08 April 2011

Dickhead removal strategy

The Australian Defence Force is one of this country's most admired organisations. It lies at the heart of our national self-image, it is one of our largest employers, and unlike a lot of organisations it provides a real method for young people from relatively poor backgrounds to secure ongoing employment and skill development, to find meaning in and through their work, and to attain a degree of social mobility that is not as available in Australia today as we might hope.

There is a positive pattern at work in the ADF. Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG is every bit cut from the same cloth as, say, Ted Sheean or Sir Neville Howes VC. Actions like those of Roberts-Smith, and recognition of those actions, reinforces the high esteem in which the ADF is held. The positive bias toward the ADF is such that we seem immune from sinking to the low place where we found ourselves during the 1970s, where Vietnam veterans were social outcasts and were excluded from the recognition and adulation given to other veterans.

There is also a negative pattern. If you accept that Corporal Roberts-Smith is a product of training and tradition then the same is also true of the grubs who perpetrate and cover up for sleazy and criminal incidents.

The odd negative incident won't damage the high esteem in which the Australian Defence Force is held: but a pattern of incidents over many, many years will.

The Australian Defence Force defends Australia, and in Australia women aren't tokens, they aren't barely tolerated; women are centrally important members of the community. The ADF isn't some sort of sheltered workshop for Guys Who Want To Only Want To Be With Guys But Not In A Queer Way. If you can't handle women, you're going to be crap on the battlefield. That's why you punt these guys; not because it's PC, but because military necessity demands it. During times of war you bring your best people to the fore and weed out time-servers and game-players, so start with the sorry little wankers who pick on females.

If someone behaves like a dickhead behind the lines, chances are they'll be a dickhead when it really counts. As that commenter in the Oz said, if you're going to videotape a woman who's been fooled into having sex with you, why would I want you watching my back? You're probably setting up a videocam to film my head getting blown off rather than looking out for your mates. Punt these dickheads now.

If you're going to cut the Defence budget, don't skimp on supporting those dodging bullets in Afghanistan. Don't cut that submarine/tank/plane. Undergo dickhead removal and you'll save a motza and boost this country's defences at the same time. I thought Peter Reith was going to do this, but in Children Overboard he showed that he's more problem than solution. The DRS worked best with his departure.

Smith and Clare have really stuck their necks out by getting involved in disciplinary issues - they'll either succeed greatly or fail greatly, and though the odds are on the latter (not only in terms of this government, but all governments) it will be fascinating to watch.

By contrast, hasn't Minchin made a right clown of himself? The commandant of ADFA bent over backwards to help his son so he thinks they're Christmas. In environmental debates Minchin shows himself to be someone who surrounds himself with people who only tells him what he wants to hear - much like the worst military officers. It is best that this man should be departing, better yet if it were sooner.

It's one thing to fulminate about leaving military justice to the military, but that works only if you can trust them - which you can't. The crowd who advises you that rustbuckets are ready to go, that a small bunch of wankers deserves the benefit of the doubt, can't expect a politician to stand between them and the public who pays for them. The military brass have always taken their chances in taking on politicians - military officers are highly regarded, politicians aren't, who are you going to believe? - but there is such a pattern where military justice is a contradiction in terms that a canny politician just might land a few blows.

Note that the Governor-General hasn't spoken yet. Consider her background, then consider that she's the Commander-in-Chief, she ranks above Air Marshal Houston - and note that she hasn't spoken yet. I doubt that she's too busy arranging flowers or whatever to take careful notice of these developments.

We deserve a better military than this. Given that we look up to our military and at the same time recognise them as us at our best, then we'd be a better country if we had better people to look up to. Let us have more of the courageous Angus Houston, of truth-to-power in 2001 and the no less dexterous chopper pilot of 1979, rather than the weary figure today who must announce another death, another disgrace, another disappointment. What comes next? Dare we hope for better, and what would it look like?


  1. Having spent 26 years in the Army, largely in environments where women were increasingly valued, I'd had great hopes that the misogyny had pretty much been wiped out. The "equal work for equal pay" bullshit that was common up until the early 1980s had pretty much disappeared, as female soldiers were doing the same work, often better than the blokes.

    Then this happened. The arseholes who conspired to humiliate that poor young women need to be discharged immediately. As you pointed out, Andrew, they can't be trusted and I certainly wouldn't soldier with any of them.

    Unfortunately, she'll have to go as well. She'll be told shortly (if she hasn't already) that she has no future in the Defence Forces. Her reputation would precede her to every posting, and she would be unable to get sufficient respect from the men and women she would command.

  2. Hillbilly Skeleton9/4/11 3:50 pm

    Speaking of Reith, good to see him standing shoulder to shoulder with Smith and Clare, and putting the politics to one side for once. David Johnston also.
    Speaking of boofheads though, you can add that gormless twerp that is the public mouthpiece for the military in this country, Neil James, to the list of those that Just. Don't. Get. It. Or just don't want to get it because it suits the military zeitgeist they are comfortable in to fight hard to preserve the status quo. If you asked them, they're probably full of the same sort of BS that thinks that women aren't 'suitable' for frontline duty on the battlefield either. Which is crap, because if you've ever seen a woman fight to keep her kids out of harms way, or against those who want to do them harm, or putting up with the greatest of adversities, then you'll know they are just as capable of earning those VCs as Ben Roberts-Smith was.
    Which is why it's just so damned stupid and short-sighted for the ADF to be burning off enthusiastic young women, by humiliating them and treating them shabbily. Women who have heeded the call to bear arms and defend their country. And not just to sit behind a desk and do the secretarial work, either.
    Anyway, Defence is long overdue for a shake-up, and, like you, I hope that Smith and Clare succeed in putting the wind up 'em.
    Howard was too dependant on the military to provide him with reflected glory to have any hope of changing the culture for the better, especially as they provided cover for him wrt Children Overboard.

  3. We can take pride and comfort in our defense forces, like most good public services. But a few inquiries, policies etc aren't going to turn this culture around in a generation. Politics, business are testosterone driven enough and look how long it has taken to get to limited equality there. Defence forces are a category beyond even those spheres. They are institutions marrying strictures and blokey culture - a long way from liberal individualism, let alone the relational ethos in which women flourish.

  4. Ah Neil James, up there with Ian Leavers of the Qld Police Union: "No matter what our boys do, they are always in the right".