A week or so ago, when Angus Campbell was appointed to head Australia’s armed forces, a man of martial background and dear friend of Quadrant Online dropped us a quick note written in the ink of optimism. “He’s not perfect, but he’ll be an improvement. How could he not be?” Our correspondent went on to note with approval that Campbell hailed from the SAS and had overseen the successful implementation of Operation Sovereign Borders. “No high heels in his kit bag!” our correspondent concluded.
As his very first edict, rather than examine the case for weapons that don’t work and won’t work, Campbell distributed an infamous memo banning machismo “symbology” – no more death’s heads, Grim Reapers or, may the gods of Bengalla forgive him, images of The Phantom, who was accused of promoting vigilantism and, presumably, of encouraging Australia’s fighting men and women to report for duty in purple long johns.
UPDATE: The RAAF will have trouble banishing all reference to those nasty Spartans, for that is the nom de guerre of its twin-engine C-27J ‘battlefield airlifter’. Follow this link for more
The real surprise, though, was that Spartans also made Campbell’s verboten list, in this instance for their society’s “extreme militarism”. This ethic came in handy at Thermopylae, where 300 of them pointedly informed the Persians that they would decide who came to Greece and the manner in which they arrived. One might have thought this would have fostered a sense of kinship with Leonidas & Co, as several thousand years later it was Campbell who stopped and turned back that sequential armada of leaky boats, many of which bore Iranian descendants of the xiphos fodder with which Persian King Xerxes intended to culturally enrich the Hellenes.
More than that, the Spartans boasted other habits which might serve as examples to Australia’s inclusive armed forces. They were advocates, for example, of light and healthy diets and, as Herodotus informs us, enjoyed grooming each other’s hair. Had Australia’s armed forces instituted similar policies the national defence might yet be served by the ferocious Cate McGregor and her spitfire keyboard. A morale-sapping ordeal it must be to wield the styling wand and blowdryer on one’s own.
If not Spartans, who then might make a fit symbol for the ADF?
In choosing to stay, fight and die, Leonidas famously assured his comrades they would “sup soon with Pluto”, by which he meant the god of the underworld. Given that the Australian Defence Force Academy boasts quite a few academics critical of Australia’s military past and the Anzac tradition, a little postmodernist re-jigging could conceivably recast this quote as a reference to Walt Disney’s well-known cartoon dog. Amiable, dim, and lacking any obvious male parts, Campbell might well find the yellow mutt acceptable.
Still, upon reflection, probably not. Campbell is critical of Spartans generally, so logic suggests only an outright opponent can capture the spirit he wishes to encourage. Xerxes is out, of course, as the appeal of his invasive multiculturalism is negated by the simple fact that he lost. Until those eager scholars at the Australian Defence Academy do a bit more work, defeat on the battlefield will continue to be regarded as an undesirable outcome.
That leaves only one real contender to replace skulls and crossbones and all that other offensive “symbology”: Ephialtes of Trachis, the turncoat who led Xerxes’ legions through a hidden mountain pass to attack Leonidas from the rear.
So Ephialates it is. Soldiers in the field might find that choice unacceptable, but what do they know or matter? The important thing in the modern, politically correct military is that the desk warriors avoid being attacked by the armies of Twitter, ABC editorialists, gender-justice advocates and those who, like Campbell, recognise The Phantom for the enemy of social cohesion that he is, purple undies and all.
For more on Campbell’s policy, see Bernard Gaynor