Tuesday 4 April 2017 by Mel Stubbings. 1 comment

For those of us who were adults on September 11, 2001, our lives are divided into two halves — the one we lived before these events and everything that has happened since.

The images by photographer Richard Drew that the Australian War Memorial decided to buy are extremely emotional — they are powerful, they are significant moments in history and, yes, they are sensitive — but the two images, especially the one of the falling man, say much more than anything I could put into an essay on why we went to Afghanistan, why we have 42 names on the Afghanistan Roll of Honour and 300 Australians physically wounded.

These are seminal moments in our history. This falling man is suspended in our memory and I think it’s extremely important for all visitors to the Australian War Memorial — but especially for the families of those 42 men whose names are on the Roll of Honour there — to remember why they went.

That’s why we went.

Without a doubt it is one of the most graphic contemporary images we will have run, but one of the things I’ve learned is the Australian War Memorial is many things of many layers. One is it is a part of a therapeutic milieu for men and women coming back to a nation that has no idea what they have been doing on our behalf. They can’t explain it to their families, let alone to their country. We have a responsibility to see that their story is told now and not decades after the events.

One of the things that is extremely important — and part of the power of photography — is it stimulates our imaginative capacity to see the world through the eyes of others. What we need to consider in seeing these images is that the US at its core in New York was attacked on September 11, 2001. Three thousand civilians were killed — that’s more people killed than on December 7, 1941, in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Imagine the impact if that were to have happened here in Australia.

Then US president George W. Bush, Congress and the political leadership of the US said, “OK, we are now going to look throughout the world to see where similar threats might come from,” and then it went on to the so-called “Axis of Evil” and other things.

That’s not to suggest we are all supportive of all that happened but such was the intensity of these events, on the US and its political leadership that we have had a series of things happen — the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a more forward leading US, certainly in the Bush administration, when dealing with potential threats.

Threats to the US are threats to all of the values we hold dear as well. Yes we are allies of the US, but we are mates, not just friends.

And so it’s extremely important we exhibit these.

When I was NATO and European Union ambassador, the NATO member countries would say to me: “Australia is in Afghanistan. That’s wonderful, [you’re] not even a NATO member, but why are you so committed to this?”

And I would say to them: “Well, we saw 3000 civilians murdered ... on 9/11, we are allies with the US, not just friends. There are some truths by which we live and they are worth fighting to defend. We had 88 Australians murdered in Bali a year later by three men who were trained by al-Qaeda under the protection of the Taliban. Our generation is facing resurgent totalitarianism. We have faced it before but also it’s the right thing to do.”

But in looking for things that tell the story why we went we had virtually nothing.

Now we do.

Dr Brendan Nelson is the Director of the Australian War Memorial, as told to Charles Miranda, News Corp Australia.

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph on 30 March 2017.



If a photograph ever was essential, this was the moment. So good we have the document to remind us. The world certainly has changed.

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