Historian, Writer, Commentator, Consultant.

Invading Australia

Posted by on Jan 18, 2012 in Books | 0 comments

Invading Australia coverInvading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942 (Viking Penguin, Melbourne, 2008)

In about 2003 the book-packager Valerie Harper visited me to ask whom I might recommend to write a book about Australia and the Great War. I suggested Peter Pedersen and in due course his Anzacs appeared. She then asked me who I might suggest to write a similar book about the Second World War and I said, er … well, me, actually. At first the idea was simply a ‘narrative book about the Second World War’, but once the contract had been signed I owned up to the fact that actually I thought a narrative book would be a bit dull and why didn’t we tackle something more pressing. In thinking about the events of 1942 for a 2002 conference I realised that something odd had begun to occur in the Australian historiography of the Second World War. To put it bluntly, someone had suddenly invented a battle that hadn’t existed before about the mid-1990s. I refer, of course, to the ‘Battle for Australia’.

I had delivered a paper at the ‘1942’ conference called ‘He’s (not) coming south’ – the title based on the notorious cartoon. I argued that contrary to what seemed to be a growing belief in modern Australia, the Japanese had actually not planned to invade Australia in 1942. They were a threat, certainly, and an enemy that had to be defeated, but they had actually considered and rejected the idea of invasion. As far as I was

One of my life’s ambitions was to publish with Penguin, and I must say that I found Penguin wonderful to work with, from the guidance offered by publisher Bob Sessions to its editorial and production staff and the publicist Penguin contracted to steer the book through release.

Invading Australia re-ignited the stoush with proponents of the ‘Battle for Australia’ idea. This has resulted in me experiencing some serious vilification. For a sample of this nonsense, see:

Link to the 2006 Memorial Anniversary Oration

The ABC’s The Drum/ABC Unleashed, ‘What battle for Australia?’ 2008


‘Full of interesting commentary, this is an engaging book that will provoke argument. Through it, Stanley has provided a considerable service to the understanding of Australian history. Unfortunately, as he recounts, many of his critics have resorted to personal attacks. His book deserves to be read and debated on the basis of the historical argument presented in it.’
Prof. David Horner in Wartime, No. 44

‘In my opinion, Stanley has proven his thesis categorically. I can recall from my schooling in the 1970s that there was a general understanding of the actual state of affairs and Stanley provides substantial evidence of this. It is ironic therefore that he has been criticized for being a ‘revisionist’. It would seem that ‘invasionists’ are the ones who are rewriting history. This is a very impressive piece of research, with many nuggets of fascinating information. Highly recommend for students of Australian history.’
John Larsen on Amazon.com. See the rest of this reader’s comments at:

‘Historians dream of unleashing the type of debate which has greeted Peter Stanley’s new book on World War 2 …
Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 94, Part 2, 2009:

‘an easy read and it is well argued … Dr Stanley recognises that ordinary people thought that Australia could be invaded, but that is different to Australia actually being under the threat of invasion’.

Except for the abuse and vilification that the work of an ‘English-born’ historian has received at the hands of what one reader called the ‘invasionists’, Invading Australia was positively reviewed. The proponents of the Battle for Australia didn’t like what I said (or, indeed, how I said it), but none of them were able to refute its central contention, that Japan did not actually plan to invade Australia in 1942. What they did do was demonstrate how the proponents of the notion of the Battle for Australia have substituted emotion for evidence in interpreting the past.


To link to Penguin Australia’s website

To see what one of my most persistent critics says about my arguments (even though he tends to quote me at random, and certainly out of sequence and often context) see the indefatigable Bob Wurth’s on-line site.

The problem with Bob’s argument is that while he is agile in insinuating that Japan posed a dramatic and immediate threat to Australia, the best he can offer is proposals or suggestions for invasion made by men who were not actually making the decisions in Japan in 1942. Those who were decided otherwise. While there is a great deal of huffing and puffing by ‘invasionists’, who decry my views as ‘revisionist’, in fact my view accords with the interpretations offered by reputable historians over the past fifty-odd years. Anyway, read these various offerings and make up your own mind in the light of the evidence offered.

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