My Say

April 22 2004

So close to Anzac Day I would like to reconsider some of the modern implications of this deeply mythologised event. Recently the Prime Minister has sought to define his version of the Australian character with particular reference to the long-term position of Australian soldiers in Iraq. Who better to define the national psyche than the man who has won three elections by so ruthlessly exploiting it? John Howard knows that the bulk of us are acquisitive slaves to consumerism, aspirational crawlers who remain distinctly suspicious of the swarthy hordes massing off our shores. He accurately banks on us as being dismissive of the lazy aboriginals from whom our forebears stole this land so as to finally put the great wastes of unproductive wilderness to some good economic use. John now has a marketing phrase to define us. We are not, apparently, a people who cut and run.

This catchcry has already become an irritating and hackneyed piece of repetitive sloganeering. It is a concept that can be applied with great facility to ardent tales of wartime heroics including, obviously, those that occurred during the First World War on the shores of Gallipoli.

It is true that Australian soldiers did not cut and run at Gallipoli. Whether this was the raw courage and fortitude supposedly immanent in the Australian superman or just mute obedience in the face of fear and authority can be debated somewhere else. Perhaps it was a mixture of the two. But what if we had cut and run? Could we really claim that Australia would be a worse place today if we traded the four score years of boring marches, sententious sermonising and drunken two up games for the lives of the young men who died in the ill-fated campaign?

We can be sure that this revised history would not have suited our politicians and crusty RSL leaders. With Gallipoli now sidelined, a new historical event from which to mine the easy symbols that support the rhetoric of masculine aggression and worker ant sacrifice would be needed. This may have proved problematic. The no cut and run theory of Australian stoicism is served far better by Gallipoli than seditious tales of frightened servicemen bolting for Tennant Creek the moment the first Japanese Zeroes appeared over the horizon at Darwin.

It is time for Australia to become a nation of cutters and runners. Our place in the pecking order of nations is a tenuous one at best - boosted briefly when we host an Olympic Games only to subside once the last plane load of athletes has tipped its wings to the sinking sun. We cannot possibly hope to make it to the top of the ladder in the league of nations with our current inoffensive, arse-licking approach to international diplomacy. We crave notoriety as a nation yet refuse to engage in the kind of attention-seeking behaviour that would secure it. Too often we've played the Good to the rest's Bad and Ugly. A mindless determination that eschews the cut and run apostasy has plainly done nothing for our celebrity status.

Many examples of our ability to cut and run are already extant. I personally know at least five people who have given up on finishing James Joyce's Ulysses. Confounded by the dastardly modernist epic, they simply cut and run, pulling their brain cells out of the incomprehensible narrative and redirecting them to more leisurely pursuits. Here in The Fauves we flagrantly cut and run some time ago. Once it had become apparent that we stood no chance of ever converting the stolid herds of middle Australia to our cause, we quickly undertook a potent exit strategy. We ceased hostilities immediately, remobilising our forces into the War on Effort. Risking nothing, sitting idle and watching critically over the endeavours and subsequent failures of our peers was for us the most life-affirming decision of a long career.

It's hard to be the best country in the world. Judgement of the criteria for selection is subjective and brazenly tendentious. Ninety percent of the earth's nations think they've got some claim to the title and God has proved himself decidedly unwilling to broker the stalemate. Why not become known as the worst? The field of candidates here is far less imposing and limited to a few rogue states without anything like the campaigning resources at our disposal. With but a modest shift of focus we could quickly develop into the most slimy, unreliable country in the history of modern statehood.

Overnight we could break every treaty, alliance and coalition we've ever been signatory to. Our aptitude for coordinating groups of young children in coloured clothing around the grassy expanses of sporting arenas could be utilised with great efficacy. On the day we leave the family of responsible nations we will broadcast our defining statement - a worldwide satellite simulcast of a giant middle finger, composed entirely of gambolling schoolkids, extended to our erstwhile friends, the citizens of the free world.

I have to confess to a secret admiration for those countries that are known for their duplicity, unreliability and mendacity. While the great Western nations dissemble, hiding their true purpose behind a cloak of lies, the bad flaunt their recalcitrance, investing millions in monolithic icons of dictatorial reverence, pamphlets of tawdry propaganda and prominent posters outlining the tenets of totalitarian orthodoxy.

At this point it should be noted that I am not in any way advocating a descent into the barbarous evil that characterises so many of the regimes that have hitherto given the rogue state concept a bad name. We shall become a lovable rogue state: full of petty criminals down on their luck, colourful racing identities and warm-hearted inducers of pyramid financing schemes.

Australia's future cannot lie as a faithful deputy to the powerful, a polished six-shooter ever at the hip. Just as we answer every call to arms so the call to promotion never comes. It is time that we cut and run. Should the Prime Minister somehow remain unconvinced about the benefits of the cut and run principle and its relevance to his own career, let's give him a practical demonstration at the next election.

Previous My Say entries

November 11th 2003
November 3rd 2002
October 9th 2002
September 4th 2002