My fear is that Australia’s warring mind-set and its entanglement in its alliance with the USA will eventually lead the country into a US-led war with China. The possibility of stimulating defence industries to assist with the post pandemic recovery only adds to my trepidation.
Arriving in Australia just before ANZAC Day in 1970, I was immediately struck by Australia’s preoccupation with war and sensed its entrenched bellicosity. Despite my grandfather’s involvement in the Gallipoli campaign, I couldn’t identify with ANZAC Day and, trivial though it may seem, I was taken aback to see that the bronze servicemen guarding the Cenotaph in Martin Place (Sydney) have fixed bayonets – indicating their readiness to kill.
However, the decade of the 70’s, with the withdrawal from the war in Vietnam and the reforms brought in by the Whitlam government, gave a sense that this was a nation heading in a progressive and peaceful direction. Tolerance and multi-culturalism, key components of peaceful co-existence, flourished for a time.
Sadly, though, the spectre of militarism is now back to haunt the nation.
Following “9/11” (as we now call it), I could not believe the pointlessness of Australia involving itself in war in Afghanistan. Nearly 20 years later, I still wonder at that decision. Within two years of it, our country joined the invasion of Iraq – an adventure best described as a debacle, with no observable end-point and confusion about the desired outcome from the start.
My disillusionment deepened – although by this time I had become an Australian citizen and I knew that this was the country where the rest of my life would be spent.
The frustrating thing is that the nation appears to have learnt nothing from its various military misadventures. On the contrary, there has been a growth in the scale of the celebration of disastrous military events – like the Gallipoli campaign. We spent vastly more than any comparable nation in commemorating the First World War. The idea that the national character was formed through fighting pointless campaigns in distant lands that were never any threat to us is an absurdity that, evidently, has very deep, social roots.
For sure the nation suffered enormously from its involvement in WW1 – but Australia was never under threat. In WW2, the New Guinea campaign can legitimately be claimed to have been in Australia’s defence. But even then, there was no actual threat of Australia being invaded by Japan – despite that idea maintaining inertia to this day.
I await the day when serious strategists within the defence establishment acknowledge the enormous difficulty that presents itself to any party thinking to invade or take over Australia by military means. The country is under no military threat, and that situation is never likely to change. We are an island continent. That simple, geographical fact makes invasion exceedingly difficult, if not downright impossible. We have an entire continent, with all its resources, united under a single government. We are in an extraordinarily safe situation, that makes our pre-occupation with militarism slightly absurd. The British Conquest took about 100 years before it was complete, and it was only possible because the invaders had extraordinary technological advantage.
What drives Australia’s militaristic inclinations is beyond my power of understanding. Perhaps it is a product of of the fear that the earliest colonisers may have felt. They were, after all, far from ‘home’ in Britain, and Britain at the time was both warlike and vulnerable. Whatever the reasons, I have come to accept that fear and miltarism are features of the Australian national psyche. The nation could be said to be suffering an inferiority complex, that drives it to violence under the flimsiest provocation.
The important question is where do these features lead us? And it is this question that fills me with trepidation.
For out of our history of fear, we have aligned ourselves with the most outrageously violent nation in the history of the Earth (the USA) – as though we can only feel safe when standing just behind the biggest bully in the playground. As Brian Toohey has pointed out, the situation has now been reached in which the USA has a de facto veto over Australia’s weaponry and its military decisions. Furthermore, there is an underlying assumption (on both sides of the Pacific) that Australia will automatically join the USA in whatever military adventure it might choose.
There is growing economic and military competition between the USA and China, and, in recent months, an increasingly spiteful propaganda war being waged by both nations, with Australia an eager fan of the USA. The frightening aspect is that the rivalry between the USA and China, and Australia’s unwillingness to make a rational assessment of its subservience to the USA, take us on a path that has another war as its destination. The chances of war between the USA and China are rising, and the chances of Australia taking part (needlessly) rise in parallel.
Plans for economic recovery, following the Covid-19 pandemic, simply add to my trepidation. For one can observe a willingness to give government expenditure on defence industries special priority, in the mistaken belief that this industry will create jobs – suggesting that it might even assist the recovery. If the recovery is lead by the defence industry, this turns a blind eye to what happened in Europe between the World Wars, when German re-armament was a deliberate, economic stimulus. The Australian government continues to increase its military expenditure, completely ignoring the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire. Meanwhile in the USA, work in defence exports is considered ‘essential’ during and despite the pandemic.
There is no need for Australians to live in fear of being over-run by any other power, so no need for the nation to be as bellicose as it is.
There is no benefit to the Australian people in the country taking the militaristic stance it constantly adopts; no benefit from enormous amounts of money being spent on high-end weaponry.
There is great danger in encouraging any defence-lead, post-pandemic recovery.
Above all, there is no need for Australia to follow the USA into armed conflict with China.
Yet I remain extremely fearful that that is exactly the path we are on. Defence ‘experts’ do not deny this possibility – and do nothing to avert it.