A Q&A with Jack Cunningham

A Q&A with Jack Cunningham

Posted on October 25 by Jack Cunningham in Non-fiction
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How did you come up with the idea for the book Australia and Canada in Afghanistan?

It's a collection of papers delivered at a conference to my colleagues at the Graham Centre held at the University of Toronto two years ago, in partnership with the Canadian Forces College and the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy. We brought together diplomats and military personnel as well as scholars from both Canada and Australia to assess the two countries' respective experiences in Afghanistan. The papers were provocative, original, and sometimes surprising, so my co-editor Bill Maley and I thought it made sense to bring them to a wider audience.


Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it?

Canada and Australia are in some ways similar countries: former British colonies, "middle" or regional powers, with complicated alliance relationships with the United States. But their experiences in Afghanistan were not only similar in some ways but very divergent in others, in ways that reflected differences in history, domestic political culture, and position on the map. As a historian, I believe that details of circumstance matter to the ways event unfold, and this project was a healthy reminder of that. Our contributors brought out many of these details in ways that I found interesting and that I expect others to find interesting too.


Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

Policymakers and other scholars to some extent. But there's a lot of interest among the Canadian public in military history, and Canadians who are aware of the importance of the Afghan mission will find something new and interesting in pretty much every chapter of this book. So will Australians with similar interests.


What are you reading right now?

I recently finished Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy on the First World War and Geoffrey Ward's two volumes on FDR, and I'm starting Andrew Hodges' biography of Alan Turing. I read huge amounts of history and biography, with a strong focus on war and diplomacy, but I try to keep up with contemporary fiction as well. I don't want to become one of those narrow specialists who know nothing outside their own specializations!


What is your new project?

After our Afghanistan conference, we had a conference in Canberra, where our Australian partners played host. This looked at the respective Canadian and Australian decisions on participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The papers from that were equally provocative, so Ramesh Thakur and I have put them together in another co-edited volume, Australia, Canada, and Iraq