JOHN MENADUE. It is becoming much easier to go to war.

In a post on 18 July 2016 I drew attention to the inter-twining of the Australian and US Defence and Intelligence establishments.The problem however goes much deeper than the current ‘dangerous alliance’ between Australia and the US. As Henry Reynolds has pointed out, we continually go off to fight wars in foreign lands in service of the imperial enterprises of the UK and the US. It is a deeply embedded problem that keeps us repeating the mistakes of  the past. From John Dunmore Lang to Malcolm Fraser, we have been warned about the risks of  going off to war  for imperial powers. 

It is becoming much easier for us to go to war. But it should not be so. Our immediate reaction to the growing power of China is sabre rattling and ordering new powerful submarines.  This contrasts with the reaction of regional countries to the growing power of China. Their first response is diplomacy. Ours is belligerence. 

See below an article that I posted earlier about how casually we consider going to war.

We used to think that the gravest decision any government could make was to take its country to war. Not any more. Going to war for us has now become almost common place. We commit to war after war – Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan – but we are unwilling to contemplate the disaster which each of those wars has brought not only to Australians but to millions of other people.  But rather than face up to our mistakes we hide behind the valor of service personnel who have made sacrifices.

Each of our military adventures in recent decades started with strong political support but they all turned into disasters.

Our current involvement in war in Iraq and Syria is now so commonplace that the parliament does not even discuss it.

As Henry Reynolds put it ‘

The threshold Australian governments need to cross in order to send forces overseas is perilously low. Because there has never been an assessment of why Australia has been so often involved in war, young people must get the impression that war is a natural and inescapable part of national life. It is what we do and we are good at it. We “punch above our weight”. War is treated as though it provides the venue and the occasion for Australian heroism and martial virtuosity. While there is much talk of dying, or more commonly of sacrifice, there is little mention of killing and never any assessment of the carnage visited on distant countries in our name.’

In modern Australia the sword has become mightier than the pen.

The supporters of this creeping militarism tell us that somehow WWI made us into a nation. It did nothing of the sort. It divided and sundered this young nation. In the conscription debates Billy Hughes played the sectarian card as hard as he could.

Countries don’t achieve ‘nationhood’ by acting as colonial errand boys as we did for the British in WWI. Neither do we exhibit our nationhood by being at the call of the US today.

In her blog of April 23 2014 Marilyn Lake spoke of WWI as ‘fracturing our soul’ and that is what it did. In the latter part of the 19th Century and in the first decade of the 20th Century the young Australia did some remarkable things. We forged a federation from six disparate colonies. We established a national parliament, national institutions and a national capital. We adopted the ‘Australian ballot’ which was ahead of its time. We introduced universal suffrage. We established the basic wage for a family with two children. We were a world leader in civic institutions and civic virtues. And we fractured it all by allowing ourselves to be called up for the British empire.

In the lead up to the calamity of Gallipoli and the years of Anzacery that will follow, we are going to be subject to growing manipulation and militarisation. Anzac Day is already more important than Australia Day or even Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. The military drums are growing louder and louder.

  • Our TV screens and newspapers can’t give us enough about WWI and there are years of it to come.
  • The government is funding a great range of programs to highlight our military history. But not our civic achievements.
  • A particular emphasis of these programs will be school children who are already being bombarded with free books, films, CDs and posters about our military history. The Australian War Memorial is running children’s essay competitions to send winners to Gallipoli.
  • In years past Australian service people who died overseas were buried overseas and the family was usually advised by a letter or telegram from the Minister for Defence. Now the body is returned and we make a major public and media event of the funeral, attended by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
  • WWII was arguably the most important war for our survival, but it has become almost a footnote to WWI and the call of empire.
  • Operation Sovereign Borders is an example of how civil policies and programs are being turned over to the military.
  • We are again appointing military generals as Governor-Generals and Governors.
  • We have royal commissions on highly political and second-rate issues, but we refused to establish a royal commission as to how and why we became involved in the war in Iraq. That war has produced a bitter harvest in the Islamic State (IS).
  • Major newspapers overseas, like the Washington Post, the New York Times, have admitted that they were wrong in their support of the allied invasion in Iraq. No major Australian media has done the same.
  • Because it doesn’t suit the military myth creation, we blot out two major wars in our history. There is scarcely any mention of the 30,000 indigenous people who were killed in the Frontier War. We are determined not to admit that the first time that Australian and New Zealand forces fought together was not at Gallipoli in 1915, but in the Maori wars in NZ in the 1860s.

And so it goes on.

It is becoming easier and easier for Australia to go to war.  War is becoming common place. For us  war has become the norm ,but of course it is war in other people’s country and not in our own.

We have never broken out of the trap of empire, the U.K. in the past and now the US.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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2 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. It is becoming much easier to go to war.

  1. I am slowly making my way home after attending the centenary commemorations in Fromelles, France. One of my great uncles, Thomas Beston was in the 59th Battalion that was slaughtered on 19 July 1916.
    As I read this article, I have a sense of Thomas reading it over my shoulder.
    I think one of the greatest barriers to truly understanding the tools and power of the military machine is how the notion of rightfulness is blended almost invisibly into our thought and language.
    The notion of sacrifice was long ago employed to justify/quasi legalise corporate/state sanctioned violence. ‘The gods want us to do this’ was meant not only to dispel all dissent, but also to harness ever greater risk and boldness on the part of these holding the tools of death.
    The power and longevity of this pattern of generational thinking can be seen in the little acknowledged change in the doctrine of the Just War, as promulgated by the Catholic Church. It has taken two thousand years to debunk the convoluted thinking of people like Augustine.
    Still the reign of the system is being diluted daily by humanity.
    I look up at the peace in Tommy’s in his eyes.
    What have we learned?

  2. Grumpy Old Sod says:

    And I’m truly afraid that the only way this bellicose militarism that we now live under will only be expunged when this country is attacked and beaten by a far superior power with significant civilian casualties. We are dreaming if we think that we are safe under the US ‘umbrella’ and I ask those who think we are that do they think that the US would take a nuke on Los Angeles to protect us? The answer is obvious.

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