We’ll always have enemy – even if we have to invent them

The British refrain for many, many decades was: ‘There’ll always be an England’.

For the US, from when Europeans first invaded, the refrain might as well have been ‘There’ll always be an enemy’.

Of course, the British empire always had an enemy too: the French, the Zulus, the Boers, the Germans, the Kenyans, the rebellious Indians, the Irish, the Russians and assorted tribal and national groups who needed to be civilised at the point of a gun.

But the US have the distinction of having been the nation involved in war for a greater proportion of their history than any other nation in history and the list of their enemies is not only huge but constantly being added to.

And Australia – from its earliest day in the colonies until as recently as this week – marched in lockstep with Governments from both countries while pursuing our own domestic wars – the Frontier Wars – using the tactics the British and US had used in similar situations.

We too have always had to have an enemy – Indigenous Australians who needed to be exterminated, communists,  refugees, Muslims and others. At every point in the long sad process the media has amplified the fear of these ‘enemies’.

Even a cursory read of the literature on the Frontier Wars discloses that the earliest Australian media urged punitive (euphemism for murder) actions against First Nations people and reported in detail what was done to them. When later in the 19th and earlier in the 20th century more voices were being raised about massacres the euphemisms were sometimes tempered by silence.

But just to look at the wars into which we have blindly followed the US demonstrates the way the media have urged the warmongers on.

On Korea the then Prime Minister Robert Menzies, according to the Australian War Memorial, was Eurocentric in his world view and did not support Australia committing military forces to the conflict. Sir Percy Spender, the Minister for External Affairs, was of a very different persuasion and pushed for an Australian military commitment without consulting Menzies.

Yet, according to a Google search no Australian mainstream media outlet questioned or opposed the commitment while whole-heartedly joining the associated Australian version of McCarthyism and adopting the subsequent ANZUS Treaty as holy gospel.

Come Vietnam and Robert Menzies had lost all qualms and quickly committed troops saying “a takeover of South Vietnam would be a direct military threat to Australia and all countries of South and South-East Asia.” The media quickly fell into line although this time the ALP and many in the community had a different view.

Nevertheless, most of the media applauded the decision, continued its support even as the Moratorium movement became stronger and stronger, and was scathing about demonstrators and draft resisters until the reality of the US defeat become obvious.

Roll on Iraq and the media breathlessly reported every allegation about Iraq and Saddam Hussein definitely possessing weapons of mass destruction.  That the UN investigators had failed to find any was irrelevant to most media coverage which focussed on the central role Australia was playing. This time the opposition was even stronger from the outset than it was in Vietnam but the Murdoch and Fairfax media, the ABC and commercial broadcast media joined the chorus on the threat to Australia and the world.

Ditto Afghanistan. If we had been asked we probably would have sent troops – with media saluting the departing troops – to the ill-fated 19th Century British march on Kabul.  We made up for that in the 21st Century but not before Afghans suffered and traumatised Australian troops were accused of committing war crimes. A few journalists pursued this but the majority were silent for a long time while the rest were glorifying Anzackery.

The media compared the images of the US retreat from Afghanistan with similar images of the fall of Saigon but apparently learnt little from them.

Indeed, as memories of Vietnam and Afghanistan faded we have a new threat. Once again it is China – infiltrating our institutions; recruiting students as agents of influence; seeking to influence MPs – each and every one of them the subject of media coverage while the fact that the US is doing exactly the same thing is ignored.

We also now have a new form of McCarthyism – all fuelled not only by the Murdoch media but most of the rest of the media as well – centred on a ‘China threat’.

In this climate hobbyists and meteorologists are advised not to let loose any balloons which might drift, be seen as surveillance tools and then shot down.

The Chinese regime is an unlovely one – except when they are buying our products. They have invaded Tibet, ended Hong Kong democracy, make bellicose threats against Taiwan and have fought a few border military actions with Russia and India. But are they a direct threat to us?

The US historian Adam Hochschild has recently published America’s Midnight. The book focusses on the decade after President Wilson was elected and decided to send troops to Europe.

It was a prelude and precursor to McCarthyism. Murders of trade unionists and African Americans; crackdowns on dissent; mobs burning Black churches to the ground; thousands thrown into prison for opinions they voiced; lynchings widespread; and, 75 newspapers and magazines banned from the mail and forced to close.

The bulk of the US media applauded it all. Just as they applauded McCarthy. Just as the Australian media cheered on the Petrov Commission, the communist witch hunts, the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Today the Australian media are cheering on confrontation with China and the spooks are – as usual – finding nests of spies everywhere. When will they ever learn?