‘Let’s face it, Australia goes to war far too easily‘, Canberra Times, 15 November 2020 (pdf from our subscription)
The imminent Brereton Report should get us thinking not just about possible war crimes but about the decisions we make to go to war and the impacts of those decisions on people other than Australians – the 41 Australian war dead in Afghanistan, those damaged by their deployments, and the families of both groups.
However, any change that is to occur as a result of this report must not be limited to the troops themselves. It must start at the top – meaning the political decisions to send Australians to war and the impunity with which those decision are made. And it must focus on those who are disproportionately affected and disproportionately ignored when we go to war – civilians …
This far-reaching decision [to go to war] is taken by, at most, a tiny handful of ministers, and in practice generally by the Prime Minister alone. Our parliament is not consulted. Many critical questions, about goals, strategy, likely duration and costs are either not asked, not answered, subject to shifting goalposts or hidden from the public – or all of these. Far from war being the proverbial “last resort”, Australia enters wars remarkably easily.
The op ed goes on to look at civilian deaths in Afghanistan, impacts on women and children, displacement from homes, and other effects.
By providing political, military and moral support for the war, Australia has had a hand in creating and perpetuating this 19-yearlong human disaster.
At home, there has been dissembling, dishonesty, cover-up, and persecution of whistleblowers.
The apparent culture of impunity in our special forces must change, and the perpetrators of the atrocities reported by Justice Brereton must be held to account. But equally there is a desperate need for the culture of political impunity and secrecy to change. Only then might we claw back an identity as a nation that values peace, rather than one that is constantly at war.
* Dr Sue Wareham OAM is a member of the Heritage Guardians group, campaigning against the $498m redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial, as well as being president of Medical Association for Prevention of War and secretary of Australians for War Powers Reform.
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