Cover image of the review
Michael Zavros, Pistol grip [Ben Roberts-Smith VC], 2014, oil on canvas, 160 x 220 cm.

The Anti-Art of War

4 Jun 2023
Australian War Memorial

Maybe we should just look at the portrait for a moment. It shows Ben Roberts-Smith, awarded the Medal for Gallantry in 2006 and the Victoria Cross in 2011, standing crouched, arms thrust out, thumbs cocked, as though to fire a gun at an invisible enemy.

It’s threatening, over-bearing, macho, hypermasculine, celebratory, and enormous, like the man himself—some 220 centimetres wide and 160 centimetres high.

And here is a photograph of it being unveiled at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra in September 2014, with the then-Director of the AWM Brendan Nelson, the artist Michael Zavros, and Roberts-Smith.

Launch of Ben Roberts-Smith VC portraits by artist Michael Zavros, 2 September 2014 with Brendan Nelson, Michael Zavros, and Ben Roberts-Smith (left to right). Photo: Adam Kropinski-Myers

The war in Afghanistan was always complex and morally ambiguous. The United States decided to invade and occupy the country in response to Al-Qaeda’s strike upon the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The US then got its allies, Britain and Australia, to go in with it to make its actions seem less arbitrary and contentious.

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