Time to change the story on war

Mar 15, 2023
Flag of australia on the old wall cement.

Last week we witnessed some extraordinary interventions by two mainstream media mastheads, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in pursuit of both headlines and an agenda. The three part “Red Alert” series begins with a paragraph that could have been found in Edward Bernays book, Propaganda:

Within 72 hours of a conflict breaking out over Taiwan, Chinese missile bombardments and devastating cyberattacks would begin pummelling Australia. For the first time since World War II, the mainland would be under attack. Meanwhile, 150,000 American troops would descend on the Top End seeking refuge from the immediate conflict zone.

Sexy stuff, you can almost hear the sirens wailing out across the harbour city as millions flee the first devastating bombardment. However, as members of the peace movement and indeed with a workplace called the Justice and Peace Office of the Sydney Archdiocese, we have three problems with the series created by both Peter Hartcher and Matthew Knott and published in the SMH and The Age.

The first is one of transparency, or in this instance, the lack of transparency. The series presents the opinions of five “experts” from a number of different organisations and gives a small bio of each “expert”. What is missing from the article is the funding source of the organisations the experts work for. That is, who pays their rent.

For instance, Peter Jennings was executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) from 2012 to 2022. It would have been helpful and contextualising to know that ASPI gets 2% of its funding from civil society and 98% from a combination of Defence, arms manufacturers and foreign governments. When deciding how much weight or credence to give an expert calling for “… US long-range missiles – potentially armed with nuclear weapons in the most dire of circumstances – to be based on Australian territory and the reintroduction of national service”, this is relevant information and fundamental to the integrity of journalism.

Secondly, there’s an old saying that any moron can create a war, but it takes a genius to build a peace. Nine Media has spent thousands of words, three front pages and a considerable amount of reputational capital on this series calling out to prepare for an imminent war with China. The experts and Nine Media have been unapologetic about demanding the firepower to “…be able to sink the Chinese Navy and to bring down their aircraft.” All of this arguing that it is time to destroy an imagined tabu that exists in the naming of the enemy and declaring that deterrence through a combination of traditional and nuclear weapons is where our security lies.

Fortunately history has made clear the other option in avoiding the slaughter embodied in war is diplomacy, peace building and creating strong civil societies across our region. So our question to Nine Media is when will they be hosting the panel/seminar/conference that brings together the “experts” in developing peace. Because, for the record Australia has many such experts.

Finally, we are deeply concerned with the presentation of war as a narrative devoid of cost. The reality of war, the human cost, the slaughter and the likelihood of Australia losing to China is examined in the ABC series, What would war with China look like for Australia?

We can expect to lose any war with China, we can expect over 80% of fatalities to be little kids, old folks and women. We need only watch the nightly news covering the war in Ukraine to have some idea of what such a military engagement would look like.

This is the face of war. It is not some elegant, cool calculation where the clever kids get to talk tough about the end of this beautiful country. Nine Media needs to understand the three-part series did not represent the reality of war, the smell, taste and heartbreak of whistling up an armed conflict with China. The experts seem overly confident that the US would come in and save us, but the truth is we would be hosting their nuclear weapons and little more.

In light of this one-sided attempt to begin a national conversation, or conversion, to the possibility of war we are asking the record be corrected and the media organisation host a panel discussing how a peace is built and conflict averted and you give this the same start billing as Red Alert. Fortunately Australia has many such experts.

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