'I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is a racket' - Major General Smedley Darlington Butler.
Lest we forget
These three words are spoken in remembrance of soldiers who've fought and died for their nation. We hear the words on Anzac Day. We hear them on Remembrance Day.
We repeat them often, but we still send young men and women into combat, and with any combat, we have to accept that they could die.
Sadly, war is a fact of life. However, do we need to be involved in every conflict that we're invited to? Or even that we're not invited to?
Lest we forget.
Lest we forget what?
Lest we forget the horrors of war?
Lest we forget the lives lost?
Lest we forget the impact on civilians in the war-zone? The families, the children?
Lest we forget the crimes against humanity committed in war?
Lest we forget that wars were fought on Australian soil by original inhabitants? Sadly, these wars aren't even acknowledged at the Australian War Memorial or by the Australian government.
Lest we forget the freedoms that were fought for and that we enjoy today.
Lest we forget.
And what do we do with these memories?
We go to war for fabricated reasons that mask imperialist imperatives, e.g. Gallipoli, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Wars that were driven by politicians for political means.
Gallipoli. The battle that many say defined Australia. The battle in which Australia 'came of age'. It was a brutal battle and cost thousands of lives from each of the armies involved. But lets not forget, it was a battle fought in which WE were the invader. It was Britain that invaded Turkey, not the other way around. The excuse was that it would shorten the war. However, the real reason was that the Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East and the Middle East contained oil. Vast reserves of oil. Oil which the British Empire needed for their new fleet of oil-fueled ships.
Vietnam? Australia wasn't even invited. Prime Minister Menzies practically begged the USA to invite Australia. In the end, he committed us to the war without the approval of Parliament. In the end, 500 Australian lives were lost and thousands were injured. Australia had gone to war as part of the US effort, which was more about geo-political reasons than it was about protecting the local population. The American involvement was under the pretext of stopping the march of Communism, which formed the crux of the domino theory (i.e. if one country falls to Communism, so will many others). It was a war in which America, supported by her allies, committed war-crimes, including the napalming and massacres of civilians, rape and torture. In the end, we lost the war and the domino theory never eventuated. Vietnam was a civil war, not part of a global Communist plot to conquer the world. Lest we forget.
Afghanistan. Invaded on the pretext that the Taliban was harboring Al Qaeda terrorists. More than a decade later, thousands of innocent Afghans killed, hundreds of troops killed, including Australians, billions of dollars spent and yet terrorism still exists and the war continues. Like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the 21st century invasion by the USA has had severe economic impacts. For the Soviets, their occupation contributed directly to their downfall. For the USA, the unfunded war resulted in the borrowing of over a trillion dollars from China. It was one of the main causes of the 2007 Global Financial Crisis and for the USA almost bankrupting itself. Lest we forget ... we obviously forgot what happened to the Soviet Union (who?) in the 1980s. Oh, yeah, the Soviet Union collapsed. Remember? Lest we forget.
Iraq, 2003. Prime Minister Howard committed Australian troops again to follow the USA into a war on false pretences. The USA wanted Iraq for their own hegemonic reasons, not because Saddam Hussein was threatening America, or threatening our freedoms. This war was coupled with the war in Afghanistan. Also blowing out the economic cost. It cost the lives of thousands of troops, including Australians. It cost the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Lest we forget that many of the wars Australia has been involved in were fought not for our freedoms, nor were they to defend Australia from direct, or even indirect, threats. They were marketed like that, because what better way to enlist people than for governments to fabricate a fearful enemy and wave the flag.
Lest we forget that whenever politicians commit us to war, it comes at a cost. Soldiers die. Innocent civilians die.
The only war in the last century or so that was required to be fought, was World War 2. Obviously, Hitler had to be stopped. Obviously, Australia had to defend itself against Japanese aggression. Argument of course can be made that the Japanese were defending themselves against US aggression, hence the attack on Pearl Harbor, and that the only reason they attacked Australia was because of the presence of the USA. Nonetheless, Australia defending itself is understandable in that situation.
Most recently, Australian soldiers are being tasked with the unsavoury, and potentially illegal, turning back of asylum seekers boats. Former Prime Minister Howard engaged military personnel for the purposes of either turning back boats or detaining asylum seekers and transporting them to Australia's gulags on Christmas Island, Nauru, Woomera and so on. Current Prime Minister Abbott seems to think it is a good thing to unleash the military on a persecuted civilian population that is requesting assistance. He's even given it a military focus by appointing a military general and calling it a 'war'. It is a war against the most vulnerable people in the world. It is a war against those seeking Australia's protection. Instead of protecting them, we unleash the military. We imprison asylum seekers. We force back to inhumane camps, to lives in which they are persecuted and sometimes murdered. This is not what the military is for.
All wars have victims. We honour those who served Australia, who fought and died for this nation. We must not forget the dead, nor should we forget that the survivors are often victims too, carrying a life-time of trauma with them. There are incidents of depression, mental illness and suicide among returned service personnel, and the government usually fails to care for them. Governments are quick to send soldiers into battle and milk the political gain this brings. And they are quick to forget too. Quick to ignore the pain and suffering of returned soldiers. But of course, come Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, we see the Prime Minister and other politicians reciting 'Lest we forget'. Lest we forget what?
Lest we forget, that whenever we send troops into battle, they may be going to their deaths. The question has to be: 'are their deaths worth it?' Lest we forget the returned who often carry a life-time of pain, injury and anguish with them.
Lest we forget. Certainly honour the servicemen and women who were the pawns of political agendas, but don't honour war. Don't honour the lies and fog of war that justify killing in the name of nationalism, corporatism or emotive clarion calls, such as 'fight for freedom'.
Criticising war and the wars in which we've fought does not mean that we don't support the troops. In fact, those who claim to support the troops by sending them into every conflict are the ones who are supporting our troops the least. Why send soldiers to be killed or maimed in unnecessary wars? If armies are to be deployed, make sure it is for a valid reason, not a manufactured one. 'Support the troops' doesn't mean sending them into every conflict for any reason. It means ensuring that they are used as effectively as possible for the defence of their nation.
Supporting imperialism is not 'supporting our troops'.
Lest we forget - war is a racket that sacrifices the innocent for the greed of nations, ideologies and money.
Lest we forget.