The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has on two recent occasions referred to Australia being “joined at the hip” to the United States on its defence and national security policies. That phrasing invited some critical commentary, but conspicuously, there was no demurral from the official Opposition Labor Party. To all practical intents and purposes the Liberal National Coalition and the Labor Party are indistinguishable on matters of defence, foreign policy and national security.
Turnbull’s remarks, as with the election of the erratic and clearly unfit Donald Trump as US President, should have presented an opportunity for a critical reappraisal of Australia’s position viz a viz the United States. It did not happen, not least because a supine mainstream media sees no reason to question the fundamental assumptions underlying Australia’s defence policies since at least the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in January 1942.
Prior to that seminal event, Australia had never challenged its role as a colonial appendage to the British Empire. That status had led Australia into a series of wars, which in common with just about every other military misadventure before and since had only the vaguest connection with Australia’s national interest, if any.
Australian troops fought the Russians in the Crimean War of the 1850s (the rich irony of which is lost in the current propaganda war waged against Russia for its “annexation” of Crimea.) Australian troops were slaughtered in large numbers in World War 1, a war planned at least since the 1890s to counter any German challenge to British imperial supremacy (Docherty & Macgregor Hidden History, 2013)
Although Prime Minister Hughes refused a British request to formally join British forces fighting in the Russian civil war 1917-21 against the Bolsheviks, Australian troops nonetheless joined the North Russia campaign as “volunteers”. A Royal Australian Destroyer HMAS Swan also undertook intelligence operations in the Black Sea in late 1918 directed against the Bolshevik forces.
With the rout of the British forces in 1941-42 by the Japanese, it was obvious to Australian politicians that a new protector was needed, and the Americans required no encouragement to assume that role. The marriage of convenience that occurred in 1942-45 may have suited Australia in its perception of an imminent Japanese invasion, but then, as now, the bride’s dowry should have been scrutinized more closely.
A relentless propaganda campaign through every possible medium has been waged since then to convince Australians that in 1942 and since Australia has been getting a good deal. The fake security blanket of the ANZUS treaty personifies that. The reality is somewhat different.
The US was founded on laudable principles, as in the Declaration of Independence’s “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” It was a potent statement of intent and principle. But how did the successors to the Founding Fathers live up to that ideal?
All men were not equal. Many of those founding fathers, including Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton were significant slave owners. By the standards of what was to come, the treatment of the slaves was relatively benign. Not so the treatment of the Native Americans. In what was one of the world’s greatest genocides, between 8 and 10 million Native Americans were slaughtered, the survivors herded onto reservations notable for their appalling conditions, and their land expropriated on behalf of white settlers.
Even that was not sufficient. A false flag operation (one of many throughout American history) gave President Polk the excuse to wage war against Mexico from 1846-1848. The treaty forced on the losing Mexicans required them to cede one third of their territory; the modern day states of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.
The Spanish American War of 1898 saw the acquisition of Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rica and the Philippines. After the defeat of Spain, the Filipinos resisted the subsequent American colonization. At least 600,000 Filipinos died fighting in that resistance. The Americans continue to occupy the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, despite being asked repeatedly by the sovereign Cuban government since 1959 to leave. Guantanamo’s role as a torture centre and for holding prisoners indefinitely without trial is well documented.
Thanks primarily to the Russians, (26 million dead) the Germans were defeated in World War 2. The crucial battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, which were to determine the final outcome, were fought and won before the Americans even entered the war. Even that entry, the “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, has been constantly misrepresented by the post-war propagandists that ignore the research of scholars such as Robert Stinnett (Day of Deceit, 1999).
The immediate aftermath of the end of the war in Europe is also instructive. Attlee, Stalin and Truman met in Potsdam (Berlin) to determine the configuration of post-war Europe. Agreements were reached on the respective spheres of influence of the Soviet Union on the one hand and the western allies on the other.
The reality again was different. The western allies had drawn up three separate plans to continue the war, but against their Soviet ally. The first plan, (Operation Dropshot) was to use 300 nuclear bombs as well a conventional bombing to destroy 85% of the Soviet Union’s industrial capacity.
The second plan (Operation Totality) earmarked 20 of the Soviet Union’s major cities, including Moscow, Leningrad, Tashkent and Irkutsk for nuclear obliteration.
The third plan (Operation Unthinkable) was a surprise attack using conventional military forces through the middle of Soviet lines. Apart from British, Polish and US forces, the plan envisaged the use of 100,000 troops from the recently defeated German Army.
The use of Germans should not be a surprise. Operation Paperclip was another secret intelligence operation that saw the recruitment of more than 1600 German scientists, engineers and technicians from the German V2 program for work on rocket programs in the US.
Also since World War 2 as William Blum (America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, 2nd ed 2008) and others have made clear, the past 72 years have seen unparalleled death, destruction and pillaging of other countries’ resources by the American empire. Australia is currently involved in at least three of the US’s current wars: Afghanistan (since 2001); Iraq (since 2003); and Syria (since 2015).
They all have a number of features in common. All are illegal under international law; all were commenced under false pretexts and continue under ever-shifting rationales; all have wrought death and destruction upon their civilian populations; and none could be legitimately classified as essential to Australia’s national security interests.
Given the slavish adherence to American imperialism, these wars are not likely to be the last to see Australian involvement. One has only to look and listen to the current belligerent (and remarkably ignorant) rhetoric over North Korea, China and Russia to see that the US has no plans to change its modus operandi of the past 200 years. On the evidence of past history and current policy stances, Australia will yet again be sacrificing its soldiers, its treasure and its reputation fighting other countries’ wars for other countries’ benefit.
To return to the original question: is the United States a country with whom Australia should be joined at the hip? Is that really in Australia’s long-term best interests? A debate on an alternative is long overdue.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.