Winston Churchill and George Orwell have both been attributed with saying “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us”.
Rudyard Kipling in 1890, in his poem Tommy, condemned people “making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep”.
Both themes are truisms that still apply in 2018. We can only be highly civilised while other men and women are there to guard us. We can only be civilised when others do disagreeable things so that ordinary people, here and elsewhere, can sleep safely in their beds at night.
Civilised societies abjure violence. However, the simple fact is that those who abjure violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf. The simplicity of that eludes the pacifist and the politically correct.
Sadly, however, in 2018 we now live in a culture that suffers from ‘western civilisation anxiety’. It is the culture of political correctness.
This culture of repudiation tries to tear down tradition, institutions and tall poppies.
There are many examples but none better than the current ‘media trial’ of our most famous and most decorated living soldier, Ben Roberts Smith.
Like many other men and women, Ben went to war so that civilised people can sleep safely in their beds at night.
According to the Australian Defence Force, the war in Afghanistan has been the most sustained and intense combat faced by the Army since the Second World War. The battlefield achievements, skill and courage of our Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan can’t be denied and senior military and government leaders awarded Ben’s battlefield honours only after intense scrutiny.
The war against terrorism is an asymmetric war, and in Afghanistan there is no front line and, often, no clear distinction between civilian and combatant. Although the Australian Army has all the rules, the enemy has none and unintended civilian casualties are inevitable.
When civilian casualties are inflicted in the chaos of combat, they are subject to clinical official inquiries. Those inquiries are conducted well after events occur and well away from the battlefield.
One inquiry from Afghanistan led to charges against two part-time Commandos. Those men faced serious charges, including manslaughter, over the deaths of six civilians in 2009.
Although they eventually walked out of court as innocent men, after the Judge Advocate General dismissed charges against them, it was a devastating and unnecessary experience for them.
Defence lawyers launched a scathing attack on the “ad hoc’’ prosecution case, saying the Director of Military Prosecutions had failed to define a case against the soldiers. They said that if the men had not protected their mates then diggers would have died.
The decision by the Director of Military Prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade, to pursue the soldiers over the deaths was also condemned by serving and former soldiers.
Brigadier McDade had pursued the matter from the exquisite safety and fastidiousness of her Canberra office, well away from the battlefield, and without any personal combat experience. She appeared ignorant of the fact that battle is a complete and utter mess.
Where was the national interest in prosecuting men for doing their duty and why didn’t the generals stand with their men?
The answer seems to lie in the culture of political correctness that appears to infect our recent and current Defence hierarchy. This political correctness may have begun with Lieutenant General David Morrison when he was Chief of Army but probably pre-dates him.
Rather than concentrating on war-fighting, Morrison committed to making the Army an inclusive force. You may recall that in 2013 Morrison authorised the combining of a rainbow flag with the Rising Sun badge. In that year, he also permitted Army personnel to march in uniform in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Although he was widely hailed by Australian media, his views were not universally accepted within the ranks. I was told by a serving Major General that there was considerable disagreement at the time, among the SNCOs, Warrant Officers and middle-ranking Officers, about the direction that Army was heading.
It was amazing to learn from this Major General that the views of the backbone of the Army were being ignored. My two-star source, however, said that the generals knew best.
Under Lieutenant General Morrison’s control, Army investigated individuals involved in the “Jedi Council scandal”. The investigation failed to find any evidence to support allegations and cleared those involved of any wrongdoing. Despite this, Morrison recommended that a commanding officer be dismissed and destroyed his career.
After he left the Army, Morrison campaigned against the use of gender-neutral terms such as ‘guys’ in case it caused offence. He also equated the legacy of domestic violence victims with fallen servicemen and women, proposing an Anzac Day-like memorial for women who have been killed by their partners.
The Morrison inclination for political-correctness-at-any-cost seems to have been inherited by the current Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force. The Inspector-General recently took the astonishing step of placing notices in Afghani newspapers publishing in Australia. The notices asked to hear from anyone about “possible breaches of the laws of armed conflict by Australian forces” in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016, or “rumours of them”.
As far as I am aware, the League did not comment on this at the time. Last month, however, RSLWA publicly stated that it is vital that good people of the Australian Defence Force, who have served their country with courage and pride, are supported when unable to protect themselves from media innuendo, rumours and accusations.
RSLWA added that the way Ben Roberts-Smith is being treated is unacceptable. The League backed his call for the Australian Federal Police to investigate how details of the current military inquiry have been leaked.
RSLWA went on to state: “Ben has said he has done nothing wrong and wants a fair go. We believe him and we support him.”
This was a pleasing statement to read and fundamental for a veterans’ organization to issue.
A former defence minister went further. Brendan Nelson stated that unless there have been the most egregious breaches of laws of armed conflict, we should leave it all alone.
Regrettably, the politically correct generals had a divergent view from their former Minister and the investigation is underway. It is ponderous and long-drawn-out.
In the meantime, as is so often the case, the media sways the court of public opinion so that reputations are destroyed in the guise of selling ‘news’.
Brendan Nelson’s advice was prudent and he might have added that generals should still listen to the SNCOs, Warrant Officers and middle-ranking Officers, and they should stand by the men. They should stand with the SAS and the Commando’s and they should stand with their families, their widows and their children.
Geoff Hourne is a former officer in the Special Air Service Regiment, former WA state vice president of the Returned and Services League and current president of Highgate RSL Sub Branch.
A version of this story originally appeared in The West Australian.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.