White, Hugh: Primal fears, primal ambitions

White, Hugh

‘Primal fears, primal ambitions’, Arena Magazine, 76, April-May 2005, pp. 32-36

The article is based on a lecture at RMIT University in November 2004. ‘In Australia today’, the author says, ‘security has acquired a prominence in public policy debate that is unprecedented in most of our adult lifetimes.’ (p. 32) This debate draws on ‘primal fears’ and is thus less rational and orderly.

Primal fears have dominated since 9/11 in the United States with personalised responses due to a fear of attack on one’s self and family, an exaggeration of the threat, militarised responses to a greater degree than was rational (war on terror, alliances) and moral tone (a battle against evil, attacks on us are because we are free). But the then recent absence of costly wars was a driver also, tending to make Australians more belligerent.

There are issues for Australia here, too. For example, there has been a marked increase over the past decade in Australia’s willingness to use military force as a tool of foreign policy… [H]ow quickly our society [in the last 15 years] has moved from a deep post-Vietnam reluctance to use armed force to a surprisingly high level of comfort with it… After Vietnam, the negative predominated. But over the past fifteen years we have been lucky enough to engage in a series of low-cost and generally successful military operations [for example, East Timor]. The positive images of war are starting to predominate. We are becoming more willing to resort to armed force than we have been in the recent past. (p. 36)

Birmingham makes use of White.


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