Saturday, January 24, 2009

Miranda Devine, heroes, Afghanistan, and the ways of warriors

Back in Tamworth again. In the heart of the heartland. In the northern Wasilla of New South Wales, the antipodean Nashville, home to country music.

Because I'm in the heartland, my views have an unexpected clarity and depth. The tang of the earth, the movement of the stars in a deep velvety black that stretches forever with three dimensional vividness, the food and entertainment at Maguires, the steak at Hog's Breath, the orange and marmalade preserve from Nundle, the rough, raw, true and honest heat. Up here we're the clod and the pebble meet, and the Buddha-like insights are almost painful. Something you city slickers will never know. How we pity you city slickers with your fandangled fancy pants ways.

I think that's why I almost spotted Gerard Henderson up here, wearing his favourite John Howard imitation hat, the one that imitated the one squatters like to wear. Indeedy, everybody to the right understands the virtues of the bush and the profound ignorance of city slickers. And it certainly explains why the lead footed Duffster, esteemed columnist Michael Duffy for The Sydney Morning Herald loves the suburbs. So much closer to the squawking of parrots.

But strangely there's no Michael Duffy this week in the online edition of the Herald. Does this mean the Herald has come to its senses? (Having given up the hard copy version, guess I'll never know).

Well no because the Herald still employs Miranda Devine. This week she offers the kind of insight we use to get way back when in Tamworth Public School (motto Aim High), in Heroes who fight the good fight.

Most of it is a standard celebration of VC winner trooper Mark Donaldson, but let's leave aside the bulk of the piece, which is a standard bit of hagiography about the modest fighter, who in the standard way insists that he's not a hero, he's a soldier.

That explains why Miranda Devine calls him a hero. For what would trooper Donaldson know about being trooper Donaldson up against the razor-sharp insights of the Devine?

And she's a real investigator. "There are clues to Donaldson's character in his childhood in the small town of Dorrigo, in the green rolling hinterland 60 kilometres from Coffs Habour." Natch. He's from the bush.

But wait, what's this? Donaldson's father Greg "had been conscripted to Vietnam in 1970, at age 22, and had returned with 'major issues' about conscription and the way veterans were treated, Beamont says. He never talked about the war, except in the six months before his death."

Now there's a story worth exploring. Back in the day, the likes of Devine were baying for conscription and blood and the Vietnam war, and when the poor buggers came back, it wasn't just the hippies that berated them. The government ignored them. After forcing them to train to be killers whether they liked it or not, with the only real alternatives a spell in Long Bay or going underground.

But the right wing commentariet always likes to keep moving along, not dwelling on the past, so that's all we read about that.

Instead it's on to the family background of Donaldson, and then the sweeping wrap up: "We may never really understand what makes Mark Donaldson tick but we can admire him and the other Australian soldiers who fight in our name".

And by implication - because there's always an implication - never you mind about questioning what we're doing in Afghanistan - even President Obama is ramping up against Taliban resurgence - because to do so would be to attack the troops and brave soldiers like Donaldson.

So at the very point where the Devine ends, the real questions begin. Admire the man, and the others who fight in our name, but just what are we trying to achieve in Afghanistan that puts the likes of Donaldson in the way of danger?

The Russians spent ten years there, and achieved diddly squat, especially because the Americans (and others like Saudia Arabia, the UK, and Pakistan) started shoveling money and aid towards warlords and the resistance movement, while at the same time foreign fighters came into the country, including the likes of Osama bin Laden, to begin to learn the trade they later plied around the world.

The Soviets lost the war, and now the US is in the process of bogging down for another ten years in the same country (which as we all know thanks to the Ruddster is a hell hole).

It used to be that in the old days of Empire, individuals were held up as examples to others about proper heroic behaviour - which usually involved going off to strange lands to give the original owners a hard time, or indulging in wars between imperial powers attempting to keep the best of the booty to themselves.

Devine never asks these sorts of questions, and maybe she thinks the piece about Donaldson isn't the right place to ask them. But you can see why a simple minded celebration of heroes - which concludes with a 'we may never understand' closer - is her forte. She's never asked the tough questions of herself, or of her addiction to the warriors and the ways of war. 

A touch of ambivalence or humility in her other columns when it comes to the four legs good, two legs bad, kill them all policy statements she's prone to, would be a refreshing rustic insight I never expect to read. 

An examination of what we actually hope to achieve in the quagmire would be on my must read list, but I never expect to see it.

We might never know what makes a Donaldson tick - especially cowards like me - but it would be nice to know what makes the policy settings for the current adventure in Afghanistan tick, and a reflexive evocation of the Bali bombings simply doesn't cut it, at least if you've moved beyond Tamworth Public School and Sir Henry Newbolt.

Come back Duffy. All is forgiven. Give us a piece about NSW infrastructure no one cares about and doesn't require any thinking.

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