|Pic courtesy Canberra Times|
It's been a little quiet here lately, gentle reader.
A 30,000 word thesis deadline was hanging over my head, which has now been met, so back to normal posting.....
The media is wall-to-wall Ben Roberts-Smith, at the moment. It sells well as a story because it brings together so much of what causes outrage, and outrage always sells.
Personally, I feel some sympathy for Roberts-Smith, not because I believe he has been accused unjustly, I simply don't know, but because he's collateral in the culture wars. Soldiers are always collateral, of course, as any Vietnam veteran will tell you.
There are so many aspects of this issue which are tragic. The rate of suicide amongst Australian veterans of Afghanistan is the first aspect of the tragedy. Then there's the issue of the reputations of the ADF and the SAS.
When I was in what we called the "Funny Country", the SAS were held in awe. We had little to do with them, and they were largely invisible to friend and foe alike at the time, and they would always avoid a fight if possible.
Fighting wasn't really their role. They were essentially involved in collecting intelligence, and they were very good at it.
They seem to have been used in a very different way in Afghanistan which brought them into contact with civilians. Some units seemed to have gone feral. This may have come about because their own culture has always seen them as a race apart and they made up rules as they went along. It's difficult to understand how higher command turned a blind eye to this, but it's apparent, by the outcome, that they did.
Accountability needs to go all the way up the line, and this doesn't seem to be happening.
Then there's the ANZAC myth, as distinct from the ANZAC tradition. The myth holds that Australians in uniform can do no wrong, and if they are fighting for King and Country, they're somehow excused from accountability. The problem with this notion is, that if accepted, it brings our fighting men and women down to the same level as those who would use terrorism and intimidation to achieve their ends. That simply won't wash.
Heaven help anyone who is critical of aspects of the myth.
The best aspects of the ANZAC tradition uphold compassion, a fair go, and the capacity not to take ourselves too seriously. The last aspect is what makes us so different from the Americans, something which was very obvious in Vietnam all those years ago.
The media need to let go of this story, as it harms all those involved, especially the soldiers who served, and their families. There's a whiff of stereotyping wrapped up in this, redolent of the "baby-killer" meme which did the rounds post Vietnam. This doesn't mean the media shouldn't report it, but they should not exploit it. That seems to be something that local media can't avoid.
Accountability needs to be applied, but doing so in the full glare of publicity, to sell clics and newspapers will do more harm than good, and enough harm has been done already, both in Afghanistan and back home in Australia.