Wednesday, July 28, 2010

'A Mature Democracy'?

"Bipartisan support for all overseas military deployments means there is likely to be little heat and light around defence during the [election] campaign. The Defence Minister, John Faulkner, has said no more troops will be sent to Afghanistan, and while Tony Abbott initially hinted that the opposition would consider boosting deployment if elected, he pulled back from that position early in the campaign, saying he supported the 'existing committment' of 1550 personnel. Privately, opposition and government figures characterise the bipartisan approach to the Afghanistan deployment as a great success and the measure of a mature democracy. This is although a poll conducted last month found 61% of the public want our troops withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately." (Main parties will keep Afghanistan off the radar, Dan Oakes, Sydney Morning Herald, 26/7/10)

A mature democracy? They've got to be kidding. Truth is, we've never grown up as a nation, as former diplomat and academic Alison Broinowski has demonstrated so well:

"On 23 January 2003... 350 Australian soldiers and sailors sailed from Sydney, with 1650 more expected to follow them. Apart from there being more women in uniform now, it looked much like all the previous expeditions in our history. The flags, the bands, and the speeches had been much the same when settler Australians set off to fight on the British side in the Zulu War in 1845, in the Crimean War in 1854, in the Indian Uprising in 1857, in the Maori War in 1863, in the Sudan in 1885, in the Boer War in 1899, in the 'Boxer' uprising in 1901, in World Wars I and II, in Malaya from 1948, and in Malaysia and Indonesia in the 1960s. Australians fought in the American Civil War from 1860, and took the United States' side in the Korean War from 1950, in the Vietnam War from 1962, and in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Australians were in action in Rwanda. Four times, Australians fought in the Middle East, including Somalia and Afghanistan. In the 20th century, wars caused the deaths of 102,000 Australians, more than half of them in World War I, defending Britain.

"Three characteristics emerge from this depressingly long chronicle of wars. First, the cause for which Australians fought, every time, was either British or American, and outside Australia. With the single exception of World War II, Australia did not defend its own territory in any of these wars: in all of them, Australia fought for the interests of its allies. Second, since World War II, the United States has invaded or bombed eighteen countries with no formal declaration of war; and for those in which Australia fought, the same applies. And a third thing to notice is the difference between Iraq and other hard places: the fact that, before 2003, Australia had never participated in starting a war. This time, our generals even boasted that the first shots fired were by Australians.

"It's a record of escalating bellicosity that makes Australia appear to be one of the world's most warlike nations. One persistent observer... the American-born Australian journalist Gerald Stone, noted years ago that, while Australians are not among the world's great leaders, we are the world's best followers. Australia allows its allies to choose its enemy for it. Australia still does what colonies are supposed to do, send its troops to fight in the empire's wars. The implied reward is the imperial power's protection when the colony is in danger. But imperial powers always protect their own interests first, not those of their colonies, and particularly not in war-time. When Britain did so in World War II, Australia turned to the United States, which of course did the same. When Australia tried to buy and then to create its own nuclear deterrent in the 1950s and 1960s, the United States prevented it. When Australia hoped for American support during Confrontation, and when Indonesia took over West Irian, the United States looked the other way. Although Howard pleaded for American 'boots on the ground' in East Timor in 1999, they did not arrive. In early March 2003, as war against Iraq loomed, Washington demanded that 300 Iraqis it suspected of spying in 60 countries be expelled. Australia, eager as always to earn its frequent-fighter points, quickly gave an Iraqi diplomat notice to get out. But the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer denied any pressure from the United States: Australia, he explained, is an independent country.

"In fact, until World War II, Australia accepted its foreign and defence policies from London; and after that, from Washington... Australian leaders can hardly wait to send troops to most of the United States' wars, asking for no guarantee of American defence in return, let alone anything like the US$17 billion reportedly offered to Turkey for the use of its bases in the invasion of Iraq. So what do we get back? Australian governments claim we receive intelligence rewards in exchange for providing Americans with Pine Gap, and that we benefit from the security that the United States presence is said to provide for the region. Whatever the quality of the American intelligence it receives, no government in Canberra that has wanted to win its next election has ever risked asking the Americans to leave their bases. The presence of the American bases in Australia, euphemistically called 'joint facilities', prevents us from supporting regional anti-nuclear initiatives. Far from guaranteeing our security, they made us a nuclear target during the Cold War and have made us a terrorist target now...

"Like the little kid in the playground who attaches himself to the school bully, we do his bidding in exchange for protection. So scared are we of the mob that we will keep doing anything for the bully, even when he hasn't asked us, and even when he doesn't do his bit to protect us. The mob, predictably, regards us with contempt." (Howard's War, 2003, pp 11-17)


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