Australia

Shameful lie that changes Aussies forever

There’s a line in the bombshell report into Australia’s special forces war crimes which makes the blood run cold.“We bred them,” a soldier tells the inquiry. “Guys just had this blood lust … absolute psychos, and we bred them.”It’s a horrific thought that destroys everything we’ve ever believed about the military: that it is there…

There’s a line in the bombshell report into Australia’s special forces war crimes which makes the blood run cold.

“We bred them,” a soldier tells the inquiry. “Guys just had this blood lust … absolute psychos, and we bred them.”

It’s a horrific thought that destroys everything we’ve ever believed about the military: that it is there to protect us, to serve us, to honour the freedom and safety we hold dear.

If those quoted are speaking the truth – and Defence Force chief General Angus Campbell has confirmed they are – then these soldiers are not aberrations in an institution which was essentially sound. They are the evil products of an organisation so arrogant, entitled and morally corrupt, it’s impossible to imagine how such behaviour ever seeded let alone flourished.

As the parent of a child who recently entered the military the Brereton Report chills me to the core. Because these findings are so damning, so endemic, so contrary to the honour and valour shown by generations of serving defence personnel that they’re barely digestible.

“We bred them”.

There is no nuance in the statement. The SAS regiment, the very elite of our military, took children like mine and turned them into heartless and indiscriminate killers. It taught them to take a life of a civilian – a husband, a father, a brother – as a rite of passage and to cover it up by planting weapons at the scene to make it seem as if those who had died were combatants.

“If they didn’t do it, they saw it,” one anonymous soldier said. “If they didn’t see it, they knew about it. If they knew about it, they probably were involved in covering it up and not letting it get back to Canberra.”

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For a community jaundiced by failures of the church, the aged care sector and the banks, the exposing of our military marks the collapse of society’s strongest pillar.

From the Somme to Iraq our army, air force and navy have punched above their weight, securing our peace, upholding our values and showcasing a standard of courage and integrity that, as a society, the rest of us sought to emulate.

Not all of us were ANZACs but that heritage underpinned our culture, decency and self-worth.

The numbers in this report are dismaying: 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killing of 39 people by 25 soldiers. This is not a rogue soldier or a brain snap at the height of combat. It suggests multiple layers of failure where a “warrior culture” once driven by excellence and service has mutated into the ugliest display of misplaced status and power.

As General Campbell articulated today in a speech which fully acknowledged the failures this was a systemic issue: “The report notes,” he said, “that the distorted culture was embraced and amplified by some experienced charismatic and influential non-commissioned officers and their proteges, who sought to fuse military excellence with ego, elitism and entitlement.”

But how did it happen? Where were the checks and measures? How did command responsibility, the central principle that governs the military and ensures the buck stops with the bosses, erode so comprehensively that this was able to occur? It is not enough to simply disband the Special Air Service second squadron, there must be a thorough investigation into the racism, flawed leadership, warped values, lack of humanity and bystander syndrome that are just some of the elements that have contributed to such a downfall.

We have long been sceptical of government, of the police, of churches and banks but the military was beyond reproach.

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Did we deify the institution because the uniform represented honour or because we believed it self-governing, or because it’s very purpose denoted goodness? Who knows but we’re all impoverished when an institution of such standing, an organisation that employed our fathers and grandfathers and now our mothers and daughters, has rot at its core.

When my daughter entered the military I worried about sexual harassment and poor behaviour at ADFA as exemplified by the Skype scandal and the revelations of the “Jedi Council” sex ring. But the safest organisations, I reasoned, are ones where the failures have been exposed and addressed.

None of us could have imagined that those employed to protect are now facing charges of committing the most heinous of human behaviour. We can only hope that in throwing light on its ugly underbelly our military eventually emerges with greater integrity than ever.

Angela Mollard is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @angelamollard

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