Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 20 November 2015

Kilcullen on ISIS

Since the Paris attacks, there's been an avalanche of comment on both social and mainstream media about the ISIS threat and how to deal with it.

Much of this comment is knee jerk, tribal, and a reflection of the depth of ignorance the Australian public has for both the history and the reality of this phenomenon.

If you're going to get into comment about current events, it's always useful to first identify individuals who have real experience of the issues in hand, knowledge gained through years of painstaking research, and the capacity to communicate this knowledge and experience clearly and succinctly.

Then you should probably read and consider their writings on the subject before making public comment..

David Kilcullen is such an individual.

His resume - (from Wikipaedia)
Kilcullen graduated from St Pius X College in 1984. He then attended the Australian Defence Force Academy and completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Military Art and Science through the University of New South Wales and graduated as a Distinguished Graduate and was awarded the Chief of Defence Force Army Prize in 1989. He took his army officer training at the Royal Military College Duntroon. After twelve months of training in Indonesia, Kilcullen graduated from the Australian Defence Force School of Languages in 1993 with an Advanced Diploma in Applied Linguistics.  He is fluent in Indonesian and speaks some Arabic and French. 

Kilcullen received a PhD in politics from ADFA at UNSW in 2000. His thesis, entitled "The Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945-99: A Fieldwork Analysis of the Political Power-Diffusion Effects of Guerrilla Conflict," focused on the effects of guerrilla warfare on non-state political systems in traditional societies. 

His research centered on investigating power diffusion in Indonesia during the Darul Islam Era of 1948 to 1962 and the Indonesian occupation of East Timor f 1974 to 1999. Kilcullen argues that counter-insurgency operations, whether successful or not, cause the diffusion of political power from central to local leaders and that populations are the major actors in insurgency and counter-insurgency dynamics.

Kilcullen was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Australian Army and served in a number of operational, strategic, command, and staff positions in the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and Australian Defence Force. He served in several counter-insurgency and peacekeeping operations in East Timor,  Bougainville, and the Middle East. Kilcullen attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Army and served as a Staff Officer in ADF headquarters,. In 2004, he became a Senior Analyst in the Australian Office of National Assessment, where he served on the writing team for the Australian Government's 2004 Terrorism White Paper, "Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia".

He left active duty in 2005 and is commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Army Reserve.

 David Kilcullen was a senior advisor to General David Petraeus in 2007 and 2008, when he helped to design and monitor the Iraq War troop “surge”. He was then a special advisor for counterinsurgency to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. From 2005 to 2006, he was Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the US State Department. He has also been an adviser to the British government, the Australian government, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force. He is a former Australian Army officer and the author of three acclaimed books: The Accidental Guerrilla, Counterinsurgency and Out of the Mountains.

The following are extracts from his Quarterly Essay 58 -  Blood Year - Terrorism and the Islamic State.  

(You can purchase the E-book for $9.99. It's worth the read).

I've divided the extracts on the basis of theme. Kilcullen's text is in italics. Regular font is my summary.

Blame -

As I've explained, there's plenty of blame to go around. President Bush conflated enemies, defaulted to attacking states rather than thinking about how to deal with non-state actors, and - mother of all errors - invaded Iraq, and then botched the occupation.

President Obama compounded Bush's errors - pulling out without putting in enough effort to cement the gains of the surge, acting opportunistically in Libya, remaining passive in the face of massacre in Syria. (p230)

Responsibility -

After 2003 in Iraq, Western powers had a legal and ethical obligation to stabilise the society we'd disrupted, establish a successor government to the regime we'd overthrown, protect an innocent population we'd put massively at risk, and rebuild the economy and infrastructure we'd shattered. (p272)

Politicians acting tough -

..it's a criticism of decision-makers (usually, though not always, sitting in safety thousands of miles away, who've never heard a shot fired in anger) who succumb to the allure of Predator Porn, misusing these strategic assets - which should be applied sparingly as part of a broader plan - as tactical tools, to substitute for lack of strategic thought, or (worse) who send others in harm's way to make themselves look tough.

What to do -

Militarily -

1. Ramp up the air strikes to a level resembling Kosovo and Libya. This may require forward observers on the ground.
2. Use the existing deployment differently. Get them out of the training bases and give them the authority to fight offensively.

Politically -

Hence a critical counterpart to the "war strategy" to neutralize ISIS in Iraq is a peace strategy in Syria - to end the slaughter by convincing all players that they can't achieve their goals through continued conflict, and that their best alternative is a negotiated peace. As in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya, there may be a role here for the military, (specifically, air power): creating humanitarian corridors and no-fly zones, or inflicting sufficient damage on armed forces to force a ceasefire. But ultimately this is a political problem - and it will demand at least as much strategic effort and attention as the military problem in Iraq. (p328)

Conclusions -

1. We are living in an era of persistent conflict.
2. We need to remove ISIS as a state like entity using a larger more intense commitment, (though emphatically not an occupation or a counter insurgency campaign).
3. International engagement is a necessity. It's an international problem.
4. We need a strategy that recognises global terrorism for the threat it is, but doesn't treat it as if it's our only security issue. Between the overreaction of 2001-04 and the passivity of 2008 onwards, we need to find a middle ground.

He concludes -

Preserving and strengthening the political will of our societies, the will to continue this struggle without giving in to an horrific adversary, but also without surrounding our civil liberties or betraying our ethics, is not an adjunct to the strategy, it is the strategy. (p339)  

Pretty sobering reading, especially the reference to "an era of persistent conflict".

It takes me back to 2003, when, as Australian troops were being committed to the invasion of Iraq, I publicly refused to accept my National Service Medal from old mate Ian MacFarlane. This was my small protest against two things.

The first was being used as an ex-servicemen to justify a poor strategic decision. The second was the nature of the decision itself - a decision that emanated from Washington, not Canberra.

As Kilcullen has written - that decision was "the mother of all errors".


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Bolt Verbals Aly

I had to post this.

It explains the strategy that ISIS uses. It also describes the dumbfounding stupidity of much of the response that we see from the likes of Bolt and Hanson.

It's fortunate that we have people with the courage and charisma of Waleed Aly prepared to state this publicly.

Bolt writes that Aly is using "excuses and evasions".

Bolt hasn't read the transcript of Aly's discussion, because if he had, be would have read this -

We all need to come together. I know how that sounds. I know it is a cliche, but it is also true because it is exactly what ISIL doesn’t want.  

So, if you are a member of Parliament or a has-been member of Parliament preaching hate at a time when what we actually need is more love — you are helping ISIL. They have told us that. If you are a Muslim leader telling your community they have no place here or basically them saying the same thing — you are helping ISIL. 

They have told us that. If you are just someone with a Facebook or Twitter account firing off misguided messages of hate, you are helping ISIL — They have told us that.

I am pretty sure that right now none of us wants to help these b*stards.” 

That to me, doesn't sound like making excuses. It's also pretty clear that he's not being evasive. In fact he's dealing with the issues head on. 

But Bolt has always verballed anyone he doesn't agree with. His readers are often too lazy to check what those he verbals actually wrote or said.

When this fact checking is done carefully and forensically (as it was in Bromberg's judgement), he is revealed as an opionista, not a commentator.  

As a commentator, he is incompetent. He may have a calling as an entertainer, perhaps as a comedian.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Des supporters chantent la Marseillaise

The attacks in Paris are front and centre right now in both social and mainstream media.

These are tragic and terrible events, but unfortunately, because of the various agendas, they are rapidly becoming ideological currency. Surely, the most adult response is one of sympathy and support for the people of Paris, and there has been plenty of that.

But there is also a gearing up of those who seek to exploit. Some of this is political, some of it financial, and some quite calculated.

A very good example of the latter, is Andrew Bolt's securing of Tony Abbott on his show tomorrow. It reminded me of Bolt's reaction when Anders Breivik went on his rampage in Norway. Bolt's initial conjecture that the massacre was inspired by Islam was likewise cynically exploitative until he discovered the truth.

The quick removal of those references from his blog website broke all records. He has obviously learned nothing.

 It is clear that a response that generates fear and loathing is exactly the goal of those committing these atrocities. Basically, when some dimwits advocate military intervention (often nuclear) they are playing into the hands of the terrorists. They make them powerful.

 The term "useful idiots" is often used by these same dimwits. They should, very occasionally, use a mirror.

Or perhaps, they should read a little history. Military intervention empowers an asymmetric threat. See Vietnam, Cambodia and Iraq.

Perhaps the best response was shown by the French crowd in the still from the video above. As they left the stadium after the attack, they sang the Marseillaise.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

We Are Amused

Sometimes you come across an animation which is worth posting only because it is an excellent example of the art.

This is such an animation.

It's also bloody funny......

Friday, 6 November 2015

Bridge of Spies

Image courtesy eonline.com

I've never reviewed a movie on this humble blog, gentle reader.

This post will remedy that omission.

The movie (or "film" as people of my generation call it) is Bridge of Spies, a 2015 American Historical drama-thriller directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Matt Charman from Ethan and Joel Coen's screenplay.

The film stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan and Alan Alda. 

Here, straight from the Wiki, is the plot. Obviously, don't read on if you're put off by spoilers.

In 1957 Brooklyn, New York, Rudolf Abel retrieves a secret message from a park bench and reads it just before FBI agents burst into his rented room. He prevents discovery of the message, but other evidence in the room leads to his arrest and prosecution as a Soviet spy. James B Donovan, a lawyer who specializes in insurance settlements, is asked by his partners to take on Abel's defense. The United States believe that Abel is a KGB spy, but want him to have a fair trial to reduce the Soviet Union's chance to use it for propaganda. Donovan meets with Abel in prison, where the Russian agrees to accept his help. Abel refuses to cooperate with the US government on any revelations of the intelligence world.

Although Donovan takes his work seriously, no one—including the prosecuting attorneys, the judge, his firm, or his family—expects him to mount a strong defense of Abel. His efforts to seek acquittal are met with shock and anger by the American public; he is deluged with hate mail and his life is threatened, but he continues to fight.

Abel is found guilty of all charges, but Donovan convinces the judge to sentence him to 30 years imprisonment, rather than death, on the grounds that Abel may one day be valuable as a bargaining chip with the USSR. Donovan subsequently appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court that the evidence presented by the prosecution is tainted by an invalid search warrant, but loses 5–4.

In the meantime, Francis Gary Powers goes on a U-2 spy plane sortie over the Soviet Union, where he is shot down and captured.  He is convicted and subjected to interrogation. Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student, visits his German girlfriend in East Berlin just as the Berlin Wall is being built. He tries to bring her back into West Berlin, but is stopped by Stasi agents and arrested as a spy.

The USSR sends a backchannel message to Donovan, via a false letter to Abel from his "family," proposing a prisoner exchange: Abel for Powers. Donovan has heard of Pryor's capture and insists on a 2-for-1 exchange instead. Though the CIA is interested only in Powers' return, it allows Donovan to negotiate for Pryor as well, on condition that the Abel-for-Powers deal is not jeopardized.

The East German government, which is holding Pryor, suddenly pulls out, insulted that Donovan did not inform them that the USSR was a party to the negotiation. The CIA wants to leave Pryor behind and finish the exchange. Donovan threatens East Germany by saying unless Pryor is returned, the entire deal will be scrapped and Abel interrogated, and the USSR will blame East Germany for any damage. East Germany capitulates, and the exchange is conducted, freeing the three men. Donovan gains credit for his achievement.

So it's a great tight narrative, and is based solidly in fact.

As a spectacle, the movie is bereft of special effects (with the possible exception of the depiction of the shooting down of Powers' U2), but it's all the better for that.

The cinematography is first class, and captures the atmospherics of the time with vivid accuracy. There is not a great deal of action, as such, but the dialogue is brilliantly sharp.

The actual historical events have plenty of relevance today. Put the situation of the inmates of Guantanamo Bay beside that of Rudolf Abel, and there is a startling connect. Donovan points out at one stage, when he is vilified for defending Abel, that the right to a fair trial is one of the values that separates the USA from the totalitarian USSR.

Exactly the same principle was shoved aside when Bush and the Neocons sent accused terrorists to Guantanamo Bay.

I was riveted by the narrative and the characterisation of Donovan as a "standing man"*.

The critics apparently liked it as well. Make sure you take the time to see it.

Bridge of Spies is showing right now all over the country.

* You'll have to watch the movie to get this reference.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Maintaining the Rage

5 Platoon B Coy 7 RAR March 1970. Yours truly standing (R). Cranky then - cranky now.

Many Vietnam veterans hold on to anger.

Unfortunately the anger is often turned inward and they do great harm to themselves and their loved ones.

Maybe turning it outward is a more healthy response. I would contend, by the way, that we have every reason to be resentful, given the history, but it is obviously better to move on.

Writing about it is probably a healthy response, and Don Tate has been doing that for a while now.
He can write, and a piece I was sent the other day by another Vietnam veteran is evidence of that.

I reproduce it here, gentle reader, because it is relevant, although I don't necessarily agree with everything he writes.

It is relevant, based on the principle - Honour the dead, but fight like hell for the living.

Feel free to come to your own conclusions -

When President Lyndon Johnson committed American troops to Vietnam early in the 1960’s, he said it gave him no great pleasure to send into battle “the flower of our youth, our finest young men.” The same sentiment surely applied to the soldiers from Australia who also went to fight the war- the flowers of the nation’s youth. Surely, its finest young men. And indeed, that was the case. 

Because the fact was, only the very best of men could get to the killing fields of Vietnam. Make no mistake about that. The Jungle Training Centre at Canungra made sure of it. And I’m not just talking about the fighting man of our Army- the infantryman, because even the cooks and cleaners and bottle-washers had to prove themselves at that testing ground, before they left Australia. 

To put it simply, weak men, or cowardly men, or men deficient in some other area, never made it to Vietnam, or at least not onto its shores. The processes of elimination weeded them out beforehand- though some did until the reality of war found them out. 

So yes, generally speaking, the finest of men fought in that war. Over 58,000 of them were Australians, according to the Vietnam Veterans’ Nominal Roll. Indeed, the “flower of our youth.” Yet today, the remnant army of Vietnam veterans is one of the most reviled minority groups in Australia. They are widely seen as malcontents, as malingerers, and as whiners, despised not only by the wider community, but by veterans of the ex-serviceman’s communities who had served in previous wars, as well. Of those 58,000 men, some 12,000 have already died. More than 1000 have committed suicide. 

Most receive a disability pension of some form (a financial holy grail to some), most suffer debilitating ill-health, many are under psychiatric care, many more are unemployed and unemployable. A large number are drug addicts, or dependent on prescribed drugs. They are locked away in jails, in clinics, and in mental asylums, and in each case represent a greater percentage of the otherwise ‘normal’ members of society. Many live out their lives in isolated makeshift camps in remote country areas across all states of Australia, armed and dangerous in many instances. There is anecdotal evidence that some live on boats in the Whitsundays, coming to shore only for re-supply purposes, and in secure camps in other regions. Others never set foot outside of their homes. Only about 12% are married to their first wives, and for many of them it’s only because of the good graces of the particular woman- a special breed. 

Most of the men are holding onto a seething anger, without really understanding why- an anger slowly eating away what is left of their health, and souls. So, how is this so? How is it possible that the “flower of our youth” has become such a tormented group, in just over four decades? As a returned veteran of that war myself, a regular soldier who joined the Army willingly and asked specifically to serve as infantryman, and who was subsequently wounded in action, I have particular views on the reasons why this has happened. 

First, there were the peculiarities of the War itself. And the worst type of war at that- a combination of civil war and revolution, fought in tropical jungles against an enemy that had been engaged in guerrilla warfare for as long as it could remember. And it was an enemy that could use the geography and the environment far better than we, along with the clandestine support of the locals. In the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldier, we faced an enemy also better skilled in the art of psychological war than us- like using booby traps, mines, and the elements of concealment and surprise. He was a cunning, committed soldier who would not give ground without hard resistance, who would often resist full-on assaults against his bunkers, as well as artillery bombardment and air strikes before yielding- an enemy perhaps of greater commitment and consequence than the Japanese soldier our forebears took on in New Guinea and other fronts in the Pacific during World War Two. Not only did he have to face new, improved weapons of waging war, the Vietnam veteran also fought in an environment where he had to endure nature’s worst- the fire-ants, snakes, scorpions and leeches, even tigers and monkeys and wild pigs on occasion, and at the other end of the scale, minuscule parasites that entered the body through the tightest of openings- like strongyloides. 

He fought in sauna-like heat and humidity in the dry season, and put up with the torrential monsoon storms of tropical Asia during the wet. Then there were the sights and sounds of war itself, the death of mates, the torn-apart bodies, the makeshift graves, and all the variables of such combat. For one man it was to stand on a mine and have your legs blown off; for another, it was to fill a canteen with water from a creek as a dead body floated past; for another it was to kill off a wounded enemy soldier as he defiantly tried to throw yet another grenade even as he died; for another it was to sit at a the machine-gun of a chopper as it loaded men aboard, knowing they were sitting ducks; for another it was just the never relenting realisation that the enemy could strike him at any time at any place and that there was no refuge; for another, it was the fear of his ship being sunk; for another, it was to go down into underground tunnels, or having to defuse mines; for another, it was to handle body bags and severely wounded men; for another, it was to know he had drunk a chemical cocktail that will up and strike him in days to come; and for yet another it was to have his body torn open by high-impact bullets. And so on. 

With the territory, there also came a disintegration of individual morals and ethics a man might never have degenerated to under other circumstances- the mutilation of dead men, the killing of children, the abuse of women, alcohol, and drugs, the indiscriminate destruction of property, and the many other acts best not spoken about that have left men with such guilt. Then add the poisoned cigarettes and irradiated rations our government handed out to its fighting men, and you start to get the picture. Some of what the veteran experienced, he had been trained for, but the truth about soldiering is that the reality of war is a far greater burden than the expectation of it. The worst aspects of soldiering, and the true horror of warfare itself, was fully revealed as he watched his fellow soldier and enemy die alongside him in the most savage type of bloody combat. Then, if he was lucky and survived the contacts and ambushes and battles, but was physically wounded, he suffered the ignominy of being packed like a sardine into the dirty holds of lumbering old cargo planes for the three-day trip home to hospitals in Australia, and thinking his war was over. But it wasn’t. I ended up taking that same route home myself, and well remember that trip. 

Wounded very seriously a week or so earlier on the 19th July, 1969, I went home with about forty other wounded men. There we were, piled two and three high in those dirty old planes with bottles of blood and urine dangling everywhere, and with wax stuffed in our ears to drown out the sound of the engines- just another variation of hell. For wounded men, this was the final indignity. Not only would the wounds of many of us get more infected, we came to realise very quickly that now we were second-class soldiers, and would be second-class citizens when we got home and were released from hospital. 

We had given the war machine our bodies. Now we were superfluous to both the Army, and the country. The veteran was not aware of it at the time, but soon learned, that the wounded and dying would be smuggled back into the Military Hospitals, away from prying media eyes, and aware that newspapers only printed a doctored list of casualties, generally only listing casualties from their own states on many occasions, or staggering the casualty lists over a number of days to allay concern about the number of men falling. Couldn’t have the public getting too outraged, you see. But what he didn’t know then, but would learn very quickly, was that if he joined the list of wounded men, or the queue of men whose health would deteriorate so quickly later on, he could not only look forward to a life of relative poverty, but a life of battles with that insensitive, recalcitrant bureaucracy supposedly meant to support him- The Department of Veterans’ Affairs. 

Could not know that they would falsify reports, hide information, and battle him every inch of the way for meagre pensions to compensate him for his sacrifices. When Prime Minister Billy Hughes sent men of to World War 1, he told the Australian public “…we say to them, You go and fight, and when you come back we will look after your welfare” and he was a man of his word, initiating the first repatriation benefits for returned veterans. But successive Prime Ministers and their fat-arsed Ministers and bureaucrats of that portfolio have been lesser men and women, and in no way have they honoured Hughes’ pledge to the Australian public. And the matter has not been made better by men in various veteran organizations who have deliberately played and rorted the system, or bent it to suit vested interest groups. 

The number of Vietnamese who have gained full war pensions after arriving in Australia by boat irks many veterans, and the sleigh of hand that goes with the process is downright embarrassing. So the genuine, wounded veteran be damned. Since there were only about 2500 Australians actually physically wounded in the War, or about 4% of all those who fought, the voice of the wounded man and our concerns have little impact. Of more importance to those who speak on these matters, (or at least those heading up major veteran organizations) is what benefits they can obtain for those suffering psychological damage, or what they can get for their Vietnamese mates- as if those of us with physical disabilities are of lesser concern. 

 And let’s not even speak of that useless RSL- an anachronistic pseudo-military organization run by armchair generals currying favour with politicians to score those elusive civilian gongs- and to hell with securing any benefits for those they supposedly represent. There’ll be no hard words directed at governments or Ministers for that forelock-tugging lot. Then, the young man, now a war “veteran”, and no longer the same young man who had left his country’s shores a year earlier, came home. If not a casualty, he either flew home in half a day, or took a week or so by supply ship. Straight from the battlefield to normal life again, although by now his sense of normalcy had new parameters. Now, he had new battles to fight. Already traumatized by experiences which had been terrifying, dehumanizing, and soul-shattering, he was met at airports and sea ports with open hostility and disgust from the society he had risked his life for. 

There were no welcome home, mates. No well dones. No victory parades. No sir. Or not for a quarter of a century, at least. Instead, he confronted other armies. First, there was the Moratorium marches- peace protestors made up of friends, family and workmates unable to differentiate between the war they were objecting to, and the warrior who had fought it. They mocked and jeered him. Threw red paint at him in one instance, or pig’s blood. Called him “baby-burner”. Spat at, and abused him in ways no other returning soldier from this country had ever endured. It was a national outpouring of rejection, of hatred, and revulsion the likes of which he could never had dreamt he would return to. If he had come home physically unscathed, here, he received a bayonet thrust through his psyche that was more damaging than any other wound. Then, he faced the greater army- society at large, armed with the weapons of public indifference and disregard for what the digger may have gone through. 

Instead of acclaim for a job well done, he was told that he hadn’t really fought in a war at all, it had been a ten-year police action, and that he wasn’t as good a soldier as his father or father’s father had been anyway. He was ridiculed in that bastion of the returned veteran- the Returned Serviceman’s League for losing a war, a first in the nation’s history. He could argue that he had well and truly subdued the enemy in the particular region allocated to Australia in the war, but it would do him no good. The veterans of the earlier wars, even those who hadn’t actually fired a shot in anger took great delight in putting down the Vietnam veteran as an inferior man. 

Subsequently, any pride he may have felt for what he had done, at putting his life on the line for his country, was stripped away from him. Came home too, to find the available jobs taken by men who hadn’t fought in the war. Men who got their degrees and diplomas while he trod the bloodied paddy fields and jungle tracks of Vietnam, then who would lord it over him, and dictate his life in a plethora of bureaucracies for evermore. Tough luck, mate. It was every man for himself. The veteran never really came to terms with the reaction he received back at home, never understood or comprehended the intensity of the response from his fellow Australians. But over the years, he was able to rationalize a little of it, mulled it over while the bitterness festered. He was already aware, of course, of the political history surrounding Australia’s involvement in the war. 

The thinking veteran suspected that Prime Minister Menzies’ excuse for committing us to war was probably based on falsehood, and that the S.E.A.T.O and A.N.Z.U.S treaties were international jokes, but young men can be excused their naiveté. Years later he learned that Menzies deliberately lied to the Australian public in relation to our involvement in the War, but the damage was done by then anyway, and it mattered not. There has never been a war fought without political hypocrisy of some sort. He watched the politicians send their own sons out of the country on extended European jaunts while the sons of lesser men were selected to fight and die. He suspected that the birth dates of prominent leaders of both government and industry somehow would never be plucked from the national service ballot- that lottery of death. And some even knew that Menzies himself, as a twenty year-old, had opted not to enlist when Australia needed volunteers for the World War 1 killing fields. 

Nothing unusual about any of that, of course. That’s the way of politicians of all persuasions. He had seen the same politicians fly into Vietnam by first-class jet on ‘fact-finding’ missions. Knew men like Jim Cairns were having trade talks with the enemy, even as Australians bled on that foreign soil. Heard stories of how Andrew Peacock landed by helicopter three times so photographers could get the best angles and profiles, like McArthur had done many years before in the Philippines. And knew that Malcolm Fraser was not telling all he knew about the Agent Orange scourge that would reap such an horrific whirlwind decades later. And then, as the years flew by, he watched a succession of indifferent, cowardly politicians crush the veteran’s spirit through the insensitive administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Rarely does that portfolio enjoy a Minister of substance and maturity- look at the lot we've had to endure......Billson, Griffin, Snowden, Ronaldson and co. We hold our collective breaths waiting for a real man to fill that position. Most Veteran Affairs Ministers are more concerned with junkets and jaunts to foreign battlefields instead of tackling the substantial decline in veteran pensions caused by the slash and burn approach governments have had with respect to veterans’ compensation for war wounds, and superannuation. 

Veterans seethe at this, knowing that politicians’ superannuation has increased by 120% in the last twenty years, while that of veterans has gone up about half of that. Finally, the veteran learned that he was probably poisoned in the most insidious of ways while he fought in Vietnam. In truth, he had fought in a War in which something like 40 billion litres of assorted poisons, insecticides and pesticides were sprayed over the land in the defoliation processes code-named Operation Ranch Hand (or Operation Hades as it was more correctly called earlier). He breathed in the poisons, showered with waters infected by them, drank them, and even helped spray them himself (never being told of what dangers he was exposing himself to). Even sailors couldn’t escape the scourge of Agent Orange, because they not only loaded and unloaded the poisons, they too, drank water brought to them from Vung Tau- waters already polluted by the poisons. He was not to know that they would prove to be lethal, and that he could expect to manifest all kinds of debilitating illnesses before they killed him years down the track, or if not that, they could drive him insane. Or leave a legacy of horror to live on in his children and grandchildren for generations to come. But he knows some of that today, thanks to gutsy crusaders like Jean Williams (“Cry in the Wilderness”) and Dr. John Pollack, among many others. Knows that certain chemical warfare files he was part of have been classified as “Never to be Released to the Australian Public”, or at least not until 2020, by which time the veteran will most likely be dead. 

These include the so-called “Malarial Files”- the official record of the testing processes carried out using the veteran as an unwitting guinea-pig. Friedreich Nietzsche, in “The Antichrist” said that evil was whatever springs from weakness, and in this respect, the weakness of subsequent Australian governments to fully reveal the truth about what chemical companies were allowed to do this country’s fighting men is evil personified, and the actions of weak and cowardly men. Instead, files are marked, 'Never to be Released' and hidden behind locked doors at the Australian War Memorial- courtesy of Prime minister Bob Hawke. 

So yes, the Vietnam veteran has much to be angry about. It’s why the platitudes he hears like “Put it behind you!” cuts him so deep. They are logs on his shoulders difficult to dislodge, but the thing is, repressed anger or sadness can’t be repressed forever. At some point, the demons are released. It’s why so many men have chosen that final alternative and taken their own lives, or live lives festering with an assortment of illnesses. It’s why so many die so young. 

So there he sits, the Vietnam veteran, all these years on. Psychologically unbalanced by the actual horror of war and his exposure to a bizarre array of toxic chemicals while fighting it, alienated and ostracised by family and friends because the war changed him so remarkably, disregarded by the very society he had gone off to defend, physically broken by the use of various experimental drugs he was forced to take, and wounded by bullet, steel fragment or booby trap, he watches the world go by without him, and his resentment and anger become manifestly more obvious. 

“O war! Thou son of hell!” wrote Shakespeare. How apt those words for the man who went off to fight in Vietnam. 

(Don Tate is the author of “The War Within” and "Anzacs Betrayed". Both books are available from the National Vietnam Veterans Museum, Philip Island; or in soft copy and kindle formats from Amazon Books)

Saturday, 31 October 2015

About Time

It's finally happened - the NBN cable is out front.

It took about eleventy-nine traffic controllers (who outnumbered the actual installers) and half a dozen blokes in hi-viz vests and hard hats to sling fibre off the existing poles carrying power and phone lines.

They did our street in a day.

We were to get the NBN in October 2013, but the Coalition (on the promise that the rollout would be honoured) were elected in September that year.

The voters didn't read the fine print. Consequently, we have the poverty pack NBN. It's two years late, not underground - so vulnerable to the super cell storms that occur in this neck of the woods from time to time - and we still don't know when the actual connection will take place.

Mind you, any form of internet connection has to be superior to what we've been enduring ever since the NBN contractors started accessing the antediluvian Telstra connections which haven't been touched for a very long time.

These same Telstra installations took a very dim view of being interfered with, and have been completely unreliable sine the NBN work started.

Bigpond got sick of me complaining, and when I told them I would pay no more bills until they could guarantee reliability, and promised complaints to the Telecommunication Ombudsman, they furnished a prepaid dongle which is reliable.

So now we wait for the connection.

As they say in the classics, we know how to wait.

Thanks Malcolm.

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