Mainstream media need to focus on peaceMay 31, 2023
The fact that Australia is sleepwalking towards a catastrophic war against China has received very welcome and responsible coverage in Pearls and Irritations and other non-mainstream media. The head-in-the-sand stance adopted by much of the mainstream media stands in stark contrast. The most recent example of the latter was a 15-page supplement in The Canberra Times (CT) on 17 May – ‘Our Next Steps’, on the Defence Strategic Review. It was a most shameful collection of war-mongering articles and images.
Overall, the supplement invited the reader to embrace nearly every new bit of war preparation that’s available, no matter the huge costs and risks. Virtually half of it was written by commentator Bradley Perrett, who seems to have become the paper’s most shrill China hawk. All the armed forces were there with their recruiting ads, promising a life of ‘things outside the ordinary’ and other exciting prospects. (In fairness, war against China would definitely be ‘outside the ordinary’, although perhaps not in the way young recruits might imagine.)
Perrett’s article ‘Missiles: the key to deterring an enemy’ perpetuated the dangerous myth that preparations for war prevent war, when in fact they simply ramp up arms races and make wars even more perilous. Even the article ‘Diplomacy key to Australia’s Pacific efforts’ was illustrated with Defence Department photos, suggesting that our diplomacy is delivered by soldiers now. However it noted, very usefully, that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade remains ‘the poor cousin of all other agencies working to prosecute Australia’s national interest abroad’.
Other small measures of relief from the barrage of militarism (in addition to noting the key role of diplomacy) were in articles addressing climate change and its security challenges, and some of the ethical challenges of military uses of artificial intelligence. (Even in the latter however, Australia was given credit for acting responsibly, when in fact Australia has opposed global efforts for a ban on weapons systems where there is no human control over a decision to kill.)
Some semblance of balance to all this would be served by a 15-page ‘peace supplement’. There’s no shortage of both material and experts on ways to promote peace. A peace supplement could address many of the critical questions that ‘defence supplements’ and most ‘defence commentators’ rarely touch. Here are a few of them.
Exactly what do all the latest bits of weaponry actually do – not in the laboratory or in plans drawn up in Defence Department offices, but to people and the environment when they are used? Where’s the evidence for the notion that building up weaponry deters wars? What have our post-World War II wars cost us and other nations in lives lost, lives ruined, environments damaged, crippling military budgets, and relationships strained?
How many peace researchers – a discipline that has been almost starved into extinction – does Australia need in order to be a force for peace in the region, and how can we start training them? What steps could Australia take to promote arms control in our region? How are Chinese Australians coping in the current climate of fear, and how can their voices be heard? Who will decide if and when Australia next goes to war – the PM with a tiny handful of people hiding behind Cabinet secrecy, as per the current practice, or our elected representatives in parliament?
What are Australia’s military greenhouse (GHG) emissions, and why are military emissions not a mandatory part of the UN GHG reporting framework?
What are the costs and benefits of the US alliance? What are the US and Chinese records respectively on compliance with international law? And, to help balance the mantra of ‘China’s rising aggression’, how should we respond to rising US aggression?
And exceeding all of those in urgency is this: what steps could Australia, a nuclear umbrella state and very close US ally, take right now to reduce the risk of global nuclear war? The answer is clear: sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This step would be globally game-changing in further consigning any nation that possesses these weapons to pariah status.
Given the abundance of such questions that need broader discussion, why is a mainstream media ‘peace supplement’ not happening? One obvious response is that no-one’s going to pay for it; there is no money in peace. Herein lies the irony. Warfare and its preparation cost a vast amount of national wealth in economic terms, quite apart from the human and environmental cost. (The ‘war on terror’ is estimated to have cost the US alone many trillions of dollars). And yet we barely scratch the surface of how to prevent wars, in our national budget, in our parliament, in our universities and in our mainstream media, notwithstanding the sterling efforts of some in those institutions.
Australia’s current obsession with embedding ourselves ever more deeply in the world’s most powerful war machine, that of the US, can only end in disaster. We have become like a drunkard rendered incapable of rational thought by the toxic effects of alcohol and yet reaching for another swig. Australia’s addiction is to militarism and the wars that ensue from it. Civil society organisations that work for peace, and media that help lead us in that direction, are needed more than ever.
This article was first written in a much shorter form in a letter to the Canberra Times which was published on 25 May.