Trent Duan

Trent Duan, ‘A Quarrel with the German People? The Totalising Logic of Enmity, Narratives of Enmity and the “German Question” on the Australian Home Front during the Second World War’ (PhD in History, 2021)

A significant aspect of wartime discourse is the construction, definition and redefinition of in-group and out-group identities which justify, rationalise and strengthen the support and unity behind a war effort. The totalising ‘logic’ of contemporary visions of twentieth century peoples’ wars, and the horrific realities of such conflicts, facilitated the systematic demonisation, dehumanisation and condemnation of entire peoples and nations. Recent scholarship, however, has emphasised the need to account for unique contexts and political, cultural and moral choice when analysing enmity during the Second World War. Such factors rendered the totalisation of enmity during the conflict, and its concurrent ‘communitarisation’ of identities, contextually contingent, conditional, and far from inevitable, notwithstanding the irrevocable momentum of the enmity process in totalising peoples’ wars.

This thesis explores the logic of totalising enmity during the Second World War. It analyses Australian public discourse and contemporary framing of the German enemy between 1939 and 1945. It focuses on the dynamic of this logic by exploring the structures, forms and contested nature of various ‘narratives of enmity’ relating to the ‘German Question’ in the Australian context. Reduced to its core, the German Question summarises the polarising debates on the Allied home fronts as to whether the German nation and people, through their national character, history, culture and aims, expressed bellicose intent and complicity with the objectives, ideology and horrors of National Socialism and the Nazi regime. These questions, this thesis posits, heavily influenced wartime enmification and problematised Australian conceptions of the enemy, despite the unanimity of Australian support for a perceived just, defensive, ‘good’ war against Nazism. Qualitative analysis, largely focusing on Australian print media – editorials, foreign correspondence cables, reports, the correspondence columns, published speeches, cartoons and images across a variety of newspapers, magazines, journals – and other published materials, reveals several ambiguous, contested and often contradictory enmity narratives relating to the German people and nation.

This thesis demonstrates Australia’s complex response to the totalising logic of enmity. This thesis proposes that totalising narratives of enmity encompassing the German people were far more pronounced in Australian wartime discourse than previously accounted for in the historiography, and grew exponentially as the war progressed. Widely held distinctions between the German people and Nazism professed in the first months of the war evaporated as the war progressed in light of changing wartime contexts. This process, however, remained contested between 1939 and 1945, even though there was a widespread receptiveness to, and expression of, totalising enmity narratives by the end of the conflict.

This thesis investigates the intersecting relationship between three major themes in Australian war discourse – totalising enmity, narratives of enmity and the German Question – to further historical understanding of Australian experiences and attitudes under the pressures of a totalising peoples’ war and situate these findings within the broader historiography of such conflicts.

Supervisors: Professor Joy Damousi, Professor Sean Scalmer