Waving the Flag, a White One

A British general, Sir Richard Sherriff, has said that Britain has so few voluntary soldiers that, in the present situation, it should train and equip a citizen army. A retired colonel said shortly before that a return of conscription might be necessary. I wish them both luck with their schemes: they will need it.

Between medical exemption for psychiatric reasons, conscientious objection and lawsuits for discrimination, I doubt that more than 1 per cent of those conscripted would ever end up in the army, and a good proportion of those few would probably be useless.

What are now commonly called mental health issues would become even more prevalent than they already are, doctors being too pusillanimous to refuse to provide the requisite medical certificates to all those who want them. Besides, who can prove that someone is not mentally unfit for something? In England now, it is not uncommon to hear people claiming that they suffer from mental health, meaning that they have, or claim to have, or behave as if they had, a psychiatric disorder as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (Fifth Edition), according to which practically all human thought or conduct is pathological—as compared with that of mice or rabbits, perhaps.  

But the real difficulty standing in the way of such schemes would be that no one believes any longer that the country has a right to defend itself, because of its uniquely woeful past. I am far from a flag-wagger or belligerent militarist and am temperamentally unsuited to the military life: but there are circumstances in which I would be prepared to fight and indeed would consider it my duty to do so. War is hell, certainly, but there might be times when not waging it is worse.

Often I ask myself whether I would have joined up in the First World War, that most catastrophic of catastrophes, and I think I would have done so. I doubt that I would have fallen for the crude patriotic propaganda of the time, but when I saw so many of my fellow citizens sacrificing themselves, I do not think I would have been able to hold aloof; I would have felt obliged to do my bit, even if the cause for which we fought were far from obvious. I should also have admired a conscientious objector such as Bertrand Russell, who went to prison rather than participate in the general slaughter: he had to pay a price for his opinion and was prepared to pay it. He displayed considerable moral courage, far greater than that of people who joined up mostly because so many others did so.

Modern conscientious objection would be different. It would derive not from serious moral thought, but from a shallow and preening self-righteousness and narcissism—with cowardice probably thrown in. When I saw reports from afar of the demonstrations against Australia Day, I thought Australia too might now have difficulties in raising an army of any size if the need ever arose.

While reports mentioned that thousands had participated in these demonstrations, they failed to mention that millions did not. In a sense, they were right not to mention it, because we live in a world in which asymmetrical ideological wars are constantly being fought, with relatively small numbers of fanatics and monomaniacs on the one side, and more balanced people, for whom the matter is only one thing among many others, on the other side. In these circumstances, numbers do not count. One fanatic is worth a thousand normal people; he will continue until he gets what he wants, boring the opposition into surrender. Giving in to him is the only way to shut him up.

The demonstrations against Australia Day appalled me by their dishonesty. No doubt Australia has its faults, but by the standards of human his­tory—the only standards by which it can be judged—it is a remarkably successful country. It is founded on a version of British parliamentary democracy and British law and has succeeded in affording its citizens more freedom than 99 per cent of human polities that have ever existed, while also assuring them of one of the world’s highest standards of living. It has not solved every problem of human existence, but no country is ever going to do that. The arrival of the First Fleet was obviously essential to the Australian achievement. 

The Aboriginal question, admittedly, is like a running sore in the moral flesh of the country. The contact between a nomadic, hunter-gatherer population and a much more advanced civilisation was never going to be easy to arrange in such a way that no human suffering resulted, and it is rarely in human history that whole populations have behaved with perfect justice. But the difficulty of the problem defied easy solution, and it is not as though no well-meaning efforts have ever been made, even if sometimes they were misdirected, or even if some efforts were not well-meaning.

For example, some years ago I shared a platform in Adelaide with a social worker who said that Aborigines should not be taught to read and write because it was not part of their culture to do so. Since she did not suggest that they should simply be left to fend for themselves in the remotest outback, she was in effect suggesting that they should be utterly dependent on the discretion of persons such as she. While she imagined that she was being broad- and generous-minded, it was not difficult to espy the thirst for power in what she said.

There was a great deal of moral grandiosity on view in the demonstrations as well as moral grandiosity’s usual companion, hypocrisy. Unlike Bertrand Russell, the demonstrators were risking nothing by their sloganeering; they did not imagine for a moment that they could have something to lose by their stance; they even looked very pleased with themselves. When they claimed that Australia had always belonged and would always belong to the Aborigines, they did not offer to remove themselves back to the countries from which their ancestors came. They did not seriously expect themselves to have to live like pre-contact Aborigines (with a life expectancy, incidentally, of less than thirty-five, with much death by violence); they would probably have regarded the absence of a choice of restaurants as the worst fate that could possibly befall anyone, including themselves.                

Perhaps the scene that irritated me the most was that captured on the website of Al Jazeera, of middle-class Australian women holding aloft banners with both the Aboriginal flag (itself, for purists who demand cultural authenticity, the grossest of inventions) and the Palestinian, with a slogan insisting that both Australia and Palestine suffered the same colonisation. “No pride in genocide” said another slogan on a banner, held aloft by the presumed beneficiaries of the so-called Australian genocide.

Satire could not capture this: these women with their expressions of self-satisfied earnestness in effect supporting a culture of mass rape, while no doubt considering themselves feminist, simultaneously, in effect, supporting one of the only movements in the world openly to avow genocide as policy, while thinking that they were protesting against genocide. An awareness of irony is not a characteristic of our age.

I am not sure that I can fully explain the determination of some of the most privileged and fortunate people who have ever lived to persuade themselves (and others) that they exist in a kind of moral hell from which it is their duty to redeem themselves (and others), rather than merely bring about such small improvements as they can. They are the mirror-image of the type of person who in the past would have believed that their country was the best in the world and therefore could do no wrong. There is an attraction to superlatives, even if it is to the superlatively bad.

Suffice it to say that the belief that one’s country is so fundamentally bad that it has no real right to exist is hardly conducive to a determination to defend it if necessary with one’s life. If ever there should be a time when others were willing to attack it, also if necessary with their lives, it would be left defenceless, at least if the belief in question were widespread.             

The Australian is only a special case of the loss of confidence of Western civilisation vis-à-vis the rest of the world. It is detectable in Europe and in the United States. Oddly enough, that loss of confidence also partakes simultaneously of moral grandiosity, that at long last indubitable moral truth has been found. Quite apart from its absurdity, this attitude is no pleasanter to behold than jingoism.

Under his pen-name Theodore Dalrymple, Anthony Daniels recently wrote The Wheelchair and Other Stories and These Spindrift Pages, a collection of literary observations and reflections (both published by Mirabeau).


4 thoughts on “Waving the Flag, a White One

  • Bron says:

    The Poles will fight.

  • ianl says:

    “An awareness of irony is not a characteristic of our age.” [quote from the article]

    That depends on who the “our” is. Certainly those who profess moral certainty and insist anyone who disagrees is a cretin, likely an evil white cretin, these people pretend to be unaware of irony, or indeed that they may be the intended butt of satire or mockery.

    We “others” (deplorables) know with certainty that the emperor has no clothes. Why the emperor appears not realise this may be harder to understand. To be honest, my view here is that such people are actually quite well aware of their own hypocrisy and deliberately flaunt it to demonstrate their power. Basically, the deplorables can do nothing about it anyway. Perhaps the most recent example is Bandt using a private jet from Canberra to Brisbane; when skewered for this, the simple response is “So what ?”

    We now have the hard mirth, unrelieved by any honest insight, of German Cabinet Ministers proposing jail terms of up to 3 years for posting online criticism such as: “The Finance Minister cannot count past four” … The State will not be mocked, as you see.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Thank you for a well-argued article.
    Regarding ab affairs, my work took me often to remote communities in Cape York, the Top End and parts of WA. I spoke with many locals and clearly recall that in the 1970-80 era, there was next to no community talk about harm from white settlement, little talk about ownership of land, but a dominant theme of how people could move from the isolation they were in, to integration with broad Australian society with its cosmopolitan attractions.
    I interpret the main debates of today to be charlatan inventions of a few trouble makers. Listen to the ordinary folk in their ordinary surroundings. Geoff S

  • David Isaac says:

    The solution to the dissolution we are experiencing is as simple as redeploying the organs of propaganda in the the defence of the historical Australian, British, Canadian, American and European nations and their way of life prior to the cultural revolution of the 1960s. The Covid operation showed just how feasible this is even when the threat is mild. That it won’t happen is all the evidence needed to show that the forces behind the WEF are determined to destroy us.

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