There can be no more important duty for the government than the defence of the realm. This means ensuring the Army, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force are able to do their duty. This of course includes financing and equipping them - a matter of some debate at the moment.
It also involves ensuring a structure which allows them to function in the preparation for and in actual combat. This necessarily involves a certain separation from civilian life, of which there is no better demonstration than that while they are under ministerial direction, the armed forces owe their loyalty to the Australian Crown and not the politicians.
True patriotism ...
It is timely now for the government, and indeed the nation, to recognise once more the extraordinary degree of patriotism demonstrated by the armed forces. This is not the easy patriotism of words or flag waving.
It is an overwhelming love of country, a love of country as it has been understood from the age of Athenian democracy down to our involvement in the world wars.
In Pericles words in his celebrated Funeral Oration, soldiers have “joyfully determined to accept the risk”. Australians have recognised this in the memorials to those who made the supreme sacrifice.
In all of this the purpose of the armed forces must never be lost sight of. I recall that in my brief experience of the army, the aim was made clear. It is brutal, and necessarily so. It is to kill the enemy.
It is a sad fact of life that in doing his duty a soldier may well unintentionally injure or kill civilians.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the decision of the Director of Military Prosecutions Brigadier Lyn McDade to charge three Australian special force soldiers has been received with surprise, incredulity and outrage.
It is assumed that the DMP understands that an enemy does not always play according to the Marquess of Queensbury rules. The terrible experience of our armed forces in saving this country from invasion in World War II demonstrates that. The Taliban do not of course observe international conventions.
They do not have rules of engagement which seek to honour their non-existent international obligations. They are well known for using innocent civilians, women and children, their own people, as shields. What is clear in this case is that the soldiers being prosecuted in no way intended to kill those unfortunate civilians.
It was an unfortunate accident, possibly compounded deliberately by the Taliban willingness to trade on our soldiers’ decency.
Surely the DMP understands that her decision must affect morale and therefore the ability of our loyal armed forces to perform their role. Indeed they may well risk their own lives and those of their comrades in the unnecessary hesitation which her decision must cause.
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