David Morrison, the former head of the Australian Army, is this year’s Australian of the year.
He came to our attention in 2013 for his campaign against the abuse of women in the Army. Monica Attard gives as summary of this on the ABC News site. She wrote:
‘More than 160 officers and soldiers, including a group that called itself the ‘Jedi Council’, would eventually be punished for taking part in a network that had used the military’s email system and the internet to the disseminate pornographic material. The emails included explicit images of Defence women taken without their consent.’
In a famous video in 2013 to his soldiers, prompted by the abuse and denigration by some senior soldiers of women in the Army, he argued that the Army had to be inclusive and to uphold its own, and Australia’s values. He famously said ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.’ He finished off by saying ‘if you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters.’
For a conservative government Morrison is an inspired choice for Australian of the year. His background makes him someone conservatives and liberals can flock to. His strong stand against sexism in the Army makes him an icon in the eyes of some feminists. He also has a brain and can think for himself (within the normal boundaries of bourgeois thought).
His acceptance speech no doubt reinforced his liberal credentials without undermining (or so he must have thought) his Liberal support, given his 40 years of Army service. He started of by acknowledging the first people of the country, and recognised Australia Day was a day of emotional conflict for some indigenous Australians.
Morrison identified 3 areas he would focus on – domestic violence, diversity and the gender pay gap, and the Republic. He is the very model of a modern major-general.
It wasn’t long before the conservatives responded. Some veterans and veterans’ groups called for his resignation as Australian of the year because he hadn’t championed them in his acceptance speech. In fact, according to Andrew Greene at the ABC, some soldiers rejected his inclusiveness.
‘The Defence Force Welfare Association said it had been inundated with correspondence from members who were angry at General Morrison’s approach.
‘”There seems to be a general view that perhaps he’s gone too far in his quest for diversity and respect amongst ADF members who perhaps hold different views on lifestyles and religion and those sorts of issues,” DFWA president David Jamison said.
‘”He’s perhaps causing division rather than unity within the ADF and the veteran community.”‘
This looks not so much an expression of concern about ignoring veterans but more a complaint about his liberal views on some issues. The organiser of an online petition calling for his resignation used his failure to champion veterans as the reason behind his resignation call.
Within 24 hours others had leapt to his defence. Morrison then issued a statement saying he had always supported veterans and would continue to do so in his role as Australian of the year.
We on the left should be sympathetic to and supportive of war veterans. They are used and then abandoned by our ruling class and deserve better funding to address their PTSD, homelessness, poverty etc etc.
Of course not sending them to war would solve most of that which is why a vibrant and strong anti-war movement is important.
However, based on what our leaders knew was a lie, war criminal John Howard et al did send soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan. Many came home broken.
I think as socialists we should argue for more money for their support, and of course for the support of all people suffering mental illness, domestic violence, homelessness, poverty etc. Aborigines, victims of domestic violence, gays and lesbians, especially young gays and lesbians, refugees locked up in Australia’s concentration camps, for example, all have high levels of stress and anxiety, with PTSD and suicide rates well above average. Fund adequate services for them all. Make big business pay a fair share of tax to pay for these services. In relation to refugees, close down the mental illness camps. In relation to war, stop.
As socialists, we also need to try to understand the nature of the Australian Army. It is a killing machine for the Australian ruling class. That class’s insurance pact with the US means our troops have been involved in all the major wars of US imperialism since the end of the Second World War.
To turn human beings into unthinking killers for capitalism takes years of dehumanising training. A stint in Afghanistan or Iraq turns that already brutal training into into a brutal reality. Many of those who leave the Army after tours of duty are very damaged by the killing they have witnessed or undertaken, or the attacks upon them by those resisting the invaders. Some are actually also physically damaged.
When they return to Australia veterans receive with inadequate support, especially the many veterans suffering mental distress. Despite all the crocodile tears from war criminals like Howard, they have done little to support veterans.
There should be adequate funding for all veterans to return to civilian life as fully functioning individuals, not as physical and mental wrecks. However this challenges the logic of ruling class austerity. That class uses and abuses soldiers and then spits out veterans in part because it gets a steady supply of replacements, some at least joining because the alternative is unemployment. (This is known as economic conscription.)
Just as there should be adequate funding for veterans’ services, there should also be adequate funding for vulnerable people in a whole range of situations. Yet it is the vulnerable, the poor and workers who are under attack from this government. They and we all have common cause against the parties of neoliberalism and austerity, and a first step to helping veterans is to unite and fight for better services for all at risk sections of society.
Having said that, we also need to build the anti-war movement to both make the case against war in general and against specific wars. It took years of struggle in the 60s to turn the anti-Vietnam War campaign from one having little support to one with majority support. We did not stop a war obsessed US imperialism from escalating its invasion. However we did change the political debate and forced the Liberals to withdraw the troops from Vietnam. The protests also helped shift the political atmosphere to the left and win Labor the 1972 election.
However, that took years and in the meantime the US killing machine, ably supported by our Australian ruling class and its soldiers, killed millions of Vietnamese and others. In 2003 hundreds of thousands of Australians protested against the Iraqi War. Howard ignored us. He could not have ignored a more radical movement which had civil disobedience and strikes as part of its aims and practices.
Ultimately the only way to end war and its rotten consequences for all the combatants and the peoples of the countries the West has invaded is to end the system that creates war – capitalism.
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