Australian peacekeeping 1947-2017: Wartime Snapshot No. 22

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Series: Wartime Snapshots
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Australia’s first peacekeepers deployed in 1947, just two years after the end of the Second World War. Since then, tens of thousands of Australians have served on more than fifty peacekeeping operations around the world. Some deployments have involved small numbers of individuals, while others have been large tri-service operations, sometimes also involving police officers and civilians. This poster, with its collage of images from Australian peacekeeping operations, hints at the range of missions on which Australians have served, from ceasefire monitoring in the Middle East to humanitarian work in northern Iraq. Above all, the poster emphasises the role of peacekeepers in helping individuals and countries overcome the terrible effects of war and violence around the world. Over seven decades, Australian peacekeepers have established a proud reputation for professionalism and reliability, sometimes in the most hazardous of circumstances.

Background

Australia has had peacekeepers in the field every year since the first deployment in 1947. Some deployments, such as that to the Congo in 1960, have involved just a handful of personnel, while others have been large undertakings involving each of the three services and sometimes also civilians and state and federal police. Some missions have been the exclusive undertaking of unarmed state or federal police.

Many peacekeeping missions are conducted under the auspices of the United Nations, but some are run by regional bodies. Every Australian peacekeeper has served as part of an international force and seven Australians have commanded international peacekeeping missions. Most deployments have proceeded with little fanfare, largely unnoticed by the public. Only the largest operations, most of which took place in the 1990s and early 2000s, have received widespread media attention and entered the community’s consciousness.

By its nature, peacekeeping takes service personnel, police and civilians to some of the world’s most dangerous places. The Australian War Memorial notes that to date sixteen Australian peacekeepers have lost their lives on operations, a mercifully low toll that is not necessarily a measure of the risks that peacekeepers face. That more have not been killed or wounded is a testament to their professionalism.

Peacekeeping operations vary enormously, taking Australians to places as remote as Western Sahara and the Pacific Islands and demanding a wide range of skills, from military expertise to understanding how to organise and run democratic elections. Many of those who have been on peacekeeping deployments take great pride in having served, seeing their time as peacekeepers as a highlight of their military, police or civilian careers. Peacekeeping has confronted thousands of Australians with scenes of enormous suffering and extraordinary violence, but it has also afforded peacekeepers the opportunity to employ their training and skills in the most testing of environments.

References

https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/peacekeeping

B. Breen, The Good Neighbour: Australian Peace Operations in the Pacific Islands, 1980-2006, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2016.

D. Horner, Australia and the New World Order: From Peacekeeping to Peace Enforcement: 1988-1991, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2011.

D. Horner and J. Connor, The Good International Citizen: Australian Peacekeeping in Asia, Afric and Europe 1991-1993, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2014.

D. Horner, P. Londey and J. Bou (Eds.), Australian Peacekeeping: Sixty Years in the Field, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2009.

P. Londey, Other People’s Wars, A History of Australian Peacekeeping, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2004.

Teaching Activities

Use the poster, background information and websites listed below to answer the following questions:

  1. What is peacekeeping?
  2. When did Australians first go into the field as peacekeepers?
  3. Australian peacekeepers carry out a range of roles. What are the three categories of peacekeepers? Describe the work of each group.
  4. What can you see in the poster? What types of jobs are the peacekeepers doing? What emotions are being expressed by both peacekeepers and civilians in the poster? What does it tell you about what they might be experiencing?
  5. The United Nations supports many peacekeeping missions. When was the United Nations established? What is its purpose? How long has Australia been a member of the United Nations?
  6. What factors could threaten global peace and security?
  7. To date, how many Australian peacekeepers have lost their lives on operations?
  8. The Australian Peacekeeping Memorial was dedicated in September 2017. What do the two black monoliths and the path between them represent?
  9. Why is it important to commemorate Australian peacekeepers?
  10. Find out about Major Susan Felsche, who was killed in an aircraft crash in June 1993 while serving as a peacekeeper.
    1. Where did Susan grow up?
    2. What job did Susan do in the army?
    3. What conditions was Susan living in while working as a peacekeeper in Asward, Western Sahara?
    4. Find out where Susan’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial.
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