War and militarisation has become ever present in so much of our public life.
Australia Day this year should have been a civilian celebration of our multicultural success. But the military were there on queue. They backed the citizenship celebration in Canberra with a gun salute and march past. The Navy was conspicuous on Sydney Harbour and we had the RAAF fly past. Meanwhile all around Australia mixed groups were quietly celebrating our real successes, the richness of our diversity and out social harmony.
The day after Jan. 26 we had the government boasting that it has plans for Australia to become one of the top 10 worlds arms suppliers. This is at the same time as we have announced dramatic cuts in our humanitarian aid program that saves lives. We are to export more military equipment to kill and maim. More militarisation.
When I arrive at Sydney Airport I see our Australian Border Force decked out in their military-style black uniforms. The personnel look intentionally like part of the Australian Defence Force instead of Customs and Immigration officers. There is clearly a message being conveyed. We need to act more like the military
Tony Abbott ran scare campaigns on many fronts particularly the ‘continuing war’ against ‘illegal’ asylum seekers and terrorists. The language was clear, we were at war with asylum seekers in their rickety boats. Scott Morrison described Operation Sovereign Borders run by the Navy as a ‘military-led border security operation’. He added that the battle against people-smugglers ‘is being fought using the full arsenal of measures’.
To keep our fears at fever point and the threat ever present Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton warn us about African youth gangs in Melbourne at a time when crime rates are declining.
Many of us had hoped that at last we were putting to an end the appointment of the Australian military as vice-regal representatives in Australia. But we are back-tracking on that with General Cosgrove our Governor General and General Hurley our Governor in NSW. The military is the norm. How pleasant it is to see a former refugee the Governor of SA.
Our aid programs have been progressively militarised. AIDWATCH has reported that our ‘military forces manipulate humanitarian aid in order to achieve tactical and political objectives. While the military can play an important role in the immediate aftermath of a humanitarian crisis, particularly through the provision of transport and creating a secure environment, researchers have found that militarised aid is not effective and can cause harm to local communities and aid workers’. It added ‘All Australian government activities in Afghanistan that are related to Operation Slipper – whether delivered by the ADF, AFP or Ausaid – are not aid.’ At a Senate Inquiry into Australia’s aid program to Afghanistan in December 2012 it revealed almost $200 million in military spending being reported as “aid”. The acknowledgement raised serious concerns about the close relationship between aid and Australian military and police forces in Afghanistan.’
The militarisation of Australia and our conditioning to it has been most evident in the extravagant celebration of the Centenary of the Gallipoli invasion and WWI. The Australian War Memorial has orchestrated an extremely well-funded campaign across the country, including schools, to depict WWI as the starting point of our history, our coming of age. The AWM celebrates war by accepting generous funding from arms suppliers, the agents of death as Pope Francis calls them
We are encouraged to celebrate the disastrous Gallipoli invasion and forget our great civilian and peace time achievements in the decades just before 1900 and in the subsequent decade. There were remarkable civilian achievements; federation, the national parliament, a living wage, rights for women and an Australian ballot. We were world leaders in these and other civilian achievements but we are encouraged to forget them so we can focus on our military history and valour.
Our foreign policy has become subjected to our military dependence on the US. . We are at the beck and call of the US military, usually regardless of our own interests. With interoperability of equipment and personnel we are locked into the US war machine. We are dragooned time and time again into US disasters– Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan .Malcolm Fraser has warned us that the US is a ‘dangerous ally’. The US has many attractive features but war seems to be in its DNA. Since its independence in 1776, the US has been at war 93% of that time. It has never had a decade without war. It has launched 201 out of 248 armed conflicts since the end of WWII and maintains over 700 military bases around the world in more than 100 countries. Former President Eisenhower warned Americans about the industrial and military complex in the US. The warning should be for us as well as for the Americans about the militarisation of civilian institutions and values. Our foreign policy has been eclipsed by our mistaken military adventures and dependence on the US.
There is great danger that the militarisation of Australian history and our ready acceptance of the military as the accepted norm will lead us to more and more tragedy. We used to believe that committing our country to war was the most serious thing that any government could ever do. That is no more. We go to war without even the Australian parliament being consulted. Tony Abbott could hardly contain himself at the prospect of sending 1000 ADF troops to far away Ukraine after the downing of MH 17
Bill Shorten does not lift a finger to assert Australian sovereignty.
But to keep our fears on high and to keep war machines running we now hear of terrorism as a threat being downplayed and a new threat is writ large for us, China and Russia. The cold war is to be revived.
And if all that is not enough to keep the military in full view we are told by the well funded stalwarts of the American Imperium in Australia that it is all about defending western values. Really!
These stalwarts are the real and powerful agents of influence,not Sam Dastyari. He is small beer.
Henry Reynolds in this blog ‘Militarism marches on’, warned us ‘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.’
Militarisation is becoming more and more pervasive. We are sleep-walking in dangerous territory.
Even Australia Day is not free of the clutches of the military.
War and militarisation have become our norm.