JOHN MENADUE. It is becoming much easier to go 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 valour 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. Step by step we are venturing into very dangerous territory.


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

  1. Avatar michael lacey says:

    “War is the health of the state,” the radical writer Randolph Bourne said, in the midst of the First World War. Indeed, as the nations of Europe went to war in 1914, the governments flourished, patriotism bloomed, class struggle was stilled, and young men died in frightful numbers on the battlefields-often for a hundred yards of land, a line of trenches. Not much has changed!
    One could also add , Smedley Darlington Butler (1898 to 1931) was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. By the time he retired he had achieved what was then the corps’s highest rank, major general, and by the time he died in 1940, at 58, he had more decorations, including two medals of honor, than any other Marine. During his years in the corps he was sent to the Philippines (at the time of the uprising against the American occupation), China, France (during World War I), Mexico, Central America, and Haiti. His referred to himself as a thug or stand over man doing the bidding of the corporations at the time much like the mafia!
    “War is a racket. It always has been.
    It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”
    Again nothing has changed!
    Good post cheers!

  2. Avatar David Brown says:

    in the “old” days we used to be able to recognise when a war started and when it ended…
    now our wars havent been ending, they just morph into more conflicts

    mostly driven by the US and its military industrialist complex, following trade in oil and weapons and inflated egos

    our politicians have discovered that war, hate, fear are great for reviving bored voters and the US/Israel/Saudi so ready to drag us all into the continuing adventures noone bothers to ask the questions, why should we do this

    Pyne has his sinecure buying 12 (why not 4?) diesel submarines all with the nuclear option

    apparently we might have some new aircraft carefully locked into the US mould to make us really vulnerable if the chinese want to do something in their backyard and the US want us to lose some equipment and people so they can sell us some more…..

    our Libs and wealthy 1% with no morals or understanding of anything beyond the next 5 years love this making money out of war

    I dont think I am a robot but I feel like a slave

  3. Avatar david gray says:

    We need a strong counter-narrative against the kind of PR-led “Anzacery”that appears to be intended to keep Australians compliant to the more-or-less continuous wars in which we are involved for little or no strategic purpose. The counter-narrative should reveal the history of anti-war movements. Both Australia and New Zealand had quite strong anti-war movements at the time of WW1. My paternal grandfather was a conscientious objector on moral grounds as a staunch Methodist, sentenced (as a religious objector) under draconian new Zealand legislation. My 98 year-old uncle was a conscientious objector on religious and moral grounds in WW2, who nevertheless served as a YMCA representative and volunteer medical orderly for the NZ army in the Middle East and Italian fronts, bringing wounded soldiers to the field hospital in his jeep under fire for three years. He was ultimately badly wounded. He is a real hero in my book, but people like him are rarely part of the current narrative.

    Whilst I deeply respect the Australians who have served their country in various fighting and non-fighting capacities, this is quite separate from agreeing with the policies that put them, often needlessly, in harm’s way and damaged them and those fellow humans against whom they fought.

    Our confused and confusing involvement as a country in the Afghanistan war is a case in point. Did we know why we were there? Did we understand the ethnic complexities? What strategic interest did our involvement serve? Did it make Australia safer?

    We as Australians will “come of age” as a nation when we face our real history, and build a narrative respectful of First Australians and of the many insightful Australians who have been rightly objecting to our almost continuous involvement in other peoples’ wars. When we say “no” to subservient follower-ship.

  4. Thanks John. Your article points out that the major beneficiaries of this tragic history and culture are the politicians. Their escape from responsibility is a blot on all of us. But they cannot do it on their own. Just like any immoral dictator they have to have their flunkies and unprincipled, anything for a bob citizens. It could be the guy next door who supplies the educational materials to further fracture the souls of children with propaganda, the Director of the Australian War Memorial benefiting from the seven pieces of silver from arms suppliers, the spruikers and journalists devoid of civil courage late in April annually. Then there are those who treat ex-service people who ought speak out about prevention rather than patching bodies and minds or the maladies of their partners and children. Flag sellers, ribbon and rose sellers there are so many who benefit from the unthinking banalities of a conflated day of celebration that it becomes clear that the irresponsible politicians have many loyal beneficiaries to support the social evil.

  5. Avatar Mike Gilligan says:

    What is the source of the militarism which has increasingly pervaded our discourse. government spending and public activity in recent decades ( apart from political predilection to keep citizens anxious and beholden)?
    My own reading is that it originated in Hawke’s ministrys and the fingerprints of the players are to be found far and wide, freshly applied to this day. Until we get serious about understanding how this shift has taken hold militarism will flourish here, a place that is inherently secure.

  6. Avatar Anthony J Mitchell says:

    Thanks for this one John.
    At school in the 50’s we were taught ; ” WW l made us as a nation”. Subsequent reading and thinking has corrected this pathetic and shallow propaganda; ( and reflecting on the gassed and maimed young uncles and others who survived this hellhole). And as for Anzacery and Gallipoli…………….words fail.. As children we used to wonder why our father was not more gung-ho, indeed depressed about Korea and Vietnam. I’ve begun to understand.
    Cheers Tony Mitchell (brother of Alex)

  7. Avatar Lynne Newington says:

    Touching on the Iraq war, where will it leave John Howard if Tony Blair is found wanting in the present inquiry with George Bush and his “God told him to invade Iraq” statement…..In the present mindset I quess we’ll just have to hope there’s no more messages from God.

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