Men?” She gives her argument contextual importance by highlighting that it is not just her opinion alone that women should have equal religious rights. For Fell, her points are clearly evident within the dominant religious texts of this period that underpin 17th century English society.

anna trapnel

Anna Trapnell – Depicted as a ‘pretend prophetess’

The case of Anna Trapnell is one that differs greatly to the other women already mentioned in this blog post. Publications produced by Trapnell are biographical and more controversial. Her ‘The Cry of a Stone’ (1654) for example is a retelling and evaluation of a prophecy she gave while being in a ‘trance’ for almost two weeks. Trapnell was thus a self proclaimed prophetess. Prophetesses who believed they could see religious visions and foretold all sorts of doom and gloom had an odd position in 17th century English society. Historian Marcus Nevitt (1999) argues that prophetesses were both feared and encouraged. They could be seen as “an ideal spiritual model” for women but could also be considered dangerous radicals to society and order, as was the case with Trapnell. In ‘The Cry of a Stone’, she speaks out against the ‘Lord Protector’ Oliver Cromwell by foretelling his death and undermining him by comparing him to fallen religious figures and beasts. This was not met with positive reception as you could probably guess, and she was eventually imprisoned for things like witchcraft and “whoredom.” (Freeman, 2011) For Trapnell then, she was using religious means (i.e. prophecy) to further a radical political view.

Although women were often restricted within certain aspects of religion due to established norms within 17th century English society, it’s clear that some were able to find a voice. Whether using pamphlets to spread ideas or using prophecy to undermine political figures and government regimes, religion could be used by women as a positive tool of empowerment and agency in a context of shifting politics, society, and culture.

Primary Sources:
Anonymous, A spirit moving in the women-preachers: or, Certaine quaeres, ventures and put forth unto this affronted, brazen-faced, strange, new feminine brood, 1646. Accessed from EEBO:

Chidley, Katherine. “The Justification of the Independent Churches of Christ.” In A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England. Edited by Curtis W. Freeman. Waco, Baylor University Press. 2011. pp. 48-145.

Fell, Margaret. Womens Speaking Justified, Proved, and Allowed of by the Scriptures. 1666. Available from Quaker Heritage Press Online Texts:

Trapnell, Anna. “The Cry of a Stone.” In A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England. Edited by Curtis W. Freeman. Waco, Baylor University Press. 2011. pp. 373-452.

Margo, Maria. “Spiritual Autobiography and Radical Sectarian Women’s Discourse: Anna Trapnel and the Bad Girls of the English Revolution.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 34.2 (2004): pp. 405-437.

Freeman, Curtis W. “Anna Trapnel.” in A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England. Edited by Curtis W. Freeman. Waco, Baylor University Press, 2011. pp. 369-371.

Nevitt, Marcus. “‘Blessed, Self-Denying, Lambe-like’? The Fifth Monarchist Women.” Critical Survey 11.1 (1999): pp. 83-97.

Further Reading:
Hughes, Ann. Gender and the English Revolution. Oxon, Routledge, 2012.

Nevitt, Marcus. Women and the Pamphlet Culture of Revolutionary England, 1640-1660. Surrey, Ashgate Publishing, 2006.

Thomas, Keith V. “Women and the Civil War Sects.” Past & Present 13 (1958): pp. 42-62.

Sweaty men, Heightened emotions and Agent Orange;

An exploration into America’s memory of the Vietnam War created through popular film.

  “The final lesson of Vietnam is that no great nation can long afford to be surrendered by memory.” George W. Bush       Unknown     George W Bush openly defined and discussed the lingering memory of the Vietnam War that still is so present within American society. It has been constantly reiterated by the retelling and ongoing discussion of the Vietnam narrative, and one of the key influence of this is the reoccurrence of the Vietnam narrative within Film. Hence my reasoning to look at – what is the memory of Vietnam and its Vets and how has film helped shape this. When I think Vietnam I still have a hundred images run through my mind, varying from history, travel, music and most influentially film. The influence of films on the creation of the Vietnam memory and narrative on the American culture has been over whelming successful in creating the memory of both the conflict and its soldiers solidifying a certain imagery in the minds of the American physcie. Film as a medium is not a historical source that reflects direct truth, but rather as described by Jessica Silbey in Persuasive visions: Film and memory as an individual, institutional and culture memory. Most people in one way or another, weather or not we have directly been aware of it have had our perception of Vietnam be influenced by what we have seen on film. When investigating Vietnam on film we are focusing on the memory making process and the way in which it is remembered in American society. The Vietnam genre of film transitioned through several stages dealing and reflecting the grieving process of the American culture and its society. It reflected the initial excitement and favored \ narrative of the conflict initially, but more influentially and content specifically to Vietnam the return of the solider to the home front and their mental and social battles to integrate back into wider society and their home life. This metaphor for the struggling returned Vet is labeled by Keith Bettie in the Scar that binds as the “Sick Vet” metaphor. The metaphor of the sick vet is often linked the impending shame that Vietnam shed onto wider American society as their campaign was not overall successful, also reflecting the need of the American public to rewrite the national memory of this period. Films such as The Deer Hunter (1979) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) explore this narrative of the sick vet. The Vietnam metanarrative lingers in the background of the characters lives as they struggle with their transition back into normality. This is a reoccurrence throughout a lot of Vietnam films, especially those in the mainstream blockbuster film. The Deer Hunter really reflects the notion of normality and the impact of Vietnam rather than a glorified filmic rendition that often occurs within other conflicts. Born on the Fourth of July presents a similar issue. Vietnam differed from the previous traditional warfare based conflicts of World War One and Two for many reasons. The introduction of the television as a household item meant that citizens were almost forced to be confronted by the realities of the conflict. The overall nature of the conflict was not unconditionally supported in the way that previous wars had seen as protests, and consciousness objectors began also to create an unreal in society. Vietnam also differed in the way that filmic reflections rejected the romantic notion of war; its representations have been a lot rawer. The Vietnam genre of film directly reflects the reactions and grieving process of mainstream American society. Keith Bettie describes the Vietnam genre of film as fitting into three main categories forming the metanarrative of the overall memory, being the home front, the healing process, and the healed. The home front was initially a concept in which was greatly to a large extent during the first decade after the completion of the war. Through analysis of an array of films, in conjunction to contextual considerations conclusions have been drawn that the image of the sick vet still lingers. The way in which film presented Vietnam and the impact it caused on the American culture has stuck. Although as, as we see from President Bush’s speeches American has moved on, However America has most certainly not forgotten the crush to the ego Vietnam has left them with. Stepping back and reflecting on the power of film as a memory-making tool really highlights the impact that Vietnam had on a smaller scale, the impact of the every day American and their family. The way in which a film is viewed drastically affects the outcome of the message taken from the film, or in this case memory. Vietnam has been presented as a ‘soft spot’ not only for the ex-Vets but also for both past and present society. Film has held a drastic role in both forming and maintaining this wound on the American physcie.   If you’re interested in looking into this topic further check out:   Beattie, Keith. The Scar that Binds: American culture and the Vietnam War. New York: New York University Press, 1998.   Devine, Jeremy. Vietnam at 24 Frames a second. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1999   Godfrey, R. and L, Simon. “Visual Consumption, collective memory and the representation of war,” Consumption Markets and Culture; 4 (2009): P. 275 – 300.   Michaud, Gene and Linda Dittmar. From Hanoi to Hollywood, The Vietnam War in American Film. London: Rutgers University Press, 1990.   Myra Mendible, “Post Vietnam Syndrome: National Identity, War, and the Political of humiliation,” Radical Psychology, 7 (2009) p. 1 – 24.

Change In China

By the turn of the Twentieth Century China had experienced over a century of continued defeats and humiliations from the imperial powers of Europe. A nation that had spent millennia as the cultural and military centre of its known world had become been shaken to the very core of the neo-Confucian system that led to the understanding of China as cultural exemplar. This humiliation reached a zenith in the mid-nineteenth century when China was utterly defeated by Britain in the two Opium Wars, and experienced the most significant single disaster globally of the century when the Taiping Rebellion led the deaths of over twenty million people.

After the defeat of China in the 1890s war against Japan, the victory of a nation that had been part of the sinosphere and never before a threat to China led to push for reform by the Guangxi Emperor and some of his highest officials. This Hundred Days of Reform program attempted to radically modernise the culture of the government to match the way the military had already been reformed. The conservative members of the elite Qing (the Manchu non-Chinese ruling dynasty) officials, led by the Emperor’s aunt Empress Dowager Cixi had become unhappy at the extent of reforms away from traditional Confucian thought. Cixi instigate a coup against Guangxi, led by Yuan Shikai, the general in charge of the modernised Beiyang army, putting the Emperor under house arrest for the rest of his life. Cixi then halted the reform process.

Dowager Empress Cixi

The perception of continual weakness of the Qing led to the formation of the Tongmenghui, the Revolutionary Alliance and successor to the Guomindang (Nationalist Party) by Sun Yat-Sen (known in China as Sun Zhongshan or Dr. Sun), regarded by both the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic as the Father of Modern China. Sun advocated for the overthrowing of the Manchu Qing dynasty for the establishment of a Han (native Chinese ethnicity) ruled republic. in 1911 the Xinhai Revolution occurred when a group of republican members of the military staged a rebellion and forced the young Emperor Puyi to abdicated at order of the Regent Dowager when Yuan Shikai sided with the revolutionaries. The Provisional Republican government voted for Sun Yat-Sen to become provisional president, but Sun was forced to resign in less than a month in favour of Yuan, who established himself as dictator and eventually declared himself Emperor.

Poster celebrating the Republic of China – Yuan Shikai (left) and Sun Yat-Sen (right)

After Yuan Shikai died China split into a republic of warlords with an internationally recognised government in Beijing who controlled little outside that city. Each warlord ruled as a king over their area unanswerable to any central governement. Sun Yat-Sen and his Guomindang party ruled over his home Guangdong province in the south of China. At the end of the First World War the Beijing governement, which had lent troops to the Entente effort of the Western Front hoped that the Treaty of Versailles negotiations would lead to the transfer of the German possession of the Shandong Peninsula back to China (Shandong very much forms part of China Proper). When Shandong was instead transferred to Japan massive protests known as the May Fourth Movement erupted in China’s large cities to protest the ‘weakness’ of the Beijing governement. Strongly connected to the May Fourth Movement was the New Culture Movement led by author Lu Xun which advocated the writing of Chinese in Vernacular Chinese which uses grammar the same as the spoken language (different depending on Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese etc.) and the adoption of Western thought in favour of traditional Chinese thought. Lu Xun himself was the head of the Union of Left-Wing Writers, a translator of Mill, Marx and Darwin and a fiction writer in which he lampooned the Chinese peasantry’s mindset. At this time the Soviet led Comintern had decided that Sun’s Guangdong government should be supported to unify China, lending funds and training to establish a Leninist (non-Communist) organisation for the Guomindang and to establish an officer training base as long as they form a united front with the Chinese Communist Party. Eventually, after Sun’s death, this model would allow the party to unify China under Chiang Kai-Shek.

Propaganda woodcut of Lu Xun.

China underwent enormous modernising and Westernising as it moved into the twentieth century. The failure of traditional Chinese thought to deal with the threats from the modern West had led to deep discontent within China at the likelihood ability for China to meet the challenges of the world if they continued to assume supremacy without showing this to be so.


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  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. China – Cambridge Illustrated History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Keay, John. China – A History. London: Harper Press, 2009.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.
  • Xun, Lu. The Real Story of Ah Q and Other Tales of China – The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun. London: Penguin Books, 2009.