Sir: Mervyn Bendle’s timely article “How Paul Keating Betrayed the Anzacs, and Why” (January-February 2014) reminded me that Keating does not realise that the fighting at Kokoda was made necessary by ignorance and incompetence that far exceeded the mistakes made at Gallipoli.
Rabaul, the capital of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, fell to the Japanese on January 23, 1942—before Singapore. It was administered by Australia, not by the Poms! There was no excuse for the debacle Canberra—with a Labor government in power—allowed. If Rabaul had not fallen or if there had been organised resistance for a few weeks—neither would have been impossible if the establishment of the day had recognised the need and found the will to act—Kokoda and the Battle of the Coral Sea need not have happened.
It had been clear to observant island residents from the mid-1930s that the Japanese were interested in Rabaul, where their agents were active. A look at a map of the South-West Pacific showed the strategic importance of Rabaul with its magnificent harbour and two airfields.
Over one and a half thousand Europeans, civilians and military personnel who were in the area in early 1942 had disappeared by the end of the war, as did thousands of New Guineans, Chinese and other Asians. Many of these lives could have been saved if there had been organised resistance to the Japanese in January 1942. Yet this was the time that Keating thinks Australia entered the world stage as an Asiatic nation!
My uncle Fred Martin sailed northwards from Townsville as a member of the Kennedy Regiment on August 8, 1914. On August 19, men of the AN&MEF sailed from Sydney. These were the first troops to leave Australia for overseas—and they were bound for Rabaul and German New Guinea! The first Australian casualties in the First World War fell there. Australians, particularly Queenslanders, had more knowledge of New Guinea in 1914 than in 1941. They had been concerned about Germany in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago for decades.
Weymouth, Dorset, England
Sir: Paul Keating’s attempt to rewrite Australian history of the First World War and the Anzacs is more about the Irish nationalist movement than Australian history. Ireland was involved in a struggle for independence from the British Empire, culminating in the Easter Rising of 1916. The conscription debates in Australia found opposition by the Roman Catholic Church and its sometimes Irish-born hierarchy.
Keating’s self-education was largely in the area of economics and politics. He seems to be operating off a folk memory of Irish nationalism rather than a knowledge of Australian history.
North Turramurra, NSW
Sir: As a university student in Sydney and the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I became aware of the enthusiasm of the political and intellectual Left to achieve pre-determined outcomes in debate and then seek to “work” the facts into the narrative. Visionaries, as they are popularly known, regard such methodology as legitimate.
All of us owe a deep debt of gratitude to Hal Colebatch for Australia’s Secret War, which appears to be a thoroughly researched and reliable analysis of the activities of the unions during the Second World War. Mr Colebatch has caught the left-leaning commentariat looking like the emperor in the fairytale. To prove false fabricated analyses of historical matters requires time-consuming research and there aren’t enough inquisitive and energetic researchers who can be bothered doing the work. The contribution by Mr Colebatch deserves to be a best-seller and ought to be compulsory reading in Australian History studies at tertiary level. But such a prospect is unlikely.
Guns and Moral Decline
Sir: I read Andrew Smith’s “America’s Gun Control Dilemma” (January-February 2014) at the same time as I was reading Robert Colls’s recent George Orwell: English Rebel, where I came across a line Orwell wrote in 1940: “A rifle leaning on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”
Many forget that firearms were once as easily procurable in the United Kingdom and Australia as they were, and are now, in the United States. In his Autobiography, G.K. Chesterton described going into a shop on the way to his wedding in 1901 and purchasing a pistol (an incident which Freudians may make of what they will).
What did not happen in those days were massacres of the sort with which we have become familiar since the 1960s, such as Port Arthur, Dunblane and Sandy Hook, which suggests that such atrocities are primarily a result of moral and cultural developments in the West during recent decades, rather than the availability of guns.
Americans who assert that they have a constitutional right to bear arms might be basing their argument on a dubious interpretation of the Second Amendment, but they are no more casuistical than their left-wing opponents, whose misuse of the First Amendment’s ban on an established church to prohibit public Nativity scenes and Happy Christmas greetings is every bit as dodgy.
Incidentally, I am not a gun owner, and during my inglorious stint of National Service was the worst shot in my platoon.
Sir: Acting Sydney University vice-chancellor Stephen Garton’s otherwise unexceptionable general defence of academic freedom in dealing with Jake Lynch and his boycott of Israeli academics fails his own clearly stated test that “Universities are here to encourage open and rigorous discussions designed to advance knowledge”. That position is exactly what Lynch rejected when he banned such “open and rigorous discussion” by academics from Israel at his Sydney University Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
While Professor Garton properly asserts, in Lynch’s case, the need to defend the “right to hold such views”, he ignores the reality that Lynch is not just “holding” but actively “imposing” such views in an un-academic authoritarian manner by preventing Israeli academics from speaking at a centre of supposed learning. For this he has no right whatsoever while part of a university committed to defence of academic freedom.
Sydney University’s official inability to distinguish between “hold” and “impose” allows it to rationalise its way out of its untenable position. It explains why so many of its graduates like me lament the intellectual decline evidenced by its failure to discipline a so-called “academic” employee who has broken the most fundamental of academic rules.
Colo Vale, NSW
Sir: Bravo to B.J. Coman for his marvellous essay “The Enduring Problem of Monkey Business” (January-February 2014). Over the last few centuries, the definition of science has changed regularly, but scientists would rather forget what they once believed, not so long ago, like the miasma theory of disease, before they discovered germs. This kind of amnesia is always useful, as it allows scientists to pretend science has always been what it has become.
The category of reason is another case in point, as scientists are fond of making large claims for reason but seem unwilling or unable to define reason. Instead, they invoke reason as an all-purpose given, a god of the gaps, which they take for granted, like the air they breathe, without admitting or even recognising its ancient metaphysical structure. The same thing applies to the mind, which has always been (and may always be) a metaphysical construct. Now that we have the science of the brain (as an organ of the body) and speculations about the mind (as the home of the soul) are confined to philosophy and theology, scientists who eschew metaphysics should stop referring to the mind forthwith.
Sir: Occasionally, we are privileged to read something which evokes a delighted and spontaneous, “Yes! That’s it!” Mark Durie’s article “The Abolition of Slavery and the Truth of History” (January-February 2014) is such a text.
The abolition of slavery, in the Western, that is, Christian, tradition, is a gift to humanity from those who believe in God, brought into being because they believe in God. This historical fact leads to recognition of other gifts to humanity from the same impulse. It should not be forgotten that the abolitionists strove against slavery because it was “a crime before God”.
The thirteenth century has been called the greatest of centuries and its cornucopia of treasures enriches us even today: the full flowering of education, the arts, the extension of the rule of law to all citizens and the genesis of modern democracy: all of this brought about by people who would have happily endorsed the notion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”. In fact, it is not being fanciful to suggest that these insights first crystallised in the marvellous flowering of Christian culture of the thirteenth century.
By a delightful yin and yang, the same edition of Quadrant contains a letter from Jacob Jonker who observes that “Christians do not have a good track record of minding their own business”. When we read Dr Durie’s article, we can only say, “Thank God for that!” If the Christians involved in the heroic struggle to abolish slavery had minded their own business and had not sought to “impose their chosen morality and principles”, we might still have this obnoxious trade, as some traditions, other than the Christian, have to this day.
Mr Jonker detects in the Christian “a propensity to be stridently self-righteous”. Alas! The reverse is the case. Christians are remarkably loath to remind society of the debt it owes to courageous Christians like William Wilberforce and George Stephen and those enlightened Christians of the thirteenth century and, indeed, the whole of the Christian tradition. Secular humanists, while accepting this rich patrimony, refuse to acknowledge its source.
Sir: Michael O’Connor’s response (Letters, January-February 2014) to the two articles by Geoffrey Luck and John de Meyrick (December 2013) has much to commend it, though his questioning of why governments should have an interest in marriage, given so many children are now born outside marriage, is misplaced.
Despite the apparent break in the link between marriage and children, there remain reasons why governments should continue to maintain an interest in promoting marriage as historically understood as between a man and a woman for life, especially now given the disturbing, but entirely predictable, findings of Longitudinal Study of Australian Children being conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. This study reports that young families with unmarried parents were nearly three times more likely to break up than married families, with the children of unmarried parents falling behind children with married parents in socio-emotional and general development, poorer learning, more difficult peer relationships and greater behavioural problems.
Put simply, living with their biological parents gives children the best start in life. This has got to be of interest to governments.
On the related issue, the argument for marriage as between a man and a woman and not two men or two women can be defended as Geoffrey Luck demonstrated on the basis of natural-law arguments. For Christians the natural-law argument is strengthened by biblical testimony. Thus at the beginning of the Bible we come across the statement, “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Jacob Jonker, however, would rather I not cite a Bible text because to do so is to impose my “chosen morality and principles … upon others of different faiths” in a “stridently self-righteous way”. I am a Christian but I’m also an Australian citizen with as much right as Mr Jonker or anyone else to express my views in public.
The matter of same-sex marriage will be settled by the federal parliament, or better still in a referendum of the Australian people when the arguments in favour of marriage between a man and a woman might at last be given a hearing in public discourse, rather than just the shallow and trivial nonsense dished up constantly in the media in favour of same-sex marriage (with the honourable exception of Quadrant).