Saturday, September 2, 2023

Australia the Warlord

             John Kinsella



It seems appropriate that regret should be uttered at a time of mourning. We have just suffered close personal loss, and there’s something very specific about the way a family deals with such loss in day-to-day activities, in the ‘emptiness’ of the early hours, and in reprocessing the nature of close relationships and what they mean.


And the regret I wish to utter is that Australia has fully committed itself to the path of militarism. The militarisation of universities that some of us spoke out against over the last decade in particular has come to a very rotten fruition under the present federal government. More and more arms companies (in all their tech ideations) are becoming entrenched in Australia, and from AUKUS to the manufacturing of missiles, from high energy yield weapons to sonar guidance systems, the speech of warfare is becoming normalised in Australian public discourse.


What bemuses me, as an extension of grief, is why I’m not seeing activists standing against this. In universities (in Australia and other countries) I have witnessed what amounts to quietism at best, and even in one instance, overt pressure applied by militarists (in various guises) to quell a pacifist voice as such as my own. People so readily accept a new status quo; under the ‘military solution’ approach to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the ‘be prepared’ stance regarding China’s own militarism, the voices of difference and opposition are crushed.


Witness the Australian Labor Party’s verbal attacks on one of their own in Josh Wilson, who along with others was accused of ‘appeasement’ for resisting the acquisition of nuclear submarines. Witness the deployment of war-time prime minister John Curtin as talisman (a racist and a militarist), and as lethal force of persuasion, based on an idea of history as conflict dialectic. ‘Appeasement’ is one of those vox-pop snap-grab terms that twists like the knife it is intended to be: it carries the white feather, cowardice, betrayal, and delusion in its militarist etymologising. As it is used with respect to an arms-race, it seeks to disarm the already disarmed. It’s pernicious and easy. Those who wield it ‘appease’ death and hatred as they do so.


No. It’s time to stand up to this endgaming, to deny the euphemisms of ‘defence’ and position it for what it is. People can get out there and protest fossil fuel usage (as they should), yet they don’t take on the defence industries? Come on!


Every day we are greeted with yet another extension of the ‘military vision’ (essentialised around the idea of ‘pillars’, what’s more), as today I rose out of sleeplessness and processing a lost life to read that Cocos (Keeling) Islands, where I lived for a short while in the mid-90s, is having its runway ‘upgraded’ for military purposes; that this ‘pivot’ of surveillance is necessarily going to become more and more a focus of ‘protecting’ Australian interests (and assets), as well as those of its ‘allies’.


The fate of sea turtles on the Cocos is another aside, of course. The lack of environmental scrutiny and clearances another. And then an article that has sad visuals of boys with their toys, and yet another exploiting military tech company using Indigenous country for their exploits: laser weapons. So many of these companies with their university graduates in enthusiasm-mode are inculcating themselves into the day-to-day functionality of the body politic and the ‘social organism’. An organism that is building-in its own death. What is literature to all this? A mode of decorative mourning? Literature won’t be there in the end because it can only write after the fact and not in medias res? The writing is now, the writing is not accepting the status quo, not expecting to be value-added by peers and official mechanisms. And yet we do, because writing is an extension of the self into the ‘outside world’. We need to work through this.


Apropos of all this, and related because the arc towards military arms dealer status (already was, but now aiming for warlord status) that comes out of the military occupation and oppression of Indigenous peoples: a comment on The Voice and where I stand.


I fully support all Indigenous moves towards the reclamation of their lands and rights, and I support the position of the YES vote as I totally oppose all that the NO vote stands for. However, I think that anything connected with the system of governance (colonial, oppressive) that rules Australia is inevitably going to be compromised and limited by definition (and legal actuality). So YES, of course, but only in itself, not by way of vicariously supporting the colonial militarist system of governance by proxy.


The collective vision of ‘Australia’ is compromised because of its colonial focus, and because it subscribes to an exploitive state-business collaboration, but it will inevitably become even more compromised with its leap into major arms dealer status. War is exploitation on every level, and people who would normally oppose the doings of arms companies quickly become silent at times of conflict (that concern them... whilst ignoring conflicts elsewhere that do not threaten their personal, ideological, profit or well-being status), even promoting, say, the manufacture of arms to send to Ukraine.


To oppose such gratuitous death industrialising is seen as relative, only belonging to ‘times of peace’ and to ‘better circumstances’. A whole ‘realism’/’realistic’ semantic construct is established to control discourse and to bring about an acceptance of a new militarised status quo. Violence is sold as peace, and ‘attack’, ‘defence’, and ‘justice’ are intertwined and made determinate of each other.


But mourning is mourning, no loss is acceptable, and no loss in its essence, in its actuality, is prevented by inflicting loss (and that includes on animals). The broader silence of many writers (especially poets) in particular bemuses me. While many relish there being a ‘leftish’ government in place, it’s a furphy — politics are shown by actions, not words, and the actions of the federal government are militaristic, nationalist in extremis, and citizenship-orientated. For such governments, environment is about functionality (even positive climate-change preventative actions are dressed in economics, common sense and survivalism), not about quiddity or something that might exist in itself outside utility. And to separate the damage of environment from the well-being of people is to create the destructive dualism underpinning the horrors of Western colonialism that has wreaked havoc on the planet for centuries.