22 November 2007

When the gunfire stops, peace is declared and the soldiers return, how does society understand and interpret the terrible nature of war and its aftermath?

The “When the Soldiers Return” conference, to be held at The University of Queensland, November 28–30, 2007, examines these questions.

Conference co-convenor, Dr Martin Crotty, from UQ's School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, said the event brought together global experts, from historians of the ancient world to present-day mental health practitioners, from World War I to the current war in Iraq, in order to explore the impacts of war from a variety of perspectives.

Keynote speakers for the conference are Professor Bruce Scates (Monash University) and Professor Annette Becker (Université Charles de Gaulle, Lille III, and Centre de recherche de l'historial de la Grand Guerre, Peronne, Somme).

Interestingly, the conference will largely be held in UQ's Forgan Smith Building – used as the Land Headquarters for the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces, Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey, during World War II.

As the study of warfare has gradually adopted a heavier emphasis on the “war and society” genre, the effects of military conflicts on civil society, families and individuals have become a central concern.

It is widely recognised in both historical and current military encounters that the impact of war extends far beyond the time frame of the war itself.

Much that comes in the wake of war begins when the soldiers return (or do not), and the soldiers remain central, whether as agents or subjects, in areas ranging from politics to commemorative activities, and national myths to the experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Over three days and 36 sessions, a vast span of topics will be covered by the conference including “When Surf Lifesavers Return from the War” – with their high enlistment rates, surf lifesaving clubs provide excellent examples of the Australian experience of war and return in the 20th century.

Another experience to be presented, albeit from across the Pacific, is the “Memories from America” session, some of which focuses on the experiences of the 15,000 war brides who migrated to America to join their US servicemen husbands whom they met in Australia during the Second World War.

More recent military conflicts such as the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War of 1990 are addressed in a number of sessions which look at the social impacts of the war on Australian soldiers’ wives and the place of the Vietnam Veteran in the ANZAC ethos and the commemoration of war.

Commemoration, grief and mourning also provide frameworks for a number of other fascinating panel sessions which look at the healing processes of the soldier’s family, community and country particularly in World War I where the bodies of more than 25,000 of the 60,000 Australians who were killed were either unidentified or unidentifiable. The grief of families of the “missing” was intensified by the lack of certainty regarding their fate.

This conference demonstrates the breadth of areas of society that war touches and the enormity of its legacy on the past, present and future of us all.

For all information and registration details, visit www.uq.edu.au/hprc/soldiersreturn.

Media inquiries: Dr Crotty (3365 6388 or 0401 860 094), Tara Young (3365 3072 or 0408 159 805), or Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications (3365 1931).