Lions and donkeys

five coffins afghanistanImagine you are a soldier, and take that to mean a proper soldier, not a corridor warrior who believes the armed forces’ most useful ally is Anne Summers. In other words, you take the defence of the nation whose uniform you wear as a sacred duty and your prime responsibility. Imagine, too, that you have some on-the-ground experience in unfriendly terrain and, further, have drawn from that episode a very definite idea of what the enemy looks like, the ways in which he is likely to attack, what motivates him.

Seventy years ago in New Guinea, such conclusions were not difficult to reach: The enemy was a Japanese soldier in his Emperor’s service. He attacked with a fanatical disregard for his own life. He rejected all notions of “civilised” warfare. He was motivated by the Bushido code.

Today, well let us just say that while perceptions in some quarters are every bit as clear, there also has been a concerted effort to make them opaque. Australian troops, especially those who have served in Afghanistan, understand the enemy is an ignorant primitive who fights for Allah, that he has a fanatic’s willingness to lay down his life and observes no rules of conduct but his own. He is motivated by the Koran. Moments such as the final farewell to five comrades who fell in Afghanistan (above) are apt to leave enduring memories, not least of which that two of those caskets contain the bodies of Australians treacherously murdered by Afghans they had been assured were their uniformed and reliable comrades.

Identifying your enemy on the basis of empirical analysis cues an obvious response: kill those you recognise as being keen to kill you.

Here is where the complication arises. While you, the soldier in the field, have concluded on the basis of observation and experience that Islam is at the root of Islamist violence and its perpetrators are your enemy, your superiors tread more warily in their appraisals. Their political masters insist that Islam is the Religion of Peace™, that its followers are constantly betrayed by what they depict  as a lamentable minority of “radical” elements. Were members of the Society of Saint Pius X as given to explosions and beheadings, the same temporisers would be obliged to insist that problematic Catholics have no connection with Rome. There are votes at stake– entire seats, in fact — and uniformed careers too, meaning that the brain beneath a brass hat grasps instantly that nuance is required. So, before being sent off to kill those who want you dead, you must first be taught to “respect” the creed that spawns and motivates them.

This is the fulcrum on which tactical appraisal is outweighed by the pragmatic imperatives of the politically savvy careerist, that’s the bad news. The good news is that Australian soldiers appreciate that a politically correct rifle is one that shoots its user. The proof was released yesterday in the latest edition of the Australian Army Journal, which reported “the proportion of soldiers who have received cultural sensitivity training and who believe that the Muslim religion promotes violence and terrorism is 91%.”

The report was widely covered, not least by the ABC, where the notion that Islam has nothing to do with Islamic violence is deeply entrenched: From last night’s PM item, a question from aghast interviewer Lexi Metherell to Neil James of the Australian Defence Association (emphasis added):

METHERELL: So, I mean are you essentially agreeing with them [the 91%], that Islam is a religion that promotes violence and terrorism?

JAMES: Look I think you’ve got to look at this from the point of view that there are elements, or a minority element within the religion, that politicise the religious belief and that’s what produces the difference between Islam and Islamism. And we’re fighting Islamist terrorists; we’re not fighting Islamic terrorists.

But it’s quite logical when these blokes live cheek by jowl with the problem on a daily basis that they have a more sophisticated understanding than people back here in Australia. Now the idea that this somehow makes our diggers Islamophobic, the Defence Association finds it outrageous.

If anything it’s the opposite, it’s a sophisticated understanding of a complex problem.

So how is it that Ramadan best wishes from the brass and concerted efforts to package and promote a hijab’d naval officer have been so counterproductive? Here the Australian Army Journal article offers a simple answer:

Historical evidence suggests that attempts by military authorities to change political views are often treated at best with wry contempt on the part of the soldiers. In the British Army of World War II, for instance, the Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA) attempted to motivate soldiers to fight by ‘indoctrinating’ them with ‘democratic values’. However, as the historian Jeremy Crang writes: A good number of soldiers continued to regard [ABCA political discussion sections] with a marked degree of apathy and cynicism and as little more than an opportunity to have a leisurely cigarette, a crafty nap and – if they were lucky – a bit of fun at the officer’s expense.

Apparently, and for this we should be glad, common soldiers haven’t changed all that much. Perhaps it is those perched on Russell Hill who could really use a bit of re-education.

The AAJ paper can be read in full via the link below.

— roger franklin

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