Submarines, stealth and STEM – stifling any AUKUS debate

Feb 29, 2024
submarine - Blueprint

The Australian government has decided to ignore critics of Aukus in parliament and the community. Rather it has moved to embed the idea of Aukus directly into the Australian psyche.

We Australians consider ourselves a straightforward lot. We prefer to speak our minds simply and honestly. We do not readily embrace ideas such as weapons that lurk in the depths of oceans, spies who deceive and most of all we dislike politicians who lie, break promises and use weasel words to avoid answering questions. Governments do not share these democratic values and have more utilitarian attitudes.

It is no surprise then that the Albanese Government decided to avoid discussion of Aukus and proceed by making the pact and its submarines seem like a bonus for everyone. In November 2023, the Minister for Defence and Minister for Education (like the prime minister, both males, but file that away for future reference) announced funding for some 4,000 extra STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) places at 16 universities. The $128m. funding might be considered a windfall by some but clearly expenditure on the nuclear submarine project is a drain on the national purse.

When the tertiary education sector is desperate for finance, institutions accept such largesse enthusiastically. Unfortunately for their reputations, already tarnished by exploitation of overseas students, universities appear to be opportunistic in accepting funds without debate. Satirists have long lamented the way that people with funds can endow any sort of chair or centre, and some future cartoonist might well ponder the possibility of an Aukus Centre, a School of Submarines Studies, a Biden Chair, Sunak Fellow or Albanese Bursary. It is a pity that funding did not go to the humanities to increase understanding, compassion and tolerance. It might be coincidental that these announcements came during the long vacation.

To consolidate, an Aukus Forum has been formed to conduct community consultations about how to reap the benefits from submarine manufacture. The government has seen the opportunities in exploiting people’s economic desperation and in appealing to their greed. The Forum’s website shows that it has a male CEO, sponsors in a former Labor Minister for Defence and Liberal Ambassador to the USA (both male) and prime ministerial endorsement. It is a wonder that the Forum has not co-opted a token female to soften its image. Its website boasts ‘A new world of opportunity for technology and business’. The Forum obviously works closely with government.

Half a century ago, Bob Dylan wrote one of his best songs – ‘Masters of War’. Dylan curses armaments manufacturers who make weapons that other people use. In the case of the STEM researchers, it is likely that they will soothe their consciences by claiming that their components are not weapons. This is mere sophistry however, as someone will take their components and put them together with other parts, culminating in weapons.

Dylan’s title is deliberately gendered. Arms dealers are almost exclusively male, just as most of the university administrators and community leaders rushing to join the spending spree are male. Recently the Minister for Defence Industry (male) announced that we now live in the ‘missile age’ and that this would cost another $37m. The missile is perhaps the ultimate phallic symbol and epitomises a new age of masculinism. So as well as the original STEM, we can add militarism and masculinism to the mix.

In ‘The Terror Dream’ Susan Faludi warned that the US response to 9/11 set feminism back decades as patriarchal characteristics were exalted. Cynthia Enloe in ‘Does Khaki Become You?’ highlighted the essential masculinity of the military. In ‘Fathering the Unthinkable’ Brian Easlea asked whether it was ever ethical to work in labs that produce weapons.

Apocalyptic visions are a distinctly masculine pre-occupation. Watch again the US pilot with a bomb projecting from his groin, heading towards his target in ‘Dr Strangelove’ and consider the AI driven Armageddon scenario he happily triggers. Remember the dedication and determination of the Greenham Common women protesting the stationing of missiles in Britain.

Listen again to Dylan castigating the merchants of death. He might well have been anticipating the damage to Australian values by the Aukus and submarine chicanery.

‘Let me ask you one question – Is your money that good

Will it buy you forgiveness Do you think that it could

I think you will find When your death takes its toll

All the money you made Will not buy back your soul’.

(Lyrics and audio can be found here).

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