April 26, 2015 | Graham

Once you travelled to war

For Australians war is something we have always travelled to. We are unlike almost any other nation in this respect. It is something implicit in our celebration of Anzac Day. The battlefields of all these wars are somewhere else.

But thanks to the modern age of mobility, war has come to us. It is small scale war waged by people who do not wear uniforms, and who may even have Australian citizenship, but it is war nevertheless.

It is a war in which any of us may find ourselves on the frontline, as the customers in the Lindt Coffee Shop discovered.

It is a war not well-served by refusing to recognise the enemy as an enemy, but characterising them as a “death cult”.

Islamic State may not be recognised by the UN, but it is a state nevertheless. It may not observe the Geneva conventions, but it has an army.

Islamic State may use military tactics that date from hundreds of years ago, but they are hallowed by age, not enfeebled. They still work, and while they are not the tactics we would use, or condone, they are not mad.

This type of war requires a new paradigm. Terror is a weapon of state objectives, yet we treat the terrorist as though he is a lone wolf.

We need to re-examine our approach to these events. At the moment we treat them as criminal acts, but crime is a weak concept to use. Or we treat them as acts of insanity.

Attempting to stop Australians joining these fighters is bound to fail. Stopping Australians fighting against these fighters is also bound to fail, and deservedly so.

We do not want to declare war on them, because that would legitimise their state. But if a state exists, then it doesn’t need to be legitimised.

Even if we don’t recognise them as a state, there are other concepts that are useful. Once upon a time “outlaw” meant just that. “Outside the law”, able to be killed or captured by anyone. People who join these organisations are outlaws.

World War I was the greatest of the really industrial scale wars. Huge battalions of uniformed men were fed into the machine and the combattant with the lowest fatality rate prevailed.

That is not how wars have predominantly been fought in the past.

They have been like our war against terrorist states: low key skirmishes fought by men in civvies using irregular weapons. Often civilians and warriors were indistinguishable because they were one and the same.

In reflecting on Anzac Day we should not allow ourselves to apply that paradigm to the battles we face at the moment. Some parts of it apply, but others are very different.

We need to look beyond the wars of the 20th Century for models as to how to fight and win this one. We need to ensure that in celebrating the past we are not capture by it.


Posted by Graham at 10:02 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Legal,Terror