JOHN MENADUE- Sacrifice is being politicised. Militarism is becoming the norm.

Remembrance is morphing into  acceptance of conflict. The culture war about remembrance being waged by conservatives and the military is winning with little opposition.  The never ending stories of Gallipoli, the Western front and Armistice go on and on. We are celebrating war on a scale that no other country does. Government ministers,  Veterans Affairs, the Australian War Memorial and the media  imbedded in the military complex can’t contain themselves. Public occasions are invariably  backgrounded by numerous  flags and  the military, often regardless of the subject at hand.

So that we won’t ask the hard question WHY we fight in so many futile wars we immerse ourselves in HOW we fight. We are deceiving ourselves.

Australia Day should be a civilian celebration of our multicultural success. But even then the military are there on queue. They back the citizenship celebrations in Canberra with a gun salute and march past. The Navy is conspicuous on Sydney Harbour and we have an RAAF fly past. The military drown out all the mixed groups around Australia who  quietly celebrate our real successes, the richness of our  civil society  with its diversity and  social harmony.

The day after Jan. 26 this year 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.  Our allies like the Saudis and the UAE welcome our support as they inflict terrible suffering on the people of Yemen. Even a  retired Australian general works for the UAE .

When we arrive at our airports  we see our Australian Border Force decked out in  military-style black uniforms. They intentionally look 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

The government runs many scare campaigns ,particularly the ‘continuing war’ against ‘illegal’ asylum seekers and terrorists. The language is clear, we were at war with asylum seekers in their rickety boats. Scott Morrison describes Operation Sovereign Borders run by the Navy as a ‘military-led border security operation’. He adds that the battle against people-smugglers ‘is being fought using the full arsenal of measures’. Peter Dutton tells us that a military look alike called Border Force is more important than ever.

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.

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 has been most evident in the extravagant celebration of the Centenary of the Gallipoli invasion and WWI. The Australian War Memorial has orchestrated a well-funded campaign across the country, including schools, to depict WWI as the starting point of our history, our coming of age. Our media love it. The AWM celebrates war by accepting generous funding from arms suppliers, the ‘agents of death’ as Pope Francis calls them. As Douglas Newton put it in this blog, it is grotesque that the AWM accepts money and sponsorship from arms suppliers. The agents of death are well and truly within the citadel. They even fund the Invictus Games,the same people that produce the weapons to maim and kill. Don’t we care?

And then the government agrees, with the complicity of the ALP to fund another $500 m for the  continuing ego trip of the Director of the AWM. When will we get the AWM back on the rails? When will it include memorials to the tens of thousands of indigenous people who were killed in the Frontier Wars? When will it  acknowledge that the Anzac ‘legend’ did not begin at Gallipoli but when Australians went to New Zealand to fight in the Maori Wars 1845-1872.

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. That suited conservatives. And it still does.

WW1 divided Australia as never before, between Irish and English, Catholics and Protestants. It was hardly nation building!

So much of this glorification of war serves the purpose of avoiding the hard question of WHY we fight in so many futile foreign wars that are of no concern of ours. Instead we absorb ourselves in the issue of HOW our heroes fought. We fought in WWI as an Australian IMPERIAL Force so that at some future date the Empire would save White Australia from the hordes in Asia. And the Empire failed us. It is nonsense to say we fought in WWI for democracy and oar way of life. We fought for Britain’s economic interest.

Our foreign policy has become subjected to our military dependence on the US. . We are at the beck and call of the US military, often 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. Our Department of Foreign and Trade is sidelined by our military and intelligence complex.

And now our unsupervised intelligence agencies are promoting a China panic  to prepare us for the coming cold war with China, urged on by the US Vice President

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.

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.’

Blink and we miss another military festival in Australia. Are there so few civic achievements to be proud of?

Anzakery has been with us since Charles Bean and Keith Murdoch persuaded us that we should not ask WHY we are involved in wars but how brave our soldiers were. And they were brave. But it draws us away from the basic question WHY we fight so many futile wars from Gallipoli to Afghanistan. Will the next one be Taiwan?

Militarism is becoming more and more pervasive. We are sleep-walking in dangerous territory..

War and militarism have become the norm. Sacrifice has become politicised.


John 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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16 Responses to JOHN MENADUE- Sacrifice is being politicised. Militarism is becoming the norm.

  1. Avatar Lesley Finn says:

    Well said John.

    I agree with everything you have said.

    I also see the emphasis on militarism as part of the fear campaign being run by politicians of recent years.

    This appears to be on the basis that if the civilian population can be made fearful the ruling party can excuse all breaches of the Rule of Law in the name of protection of the people.

  2. Avatar Simon Warriner says:

    We elect party politicians who clearly do not understand conflicted interest, and then we are surprised that they get our national interest confused with the interests of other nations, to our considerable cost with very little benefit. We are also surprised when they confuse the wellbeing our children we worked so hard to bring to adulthood with the need to get their mugs on the evening news.

    There is a way to fix this.

    Stop electing party politicians who, by simple fact of their existence declare their inability to recognise, understand and appropriately manage conflicted interests.

    It is not possible to represent and entire electorate and a political party at the same time. The belief that it is possible is the when, where, why and how of the inexorable decline in democratic leadership, not just here but throughout all democratic states where party politics holds sway.

  3. Avatar Gini Stigter says:

    AMEN to that. So glad am not alone in that thinking.

  4. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    Australian governments (or at least the current government) seem to have a very expansive understanding of what Australia’s national interests are. I realised this when I was looking at the proposed foreign interference laws a few months ago – they define “national interest” so broadly that it includes Australia’s “alliances”. So even questioning the legitimacy of Australia’s alliances is thought to be a threat to Australia’s national interest.

    I don’t know why this issue doesn’t seem to be subject to closer scrutiny. I would argue that our concept of “national interest” needs to be drawn much more tightly, e.g., to just a threat to Australia’s territorial integrity. I would even (out of prudence) exclude Australia’s “economic interest” from the concept of “national interest”, at least in the context of foreign interference laws.

    The problem with defining national interest broadly is that: (i) first, it then becomes up to the government of the day to define national interest by simply claiming that another country is an ally; and (ii) second, it expands the reasons for going to war, even if it is no more than to simply demonstrate that Australia is a reliable ally.

    I feel sure we would not like it if other countries start defining their national interests broadly for defence purposes, beyond just their territorial integrity. If all countries start to define national interests so broadly, it would be a recipe for war and conflict.

    The thing is, Australia is very lucky. It is separated from (most) other countries by oceans. No country is a threat to Australia’s territorial integrity. Not all countries in the world are so fortunate.

  5. Avatar Deb Campbell says:

    ‘My thoughts ended in despair at the outlook for the future; in frustration at the inability of those who are adorned with the mantle of leadership to do so; in anger at the misrepresentations made by those seeking my vote. What qualities are required of the person to lead our nation at such a time? I know the answer, but who will listen to me?’

    Well said Bruce Cameron, and John – I agree with everything you say. The core issue of this problem is that this government has never, and is not now, listened to us.

    In many ways we know this, and are acting ourselves around our governments. Two notable examples of this are on climate change [solar uptake], and same sex marriage [defying Abbott and Co’s expected/hoped for outcome].

    But this frightening militarisation is yet another parallel, or rather parroting of deeply dangerous US ‘practice’.
    As Nancy McLean sets out so clearly in her book Democracy in Chains, the Libertarian agenda of Koch et al requires national ‘liberation’ from all public goods except the military.
    Further, as Ronan Farrow demonstrated in his book War on Peace, this anti-diplomacy, anti-international aid strategy – the deliberate decimation of the State department and the complimentary ballooning of the role of the military as increasingly the only voice of America, sees the White House filled with Generals and no one else. This strategy has been trending for years in the US, and is now intensified by Trump and his ego-driven tantrums. Trump is but a tool of the Kochs, whether he knows it or not, but we Australians need to understand just where we are being dragged by the malignant ANZAS alliance: away from everything we value and towards yet more unnecessary wars.

  6. Avatar Stuart lawrence says:

    Yes and No ANzac day and November the 11th are important to family and friends who were part of the numerous wars Australia has fought in. They are part of our new civic religion and if it were not for the huge waste of money spent on the war memorial in canberra and the egos of our leaders Paul Keating kevin Rudd Tony ABbot John howard who were all into making silly anzac speeches and holding fourth like old windbag they are and spending money on arms and weapons Australia does not need then maybe we would be better of.

  7. Avatar Sandra Hey says:

    John thank you for your informative article, I agree with all of the substance you put forward. I watched in dispair at the aggressive speech from Vice-President Mike Pence at APEC, as Australians we should be very concerned that our newly minted Prime Minister Scott Morrison is committing the Australian taxpayer into funding Miltary Bases in the Pacific. Has this commitment been passed by our Parliament. The speech given by Xi Jinping was very informative, non threatening , had much more credibility than speech from Pence and Morrison. All this military spending by Morrison Government is running into the billions , as a result our debt will be in the billions with inequality in Australia growing at an alarming rate. Currently for some, living in Australia is starting to feel we are at War amongest ourselves, thanks to the Abbott, Turnbull and now the Morrison Government.

  8. Avatar Stephen Prowse says:

    I was thinking that the reasons behind WWI and the lessons (not) learnt are not talked about and seem to have been conveniently forgotten so that those in power can garner more power.

    The saddest part of this is that those who lost family are being used.

  9. Avatar Bruce Cameron says:

    Who were you thinking about during the Silence this Armistice Day?

    I was thinking about those who are adorned with the mantle of making the world a different place to that in which competition between nation states led to the loss of so many innocent lives.

    The same thing has happened over and over in the years since 1918 and every tomorrow seems destined to herald the Last Post.  I know the answer, but who will listen to me?

    In my despair, I thought of the birth of my children.  How is it that such wondrous things can occur in a world which is so conflicted? I know the answer, but who will listen to me?

    Elections will be held next year, a chance for everyone’s voice to be heard. I will seek out the candidate who promises to safeguard my grandchildren’s future. Is everything now safe for our future generations? I know the answer, but who will listen to me?

    My thoughts ended in despair at the outlook for the future; in frustration at the inability of those who are adorned with the mantle of leadership to do so; in anger at the misrepresentations made by those seeking my vote.  What qualities are required of the person to lead our nation at such a time?  I know the answer, but who will listen to me?

  10. Well said, John, and it builds on the recent remarks of Douglas Newton, Richard Butler, Malcolm Fraser, Sue Wareham, Alison Broinowski, Henry Reynolds, and others, all of whom deserve the title of Australian Elders for their capacity to tell truth to power. To pick out just one of the points raised, it is strange that Dr Nelson at the Australian War Memorial has had such a rails run, hardly troubled by the normal accountability mechanisms in government and parliament, towards his extravagant extension project, known by some as ‘the Brendanbunker’. That this grandiose initiative has got so far says a lot about our declining ability to implement proper accountability measures and to make sound judgements between showy and sentimental expenditure and spending where it is truly needed. The Brendanbunker has come about because we have allowed it to: we have gone along with the Anzackery that has fed it. We have been taken in too easily by the falsity that deaths in war do not require close examination, for fear that this will be seen as questioning ‘sacrifice’ and implying that these deaths have been in vain.

  11. Avatar Evan Hadkins says:

    Thanks John. Like you I think the militarisation is appalling.

    I think we are now needing to have the discussion about how to defend Aus (if we need to), without relying on an English speaking super-power.

  12. Avatar John Mordike says:

    I was introduced to a wealthy American businessman in Europe last year. After the normal convivialities, he said to me ‘Australians are good fighters’. And that was it. I do not recall that he had anything else to say – or knew anything else – about Australia.

    It has come to the stage in this country where even our war veterans are becoming embarrassed. Witness the reaction to the proposal to ‘honour’ veterans on air flights.

  13. Avatar Peter Donnan says:

    S. Sassoon focused on those who – sometimes for personal, family, national motivation – wish to honour the memory of those who died in war but he has been profoundly affected by war and death.

    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
    The hell where youth and laughter go.

    In Australia we have had politicians such as Howard, Abbott, Nelson pump the military button very craftily indeed, with some political benefits coming their way as well. It almost as if – if you disagree with their excesses – you are a very poor Australian, even somewhat disloyal.

    • No almost about it, Peter. Frank Bongiorno nailed it a few years ago:
      “Anzac, however, is never just about mateship and democracy; it is also always about war and nationhood. As the political and diplomatic contexts of the First World War became increasingly lost to public memory, the new post-1990 Anzac ‘consensus’ has been forged around amorphous civic values so widely shared that anyone inclined to question them runs close to disqualifying themselves from Australian public culture – or, if you belong to a suspect ethnic or religious group, from the national community entirely. ”

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