August 25th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Current policies leave farmers high and dry in drought

CANBERRA OBSERVED Captain and Lieutenant's $444 million munificence

MEDICAL ETHICS Changes to AHPRA's code of conduct would gag doctors

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump delivers for U.S. economy and workers

CHILDREN AND SOCIETY Treating depressed children: How will history judge us?

PRIVACY Big Brother is marketing you

THE FAMILY Humanae Vitae: a prophetic document at 50

SOCIETY AND MORES Novel features of child sexual abuse in our time

EUTHANASIA International expert emphasises palliative care

BIOGRAPHY The trouble with Harry (Freame) is that we've forgotten him

OPINION Just asking ... sauce for the goose ...?

HISTORY Christianity has died. Agreed, and yet ...

MILITARY HISTORY The volunteering spirit proves best in the test


MUSIC Chilly exposure: The sound and the fury

CINEMA Mission Impossible: Fallout: Ethan Hunt, knight errant

BOOK REVIEW A good diagnosis enables the cure

BOOK REVIEW End of the American empire?



OPINION The Victorian ALP observed from up close

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The volunteering spirit proves best in the test

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, August 25, 2018

St Patrick’s Day is a day of celebration for the Irish, and no one was more convinced that the Australian Celts needed this day of celebration and solidarity than Archbishop Daniel Mannix (1864–1963). In celebration of Ireland’s patron saint in 1920, in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, Archbishop Mannix rode in an open limousine surrounded by 14 Victoria Cross (VC) winners, all mounted on pure white horses. Some things need to be noted.

The brains behind the horse honour guard was John Wren, probably the richest Catholic of his day, and one of the most controversial. Wren operated in the interstices of the law, between legality and criminality. His fortune was generated by the infamous Collingwood tote. Most of the VC winners were Protestants. It is said that when the word got out that John Wren wanted to buy pure white horses, they became as scarce as unicorns. Mannix was known as the leader of the fight against conscription in World War I. The point the Archbishop was trying to make, with the white horses and the thousands of Catholic ex-servicemen – many of them maimed and wounded – coming along behind was that Archbishop Mannix was not against fighting the war, but against conscription.

Volunteering is something Australians embrace. We have all-volunteer bushfire brigades. Surf lifesavers are volunteers. We have a tradition of citizen soldiers. Sporting clubs could not function without an army of volunteers.

Conscription has always been controversial in Australia. Australia has had 20 years of continuous overseas deployments without imposing conscription. Deployments include East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was a joint Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police operation – all volunteers.

These days, it takes 18 months to train an infantryman. So, a two-year period of conscription is futile. It is still accepted that “boots on the ground” wins wars. The aim of infantry is to “take and hold ground”.

It is likely that Australia will deploy forces in conjunction with our allies in situations where there is not a direct threat to Australia. In East Timor, for example, Australia acted in conjunction with allied forces, known as INTERFET (International Force East Timor). Communications, without which Australia could not have conducted the operation, were facilitated by the United States, which also contributed several warships, apart from communications facilities.

Conscription during the Vietnam War (1962–1972) was conducted on a selective basis. Conscription was not popular and the conscripts went to war grudgingly and fought alongside regular soldiers. Once there, though, they didn’t want to let their mates down.

I can recall being present when a draft resister, Piercy Porter, tried to hand himself in at a lecture at the University of Western Australia delivered by the Liberal Minister for Labour and National Service, Philip Lynch. The Commonwealth Police present refused to arrest Porter, who had been avoiding apprehension for months.

It has been said that the Army did not want conscription; that it believed that it would have gained the recruits it needed if pay and conditions had been improved. That we have maintained an all-volunteer army since 1972, which is held in high public esteem, seems to prove the case that, given the right incentives, young people will step up.

Australia did have conscription during World War II. Conscription was said to have been imposed for deployment within Australia, but the scope was widened to include the South-Pacific region.

Participation by young men in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF), better known as the Militia, was compulsory during World War II. The Militia, often called “chocos” – for “chocolate soldiers” – performed heroically in Papua New Guinea. Undermanned, undertrained and unequipped, the chocos repulsed and outfought the Imperial Japanese Army. The returning 9th Division found jungle warfare was very different to the war fought in the Middle East. In the Middle East, battles may be fought at ranges of a mile (1.6 kilometres), while on the Kokoda Track, battles might be fought over 10 feet (3 metres).

If Australia was directly threatened and was under threat of attack, it is likely that young men would accept conscription. Young Israelis I have spoken to, for whom conscription is universal, except for ultraorthodox Jews, say that they don’t like being in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) but that they accept that military conscription is necessary for the survival of the Jewish State. The Druze, an Islamic sect allied to Israel, also join the IDF.

The strongest argument against conscription is that a citizen army is composed of volunteers. At the end of the Vietnam War, the US Army was a shambles and soldiers were fragging their officers (blowing them up with hand grenades).

If it is a bad and unpopular war, it will be hard to get recruits. During the Second Gulf War, the U.S. Army was short around 60,000 to 80,000 men, so the US used “contractors” – that is, mercenaries – to fill the gap. This was why traditionally the U.S. had militias and not a standing army: if it was a bad war, people wouldn’t go. Also, the militias had to be armed and ready to deploy at short notice. The Minutemen had to be ready to deploy in one minute, so they needed their own arms. Hence the Second Amendment and the “right to bear arms”.

In Australia, men and women volunteers now serve on an equal basis. When you have a son, parents have always accepted that he may come home “on his shield”. How would the populace react if an infantry platoon with a majority of young women took heavy casualties? I don’t think that equality on the battlefield would last very long. Losing a son is one thing; seeing you daughter come home in a coffin is another.

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