Australian Commentary (46) – The Dangers of a Military Life

Anyone who expects the bureaucratic order to reform itself is living in a fantasy world. Bureaucracies do not change; they just get worse. They get more grasping. Until their budgets are cut, nothing changes bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is expanding like a cancer, and it has been for 100 years (Gary North, 2013).

Regular readers will understand I’m a perennial sceptic about a career in the military, even in peace-time. Why? Because it’s frequently a passport to abuse and death.

The First World War was a horrific catastrophe that achieved absolutely nothing of value, and 20 years later, the European blood-letting started again. I had 3 great-uncles killed in the First World War, and an uncle killed in the 2nd. Australians should have had nothing to do with the First World War, but a misplaced sense of loyalty to England and Empire from our political leaders down, meant that of about 416,000 Australians that went to war, 60,000 were killed.

And what did we gain from that? Well, we got the Anzac tradition. Some consolation.

The Defence Department is a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies have a deserved reputation for lethargy, inefficiency and a callous attitude towards those they rule. The Australian Defence Department is up there with the best.

In the military, the abuse starts early. It can be physical, sexual, or any other kind you can imagine. Some can be just bastardisation, and our present Governor General acknowledged this was happening in his era in the Army, back in the 60’s.

Some colleagues of mine had a son join the Australian Army, where the training is “rigorous.” After all, you’ve got to be fit, you know. After he had been in for some time and done a lot of marches carrying heavy packs for many kilometres over rough terrain, he sprained an ankle, and he had some time off his foot.

But not enough time. He was pushed back into training before his ankle was right, and it went again. Then there were operations on the ankle by, guess who?

Why, Army doctors, of course. After three of these, it still wasn’t right. Funny that, something wrong with that ankle, can’t think why that would be. Oh well, we’ll just have to amputate the foot, give him a $100,000 cheque, and get rid of him. Bye.

I have a friend in his 60’s, who was conscripted to go to Viet Nam. Fortunately for him, the war was over before he got there, but the Army had the last laugh. From (once again) carrying heavy packs over long marches, his knees now are shot, and he’s in a wheel-chair. It’s really tough about that, Ken. Next please.

Oh, and we could talk just a little about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since Viet Nam, couldn’t we?

Then there have been the multiple peacetime “incidents.” Like the sinking of the Australian destroyer “Voyager,” when during night exercises in 1964 its commanding officer somehow forgot to keep out of the way of the aircraft carrier “Melbourne,” off the NSW South Coast. 82 men died when the Voyager was sliced in two.

Or the 1996 Army incident near Townville, when two helicopters collided in the dark, killing 18 service people. Sorry about that.

There have been scandals, one after another. The F111’s were good planes in their day, now recently retired. Unfortunately, no one in the Department enquired as to what might happen when maintenance staff had to climb inside the fuel tanks in the wings, to do repairs. Protective clothing? No need. “Just get in there in your shorts and shirt, mate. You’ll be right.” 20 years later the health problems for those neglected and abused staff are painfully evident. Oh well.

Divorce rates are high in the military, partially because spouses are sent away for long periods at a time for training or war. You and your spouse don’t like it and can’t cope? Tough.

Or, you can just get sent off to yet another stupid war that your foolish, indifferent, callous government decides to get involved in, and you get killed or wounded. Oh well, that’s life if you’re a soldier: expendable. And weren’t you glad the PM came to your son’s funeral? PM’s since Menzies have preferred to lick the boots of American Presidents, than safeguard the lives of Australian soldiers in fruitless wars.

It’s all about the Alliance, you know. Get with the plan. The ironic thing is, of all the Australians killed in war in the 70 years since 1945, they were all overseas. None of them were actually defending Australia. Whatever were they doing there?

In 2012, three Australian soldiers died from wounds in Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier had gone rogue with a machine gun.

As Queensland’s Deputy State Coroner John Lock laid bare yesterday, a crucial document warning of the mounting danger of green-on-blue attacks was dismissed by Australian top brass in Afghanistan, who “ticked and flicked” it into obscurity. None of the orders it contained were passed on to the Diggers’ ­platoon.

After one of only two civilian inquests ever to examine Australian soldiers’ deaths in war zones, Lock found if the warnings had reached the platoon, at least one of the men might have been saved…. Nearly three years ago, in a fog of grief after the deaths, the men’s families fought for answers from Defence. Frustrated at being locked out of opaque internal investigations and initially blocked from even seeing the unredacted results, the relatives united and pressed for a rare civilian inquest….

Yesterday, with Lock’s groundbreaking findings, they were vindicated. Defence had thrown everything at the inquest to prevent adverse findings against it or its people. The Australian Defence Force did not want the civilian inquiry in the first place.[1]

So you thought that the Defence Force was an honorable profession, and that your child could have a career in the military? I can predict that in at least 80% of the cases, the experience won’t be a positive one.

Conclusion:

Governments of the modern era abuse people for their own ends. In the military, where you really have to do as you’re told, the opportunities are more overt. Keep away from the military.

[1] Sarah Ellis, ‘Military Top Brass Didn’t Heed Green on Blue Attack Warnings,’ “The Australian,” 23/9/2015.

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