The learned solution: Fix problems with violence

Apr 29, 2024
Indonesian hijab girl wears mask.

Are you well-armed, fired up, pitchfork to hand? The quarry is elusive, his background suspect but we know his name – DV. Are we getting closer?

Every case is searingly awful but overall there have apparently been changes, with Crikey using Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data to claim domestic homicide rates have fallen:

“A decade ago over 60 women a year were murdered by partners; the number has been below 50 since 2018.” Allegedly there have been 25 so far this year.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus reckons there’s a “crisis of male violence”. PM Anthony Albanese has said “men and boys have to clearly have discussions about these issues.”

Swag of reasons have been offered, from lousy parenting, bad teachers, mental sickness, economic distress, social snubbing, feeling worthless, being jobless and – according to Opposition Leader Peter Dutton – entertainment, technology and rudeness:

“I think social media has a role to play here. The computer games that young boys are playing where violence is a very significant part …what they’re seeing on social media, the normalisation of all of that, it’s just the lack of manners in society more generally…”

However, there’s one rarely mentioned reason, discomforting to raise in Anzac Week: Militaries train men to believe problems have to be solved by violence and that’s embedded in our culture.

Unless a family member is involved most Australians don’t get to see military top-ups at Kapooka, the training base for our 28,000 soldiers near Wagga Wagga, so little public debate.

But Indonesia makes enrolments public and celebratory like those in the East Java garrison city of Malang. The latest was last weekend.

Admiring friends and families, youngsters flanked by proud Dads and tissue-clutching Mums watched their adolescent friends, brothers and sons walk through the guarded gates. Sisters and daughters weren’t seen.

Months later the crowds will be back blocking the street again and this time allowed closer to the parade ground. Here their upcoming heroes will show how they’ve transformed from ambitious individuals or aimless youth to robots.

They’ll be shouldering tools designed to smash with efficiency the bones, flesh and organs of people just like them and us but with other ideologies.

How can any nation halt violence, international or domestic, when it trains its males to solve problems with brutality? US psychologist Abraham Maslow is remembered for his aphorism: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

For hammer read fist, gun or knife.

For personal safety and threatening suicidal extremists violence is probably the only answer; but for all face slaps and insults, why does defence so often become offence?

Like Australia, Indonesia has an appalling DV record though much under-reported because of public shame, poor police training and a culture that says hits in the home are a private matter.

Public barbarity sets the tone. Back in 1965, the military helped militias slaughter real or imagined Communists in a genocide of half a million or more fellow citizens. Five Australian journalists were murdered in Balibo, East Timor, 50 years ago.

Just before the new century arrived so did mobs in Jakarta killing more than 1,000 – mainly ethnic Chinese citizens of Indonesia.

More recently the nation’s new leader has been accused of past human rights abuses.

Likewise, some in our armed forces, though the case involving Ben Roberts-Smith is set to be appealed.

Such histories suggest public abhorrence should follow and perhaps it is, though slowly. Here’s why: We have a problem finding enough toughies to don a uniform along with the US, UK and other Western nations that recognise the links of official and domestic violence.

There are no recruitment gatherings outside Jakarta’s Foreign Affairs Department where well-educated polyglots seek careers as diplomats using words, not weapons.

Indonesia’s 3,500 official peaceniks (less than one per cent of the warmen) aren’t obvious or lauded, so we’re left with the image of those keen to enrol in the bang-bang business and be cheered for their work.

Indonesia is currently at war with itself using rotations of about 4,000 of its 400,000 troops to destroy (the smoother term is ‘put down’) a prolonged low-level conflict involving indigenous West Papuans. They want independence – just as the Javanese did when fighting the returning Dutch colonialists in the late 1940s.

Close to the recruits’ Malang barracks is a statue celebrating their predecessors’ patriotism, though at the time the Netherlands called them terrorists. This label is currently tied to the Free Papua Movement.

Few know what awful things are happening in the closed province and most don’t want to hear. That includes the Australian government and opposition.

The more gung-ho selected to ‘serve’ in West Papua will salute their good fortune in having real targets and maintaining the ‘unity state’, though families of the 106 ‘security forces’ who’ve died there chasing ‘armed criminal groups’ since 2010 will think differently.

So will the civilian victims of the conflict – tens of thousands dead according to reports that can’t be verified.

The recruits in Malang, Kapooka and elsewhere will be learning to squeeze triggers to zing bullets through cardboard cutouts of fellow humans. Seeing what results their more imaginative colleagues will secretly hope their fate is not to kill and be burdened with guilt for a lifetime.

Many will escape that nightmare because the Army is so big and under-employed that lower ranks often have to dig out landslides and help with other natural disasters.

As Indonesia is a pious nation pacifists will pray soldiers stay shouldering hoes across slipping hillsides rather than assault rifles through Papuan mountains. However, appeals to the never-seen but much-praised phantom rarely work. The deity, if she, he or it stays true to form and history, won’t have a care in heaven.

The options: Use our intelligence to work out how to do the job of turning aliens into allies and accept women as equals, or give up and keep primitive violence as the default fix.

As the establishment media in Australia is keen to bugle every 25 April, this is not the time to talk of the ugliness of military matters, only to recognise the sacrifice of those who will not grow old.

Respect from we who are left behind means keyboarding free opinion in English and not propaganda in German or Japanese. A pause, though not a halt from seeking better ways of handling problems and recognising a root of male violence.

The seeds are nurtured by unverifiable tales of patriotism so worthy of interrogation. As the present political pushaway goes, all can be ‘a topic of conversation’.

But beware; The lofty right will pronounce suggestions of links between martial training and marital biffo as woke, making us a nation of milksops compared with hard Indonesia.

Gods forbid.

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