Khaki all the way down: John Menadue and Bruce Haigh on Australian militarism

John Menadue’s website Pearls and Irritations continues to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. This week, Menadue himself posted a thoughtful piece, ‘Military and security agencies are eroding civil society‘.

We are encouraged to celebrate the disastrous Gallipoli invasion and expunge our great civilian and peace-time achievements in the decades before 1900 and the decade following [Menadue writes]. There were remarkable civilian achievements: Federation, the national parliament, a living wage, rights for women and an Australian ballot. We were world leaders in these and other civilian achievements but we are encouraged to forget them so we can focus on our military history and valour.

Our foreign policy has become subjected to our military dependence on the US. We are at the beck and call of the US military, usually regardless of our own interests. With interoperability of equipment and personnel we are locked into the US war machine. We are dragooned repeatedly into US disasters – Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Malcolm Fraser has warned us that the US is a “dangerous ally”. The US has many attractive features but war seems to be in its DNA.

Since its independence in 1776, the US has been at war 93% of that time. It has never had a decade without war. It has launched 201 out of 248 armed conflicts since the end of WWII and maintains more than 700 military bases in more than 100 countries. Former US president Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower warned Americans about the industrial and military complex. The warning about the militarisation of civilian institutions and values should be for us as well. Our foreign policy has been eclipsed by our mistaken military adventures and dependence on the US. We show no concern when our political leaders commit war crimes.

Menadue is the former secretary of Australian government departments, ambassador, and chief executive of QANTAS. Then there was Bruce Haigh, former diplomat and frequent commentator on foreign affairs. His P&I piece was simply titled ‘ The militarisation of Australia‘.

The Australian war correspondent CEW Bean was appointed official historian [Haigh writes]. He wrote dispassionately of the horror and put order where there was none. His was a boy’s own history, preparing the next generation for war. He advocated for a war memorial in Canberra which in design and display prepared the ground for the deification of Australian involvement in war. Bean was the father of the Anzac legend, which is fascist and racist in manifestation. Where you and I might have seen crude and foul-mouthed grafters, Bean saw beautiful boys. He loved them. I have been in the army; I have seen a different reality …

All things military had sunk into the Australian psyche by 1945. But not all embraced Anzac Day. Some saw it as showy and shallow, having little to do with remembering friends. Many knew all too well of the violence and nastiness that lay beneath the surface once alcohol had a grip, the wives better than most …

Patriotism and loyalty have become bound into the outdated Anzac myth, the prosecution and celebration of it now often referred to as Anzacery. It celebrates a white Anglo narrative and has no relevance to or understanding among newer minority ethnic groups. It has been captured by the political right.

Readers may also be interested in David Stephens’ brief analysis of the rhetorical style of Dr Brendan Nelson, a notable spruiker of the sort of Australia that Menadue and Haigh deplore. There’s also historian Henry Reynolds on the China-US-Australia triangle. And Alison Broinowski on the military-industrial-intelligence-security complex. And Marilyn Lake. And John Mordike on the propaganda of CEW Bean.

29 August 2020 updated

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