November 2003 #2

John Howard Needs to Get Out More.

I think John Howard needs to get out some more. Last Tuesday our time, he made a speech in London prior to the opening of the Australian War Memorial here in which he invoked history and recounted Australia's military achievements and warrior friendships.

In that speech he said "Despite Australia's significant achievements on battlefields throughout the world, despite whole generations of our countrymen returning to us as hardened soldiers, a culture of militarism has never taken root."

Now, I know John Howard doesn't write his own speeches but I thought he at least took some interest in the history of the country he leads. In the last 150 years Australia has been directly involved - or perhaps more correctly officially involved - in 14 major wars. In the seven official wars in which the US has fought during the last 100 years, Australia is the only country that has fought along the US in each and every one.

I must have missed something but I assume this doesn't make us a militaristic nation.

Then there's those strange and somewhat unique memorials in most towns and suburbs. There's been a push to rename them as "Shrines of Remembrance", however, what they are is tributes to wars containing the names of those who died fighting them. Each year, on the 25th April, towns grind to a halt as parades of serving and former soldiers, their families or relatives take part in processions to the War Memorials at which a pseudo religious ceremony takes place.

I must have missed something but I assume this doesn't make us a militaristic nation.

According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute government spending on the military has increased - in real terms - steadily since 1985. Although this hawkish promoter of war says this is a good thing they are upset that Australia is third in their list of military spending based on percentage of GDP. Guess whose on top with 3.2%. The US. Second is the UK with 2.5% and we languish at 1.9%. Poor us. Since 1985 Australian tax payers have spent over 1,300 billion dollars on defence. To put that in today's terms our government spends over 43 million dollars per day on the military.

I must have missed something but I assume this doesn't make us a militaristic nation.

Returning to Howard's speech, as if to prove his point, he spent the last quarter of the speech recalling the exploits of the Australian military. He began by telling us about Harry Murray and John Monash - two men who were "recognised and rewarded" for their efforts on the battle field. He then went on to recall Australia's military victories on the battlefield in WW I. Then it was off to WW II to tell us that it was Australia's 460th Squadron "who sent more Lancasters on missions and dropped a greater tonnage of bombs than any other".

I must have missed something but I assume this doesn't make us a militaristic nation. 

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute put out a report titled "Sinews of War: The Defence Budget in 2003 and How It Got There". In the annex to that report it recasts the military not as the means by which our government can send young men and women to war, but as a business. After detailing the size of the business, its income and expenditure and how well its retail arm is going the report says that defence "is big business by any measure". One can only assume that a large part of the revenue raised "through the sale of goods and services" comes from training foreign military like Indonesia's Kopasus and the sale of weapons technologies and surplus weapons delivery platforms - planes, boats and, I suppose, tanks.

I must have missed something but I assume this doesn't make us a militaristic nation.

In the lead up to the latest wars we engaged in - illegal invasions of sovereign territories - Howard and the other hawkish minions that populate our parliament told us that we were under threat. Maybe I missed something but I cant recall Crean saying he would oppose the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. 

We were told that just off our shores were hoards of 'terrorists' with nuclear capabilities, nerve gas and WMD's. We were told we had to invade and carry out a pre-emptive strike, placing us squarely as the aggressors and thus violating international law and stepping outside the boundaries of international treaties and covenants we hope may protect us from real and actual threats one day. Australia joined a coalition of the stupid and took part and remains engaged in an illegal war that we helped start.

I must have missed something but I assume this doesn't make us a militaristic nation.

Towards the end of his speech Howard told the assembled diggers and their families that in the face of a "terror perpetrated on a scale without historical precedent . it is reassuring for Australia, to find ourselves once more in the company of old and trusted friends". I guess these old and trusted friends are the US and Britain. 

However Howard, as has become his want, chose to ignore other real  historical events. Two of those events were the 1983 meetings at which one Donald Rumsfeld extended the US hand in friendship to Saddam Hussein. Visiting Baghdad, as Ronald Reagan's envoy, Rumsfeld spent time discussing Saddam's various economic and social programs. He also visited the Iraqi nuclear facility that France and Britain had supplied the technology for. At that time, some 20 years ago, Saddam was the US' buddy. Oil was flowing reasonably well, Saddam was behaving and the US was happy. The US was happy to turn its back on anything Saddam did to Iraqis as that was an 'internal' domestic issue and the US said it wasn't interested in sorting out internal disputes in sovereign nations.

It wasn't until Saddam decided that he could raise more money by either jacking up the price of Iraqi oil or by withholding it and achieving the same effect, that the US was put offside and in 1989 imposed the first unilateral sanctions. After Gulf War 1 these illegal sanctions were reimposed and enforced by only two countries - the US and the UK - who bullied the so called leaders of nations like Australia into supporting them. Our government supplied patrol boats that very effectively prevented 'unauthorised' shipments reaching the Iraqi shore. These unauthorised shipments included medial and food aid and guess who it was that deemed them 'unauthorised'? You got it, the US and the UK. The blockade of Iraq was enforced under a bilateral agreement that has never been recognised by the international community and Australian governments have never said diddly squat against it.

I must have missed something but I assume this doesn't make us a militaristic nation.

Perhaps, I missed something but one of the warnings we were given about the danger of Iraq was the increase in military spending at the expense of education, health, social services and civilian infrastructure. The talk was that a 'clear and present danger' emerged as the military 'might' of this former US and UK friend increased.

What Howard and the rest of our current crop of major party parliamentarians fail to understand or grasp is that the very changes they talk about as happening in geopolitics are age old. These changes are nothing new and are based on tribal loyalties, rule by might and fear and shifting allegiances based solely on who is perceived as being the most likely to win in a battle. These tribal loyalties were, in part, based on the ability of one tribe to build more or better weapons than potential enemies. Isn't that the rhetoric we hear, that we have to have better weapons?

I must have missed something but I assume this doesn't make us a militaristic nation.

If I was to follow the logical path underscored here, increased military spending, change of heart of a client state or the falling out of favour of a government, one is compelled to ask, in 20 years time who will be our friend and who will be our enemy? Not as we perceive them but as they perceive us.

John Howard has a fatal blind spot. It's his inability to analyse history. He recounts a mythical, white Australia view of history in which anything beyond his middle class, white, male mind doesn't exist or if it does is immaterial in the 'big picture'. Howard recalls history as some sort of remote, romantic and nostalgic fairy tale, the history of the imperial conquest and 'victor'.

If he is to be trusted and if he is to be remembered as truly great leader of the nation - the image he already has of himself - then there is only one course of action he can take. That is to wind back the defence budget, redirect the taxes into nation building programs, international humanitarian activities and diplomatic attempts to reach out and build a world based on human rights and dignity. Howard says we must 'stick by our mates' but surely we would be much better to demand a 'fair go'.

Howard can tell us all he likes we are not a militaristic nation, but unfortunately his policies demonstrate clearly that while we allow our politicians to remain wedded to the teat of military might, their own policy direction and leadership places us, and our children's, security under real threat. 

I mean, I cant recall anyone wanting to invade Tuvalu who has no military and who has never invaded anyone else's territory but has only great beaches, sunshine and lovely oceans. Maybe Mr. Howard should get out some more and visit this peaceful, beautiful Pacific nation.

I might have missed something but I assume Tuvalu is also not a militaristic nation.