she'll be right mate ....
The Australian Army Journal is no radical review.
Its contents are sober, as befits the journal "for the profession of arms". Yet in late 1949, its editorial said: "millions of words have been spoken and written that [nuclear] weapons will result in the sudden extinction of civilisation. The historian, of course, knows better. He knows that few civilisations and few nations have been wiped out by mechanical means. Civilisations and nations die, as a rule, from a disease of the soul, a paralysis of the spiritual force that gave them birth and sustained their growth."
Is Australia showing signs of such a disease today? "Nonsense", you say, "our economy has never been stronger, we never richer, our culture is not diseased". Yet the next sentence of that long-ago editorial said: "And [the historian] knows, too, that nearly all civilisations and nations that have fallen by the wayside were dying of this spiritual disease long before they had reached the highest point of their technological advancements".
Are there symptoms of such a disease today? And I mean something serious, not the touching habits of Kevin Rudd. Well, our Government lied about the children overboard affair, and flouted international law in the Tampa incident, in each case for electoral gain. Our Government has refined the art of "plausible deniability" so that ministers are never told what they don't want to know, so that in the future they can deny knowing it. Our Government has junked ministerial responsibility, destroyed a bulwark of the Westminster tradition, so that when things go wrong, ministers now look to put the blame on a civil servant.
Our Government refused to request the return of David Hicks for five years. Under laws of over 800 years' standing, Hicks had a right to have a court determine the legitimacy of his incarceration. Our Government denied it to him. Five years without trial is an utter rejection of habeas corpus the writ identified time and again as the most important safeguard of the liberty of subjects in our legal system.
In Australia, persons suspected of involvement with terrorism can now be detained for up to two weeks without the right to inform their loved ones or have legal counsel.
Imagine if your spouse or child simply didn't come home one day. Imagine if your inquiries at hospitals and morgues came up blank. Imagine the soul-searing distress.
Yet there has been barely a peep of protest to this radical law. Why? Because we of Anglo-Celtic descent assume (history would tell us, stupidly) that such powers won't be used against us but only against those of "Middle-Eastern appearance".
We have accepted the destruction of this right due to a racism we deny, even to ourselves. Now warrants can be approved by senior police officers the centuries-old role of judges cast aside the police are now supposed to somehow police their own conduct. A system that worked very well has been discarded for one wide open to abuse.
But we have accepted all this. We have accepted our government lying to us in ways we'd never accept from our friends or children. We have accepted the overthrow of vital legal protections and traditions that have been fundamental to our law and system of government for centuries.
Our culture is indeed sick. You could say we have a virus and cancer. The virus is the fear of terrorism. We are afraid of a threat yet to happen in our country, a threat our nation's leading security experts don't place in the top five facing us, and a threat that will never kill as many Australians as smoking or obesity.
We have misunderstood the magnitude of this threat. Terrorism lacks the resources to ever defeat the West directly. For sound economic reasons, the world is yet to see a prosperous Islamist nation based on anything but oil. We have been manipulated by those who benefit from us being afraid. Our overreaction to the terror threat has already done serious damage to our laws and institutions. The cancer is that we no longer care about what matters.
Does anything matter more than leaving to our grandkids a habitable planet? Yet we accept our government choosing to not respond meaningfully to climate change: blathering on about voluntary caps when we know this is code for doing nothing.
We care about sport and interest rates. But we no longer care about our most fundamental freedoms, or the health of our society or planet after we've gone. We are in a materialist malaise we know the price of everything, except what matters.
Not caring about what matters is, without doubt, a disease of the soul. What a horrible irony if, in a century, historians point to this decade, with our overreactions to the risk of terrorism, our failure to fight climate change, and our failure to preserve our legal system's protections, as the time when our nation caught the disease that ultimately led to its collapse.
What a horrible irony if our choices today, over time, destroy our country choices to accept leaders lying to us, choices to cast aside protections our civilisation has held dear for over 800 years, choices to disregard our planet's future.
It is not too late to begin to care again. But we don't want to set aside our humanity for too long, or we may find we were never able to take it up again.