War Crimes & Show Trials
Yes I am angry. I am extremely angry at the forthcoming war crime show trials of some Australian troops that served in Afghanistan. This essay is not a considered legal or even moral discourse – those are complicated subjects and the details are not yet at hand. This essay is rather an expression of my disgust at the failure of the chain of command centring at the top.
Why am I angry? For one, that the Chief of Defence Staff, dressed in all the beribboned finery appropriate for a Canberra warrior, should stand in front of the national press and apologise for the actions of the army under his control all the while passing the buck.
I understand that the 465-page Brereton Report details an allegedly toxic culture in Australia’s Special Forces and lists a series of ‘credible’ war crimes committed by same.
My primary questions are: Who was responsible for allowing this culture into the Australian Army? Who were the senior officers, the commanders and the instructors that inculcated this culture in the first place? What were the senior ranking officers, the chiefs of staff doing whilst this culture was spreading?
I can answer this last question myself - they were preoccupied with their own programmes of social engineering to create a politically correct, ideal, case-normative, culturally diverse, egalitarian, homosexual friendly and non-gender specific military – a military well marinated in the sauce of peace, love and happiness. Yet, whilst they so fiddled, at the sharp-end of the organisation they were being paid to administer – remember we’re talking about soldiering - there existed a cohort of supposedly unreconstructed barbarians running amok. Who was in charge?
Why am I angry? Because I have served in the Australian army, in combat and I have witnessed and been subject to some of the vicissitudes consequent to decisions made. I am proud of having once been called ‘Digger’. I am angry because the limp-wristed management of today’s General Staff has effectively tarnished this tradition. I am angry for my younger colleagues that have served, proudly and without blemish, in Afghanistan.
To this end, it is my firm view that the present chief of staff should resign. He should resign for two reasons: Firstly and foremostly, because he is the Chief of Staff and the buck stops with him. Secondly and significantly, he should resign because of his failure to sort this mess out before it entered the public arena.
Further to this, I consider his predecessors should be sanctioned and their medals should be taken away. Following on from this an investigation should be commissioned into the promotion processes and placement of all senior staff officers.
I am angry at a system that has allowed this mud to be thrown around for so long. This matter should have been resolved immediately. It should have been addressed at the first sniff of impropriety. From experience I can testify to the fact that handwritten reports are prepared by the lowest non-commissioned- officer after every operation. These are handed in and passed up the chain of command. They are thoroughly vetted by intelligence and so forth and so on. Today’s reports are enhanced by modern technology, real time reporting through cameras and personal speaker phones. Only a few short years ago the world was treated to real time footage and audio of the killing of Bin Laden.
In this current context it is inconceivable that there was no indication of impropriety at the outset. The officer in charge should have called this out. His superior should have made the inquiries ‘who why when’ at the time, right down the chain. The officer most directly in charge of those particular troops should have been sacked, forthwith. His commander should have been reprimanded and the troops involved should have been advised to pack their bongos, go home never to be heard from or seen again. This is how the matter should have been dealt with.
Instead, because of the sheer stupidity of Australian military and political leaders this country will be international stage centre for a whole new media extravaganza show-trial. This will be ably scripted and supported by the self-loathing national broadcaster and its tribes of sycophantic progressives who pursued the matter in the first place. These show-trails will well and truly overshadow the Breaker Morant controversy – although they cover the same issue.
What is a war crime? This is Pandora’s Box of legal and moral nightmares. Although international law has grappled with the matter for over a century and it has made many determinations on the subject, it remains a highly subjective question. It is not my intent to drive down this road. I shall however make a few pointed observations.
The war in Afghanistan was a war that nobody wanted and nobody really understood. This is hardly surprising given its senseless nature. The Prime Minister and Cabinet who committed this country to that war need severe sanction. There were many that argued against it - I was one of them.
Like every war it had its active ‘secret war’. In this instance the prominent players of the war were those that played the game of secret war. Any investigation into any previous ‘secret wars’ will find equally abhorrent acts from all protagonists - that is the nature of such war. One tries to keep a level of humanity in the conduct of war generally, to keep to some balance, certainty and rules and regulations – the Geneva Conventions are testament to that. But sometimes, humans being as they are, these conventions are overlooked. Regrettably we have to live with those consequences.
To conduct irregular warfare we employ Special Forces – they are called Special Forces for a reason - they do the work that other people are unable, untrained or simply don’t want to do. It is a thankless job, living and operating in the silent, netherworld. To large extent their identity remains secret, they can’t tell anyone what they do, they get very few public kudos and generally they are disavowed by their superiors – especially so when something goes wrong! They get paid well – they are held in high esteem by their fellow servicemen and many get their jollies by getting drunk, being violent and, regrettably, on occasions by being excessive in their zeal. We create such a force - who are we then to blame them?
Let me discuss briefly one aspect of the war-crime debate: the notion of command culpability. The Brereton report largely absolves senior military officers and officials. It found ‘no evidence’ that high ranking officers had knowledge of the alleged ‘unlawful killings’. The blame is squarely placed on the lower level patrol commanders.
What sheer rot! Yet again the Top Brass hides in its comfortable chateaus well behind the trenches and gets away un-besmirched with hands oh-so lily pink. My question: If they didn’t know why didn’t they know?
Contrast the foregoing with one General Tomoyuki Yamashita – the WWII commander of the Japanese Imperial Troops in the South East Asia and Pacific arena. He deservedly earned the sobriquet ‘The Tiger of Malaya’ for his brilliant campaign culminating in the British disgrace that was the Fall of Singapore. In 1945, after the Japanese surrender, Yamashita was arraigned for alleged war crimes committed by his troops in their defence of the Philippines. Although it was accepted that Japanese communications and effective military control had broken down at that late stage of the war, the War Crimes Tribunal nonetheless held him to be accountable. On the 23rd of February 1946 he was hanged.
The Yamashita Standard has now formally entered the lexicon on the international law of war. It is my hope, in the context of the current debate, that this standard is applied to the cringing dogs that call themselves the Australian Chiefs of Staff.
I am angry: I am angry at a report that absolves our High Command of any wrongdoing. Unlike Yamashita who had hundreds of thousands of troops spread across South East Asia and Pacific under his command, these politically correct tools had a miniscule force and a piddly guerrilla war in Afghanistan to run - with modern communications in real time. Yamashita was not only a general that could wipe his arse with these tools, unlike them he was an honourable man. And look was happened to him in February '46.
I look forward to seeing these pathetic, politically correct creatures squirm when the broader ramifications of this matter become fully evident to the public. They chose to throw soldiers under the bus – good – go follow them.
I am also angry at two modern aspects of Australian culture that are directly germane to this debate.
Firstly I refer to Australia’s modern ‘cultural cringe’. The national self-loathing propagated by academic institutions; schools; the national broadcaster; the arts and farts and so on is simply astounding. Australians go berserk about their football teams but will sit by complacently whilst their history, heritage and culture – their very identity - is daily ridiculed, contorted and redesigned before their very eyes.
I have subtitled this essay ‘Show Trial’. It is a show trial in accordance with our cringe inasmuch Australians want all the world to like us and to let the world know that we good moral, empathetic people – to show our politically correct uprightness. Never mind that the rest of world doesn’t discuss the operations of its special forces, we are different. We are stupid Australians. If you consider me to be intemperate, I beg you to follow certain sections of our media that are going to be in joyous rapture over the prospect of Australians being subject to war crime trials. This will provide yet further opportunity to tear down another Australian icon– the Anzac Tradition.
Secondly and related to this I refer to the utterly disgraceful trend amongst our leaders of not accepting the consequences of their actions and decisions. I am angry at these leaders – across the full gamut of society - who refuse to resign because they didn’t recognise the point of principle they just tripped over: they think it perfectly acceptable to just hang in there, tough it out and pass the buck.
If he was that sorry – General Angus Campbell would resign. Given the same circumstances General Yamashita might have disembowelled himself. But unlike Campbell, Yamashita was an honourable man.