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All peacekeepers should be included on Roll of Honour

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The original idea for the War Memorial's list was based on equality of sacrifice, writes Peter Londey

Avril Clark, left, carries a box of petitions as she walks past the Roll of Honour with Sarah McCarthy at the Australian War Memorial last month.

Avril Clark, left, carries a box of petitions as she walks past the Roll of Honour with Sarah McCarthy at the Australian War Memorial last month. Photo: Alan Porritt

Should peacekeepers be listed on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial? At the moment, some are and some aren't. This is not a new issue, as I shall show, but now finally it seems to be moving towards a resolution.

Recently Sarah McCarthy and Avril Clark presented the Australian War Memorial Council with a petition, signed by 17,800 people, calling for the inclusion of peacekeepers on the Roll, and on November 28 the Senate overwhelmingly passed a motion to the same effect.

The bronze panels of the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial list 102,000 names of Australians who have died serving the country in conflicts dating back to the 19th century. The idea for the Roll of Honour came to Charles Bean during World War I, at a time when he was shocked by the carnage on the Western Front. Bean wanted a list of names, by town of origin, so that we could remember the dead as individuals, not as an undifferentiated mass.

There was to be a long gestation period. During the 1920s and '30s the War Memorial wrestled with the question of who should be on the Roll of Honour. Eligibility was defined very broadly. Any member of the Australian services who died after enlistment for overseas service - whether or not they actually made it overseas - would be included.

The cause of death was not an issue. The 100,000 dead whose names we see today include those who died as a direct result of enemy action, those who died of sickness, and those who died accidentally. Ninety-four of those on the World War I roll committed suicide or died of self-inflicted wounds. Civilians also were to be included, most notably merchant seamen.

After decades of delay, the Roll of Honour was finished off in a rush, in the 1950s. Like the War Memorial itself, it was expanded to include World War II. The promise that merchant seamen would be included was abandoned, and administrative practicality (rather than any policy change) dictated that the dead would be listed by military unit rather than under the name of their home town.

In January 1988 Sarah McCarthy's father, Captain Peter McCarthy, died while serving as an unarmed military observer with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in southern Lebanon. McCarthy was on a routine patrol. He and a Canadian observer had driven up a hill that provided extensive views of the coastal area between Tyre and the Israeli border. On the way up, they had nearly been forced off the road by an Israeli armoured personnel carrier. Coming down early in the afternoon, they hit a landmine. McCarthy was killed, the Canadian seriously injured.

McCarthy was not the first Australian peacekeeper to die: General Robert Nimmo had died in 1966 while commanding UN military observers in Kashmir, while three Australian police had died in Cyprus (one, like McCarthy, killed by a landmine). But McCarthy's death forced the War Memorial to face the question of whether peacekeepers should be added to the Roll of Honour.

The Roll of Honour had steadily been expanded to include new conflicts: Korea, Malaya, Confrontation, Vietnam. By the 1980s, with Vietnam fading into the past, only peacekeepers were being deployed into conflict zones. McCarthy's death reminded everybody that peacekeeping, too, could be dangerous.

The War Memorial's council set up a subcommittee to investigate the matter. The committee consulted widely: the Chief of the Defence Force, General Peter Gration, commented on the importance and the dangers of peacekeeping. The committee recommended including peacekeepers on the Roll of Honour, and in 1989 the council resolved to add a further bronze plaque, headed ''Peacekeeping Operations'', to the Roll. It was all settled, except that nothing happened. Presumably through bureaucratic inertia, the bronze plaque headed ''Peacekeeping Operations'' never saw the light of day. And eight years later, when the council revisited the issue, a more restrictive policy was adopted, whereby only those peacekeepers who died on operations deemed ''warlike'' by Defence and Veterans' Affairs would be added to the Roll.

Central to Bean's concept of the Roll of Honour was the idea of equality of sacrifice. Whatever rank an individual had held, whether they were a coward or a hero, however they had met their death, they had all ultimately lost their life, and in that they were equal. The same, surely, is true of those who have died serving for Australia in multinational peacekeeping operations.

However they died, and however Australia has chosen to classify the operation in which they died, the fact of their death should award them equal treatment at the War Memorial. It is time for the Memorial's council to go back to the decision it already made, in 1989, and include all peacekeepers on the Roll of Honour.

Dr Londey teaches in the school of cultural inquiry at the Australian National University, and is a member of the team writing the Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations.

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