It’s astonishing what we think is fair dinkum in this country.
If a few sportsmen tamper with a cricket ball with a tiny square of sandpaper we want them hung and quartered.
If a footy hero sleeps with another man’s wife he’s persona non grata.
And if a racehorse is tricked up with white paint, peroxide and hair dye as part of a switching scandal we’re still raging about it more than 35 years later.
But when our elite soldiers are accused of murdering 39 innocent people, including the throat-slitting of two 14-year-old boys, we excuse it simply as the collateral damage of war.
“Our soldiers have been set up,” wrote one commenter yesterday.
“War is war. What happens on the war field should stay on the field,” justified another.
“When we want the dirty work done we call on our armed forces but when we don’t like what they have done we want to punish them,” argued another.
“This sort of thing has been going on in all military forces around the world since man invented war,” claimed another in a comment which elicited more than a 170 “likes”.
Seriously? Are we really a nation that loses its mind for days when a ball is tricked up with a weapon any one of us can procure at Bunnings yet we shrug our shoulders when not one, but 25 of our soldiers are accused of killing civilians as a rite of passage then planting weapons to make their victims look like they were combatants?
Even when those investigating called the atrocities a “profound betrayal”, “possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history” and “the most serious breaches of military conduct and professional values”, callers to talkback radio were insistent this was simply the reality of life on the battlefield.
This despite the investigation finding that none of the alleged unlawful killings were described as being in the “heat of battle” and that none were alleged to have occurred in circumstances in which the intent of the perpetrator was unclear, confused or mistaken.
Our military, one of the last bastions of honour, valour and integrity, has had its reputation gravely tarnished both domestically and internationally by these gruesome allegations.
Yet so nationalistic are we and – dare we contemplate it – so racist, that we’re comfortable in justifying the alleged killings as casualties of war.
Wind the clock back two and a half years and the stupidity of three men and a ball came in for greater scrutiny and castigation.
When disgraced cricketers Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith and David Warner returned to Australia after tampering with the ball in South Africa, their behaviour was said to have brought the country to its knees.
It was the “darkest saga” in Australian sporting history with the nation rounding on the perpetrators and insisting they hang their heads in shame.
Within weeks school students were writing essays about it in the same breathy prose they’d have reserved for studies of apartheid or the Nuremberg Trials.
This time there’s no pause, no consideration of the enormity of what we have learned about our most elite soldiers and the deep failures that occurred in their chain of command.
Instead we’re prepared to dismiss the toxic and merciless culture inherent in the SAS regiment or claim it was justified because the soldiers were desensitised by repeated deployments.
As a caller pointed out on the ABC today, our soldiers were fighting a war in Afghanistan that was markedly different to that fought in World War I and Word War II.
“The problem is that civilians might be a member of the Taliban and we’ve seen situations where even Afghan soldiers being trained by Australian soldiers took the opportunity to shoot the Australian shoulders.”
He went on to say that our soldiers felt more threatened than they did during World War I and were fighting an “ill-defined” war on terror which John Howard had signed them up to.
Where does it come from, this need to excuse? Why the justification? Our military chiefs have called the actions war crimes.
They involved the execution of innocent farmers and boys, and of compliant prisoners, incapable of resistance and posing no threat to their captors.
If we can lose our minds over a scuffed-up ball surely we can lose our hearts to the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of innocent people killed in, what the report alleges, was a far more insidious form of sport.
Angela Mollard is a freelance writer | @angelamollard