|Pic courtesy The Conversation|
Even if only some of the allegations are proven, the whole episode is deeply shocking, shameful and sad.
Shocking, because Australians have always held their military in high esteem, and these revelations come as a shock, even if we've been drip-fed rumours for years now. Shameful, because they reflect on everybody who has served or is still serving. Sad, because of the destruction of the lives of the Afghani victims and their families, and the effect they have had, and will continue to have, on the soldiers who were involved.
I can't begin to imagine the suffering being experienced by those incriminated, either directly, indirectly by association, and the fallout that is eating its way up through the chain of command. It seems inconceivable that commanders had no inkling that this behaviour was happening. It seems to have continued across a number of deployments and a number of units.
The reportage has often been over the top and sensationalist, but this is our media in 2020, and sensational reporting sells. The ABC deserves kudos in doggedly pursuing the story, and having the courage to see it through. Two ABC reporters risked everything.
The publicity has reminded me of occasional episodes when we took prisoners. One incident (covered in the chapter entitled TAOR in my memoir) involved my patrol encountering a party of about twenty civilians, woodcutters, whom we encountered in a no go zone north of the task force base.
We stopped and searched them, and had to hold them all day until the local Vietnamese authorities came to collect them. We treated them well, gave them food and water, and provided shade. The whole episode was actually enjoyable for me, as there were half a dozen kids in the group, and I reverted to teacher mode, finding out that these children were quite advanced in their understanding of long division. It's amazing what can be accomplished with a stick writing on the ground, even when there is no common language.
Perhaps the worst aspect of this whole sorry episode (apart from the deaths of the Afghans) will be the burden these diggers carry for the rest of their lives. The suicide rates are already over the top for this generation of returned soldiers.