Opinion – Murky waters of SASR allegations

IT WAS ironic that on the 22nd anniversary of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment’s most costly disaster the regiment was facing allegations of serious misconduct. The allegations made against some SASR personnel who have operated in Afghanistan are that they encouraged, tolerated or concealed what might in some circumstances be considered unlawful acts.

The facts of those allegations are in dispute, and those who may be formally accused remain innocent until proven guilty.

The issue has ignited passionate debate within the wider defence community, which would be well advised to moderate open discussion, particularly on social media.

Ross Eastgate

The West Australian Editorial – Many Dangers Exist in Sitting in Judgement of the SAS

Modern war is like nothing that has gone before. The opposing sides do not line up in clear sight of each other, one army in red and the other in blue, and march at each other. No, today the fog of war weighs heavier than ever. So those who would sit in judgment of the special forces soldiers who fought in Afghanistan should keep a few things in mind.

Firstly, everything that you may have read in some media reports are purely allegations or accusations. It must be remembered that nothing has been proved against any members of the Perth-based Special Air Service Regiment. The reports have come from unnamed sources on one side only. We haven’t heard from the other side. We simply do not know the intimate details of what really went on — what these highly trained soldiers were really facing.

Secondly, these men were fighting to maintain the freedoms that we enjoy in this country — the key word here being “fighting” . They were in a war. It was a war unlike any other fought in history — a war in which the enemy was often almost impossible to identify. An enemy that may have masqueraded as a friend one day only to try to kill them the next. It is very easy to sit in our comfortable lounge rooms in the safety of Australia and pass judgment on situations that happened in circumstances many of us can’t , for a moment, even start to understand.

Thirdly, these men who fought for our way of life have now had unproven accusations hanging over their heads for many years. Why our top military leaders think this is an acceptable way to treat these men is incomprehensible. And what about the effect this is having on the soldiers’ families, who have had to sacrifice so much.

Former defence minister and head of the Australian War Memorial, Brendan Nelson, has said he was increasingly worried for the welfare of soldiers caught up in the investigations and their families.

It is now recognised how poorly our country treated our soldiers when they came back from the Vietnam war, and how that had such a detrimental effect on their wellbeing. Surely our country has learnt enough not to treat another generation of soldiers the same way?

Are we a country that is going to tear down the very people who have put their lives on the line to maintain the life we so cherish? Is this the sort of country we want to be?

12th June 2018

Why Bully Fairy Tales?

                      Why Bully Fairy Tales?

Today’s mad magicians have special wands to change everything

Sending the Queen’s English and common sense into garbage bins

Fling nasty curses and cast spells if you speak of “Sheilas or blokes”

Whatever you do, for goodness sake, don’t laugh, it’s no joke  

If you dare challenge or raise so much as a questioning hand

The Wizards and Witches will scar you with the dreaded racist brand 

Winnie the Poo is currently in their sights

The Bah-bah black sheep is now coloured orange bright

“Girl and boys,” a well-used salutation, will soon be taboo

“Ladies and gentlemen” is listed too; so what will I call most of you?

It’s “odds on” that Snow-white and her dwarfs will have to go

Painting faces black to honour yesterday’s heroes is a definite no  

If common sense is to prevail and what was is still to be

Please tell me what is racist with “drunk as a monkey”

A dumb ox; mad as a cut snake; stubborn as a mule; cunning as a rat

A mad galah; slippery as an eel; sly as a fox; blind as a bat

Imagine a scene from long ago if Thought Police had been around

When bush men yarned at the campfire and such terms did abound

 

 

 

 

 

Who are the phantoms driving without lights and changing our life?

Who finances it? And which of our authorities sanctions such strife? 

We must find an antidote to rid us of this terrible plague

It’s time for politicians to lead the way and to stop being vague 

To regain a way of life and end the thought of throwing in the towel

Before the basxxrds turn us into dingoes and all we can do is howl

George Mansford © may 2018

Opinion – Guam vital in China threat

GUAM, the first US territory west of the International Date Line, proudly proclaims it’s where America’s day begins. It lies 3600km north of Townsville.
It’s the same distance west of Hawaii, America’s Pacific military hub.
Guam has become increasingly important since China commenced creating a series of heavily fortified military bases on disputed and man-made islands in the South China Sea.
As the US has historically done with Guam, these islands will allow China to extend its military influence well beyond its mainland borders.

Poem – Today’s Ned Kelly

Questionable leadership by all political parties

Determining and implementing a tax regime which aims to keeps our nation content and productive, is clearly not an easy task. Given it would be mission impossible for many of us; we rely on our elected leadership to execute such measures to ensure unity, security, prosperity as well as planning  future  needs which will enhance our nation’s reputation as the Lucky Country.

Some of this we see and too much we do not.

Many of us are weary of political point scoring, bickering, the lack of mutual understanding and co-operation.  Ironically it seems, the only times we experience political unity (apart from personal gains) is when we go to war (often unwisely) or during serious tantrums by Mother Nature.

Many of us are weary of the poor standards set by governments of any brand with too frequent accounts of wasteful expenditure, lack of bipartisan support for future projects, splintering national unity and violating the very base of leadership with poor examples (Do as I say, not as I do) such as:
– Serious cuts to welfare and yet continuing to accept frequent increases to already lucrative parliamentary salary and allowances. At the same time
–  wasteful and expensive expenditure, individually and collectively, while urging thrift from the nation at large.

Among many questionable organisations is a very expensive Discrimination Board which far from being productive, spews out political correctness from an unedited homemade bible.   Far from uniting, it fragments our people with a theme of “them and us”

Spending billions on a conventional submarine fleet which will be operational in 25 years plus, despite the incredible speed of advanced science and technology as evidenced by the fact that other countries already have drone surface and underwater vessels on the drawing board.

The list goes on and on.

If only we had the vision to pay more attention to the basic essentials of our society which are needed to ensure there is a tomorrow. One of which is the education of our most valuable national asset, our youth, including physical, mental and social disciplines to meet the demands of an increasing complex society.  They will not master such essential skills by texting.

Tax by all means, but can we have more sense and purpose to what we do with it?

 

Today’s Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly robbed Banks to give to the poor 

He was a hero to the people, no matter where he rode

Today his iron is worn by others who steal even more

Their pockets heavy with coin as they dine in rich abode 

Politicians give from one hand and take more with the other

Always on Budget Night, smoke and mirrors are at play

Thus, no matter what is said, they’ll still tax your poor old mother

By hook or by crook, young, old and in between in many a sly way 

The fingers of Government are in every pie and prods you, soon or late

GST, Licenses, Registration, Tolls and many tricks and ruses unseen

Big Buckets, barrows and trucks of gold pour through treasury gates 

Yet national debt grows; and always is a red light and never, never green  

Whenever struggling folk dig deep into mostly empty pockets 

The greedy tax man is grabbing precious family crumbs as his share

If you dare to claim a deduction with a docket

Watch out for the red tape which will soon become your nightmare

Another budget speech has been given to all 

Glib political chameleons have spoken and confusion reigns supreme 

Our people have doubts with tomorrow’s journey and its Ports of Call

Mind you; we’re still not too sure where we’ve already been

Once were promises of infrastructure and intent for even the North  

New roads, dams, hospitals and the world’s food basket for all to see

The order was given for all of us to get ready to go forth

Now cobwebs and moss gathers where the rolling stone was to be

  

Ned of course knew none of this future deceit and foul play 

He was honest enough to say “Give me your gold or there’s strife”

If he had owned a crystal ball, and known of the legalized robberies today 

His last words could well have been “I was born too early; such is life”

George Mansford © May 2018

Opinion – Tragic legacy of deaths in training

Battlefield deaths are sadly inevitable, perhaps acceptable, but usually explicable. They come with the turf. They always affect those who were there and have a profound, lingering effect on next of kin, family and friends.

Deaths during military training are an entirely different matter, particularly when described as “accidents”. There is no such thing as an accident. There is either an unsafe condition or an unsafe act or a combination of both.

BATTLE OVER THE ART OF WAR

Soldiering has no place for the faint-hearted. In its tight, robust world, the men and women of our armed forces look death in the eye in jungles and muddy fields; they live with bare rations and without home comforts; they sleep uneasily under the stars; and they get bombed, shot at and killed.

They are a unique bunch, perhaps best described by celebrated World War I official correspondent Charles Bean when asked to define the Anzacs: “Anzac stood and still stands for reckless valour in a good cause — for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never own defeat.”

Surely then, these unique men and women of reckless valour are entitled to define themselves within their myriad sections, units, specialties and skill sets, by the use of esoteric, even ethereal images, designed and created as a means of bonding bodies and minds that depend on each other in the most mortal manner.

It happens in the corporate world. Company logos carry instant branding and messages about who we are and what we stand for. But according to last week’s decree by Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, who will take over as chief of defence when Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin steps down in July, it is no longer acceptable for Australian Army units to involve death and destruction in its symbols.

This is a politically correct move that sits uneasily with those involved in the business of death and destruction. It has been widely condemned by the men and women war fighters who live in and by the cultures of the defence forces and the subcultures of their units.

 

Campbell issued his directive last week shortly after it was announced that he was being promoted from Chief of Army to chief of defence. The directive applies only to army units.

Banned are “symbols of death” such as skulls and crossbones, the Phantom, the Punisher, Spartans or the Grim Reaper, in patches, badges or imagery.

Campbell says the “display or adoption of symbols, emblems and iconography is at odds with the army’s values and the ethical force we seek to build and sustain”.

“Such symbology is never presented as ill-intentioned and plays to much of modern popular culture, but it is always ill-considered and implicitly encourages the inculcation of an arrogant hubris and general disregard for the most serious responsibility of our profession, the legitimate and discriminate taking of life,” he said.

Death Smackdown is on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Picture: Sean Davey.
Death Smackdown is on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Picture: Sean Davey.

“As soldiers our purpose is to serve the state, employing violence with humility always and compassion wherever possible. The symbology to which I refer erodes this ethos of service.”

No doubt Campbell chose his words carefully. It is worth focusing on some of them. He speaks of the army’s values and ethics. Here it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he is playing to the politically correct civilian brigade and is seeking to sanitise war.

It’s one thing for a static peacetime army to live harmoniously within the communities surrounding its bases and quite another to participate in the horrors of war.

War is hell, as we are reminded forcefully this Anzac week. Those who lived through the mud, slush, exploding shells and hellish butchery of the Western Front are unlikely to be moved by the sophisticated modern-day call for the army to have values and ethics.

Men on the battlefield are trained not to question the rights and wrongs of orders or whether they are value-tested or ethically pure. In the words of poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “theirs not to reason why; theirs but to do or die”.

Death and war go hand-in-hand. Yet, according to a Defence Department spokesman, the most important thing is to ensure that all army symbols “align with army values of courage, initiative, respect and teamwork”, adding that “death symbology demonstrates a general disregard for the most serious responsibility of the army’s profession — the legitimate and discriminate taking of life”.

“It all goes towards fostering camaraderie and bonding”

When the ultimate outcome is the taking of lives, albeit legally, it is hardly surprising that those asked to perform that duty see themselves as different and out of the ordinary.

That, in turn, creates an entirely understandable esprit de corps among the troops. They rely on each other for their lives; they bond and share a camaraderie that seeks expression through symbols that proclaim instant identity and shared experiences.

Campbell is savvy enough to know there would be objections to his directive, saying he appreciated that “some will rile at this direction, but I am adamant that this is right for the army”.

Skip Telford is one former army engineer who disagrees and hopes that common sense will prevail. Telford, 71, who served with the 1 Field Squadron in Vietnam, says he can’t see the point of the directive.

“There’s nothing wrong with images of war,” he says. “They’ve done stuff like this in all wars … my dad, who fought in New Guinea, had a patch with a skull and crossbones on it.

“It all goes towards fostering camaraderie and bonding — and that can last well beyond the war.”

Telford, from Yankalilla in South Australia, is a member of the Veterans Motorcycle Club whose logo depicts a skull bearing a slouch hat.

The use of symbolism in war has been going on for eons. Most images have sought to invoke fear, aggression and strength and to encourage civilian capitulation. Swords, daggers, crossed rifles, two-headed eagles and skulls and crossbones appear in military iconography across the world.

The US is the home of modern military iconography. It is a tradition that began in World War I when artillerymen signed bombs and shells with chalk, with mes­sages such as “Merry Christmas Kaiser Bill”.

Nose art on a Boeing Flying Fortress bomber used in World War II.
Nose art on a Boeing Flying Fortress bomber used in World War II.

There was never any hope that the message would be received among the exploding shell and shrapnel fragments, but photographs of the shells before they were fired proved to be good propaganda. The habit took off in World War II when aircraft routinely was adorned with names and artwork. US pilots were encouraged to put their names on their assigned aircraft along with bomb symbols to denote how many missions had been undertaken. The aircraft that dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima carried the name Enola Gay, chosen by pilot Paul Tibbets to honour his mother.

Tibbets, out of respect for his mother, chose not to add an image of a scantily clad woman on the nose of his B-29 bomber. But he was unusual; images of curvy, pneumatic women in the 1940s style adorned most bomber aircraft noses along with names such as Memphis Belle, Avenging Angels, Night Mission or Sheer Madness. Fighter pilots, with less space to work with, often contented themselves with depictions of sharp teeth on the air intakes of aircraft such as Mustangs.

This form of art was encouraged because it promoted a sense of belonging. The tradition continues today when patches are issued for just about every conceivable reason — even test flights of new aircraft. Hundreds of them are available online, along with offers to create a patch to mark any event.

Popular culture has contributed myriad images ranging from the Grim Reaper to movie characters such as Darth Vader, the Simpsons or Disney cartoon favourites such as Goofy. Many carry inspirational messages, such as “We will not falter. We will not fail”, but some attempt a darker sense of humour.

A patch issued after the first Gulf war carries the slogan “Desert Storm — Iraqi Urban Renewal”.

Another, depicting testi­cles caught in a steel-gloved hand, declares, “To err is human — to forgive is not SAC (Strategic Air Command) policy”. Yet another, commemorating behind-the-border activities in Pakistan, carries the image of the Punisher with the words, “God will judge our enemies. We will arrange the meeting.”

By comparison, official Australian logos are tame. Our most elite fighting force, the Special Air Service, displays a simple dagger with wings.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what Campbell wants to stamp out. A photograph of posthumous VC winner Cameron Baird wearing green and black face paint in a likeness of the Punisher on display at the Australian War Memorial would appear to fall foul of the ban. But AWM head and former defence minister Brendan Nelson declared he would not remove or alter the image, adding it would be “removed over my dead body”.

A Punisher symbol on an RAAF E-7A Wedgetail.
A Punisher symbol on an RAAF E-7A Wedgetail.

The Royal Australian Air Force, which is outside the army directive, has the Punisher death symbol on the nose of its new early-warning Wedgetail surveillance aircraft operating over Iraq and Syria as part of the coalition battling Islamic State fighters.

An image of the aircraft on the Defence Department’s public affairs website highlights the confusion over how the new rules are to be applied.

Retired brigadier Geoff Hand, former commander of the 13th Brigade based in Perth, says he believes Campbell is walking a tightrope between the war-fighting men and women of the army and the bureaucratic end of the organisation, which is much more exposed to the pressures of political correctness.

Hand says there are tensions between society’s values and concerns relating to the army being in good stead to fight a war and the army’s values of courage, initiative, respect and teamwork.

Posthumous Victoria Cross recipient Cameron Baird with his war paint on.
Posthumous Victoria Cross recipient Cameron Baird with his war paint on.

“The defence force values are not necessarily shared by some of the subcultures within the younger men and women of the war-fighting units,” he says. “What Angus is doing is trying to take away the nasty edge of some of the subcultures.

“If this nasty element were evident only in the barracks, Angus could look the other way. But he is in a position where he has to deal as much with the political class, where political correctness is part of the daily grind, as he does with the war-fighting elements,” Hand says.

“These two worlds, normally kept apart, have come together. Wider society has to accept it needs to toughen up and support its war-fighting capabilities — and our military personnel are very good at it — and the war fighters have to accept their leaders’ need to keep a close eye on society’s culture.

“There is room to move on both sides. There is a need to find the middle ground.”

Perhaps Campbell has already arrived at this conclusion. Yesterday he appeared to waver from his adamant belief that his directive was right for the army when it was confirmed that commanding officers had been told they could apply to the Chief of Army to seek exemptions allowing them to retain symbols or icons that would have been covered by the original directive.

That may not be a full backdown, but it appears to recognise that there has been no demonstrable harm done by existing iconography, even if it breaches the new guidelines.

The Australian  By 

 

Opinion – Campbell off to Poor Start

IF General Angus Campbell had hoped for a smooth transition to his well deserved new role an ill conceived decision has put paid to that.

Campbell is widely regarded as an outstanding candidate for the role, including by predecessor General Peter Cosgrove.

Campbell is a taciturn soldier who brings combat experience with a considered intellect to his role.

His appointment canvassed hope he would end the Morrison era ideological and social engineering nonsense which has so annoyed the majority of serving and ex-army veterans.

READ MORE

Names on casualty list shattered families in every community

From the first action in German New Guinea in September 1914, through the eight months of the Dardanelles campaign, the bloody battles in Western Europe and the Middle East, the names on the constant casualty lists impacted every Australian community.
For too many families their loss was permanent, a husband, father, child or sibling who would not be returning and would lie forever in foreign soil too far and too difficult to visit.
For too many families there was the telegram informing them their next-of-kin was simply missing in action, bringing even less closure.

Opinion – Chris Kenny: ‘Let them display their symbols’

In a fortuitous coincidence, The Australian today published comments from Australian soldiers a century apart in their origins and inspiration, yet surely linked by culture and relevance.

Former sergeant Justin Huggett reacted viscerally to new defence chief Angus Campbell’s ban on “death-style iconography” and other symbols used by army units to identify and motivate themselves. He says the new directive “denigrates morale” for soldiers and this can only diminish their combat power.

“There’s a lot of history with this. There’s the spirit and pride. I’ve had Vietnam veterans tell me about the emblems from Vietnam. This is a tradition that has been around for years. They are going to be lost to history,’’ Mr Huggett told The Australian.

It is difficult to disagree with the soldier’s point of view. We expect — nay demand — our military personnel are trained to kill, in order to protect our way of life, and we expect — nay demand — that they are prepared to risk their own lives in order to do so. There can be no greater expectation.

We send our military personnel into theatres of horror and uncertainty. We cannot imagine the pressures or the difficulties, not to mention the terror and grief they have confronted over recent decades in Afghanistan where Huggett was awarded a Medal of Gallantry and 41 Australian soldiers have been killed.

 

I have been lucky enough to meet soldiers on deployment in East Timor, Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan — their professionalism, dedication and refusal to ever complain is always immensely impressive. Yet, dug in on a mountain outpost in Afghanistan, or bunkered down against terrorist insurgencies in Iraq, we demand they don’t display symbols of death or camaraderie?! They are in a situation where the choice is to kill their enemies or be killed; yet from the offices of defence headquarters in Canberra our soldiers are constantly lectured on gender diversity and fluidity, inclusive employment targets and eschewing symbols of war. They are paid to kill and risk their lives on behalf of all of us but, at all times, to watch their manners and be sure not to offend the sensibilities of self-righteous human resources professionals and human rights advocates back home.

The other quotes — dating from experiences exactly a century ago — come from our most celebrated soldier, General Sir John Monash. He is quoted in Paul Kelly’s article today from his own memoir, writing about the character of the Australian soldier. “His bravery was founded upon his sense of duty to his unit, comradeship to his fellows, emulation to uphold his traditions and a combative spirit to avenge his hardships and sufferings upon the enemy,” wrote Monash.

“Very much and very stupid comment has been made upon the discipline of the Australian soldier. That was because the very conception and purpose of discipline have been misunderstood. It is, after all, only a means to an end. It does not mean lip service, nor obsequious homage to superiors, nor servile observance of forms and customs, nor a suppression of individuality.

“The Australian is accustomed to teamwork. The teamwork which he developed in the war was of the highest order of efficiency. The truest test of battle discipline was the confidence which every leader in the field always felt that he could rely upon every man to perform the duty which had been prescribed for him, as long as breath lasted. A soldier, a platoon, a whole battalion would soon sacrifice themselves than ‘let down’ a comrade or another unit.”

Sir John Monash would know. Our current defence leaders might want to ponder this culture, this legacy.

Our men and women in the battlefield need to be accorded the freedom and encouragement to fight for their values and their comrades rather than have to worry about the equal opportunity goals of their superiors or contemplate how they can mete out the ultimate in violence without ever giving the impression that they might be motivated to employ actual aggression. Let them be. Let them proudly display their symbols of defiance, aggression and teamwork.

Chris Kenny
Associate Editor (National Affairs)  Commentator, author and former political adviser, Chris Kenny also hosts Kenny on Sunday, 7pm (AEST) on Sky News. He takes an unashamedly rationalist approach to national affairs.