Flat White

War crimes? The buck stops at the top

19 November 2020

12:26 PM

19 November 2020

12:26 PM

MEMO: Foreign Minister Marise Payne, cc Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.

Ministers, in a long life not always perfectly, although generally, well-lived, it’s been my observation those experiencing personal difficulties will often attempt to divert attention onto others.

Poet Rudyard Kipling nailed it when he wrote: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”

Having dealt with soldiers since before you were born, I’ll be bold enough to venture some opinions which may conflict with what you have been fed. I say soldiers since I am more familiar with these beasts than the ones of other services.

Firstly, like politicians, they are neither infallible nor perfect. They are trained to kill, although, like a politician’s promise, it is a rarely realised outcome.

They are well trained, enjoy what they do if treated appropriately and will return loyalty in spades. Notice “return,” since loyalty is a two-way street. They will offer frank and fearless advice if needed.


Do they occasionally overindulge and misbehave? Yes, they do, but who doesn’t? You believe the ADF needs backbone to implement your defence policies, as do senior leaders to deal with allegations of misconduct in Afghanistan.

Major General Paul Brereton has concluded his report into these allegations.

The Prime Minister is about to release that report, though in a redacted form for public consumption.

Senator Reynolds, you said Australians will be shocked and dismayed from what you have read in the media. In the media, minister?

There will also be some nervous Nellies at the top of the food chain not overly keen to have to explain things which the ABC alleges occurred on their watch. This particularly includes those senior commanders imbued by personal experience in the all-male special forces ethos.

Unless you have overlooked something, Senator Reynolds, that also makes them complicit if the allegations are found to have merit.

Not forgetting, of course, the minister of the day.

Perhaps the Ministers might acquaint themselves with a legal precedent called the Yamashita Standard. It is now part of the Geneva Conventions adopted by the International Criminal Court to which Australia is a signatory.

As Kipling concluded: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same, you’ll be a man my son!”

Just be careful what you wish for.

Ross Eastgate OAM is a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon and military historian who writes a weekly column on defence issues and blogs at Targets DownThis piece is reproduced with permission of The Townsville Bulletin, where an earlier version appeared.

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