As actual first or second-hand experience of war has declined, several generations of TV watching since the mid 1950s has conversely resulted in many Australians wrongly believing they know war. Including the pervasive incorrect belief that wars can be easily avoided, easily fought or ended quickly, and with few or no casualties or strategic implications.
In the two world wars many Australians served in our defence force and many more in industries supporting them.
Much of the rest of the community consisted of their close families.
Even during the Vietnam War we had wide community participation and interest through the conscription of up to one in forty male 20-year olds.
But we now fight Australia’s wars with a very small, professional defence force comprised solely of volunteers.
Of Australia’s six million families, only some 15,000 annually have members serving overseas with our defence force.
Until the mid 1970s most Australian families had parents who knew something of war.
As they became grandparents, some degree of extended family knowledge lasted widely into the late 1990s.
When previous generations of Australian families discussed war, and no matter whether they were for or against any Australian role, many parents or grandparents could contribute commonsense observations.
As actual first or second-hand experience of war has declined, several generations of TV watching since the mid 1950s has conversely resulted in many Australians wrongly believing they know war.
Including the pervasive incorrect belief that wars can be easily avoided, easily fought or ended quickly, and with few or no casualties or strategic implications.
A few minutes spent reading blogsites devoted to the war in Afghanistan, or the letters page or opinion columns of our newspapers, quickly shows this trend.
At best, such sampling will reveal numerous false or defeatist assumptions, frequent ahistoric examples and much simplistic argument; generally flavouring a range of preconceived notions, ideological beliefs or outright prejudices.
Opposing Australian participation in the UN-endorsed multinational force in Afghanistan is, of course, legitimate.
Indeed generations of Australian soldiers have served, and many still die, to defend this right.
But our elected Government lawfully deploys our defence force to war on our national behalf even if some Australians disagree.
Whereas previous generations of Australians, of all opinions, instinctively respected the legal and moral citizenship responsibilities to our diggers such Government decisions incurred, many now disregard the need to debate our wars responsibly and sensitively.
Jeff Corbett’s article “Finding reason in war” last Thursday was therefore very disappointing, especially in its offensive claims, false moral equivalences and general insensitivity.
Australians used to know that our soldiers apply force in a disciplined manner and only in accordance with the Laws of Armed Conflict.
They also used to know enough to know that the Taliban apply force indiscriminately and do not comply with international humanitarian law generally.
Jeff also wrongly demeans soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan by invalid comparisons with fatal accidents or illnesses in civil life.
Previous generations of Australians would have instinctively appreciated this.
They knew the moral and practical distinctions between being deliberately killed or wounded by the enemy in a war, and death or injury resulting from a random accident or illness, no matter how sad or untimely, here at home.
Jeff claims, simplistically, that the digger killed this week “died in vain”.
This is particularly insensitive to the soldier’s family and friends in their initial grief.
Why not wait a week or so to debate our participation in the Afghanistan War and then do so responsibly instead.
Then we have Jeff’s bizarre claim that our soldiers are somehow “not driven by a noble cause”.
Again past Australians would have known that volunteering to risk your life as a soldier necessarily involves thought, military professionalism and belief in the cause concerned.
Plus noble motivations including responsibilities to us, to their mates and to the Afghans they are helping and protecting.
Finally, Afghanistan is a complex and morally nuanced war. Wars inevitably are.
This also used to be well understood by Australians.
But even as Afghanistan overall is a mess, our diggers take great practical and moral comfort in what they can try to fix.
Every day they experience, first hand, the security, peace and associated benefits they help bring to Afghans at village level.
Finally, inaccurate, offensive and insensitive articles, such as Jeff’s diatribe, emphasise the dangers for a liberal democracy when our troops on the ground understand the war, and believe in their mission, much more comprehensively than the people back home who sent them.
Especially where those at home do not realise this.