The pause in the commemoration thriller story

There is an oft-used technique in thriller films – after what seems like a shattering climax there is an almost pastoral passage in which your blood pressure drops back down and your pulse rate returns to normal only to be forced back up again as a new climactic event bursts across the screen. Clint Eastwood in Play Misty for Me is probably the best example of the phenomena.

For a while the blog has been looking forward to November 12 – the day after the final major day of the expensive over the top Australian commemoration of World War I. As the blog has remarked before, Australia is spending more on this commemoration than the UK and probably more than the UK and French budget combined.

But what is clear – with the announced half a billion dollars for the War Memorial extension which will commemorate a series of wars such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan which Australia entered under false pretences and should, instead, never have been involved – there is yet more to come just as there was in the Play Misty for Me script

And that more seems to consist of the sickening faux sentimentality of US ‘recognition’ of the service of veterans. For readers who have never had the awful experience of flying on an internal US flight (try to avoid United at all costs) the boarding process (which Virgin recently sought to ape) is something even the Blackadder script writers would find hard to depict.

For a start the process is a wonderful indicator of the illusionary nature of US democracy as successive boarding calls are made for a series of ‘class’ distinctions in passenger categories which are almost too arcane to describe. And to top it all off preference is given to military passengers because we want to “thank them for their service.”

Needless to say this gratitude, at least at Trump government level, does not extend to stopping the Koch brothers campaign to privatise veterans’ hospitals and health care simply because it resembles the more successful single payer systems in the world.

Now we are following along the same track in Australia although Virgin has dropped its plan in the face of ridicule and opposition from veterans’ organisations. At the same time our PM, the current one (you know – the one who sounds like a fairground spruiker whenever he speaks) has raised the possibility of giving veterans a discount card and a new lapel badge to recognise their service.

It fits with the US politicians’ seemingly compulsory wearing of a USA badge; Jeff Kennett’s style while Victorian Premier which had parliamentarians and others wearing a mini Victoria badge (which at least had the merit of identifying which way people voted and which contractors wanted to ingratiate themselves with government); and, now the current PM is also in the Australia map lapel badge-wearing class. It is possible that many MPs find it useful to remind them of what country they represent, although their record in rushing to war at the behest of the UK and the US makes one wonder if that actually works.

The doyen of Canberra journalism, Jack Waterford of the Canberra Times (3 November 2018), summed it up brilliantly recently when he said: “A fairly safe rule of public life is that the more flag lapels one wears, and the more one speaks of love of country or national greatness, the less likely the person has served in the nation’s armed forces and put himself in harm’s way, least of all in a time of national need.”

His article focussed on the Australian War Memorial extension and has some very interesting things to say about the Director, Brendan Nelson. Now the blog has been doubtful of Nelson as Director ever since his farcical Simpson and his donkey school poster effort and his insistence, in a Melbourne Town Hall debate, that all the people commemorated at the Memorial had ‘fought’ under our Australian flag – a clear historical nonsense – but Waterford comprehensively converted doubt to certainty.

However, Waterhouse didn’t mention the other great absence at the War Memorial, an absence which could have been addressed with some of the half a billion dollar grant. That is Australia’s frontier wars. Dean Ashenden in Inside Story (5 November 2018) did address what he called a “fundamental blind spot”.

He wrote: “The number of deaths from violence on Australia’s frontiers exceeded the number of Australian deaths in the first world war and was probably close to double the number of second world war casualties. Were we — I speak as a non-Indigenous Australian — to experience a similar casualty rate now, somewhere between two and three million would die.

“Numbers of deaths by violence on the frontiers were greatly exceeded by deaths from disease, malnutrition and addictive substances, variously preceding, accompanying and following frontier violence. An Aboriginal population estimated at three quarters of a million or more when the first fleet arrived had been reduced to less than one-tenth of that number by the 1920s.

“An entire civilisation came close to complete destruction, as did much of the ecology that sustained it, exacting a further toll of physical and psychological misery that still has a long way to run,” he said.

It ought not be that difficult – except for some push back from the Liberal and media cultural warriors who are doing so much to make Bill Shorten PM – to address this blind spot. The blog was well-received when it raised it in an Anzac Day service speech and the Canberra march that year was led by indigenous veterans.

And it would also be useful to use the post-November 11 lull to visit the question of giving Parliament a voice in whether and when we go to war. The Australians for War Powers Reform organisation (the blog is a member) has launched a major campaign around the issue and more details can be found here.

The US and the UK have such provisions already and a different approach would perhaps help prevent the disasters such as the Iraq war and its aftermath.