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Time to rethink the purpose of the ADF

Today is a day to remember the sacrifice made by our military personnel and their families. It is also a day to reflect on the horror of war.

But thanks to John Howard, ANZAC Day has instead turned into some sort of jingoistic national celebration.

Speaking to the ABC in 2013, historian Clare Wright said: “What we saw in the Howard era was that Anzac Day became used as a political opportunistic tool for rallying the nation behind a particular version of Australia’s history.”

Afghanistan war artist Ben Quilty is scathing of that time: “It was state-sanctioned zealous patriotism and the young men and women serving in the ADF were to lose because their story was buried more and more for the Anzac story.” And as for disillusioned youth at the time – they were also sold short, says Quilty – “they were given patriotism as emotional crutch.”

James Brown, a former officer of the Australian army who now works at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, has called the centenary celebrations and the enormous amount of money spent on them, an “Anzac arms race – to find the biggest way to commemorate dead soldiers.”

“The sheer effort we are expending on the Anzac centenary is utterly irreconcilable with the parlous state of our defence forces, our ignorance of the war in Afghanistan and the marginal status of the serving military in our society. We need to look hard at the reality of Anzac, the bad as well as the good. [With] commercialisation: what started as a simple ceremony is now an enormous commercial enterprise.”

John Howard also sent our troops to Afghanistan – the epitome of the futility of war.

After the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, President George Bush declared a war on terror and Prime Minister John Howard committed Australia to assist, citing the ANZUS Treaty. Most Australians had long expected that if ANZUS were ever to be invoked at all, it would be the US coming to our assistance, not vice versa.

Australian special forces were soon in Afghanistan alongside US and coalition counterparts. Their task was to dismantle al-Qaeda and deny it the havens from which the September 11 attacks had sprung by removing the Taliban from power.

Australia’s military and civil aid commitments between 2001 and 2017 amounted to more than $7 billion, and, in April 2017, Malcolm Turnbull confirmed a further commitment of $1.236 billion out to 2020 ($916 million and $320 million of military and civil aid respectively).

That same month, Donald Trump, in some kind of weird dick-waving exercise, dropped the Mother of all Bombs on Afghanistan. Which was kind of odd considering he had campaigned on getting out of there.

Later that year, Trump said he was sending 4,000 additional troops. Marise Payne refused to rule out sending more Aussies, saying: “We will examine the president’s statement, consider any expectations of counterpart nations, and engage in discussion with the US on those matters.”

Then lo and behold, last month, foreign minister, Marise Payne, and the defence minister, Linda Reynolds, issued a joint statement welcoming the agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban that will see the 19-year presence of coalition forces come to an end.

What a waste.

The Defence Portfolio Budget Statement shows the eye-watering resources that are being spent on acquiring and sustaining military equipment.

We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars for what?

We won’t get the first of the new frigates into service until around 2030. All going well, the first submarine won’t be in service until 2034 or 2035, despite a conservative design philosophy based on using only currently mature technologies.

HMAS Perth will be up on blocks for at least two years after its latest upgrade for want of a crew.

We’ve already spent $4.6 billion on the Joint Strike Fighter planes, with another $2.4 billion to be spent this year, and for that princely sum we have two planes.

In a rapidly changing world, the value-for-money calculation doesn’t favour billion-dollar manned platforms that are too valuable to risk losing.

Autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, more accessible space resources, and 3D printing could help militaries to break out of the vicious cycle of increasingly complex but increasingly expensive manned platforms.

Currently, less than 1% of Defence’s budget goes into its innovation funds. There’s no point investing billions in military capability if it doesn’t support Australia’s needs.

The ADF are a highly-skilled, well trained, well-resourced, mobile workforce who are being wasted on war games.

Forty-one Australian soldiers died in Afghanistan. Eighty Australians have died in the last couple of months from the coronavirus.

Perhaps old generals are not the best people to equip us for the world of the future.

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23 comments

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  1. Baby Jewels

    Copied from a comment made elsewhere: “As you know, I’m a Vietnam veteran with an “attitude problem”. So for me, ANZAC day is about the Vietnam war – and it gets me going. Big time…

    We hear about “the 521 Diggers who sacrificed their lives” in that war. The propagandists make it sound like they gave their lives for a noble cause. They were “heroes”. The propagandists do this for three very good reasons:

    [1] There’s a quid in being a propagandist – and a certain amount of kudos (in certain circles) and job security.

    [2] So that we, the veterans, and the loved ones of the dead, don’t get really pissed off (if we ever deduce the truth) and stone our leaders to death.

    [3] So that future generations of young, ignorant, and idealistic wannabe “patriots” will eagerly join the next stupid war to benefit the war profiteers and their political puppets.

    So, ANZAC day is just about our dead, is it? It’s still only about us, is it? We conveniently ignore the massive overall death toll of that war – in Vietnam, in Cambodia, and in Laos.

    It was a war Australia wholeheartedly embraced (“All the way with LBJ!”), and to this day we still cheer and clap it on, to the rousing sound of marching bands on ANZAC day.

    So, what about the 3+ million Asian people who died in America’s war against Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos? Do we shed a tear?

    Do the Asian casualties (mostly civilian) not count? How come only our (white, Anglo-Saxon, capitalist) dead count? How come we don’t spend time on this day to reflect on the massive overall death toll?

    By the way, we were told at the time that we were fighting for “freedom and democracy” – neither of which the artificial ‘nation’ of “South” Vietnam ever enjoyed. All they ever got was corrupt dictators – installed by America – and massively large numbers of dead people. Dead people we somehow don’t think about on ANZAC day. It’s too inconvenient.

    The mantra was “stop the spread of communism” – but as we now know, the real purpose was to install globalised capitalism (with America in charge, of course).

    And here we are… Happy ANZAC day, fellas…”

  2. Kerri

    I cannot commemorate “lest we forget”!
    Because we have forgotten.
    James Brown is correct.
    The commercialisation of war has become some grotesque form of tourism bonanza.
    In my youth I asked a fellow teacher why ANZAC day?
    Her response was lest we forget the lives lost and repeat the atrocity of war!

  3. Matters Not

    So you think it’s time to rethink the purpose of the ADF? Well be very, very careful. With a new role for the ADF, Australia might have to find a new source for its (un-elected) Governors and Governors-General as well as those who head up Inquiries and the like.

    But I suppose we will still have Border Force and Police Commissioners to fill any gap. Then there’s an excess of unemployable Royals as well. And the Church. Mustn’t forget the Church.

  4. Kaye Lee

    The ADF do such a great job at medical emergencies, disaster and humanitarian relief, search and rescue, rebuilding infrastructure, evacuations, peace-keeping, transport etc. They could help farmers with crops temporarily if there is no workforce. They could help restore power and communications when they go down. They could help with youth mentoring. So many useful things they could be doing.

    Why we waste them pretend shooting at things is beyond me. No-one is going to invade us using guns and bombs. If they really wanted to, we couldn’t stop them anyway. But why should they when they can invest here buying pretty much whatever they want including political influence. Much cheaper than wars.

  5. Matters Not

    Yes the ADF does a great job (at times) but does so for projects that are not ‘core business’. Further, the personnel recruited are not specialist in those areas. In Queensland a few years ago, it was decided to recruit ‘generalists’ rather than specialist ambulance and fire officers (a type of multi skilling) but it was soon abandoned (different cultures etc.)

    Seems to me that those who are good with guns, grenades, bombs, ‘killing’ etc (necessary as that may be) aren’t necessarily the ones who are well suited to ‘picking up the pieces’ – so why not create something equivalent to a Peace Corps separate from the ADF – which does precious little in the way of defending Australia anyway? Indeed, it’s demonstrated in recent times at least that the ADF is almost ham fisted when it comes to soft power in faraway places and perhaps guilty of being counter-productive.

  6. Phil

    I thought that was Rambo in the above picture. Doesn’t he cut a dashing figure in his Army fatigues. They must have filled his helmet with paper and old cardboard boxes before the put that helmet on his head. If not they would have had to cut a couple of holes in it so he could see. I will never forget him trying to bowl a cricket ball some years ago, the most uncoordinated lump of meat I have ever clapped eyes on.

    To cheer you up on this most solemn day cop an earful of this. Howard was sixteen when this was recorded, I wont embarrass myself telling you what I was doing at fifteen. If you don’t laugh, check your pulse you may well be dead.

    Recording Of John Howard At 16 On Jack Davey Quiz Show

  7. Max Gross

    Drone technology makes our current military procurement superfluous

  8. Phil

    ” The ADF do such a great job at medical emergencies, disaster and humanitarian relief, search and rescue, rebuilding infrastructure, evacuations, peace-keeping, transport etc. ”

    My son did a trade with civilians whilst serving in the Army. He has been all over the world helping communities repair and build their infrastructure. His most satisfying work has been putting up buildings etc in the Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. To serve in the ADF now requires a level of education and both mental and physical fitness comparable to any other service. They take about three out of ten applicants. They don’t want automatons or killers, that myth is spread by people who have never served.

  9. New England Cocky

    “The ADF are a highly-skilled, well trained, well-resourced, mobile workforce who are being wasted on war games.”

    Agreed. Perhaps the optimal solution would be to deflate the egos of the military warmongers lusting after more frontline experience in the imperialistic adventures of the USA (United States of Apartheid) for the benefit of US multinational corporations and paid for by the sucker Australian politicians and taxpayers who could better use the foreign war cost on developing the public infrastructure ignored by Little Johnnie Howard while he was buying the votes of Australian voters aspiring to a better world by paying little or no taxation.

    Then, having a multi-skilled ADF capable or responding to civil emergencies like the 2019 bushfires and the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic would benefit the nation. Claims that the ADF must be held ever ready to respond to overseas incidents is a bit of a military Furphy because response to danger has rarely been rapid … except for the Tampa “kids overboard” response by Little Johnnie Howard to win the election by fraudulent means, assisted by a compliant MSM.

    @Kaye Lee: When Indonesia was being encouraged to exit Timor Leste some military warmonger rattled his sabre. General Wiranto laughed and pointed out to the MSM that Australia would have trouble raising one division of frontline troops including sick parade, while Indonesia had used three divisions in the assault phase to take Timor Leste, and replaced that three after three weeks with a further three divisions.

    @Max Grosse: Agreed. And as the pictures from Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, these drones are operated by Virginia USA (United States of Apartheid) putting very few of the aggressor’s troops in harm’s way, while denying the victims any opportunity to hit back in self-defence.

    @Phil: you win more friends by helping a person than by killing his kids and raping his women-folk.

  10. Andrew Smith

    Definitely, overall strategy and resourcing of defence has become compromised and unfit for purpose by domestic politics, Australia’s subservient relationship with the US and arms supply, the latter exemplified by opaque purchasing, unclear strategic use, cost and out of date.

  11. Phil

    ‘@Phil: you win more friends by helping a person than by killing his kids and raping his women-folk.’

    That has never been a strategy what in Gods name do you mean by that?

    The ADF is like any other service, it has a small percentage of sociopaths.

    Yes. I served and had no intention of killing anyone. The ADF becomes more political the further you go up in the ranks.

    There has been a study done I must try and dig it up. A lot of soldiers during WW1 -2 returned fire with no intention of hitting anyone.

    As for Timor we would never had gone there with out the approval of the USand promise of support should it have gone pear shaped.

    Btw when my son was in Iraq and Afghanistan my wife was crawling the walls.

  12. Michael Taylor

    I saw a great cartoon sometime between 9/11 and November 10, being the date of our 2001 federal election. The scene: two soldiers in the remotes of Afghanistan, one a U.S. soldier, the other Australian.

    The American says; “We’re here because of 9/11.”

    The Aussie replies; “We’re here because of 10/11.”

  13. paul walter

    I told an offshore friend the other night that Americans need to synchronise their clocks to real time.

  14. Phil Pryor

    That shit picture of Jack Howard irritates deeply; he wanked aroung the Canterbury Boys High quadrangle in the air cadets, useless, out of step, scheming and fantasising, ujnpromotable, and that was a military career, in his arse of a skull. We have had too many defectives and nohopers in office, loudmouth nagging, pushy pricks who have sent the nation back and down; Howard is a glaring example of a human bad dream. By executive orders, actions, instructions, he is an executive thief and murderer.

  15. andy56

    I have recently been to canberra and walked through the war museum( what ever its called) and couldnt help thinking what a waste of lives. But at the back of my mind was a trip to Ho Chi Min city about 7yrs ago. A simple war museum, i had to leave after 20min, i was tearing up and got all emotional.
    We want to make it bigger than ben hur, when really the reality is its a cemetery dressed up to make us feel good.

    ADF, now there is a misnomer. What is our Defence force doing as a forward attack dog? Why are we in the south china seas or the middle east or anywhere except home? Defence does mean defence not attack. A squadron or swarms of drones and thousands of cheap missiles is all we need for defence, Submarines are a one use attack platform, after the first shot its a sitting target. We can get a bigger bang for our buck going for drones and missiles. Same with ships. If we had 50 ships, you can say its an effective navy, but 10-15 and with half out of service, not going stop anything but refugees. So who are we kidding with our ADF?
    Nobody is going to invade us. Nobody except america has enough ships to transport soldiers here. Point enough missiles at a rogue navy vessel and nothing can stop a rain of missiles. Time to get smarter and not regressive.

  16. Briney

    And Hollywood continues to glorify war and violence. A-listers and cultists in the music industry, on behalf of the elite, are doing more damage to the collective psyche than any virus ever will. I leave the last words to WW2 General Smedley Butler: “I served in all commissioned ranks from a second Lieutenant to a Major General. And during that time, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

  17. OPPOSE THE MAJOR PARTIES

    All of Australia’s current and recent military spending has been on purchases of attack weapons not defensive weapons. Despite being spruiked as multi role fighters, F 35 are basically light bombers which are attack weapons. They are too slow, do not have a functioning gun and have to limited radius to act as fighters. They therefore cannot act as interceptors which are defensive wespons. They can only be used with the permission of USA as they control the operating codes for the jets. The Canberra and Adelaide assault ships are attack ships that can be converted to aircraft carriers. More attack weapons. The three new Destroyers are attack weapons. The 14 subs are attack subs. The new frigates will be attack and reconissance ships. The whole Australian defence strategy is now designed for expeditionary attack missions to wage war on other countries rather than for the defence of the Aust continent and the Aust people. Its a complete waste of public money to link Aust in with US power projection strategies.

  18. Brozza

    I’m totally against the use of the ADF for umurika’s world terrorism agenda and the gummints use of the ADF for their racist ‘border protection’ farce.
    On the other hand, I have nothing but praise for the job they’re doing at the Burnie hospital, (especially in the emergency department where I was an in-patient(?) for about 9 hours), maintaining the already v. high standards set by the usual staff who are off in self isolation for a few weeks.

  19. Jon Chesterson

    Time to re-think ANZAC – The neoliberal agenda has been to Politicise it into its own camp of patriotic nationalism for popular electoral gain, and the way forward is to align with the most dangerous nation on earth led by the most unstable president in history and spend billions of dollars for an alliance and USeless military hardware we never received and won’t be available (if indeed it functions at all) for another 10-15 years. Anything could happen between now and then as our partisan federal politicians mouth off about China in the same way as they did about Muslims. The truth is our Liberal politicians are blindly leading us down a dangerous path, exposing our weaknesses and picking fights they cannot win – Baaaahhh!

    Is this how we should remember them – Those who give and gave their lives for their country?

  20. Jon Chesterson

    … Remember Howard was not one of them, and neither is Morrison as he presumes to pontificate.

  21. Roland Flickett

    Andy56

    I suggest that you visit the Nanjing exhibit on the unprovoked Japanese ‘Rape of Nanjing’ – the murder of 250,000 Chinese civilians – if you have not done so. I came away with a revulsion of Japan and the entire human race after visiting that site.
    And, as I have just been reminded by George Galloway, the US military leader Curtis LeMay boasted that they had killed ‘I in 5 Koreans and left every city, town and village in flames.’
    Kim Jung-Un may be a monster, but he’s done nothing to us or the US for that matter.
    He is not the greatest monster – one or two of our ‘allies’ get the gold and silver in that competition.

  22. Jaz

    Australia is currently the world’s 2nd largest buyer of US made weapons behind only to Saudi Arabia
    A fact our media very rarely mentions if at all .

  23. Bruce White

    We need a serious rethink of the 3 huge defence purchasing projects that we have at the beginning of the pipeline.
    1 The submarines project (France) $50 billion+
    2 The frigates project (UK and Australia) $50 billion+
    3 The joint strike fighter project (US) $50 billion+
    That’s $150 billion+ and escalation of costs is guaranteed.

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