Monday, 6 October 2008

Reviewing "Paul Ham on War"

It's time for another review – this one is looking at an article in the Weekend Australian Magazine of October 4 – 5, 2008.

I'm a fan of Ham's, having read both "Vietnam, the Australian War" and "Kokoda ". I like his work because it is a combination of thoroughly researched and objective material, with reflections based on the experience of soldiers. He lays out context with an attention to detail unsurpassed in anything else I've read. His reflections are never mawkish, but cut like a knife through the jingoism and faux nationalism which is unfortunately a feature of literature about war and conflict.

This article is no exception. I read it as a rationalization of his approach to the subject. He talks about the total impact of military conflict on all involved, and widens the perspective of the reader beyond the conventional guts and glory narrative we're used to. There is also a clear message about the relationship between the soldier and the politicians and the nation who send them off to fight. He makes a very clear and simple conclusion that resonates with my experience –

Australians' newfound enthusiasm for our martial past often fails to consider the dreadful context of a soldier's self-sacrifice, and cleanses the act in a mawkish celebration of civilian conceptions of war as "good triumphing over evil", or "fighting to defend the realm, king and country". Most soldiers scorn these interpretations: "We were fighting for our lives and the lives of our mates" seems to be the most common thread that binds men in battle.

He makes particular reference to Vietnam, and makes a strong point that connects it to Iraq and Afghanistan

Nor is it useful to see the Vietnam War as a mere setback in the Cold War. As one Australian academic stated: "It is easier now to think of Vietnam not as a war that was lost but as a losing battle within a bigger Cold War struggle that was won." It maybe easy; it is also simplistic and dangerous, as it portrays this unique human tragedy as the forgettable ephemera in an otherwise triumphant Western victory, and tends to absolve the grave political mistakes that led to it. In consequence, the soldiers' self-sacrifice is diminished, and the Vietnam War ceases to be a singular human catastrophe from which we might learn. At least our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan appears to have taught us not to attack soldiers for politicians' decisions. If we're honest, only by knowing why Australian soldiers went to war, the context of their battle honours, and their failings as well as their triumphs, can we fully appreciate the true nature of sacrifice in war.

I'd recommend it strongly. Get hold of the magazine, or find it in the library. If you haven't read any of his other works, do yourself a favour and do so.

I've also posted the illustration by Danny Snell. I hope no copyright has been breached!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Daylight Raving

It's that time again. We're hearing the usual bleating from the white-shoe brigade about the misery they're enduring because Queensland hasn't embraced daylight saving.

I can remember the last time Queensland flirted with the notion. At the time I was living and working in Mount Isa. I won't ever forget the sight of people going for "evening" walks with hats and sunscreen, or dragging the kids out of bed in the pitch dark. It was not a popular notion in a city due North of Adelaide with Summer temperatures in the forties.

Part of the problem, is the idea that the time difference is a North-South issue. It isn't – it is only meaningful in the East-West context, and this is the problem for Queensland. It makes as much sense for our far Western centres to be on South Australian Time as it does for them to be on Daylight Saving Time.

The disregard of our state's geography is common in inhabitants of the South East corner. It should be a legislated requirement for the air-conditioned boardrooms in Brisbane and the Gold Coast to have a map on the wall.

In the meantime – let the masters of the universe get up an hour earlier, and knock off an hour earlier. In the tropics and sub-tropics, the idea is a nonsense.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...