War: what is it good for?

25 Apr

April 25 2012

Last night SBS Dateline reported on how life changes for many military men and women and their families after they’ve seen action in a theatre of war. Post traumatic stress disorder is rife, for example, and the effects of this illness can be horrific. It’s compounded by the stigma attached to those suffering the mental trauma of war, a stigma that can discourage sufferers from seeking help.

Reporter Nick Lazaredes has spent considerable time  investigating the dire circumstances of far too many returned military personnel in the US, and asks is Australia prepared to support and assist our soldiers who come home emotionally and mentally damaged by their service to their country?

This piece has just appeared at The Drum, addressing similar concerns, as does this one by Bruce Haigh.

As well, here at Overland is Jeff Sparrow’s excellent essay on Anzac Day and the celebration of forgetting.

As one observer in the SBS documentary pointed out, politicians like to declare “America is at war!” However, America isn’t at war, he claimed, America is in shopping malls. The military is at war, and America is ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of that when men and women with shattered psyches return to take up an ordinary life. The difficulties they face affect everyone around them, and the wider society.

If politicians are willing to send citizens to war in order to preserve our freedom and values, it seems remarkably short-sighted of them not to ensure the society we’re fighting and dying to protect doesn’t suffer, when those citizens return unable to rejoin it because of their contribution to its protection.

In 2003, then US President George W Bush told then Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas: “God told me to strike al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.” Our own John Howard supported Bush in this endeavour, as did then British PM Tony Blair.

It seems rather remiss of God not to have told Bush, Howard and Blair to make ample preparation for the care of the military personnel they sent to do God’s work, when they returned from their endeavours broken in body and/or mind. It seems remiss of God not to have commanded the leaders to adequately care for the partners, parents and children of these women and men who risked everything in God and George W Bush’s interests.

It seems remiss of God not to have ordered Bush to have a strategy in place for the period after he toppled Saddam Hussein as well. But there you go. The Bush God is a belligerent, obstreperous and ignorant war-monger. He cares nothing for the lives of women, men and children affected by his witless triumphalism. He rewards only the moral fervour of arrogantly incompetent white alpha males who cherish the delusion that American-style democracy must be adopted by the entire world, and it matters not who suffers in the pursuit of this implacable goal of blind universalism, as long as it isn’t them.

Politicians will always find reasons to send their populations to war, no matter how ill-founded, duplicitous, and opposed by the citizens those reasons are. The invasion of Iraq is proof of that statement. While that situation seems unlikely to change in the near future, what governments ought to be forced to do is made adequate provision for the wounded, in mind, body or both, when they return from doing their duty in whatever hell hole they have been assigned to by their governments. Anything less than this is scandalous.

What we need of course is a paradigm change. We need to cease our participation in what is, to paraphrase John Gray,  the US myth of its manifest destiny as a redeemer nation, expressed in missionary-style politics with the salvation of mankind as the goal.  As Robespierre noted in 1792: “No one loves armed missionaries: the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies. One can encourage freedom, never create it by an invading force.”

I’m encouraged by the perspective of this youthful blogger, who points out that while on Anzac Day we must commemorate those who died in battle, we shouldn’t be celebrating the wars in which we’ve participated. There’s nothing to celebrate in war. War is hell, and it is all too often good for absolutely nothing.

Axis of Arsehats

39 Responses to “War: what is it good for?”

  1. doug quixote April 25, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    Thank you for this article, Jennifer. I tried to get some corroboration of the Bush quote; it doesn’t surprise me, but it is apparent that it was retailed only by Abbas, hardly a Bush supporter. see:


    One interesting thing is that the full quote from Abbas on the then-current road map was that it would be “a life saver for a tiger whose head was caught in the neck of the bottle.” The quote is headlined as “Road map is a life saver for us” – not quite the same thing, I think.

    Bush and his crusaders were seriously misled, on the most favourable interpretation, and I think that the judgement of history on the Iraq invasion will be very harsh.


  2. gerard oosterman April 25, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    Nothing can get you more in hot water than criticism of Anzac day. I risk the wrath of many, but I think the inclusion of children marching along now as well, a bit rich.
    We generally are a stoical lot not easily given to expressions of emotion, but when the bugle gets blown we seem to be able to let go. Of course the media loves that, hence the dusting off the bugle a pretty often used device during times when ‘news’ is getting a bit tedious.
    Rotterdam, where I was born just after it was bombed to smithereens, is one reason I am not overly keen on all those Anzac day revivals.
    Wars are bad news.


    • Jennifer Wilson April 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      Gerard, have you hear Leonard’s latest album “Old Ideas?”


      • gerard oosterman April 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

        I haven’t heard it as yet, but will soon now that you have mentioned it. In a way the Walzing Matilda put up by Dejan Tesic reminds me somewhat of LC. An old voice mellowed by life.. yet still passionate.


        • hudsongodfrey April 25, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

          I kind of like Eric Bogle’s version myself.


        • Ayue February 9, 2013 at 8:05 am #

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  3. hudsongodfrey April 25, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Lest we forget.

    To me that simply means not forgetting the full horror of war and how little it seems to have gained anyone.

    That does not dishonour the individual men who fought in our defence, but it does upset some people because our seemingly favourite examples of Australian bravery happened during someone else’s war, fought for all the wrong reasons and at too great a cost to ignore.

    The unanimous message of WW1 was “never again”! It would have honoured the memory of those servicemen who brought that message back on their own lips for us to have said NO to that conga line of “arsehats”!

    Over on the ABC R&E somebody has written an article conflating war with sacrifice, vicarious redemption and what not! The sort of loose stool water that I find completely outrageous because I don’t believe in sacrifices to gods, or in war, and of course this means that not going to strange lands and killing people gives my life less meaning?


  4. Dejan Tesic April 25, 2012 at 12:01 pm #



  5. gerard oosterman April 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm #


    Thank you for that lovely piece of music.


  6. doug quixote April 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    The religious are very fond of sacrifice – as long as it is someone else who is sacrificed, and preferably someone else does the sacrificing.

    Don’t be surprised to hear all sorts of nonsense in the period from Easter to Anzac Day. The right wing inclined tend to be religious, authoritarian and fond of the sacrifice of others.


  7. AJ April 26, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    As a peace advocate of long standing, it has taken many years to make some sense of the community need to commerate a sad and destructive past era. As the years have gone on, I have met retired or decommissioned soldiers most of whom niavely beleived they were doing the right thing by their family, duty and country to enlist….often at great cost. With greater circumspection I now think these kids in uniform (now of course aged) deserve to be honoured for doing what they thought was the decent thing to do. Often they are a-political or hadnt even thought about who pulled the strings, who made the decsions about their deployment or the reasons for entering the war, humbleness being a common attribute among those I have met among the old brigade. So for that reason, rather than my long held distaste for Anzac Day (glorification of war I thought) I now say give them their one day of recognition. They paid a very heavy price for it.


  8. jfreos April 26, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    The bastardly Bs


  9. silkworm April 27, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    Anzac Day is supposed to be for war veterans to march, so what were the police doing marching in Sydney? If “people who serve” are allowed to march, why not let the fire fighters march? Why not teachers? Or nurses? What is so special about the police?


  10. M.E. In The 21st Century April 27, 2012 at 3:46 am #

    Both my parent’s had medals pinned on their chest. Mum’s earned in WWII. Dad (& Mum as his wife & us as his 5 children) served in 3 wars…WWII, Korea & Vietnam, first in the RAF then in the RAAF. Most of my childhood we hardly ever saw him…thought we were lucky if he was home for a birthday or Easter or Christmas, even then he was on-call, likely to disappear at the drop of a hat, be gotten out of bed in the middle of the night. We never lived anywhere longer than 2 years. I went to 13 different schools in 4 different. The idea was ensure we didn’t get close enough to other people in case we spilled secrets…not that we knew any to tell…but just in case…loose lips & all that guff.

    Dad was doused in Agent Orange, swathed in DDT, bombed, shot at, worked long long hours days & nights on end. Along with almost every member of his squadron ended up dying from awful cancers, still neither recognised nor compensated by Aust govt. For their service in Ubon, Thailand the king of Thailand thanked them with a special medal…but to this day the Aust govt & defence force doesn’t recognise their bravery, many times under fire. A diplomacy issue involving Malaysia & Cambodia. Google Ubon RAAF & you’ll find the story. The US forces on the same base were awarded medals & feted as heroes, but not the Aussies.

    All this while we subsisted on below poverty-line wages, no overtime rates, ill-afforded deductions for DFRB (Defence Force Superannuation which in the end was repaid at $3.50 a fortnight on top of the aged pension), shitful often rundown housing & a constant battle to put food on the table.

    He was offered no help, no counselling, no supports. Just retired, with a lot of problems into civvie street & no idea how to cope. All ties to decades of his life severed. No gold watch. No Vet Affairs. No RSL Legacy. Nothing. Nor did Mum. Nor did any of their children.
    Like thousands of service personal & their families.

    When we were kids we used to attend Anzac marches, & Armistice Day (Remembrance as it”s called now) too. Then the marches were taken over by Ruxton’s RSL and Mum & Dad stopped going. Still kept the minute silence…but had serious conscientous objections to the äuthority” imposed by the RSL over all things ex-military…nor were they by any means on their own.

    No…Australia does not do well when it comes to supporting the men and women and the families that give their lives to protecting this country. Whether they die in war or live in hell afterwards.

    It’s not good enough.

    I was supposed to follow my father into the airforce. But many times as a young teenager I watched the Pan Am jets land in Darwin & the wounded soldiers, fresh from the battle fields, often still bleeding being unloaded & transfered to ambulances…either taken to Darwin hospital or carried on to flights to Sydney.

    I knew I wanted no part in the killing & maiming war does.
    I know this still.


    • hudsongodfrey April 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Thanks M.E that was a great post.


  11. Steve at the Pub April 28, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    It seems to have escaped a few commenters above, (& the post author) that the Anzacs were fighting for a democratic system of government, against nations that did not have the same.

    No need to say more.


    • Hypocritophobe April 28, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Oh yes,nothing like a jolly good war to drum the democracy into the savages.


      • doug quixote April 28, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

        Welcome back! I’ve missed you!


  12. Hypocritophobe April 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    Thanks Doug,
    Home sweet home.My own bed, and welcoming animals.

    I’m jet lagged and knackered.
    I’ll post more as I catch up on my zzzzzzz’s.
    You lot have been busy!


    • Hypocritophobe April 28, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

      “My own bed, and welcoming animals.”
      Meaning, where I live of course.My comment reads like I am referring the Sheep site!.


      • doug quixote April 28, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

        No sheep here – it is after all “no place for sheep”. Can’t certify that there are no other animals, other than homo sapiens sapiens.


    • Jennifer Wilson April 29, 2012 at 6:44 am #

      Welcome back Hypo! And hello everyone, as we wake up to yet another dripping wet day in northern NSW. The mould! The mould!

      Today it’s my intention to set up an open thread category for general chatter and frank and fearless exchange of views about whatever. I can’t think what to call it. Any ideas?

      I’m also considering a new look for Sheep.

      Hudson, your suggestions for Ashby & Slipper as characters in The West Wing are challenging. LOL as we say on Twitter.


      • Hypocritophobe April 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

        Thanks JW-

        Staying on theme;
        Suggestions for open discussions,

        Hannibal Lectern

        Sheep Dip

        Spit Roast

        Back Line


        The Abattoir

        Mutton Stew


        Foot Rot

        Or my fave sheep term “Pizzle”.


        • silkworm April 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

          The Slaughterhouse?


          • Hypocritophobe April 29, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

            The Slaughterhouse aka Live Export ?

            What about “Mint Source” ?


        • AJ April 29, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

          Umm shouldnt you have started a new thread for this? 😉


        • Jennifer Wilson April 29, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

          I really like Dags. And The Abattoir. And Foot Rot. What does anyone else think? Then there’s Fly Blown. And Hogget. and Fleece.


          • silkworm April 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

            The Barnyard. Why discriminate against sheep? Why not discriminate against all animals?


          • Hypocritophobe April 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm #


            (Exposing the arse-holes to extreme pain,in order to avoid the invasion of parasitic maggots )


      • helvityni April 29, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

        Jennifer, sometimes the open threads take over, and the articles are ignored in favour of the bantering…


        • Hypocritophobe April 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

          And Helvi (like here) sometimes the main thread is absorbed by banter.
          What to do??????????????????


          • helvityni April 29, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

            I know and I was going to say something about it…I’m all for chatter and banter, but would hate to see the attention shifting totally to the Chat Show…indeed; what to do…
            I have seen this happening on some other blogs…


            • Jennifer Wilson April 30, 2012 at 6:52 am #

              I hadn’t thought of that, Helvi, but of course it is a risk. I’ll have to do some more thinking about it.


  13. doug quixote April 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    How about “Wolves in sheeps’ clothing”?


    • helvityni April 29, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Very good, DQ, there are always some of those wolves about.. luckily they are pretty easy to spot…


      • doug quixote April 29, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

        Bob Ellis has had to do some pest extermination lately, and the would be flamers seem to be attracted there for some reason. It would make a parson swear, as he saying goes.


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