Military and security agencies are eroding civil society

War and militarisation has become ever-present in so much of our public life. Civilian power and responsibility is being marginalised. We go to war without our Parliament even debating the merits of such a momentous act. We are ceding civilian control to our military and security agencies.

Australia Day should be a civilian celebration of our multicultural success. But the military are there on cue. They back the citizenship celebration in Canberra with a gun salute and a march past. The Navy is conspicuous on Sydney Harbour, while the RAAF does a flypast. Meanwhile, all around Australia groups of people from minority ethnic backgrounds  quietly celebrate our real successes, the richness of our diversity and our social harmony.

We have a government boasting of its plans for Australia to become one of the top 10 arms suppliers in the world. This is at the same time as we have announced dramatic cuts in our life-saving humanitarian aid program. We are to export more military equipment to kill and maim. More militarisation.

Our Australian Border Force is decked out in military-style black uniforms. The personnel intentionally look like part of the Australian Defence Force instead of Customs and Immigration officers. A clear message is being conveyed. We need to act more like the military.

Tony Abbott ran scare campaigns on many fronts particularly the “continuing war” against “illegal” asylum seekers and terrorists. The language was clear: we were at war with asylum seekers in their rickety boats. Scott Morrison described the Navy-run Operation Sovereign Borders as a “military-led border security operation”. He added that the battle against people-smugglers “is being fought using the full arsenal of measures”.

Many of us had hoped that at last we were putting to an end the appointment of military personnel as vice-regal representatives in Australia. But we are back-tracking. We had General Cosgrove as our Governor General and now General Hurley. The military is the norm. How pleasant to see a former refugee as Governor of South Australia.

The militarisation of Australia and our conditioning to it has been most evident in the extravagant celebration of the Centenary of the Gallipoli invasion and World War I. Across the country the Australian War Memorial has orchestrated an extremely well-funded campaign, which includes schools, to depict WWI as the starting point of our history; our coming of age. The War Memorial celebrates war by accepting generous funding from arms suppliers – agents of death as Pope Francis describes them. The War Memorial now wants $800 million to further expand.

We are encouraged to celebrate the disastrous Gallipoli invasion and expunge our great civilian and peace-time achievements in the decades before 1900 and the decade following. 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.

Our foreign policy has become subjected to our military dependence on the US. We are at the beck and call of the US military, usually regardless of our own interests. With interoperability of equipment and personnel we are locked into the US war machine. We are dragooned repeatedly 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 more than 700 military bases in more than 100 countries. Former US president Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower warned Americans about the industrial and military complex. The warning about the militarisation of civilian institutions and values should be for us as well. Our foreign policy has been eclipsed by our mistaken military adventures and dependence on the US. We show no concern when our political leaders commit war crimes.

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 any government could ever do. That is no more. We go to war without even federal parliament being consulted. Tony Abbott could hardly contain himself at the prospect of sending 1000  troops to far-away Ukraine after the downing of flight MH17.

And still Anthony Albanese does not lift a finger to assert Australian sovereignty.

Following the supposed threat from “boat people”, Muslims and terrorists, we now have a new threat, China. Our military and security agencies are revving up for a cold war against China.

Our relations with China are viewed through a military/security lens. The spy agencies are upfront in setting the anti-China agenda, sidelining the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Diplomacy is pushed aside by the military/industrial/intelligence complex, which feeds to our gullible mainstream media never-ending stories of China’s threats. No wonder our relations with China have careened out of control.

And if all that is not enough we are told by the well-funded stalwarts of the American Imperium in Australia that it is all about defending Western values. Really! For a country always at war both with its own people as well outsiders.

Henry Reynolds in his 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.”

Militarisation and securitisation are becoming more and more pervasive. We are sleep-walking in very dangerous territory.

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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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