Letters to the Editor

The Braying Mob

Sir: It’s Sunday morning at St Mary’s and the Archdeacon gleefully announces that during the week the committee decided to erect a billboard outside the church to indicate “our” support for gay marriage.

Over morning coffee afterwards I complained. How could the committee arrive at such a decision without surveying the congregation? Why was it not even announced beforehand that this was to be discussed at the monthly committee meeting? To me this was dishonest.

No, came the response, it was arrived at by the committee’s vote, so was fair and above board.

But, I contended, that there was going to be a vote was deliberately kept secret. It’s dishonest and devious, I repeated, and this is no way to run the Anglican Church.

Be reasonable, I was told, no words will appear on the sign (which was untrue—when the billboard went up it said “Genesis 9:8–17” and “1 Corinthians 13”). The sign would show only a heart-shaped rainbow, they continued, so it will be passive and low-key.

A large rainbow billboard displayed at a North Melbourne church is not low-key, I said.

By this time nasty looks were being directed my way. They can glare all they like, but I will never mindlessly join a braying self-righteous mob—that was how Barabbas got off scot free while Jesus of Nazareth was sent to execution.

Christopher Heathcote
Keilor, Vic


Educating an Army

Sir: Keith Windschuttle’s column on “Gender Diversity in Khaki” (September 2017) contains several shots at the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) that fall well wide of the mark.

From a single instance of a female soldier being seized from behind by a terrorist at Paris Orly Airport he concludes that “women are not strong enough or quick enough for this kind of frontline duty”. If a single male soldier had been seized from behind, would he have concluded that men were similarly unfit for such duty?

I do not know how the French army trains its female soldiers or assigns them to tasks but I do know that the Australian Army is approaching the challenge with caution. The basic principle is to identify the essential physical requirements for each type of task and to ensure that all personnel, male and female, meet the relevant criteria.

Windschuttle also takes issue with the efforts to attract more women into the Army. The fact is that the community sees the Army as male-dominated, even anti-feminist; in these circumstances special effort is needed to attract women to volunteer. And why try to increase female numbers beyond their present level of 12 per cent? The important point is that once in uniform, men and women are treated the same as far as military performance is concerned.

There is another leap of logic in concluding that the Army’s efforts to end sexism and gender discrimination in its ranks throw doubt on its military efficacy. Or rather Windschuttle seeks to condemn the Army by weasel wording—rather than evidence—in referring to “any incompatibility [gender diversity as a cultural imperative] might have” with promoting military effectiveness (emphasis added).

As to when the “rot” set in, facts are in short supply. Windschuttle blames ADFA, which opened in 1986 and Kim Beazley, Minister for Defence at the time, for outsourcing the Academy’s educational component to the University of New South Wales. Apart from the fact that UNSW had been providing university degrees to cadets at the Royal Military College since 1967 (initiated by a Liberal government), the decision to involve UNSW at ADFA was taken in 1980-81 by another Liberal government. Windschuttle, of course, might be happy to cast Malcolm Fraser as the villain on this occasion.

Worse still, according to Windschuttle, bringing UNSW into ADFA has led to the teaching of “identity politics [as] the progressive political cause du jour”, at least in the humanities program. The courses he mentions, however, are only a small part of UNSW’s academic offerings and, as far as I can see, none are compulsory. They are similar to courses offered at most universities in Australia—which might be Windschuttle’s real beef. He also believes those academic staff at ADFA he condemns have exerted an extraordinarily powerful influence, first by claiming they have won (or “might have won”) “the Culture Wars”, and second by asserting that they have thereby undermined the “Army’s ability to fight real wars”.

But if we want our future officers to have a true university education, they should be exposed to all manner of ideas and arguments and learn to judge and assess them—as we want them to do in the course of their careers—rather than be sheltered from troubling notions. (It is for such reasons I subscribe to Quadrant.)

This is a point overlooked in the supportive letter by Gerry Worsell (“A Proper Defence Academy”) in the October edition. He praises the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) for its uniformed academic staff (as of 1967) but does not mention the pressure on such staff to conform to the official line when they wear uniform (as about 66 per cent of USAFA staff do today) and when the military commander of the Academy has the power to discipline and sack those staff. Despite this, he might be horrified to learn, the USAFA now offers a course on “Gender, sexuality and society” which examines the ways in which people are influenced by stereotypes of gender and sexuality which they may not be aware that they have.

Hugh Smith
Deakin, ACT


Different Priorities

Sir: As a reader of and subscriber to Quadrant for over fifty years I was not previously aware that your letters pages were open to such self-aggrandisement and denigration of others as lacking “both the stamina and imagination” to “read all six volumes” of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or talking “vulgarly of the bucket list of things to do before you die” until I read Paul Monk’s letter (October 2017). Good for Monk that he made it through “some 4500 pages altogether” and I am glad that he enjoyed the experience and that it helped him at a difficult time. Perhaps when he is fully recovered he might reflect that other people simply have different priorities and respect them for that.

Michael Smith
Mooroolbark, Vic


The Prickly University

Sir: Further to W.D. Rubinstein’s comment that “Melbourne University has no control over what occurs on trams in Preston” (October 2017), I am certain that the institution is deluded enough to believe it ought to have such control (it may also warn you, Mr Editor, that it should be referred to at all times as “The University of Melbourne”, for so it remonstrated with an academic acquaintance of mine). In connection with a project with which I was involved in Turkey, it seemed to believe that its policies and regulations took precedence over the laws of Turkey.

Also be warned, in relation to your spat with Dr Garton, Melbourne has a far better history department than Sydney: where else might you find someone interested in the history of menstruation, a male classicist interested in breast-feeding, and learn of the development of the Melbourne coffee culture?

In passing, as to Tharoor’s book on British India (September 2017): he exhibits no knowledge of the rise of the Tata Iron and Steel conglomerate versus the fate the British-owned Bengal Iron Co in the decades before independence, never mind the difficulties of UK iron-bashers in selling to India, especially Indian railways, after 1918. In effect, he has no knowledge of economic matters at all (which was, alas, pretty much the position of the post-independence governments for more than forty years after independence).

James Hargrave
Radnorshire, UK


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