Decoding bloviation: Pat Conroy and the rule of war

Aug 30, 2023
Male hands against flag background, business and politics concept

Stuart Rees has provided us with a penetrating look at the hyper-masculinity of recent utterances by the government Minister Pat Conroy. As is now de rigueur for most of the MSM (including, sadly, the ABC) these utterances are focussed on justification for AUKUS and naturally, implicit demonisation of China.

SNAFU – but wait: there’s more!

I don’t recall anybody ever labelling Conroy an intellectual heavyweight, so it is possibly unfair to expect of him that he would realise the stupidity of joining the conga-line of idiots fomenting an upsurge of pan-nationalism in Australia. However, by his use of the term ‘appeasement’ in his address to the recent Labor conference Conroy has broadened the scope of pro-militaristic attitudes towards acquiescence to the rise of fascism.

Yes, I did use the ‘f’ word. Yes, I am very well aware of Godwin’s Rule, in both its original narrow sense and more recently as a meme to (unsuccessfully) curtail the use of Nazi references as debate stoppers.

I surmise that Conroy thought he was being smugly clever to erect a bulwark against the usual neo-Conservative faction charges of ‘weak on Defence’. Indeed, that line of reasoning seems to be the modus operandi of the comedy trio of the current government defence jujumen: Marles, Conroy and Keogh.

It is the use of one of the most emotive terms in geostrategic thinking – residual from the carnage of war in the C20th – that singles out Conroy’s blundering into ground where angels would wear mine-proof boots. ‘Appeasement’ is understood to be shorthand for ‘cowardly lack of determination to act at any cost to curtail another entity’s encroachment into areas we consider to be of our interest’.

To be in a position where ‘appeasement’ can rightfully, or at least apparently rightfully in the eyes of a sufficient number of electors, be applied to a government is the political equivalent of being a camel and handing two bricks to the Opposition. So, governments adopt a combative attitude, and one handy epithet to throw around is that of defending the International Rule of Law.

Or, in more precise Australian diplomatic language: ‘GetOutOfItYerBastard’.

Much like donning the Anzac Cloak, invoking the ‘Rule of Law’ is one of those concepts that legitimises everything, up to and including military action. We don’t need, we are told by successive governments, a democratic decision on taking military action, because… the ‘Rule of Law’. In fact, not stuffing suitably-equipped servicepeople on board planes and ships at a moment’s notice to rush to the side of our (happily and coincidentally, always USA since WWII) brethren would be a dereliction of a sacred duty.

Pretty much like failing to have a football game to stagelight the Anzac Spirit on Anzac Day, but with extra munitions – so very much extra munitions – and hordes of dead and wounded collaterals.

It’s a mere detail that the ‘Rule of Law’ does not, in fact, exist per se. It does not even have a formal agreed title; it is just a yumcha train of agreements on offer. Nations pick the bits they like and ignore the bits that don’t appeal. (Perhaps I should not have used that Chinese allusion???)

For example, the USA specifically refuses to accept the International Court of Justice. One might suggest this is pragmatic, since the USA is – who would have thought it? – the prime offender of the rather basic notion that you can’t just invade / bomb the hell out of another country because you feel like it at the time (say, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada et al.).

Or that you might be constrained to respect another country’s democratic government: as Kissinger famously said of Chile under Allende: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

Follow the money – as usual

Of course, it is not just the governments (current and past) that find the ‘Rule of Law’ extremely convenient, though it is the governments who extol the virtue of being the agents of retribution against the declared transgressors of the Rule. All the usual suspects are quietly raking in their tithe (and more) from the crusades.

Godwin’s Rule actually applies to both sides of the same coin: to terminate argument both against and ironically for totalitarian military action (colloquially but not exclusively through pan-nationalism).

It is a damn thin coin.

For politicians, being pro military action (underpinning mind-chilling levels of expenditure on materiel – currently, well in excess of $400BN, I believe) is a win-win situation. Not only do they get to shine brightly as the saviours of our society (‘Won’t Someone Think of the Children.. Farmers.. Parents.. Teachers.. the Elderly, Uncle Tom Cobley and all’) but also they line themselves up for potential future reward. Not that the latter is ever a conscious motive, of course.

Spoiler alert: my first act of democratic participation was to vote in the federal election that bought Gough Whitlam’s Labor government to power. While I have a few times deviated from absolute devotion to Labor, I would mount the steps to the block with Sir Thomas More’s hand on my shoulder in refusal to recant my support of the Whitlam Labor government.

So, it is with deep regret that I say: ‘Conroy, you bastard.’ But it must be said.

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