Stephens, David: ‘Afghanistan: The Australian Story shows war is about much more than “love and friendship”

David Stephens

Afghanistan: The Australian Story shows war is about much more than “love and friendship”’, Honest History, 2 May 2017

A review of Chris Masters’ double DVD for the Australian War Memorial. (Trailer; ABC story.) The DVDs contain footage of combat and civil construction and community engagement work, and interviews with some 40 service personnel and others involved with Australia’s Afghanistan commitment.

The themes in the DVDs are about how well Australians fight, their professionalism, and their compassion for the people of Afghanistan. There is less about mateship (at least explicitly) and even less about violent death, injury, why Australia was there, and about the aftermath of service, including suicide. While the documentary is layered and nuanced – certainly more nuanced than the Memorial’s silly tag-line about ‘love and friendship’ – it leaves questions about evidence and editing and about whether the professionalism and dedication of the men and women depicted could be better employed than in dangerous downpayments on the American Alliance.

Finally, there is left the question that hangs over all our wars – the same question that Henry Reynolds dealt with in Unnecessary Wars. Beyond the assurance that our boys and girls, in Rugby League coach Jack Gibson’s terms, ‘done good’, beyond the professional satisfaction (and promotion opportunities and on-the-job testing and training) obtained by servicemen and women, beyond the Alliance pay-offs, can we be sure that Australian governments properly weigh the costs in lives and psyches, Australian and non-Australian, before they get into adventures like Afghanistan and Iraq? There is nothing in these DVDs that helps answer that question. Worthy attributes like professionalism, dedication, patriotism, and yes, mateship, deserve not to be prostituted to unworthy causes.

There are two DVDs: the main program of an hour or so, plus an ‘extras’ compilation of 39 edited interviews, running to more than three hours. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson says at the end of the main DVD that the Memorial is ‘part of the therapeutic milieu’ for deployed and returned soldiers and the Afghanistan exhibition and DVDs are a way of showing Australians the nature of the Afghanistan commitment.

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