The news of Australia’s first military fatality in Iraq, which came just before Anzac Day, is a timely reminder of the fact that people at home in suits make decisions that cost soldiers overseas in uniform their lives. And those deaths don’t always occur in combat.
We don’t know the circumstances yet that led to a highly trained soldier, who had been around guns most of his life, to have a fatal accident while cleaning his pistol. We do know that for generations the military have downplayed the incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD – once called more evocatively shellshock) amongst serving soldiers, repeatedly sending soldiers suffering from severe mental stress back to fighting units, and refusing to provide appropriate benefits to returned soldiers suffering for years afterwards.
I am a strong supporter of anyone who chooses to serve, and it infuriates me when our government sends them to fight yet again in someone else’s war for insufficient reason, and then doesn’t support soldiers up to the hilt, as is the case with the soldiers seeking compensation and invalid pensions for the PTSD from their war service.
The four older brothers of my grandfather – Vern, Viv (yes, I am named after him), Perce and Bert – went to war for King and Empire in 1914. Three saw action on Gallipoli, and all four served in France, where three of them later won the Military Cross. This particular branch of the family was considered fortunate – only one brother didn’t come home, Bert: killed by a shell hitting a trench in Bullecourt, France in 1917.
Another branch of the family in-laws lost two sons from three who went to war. One of my relatives has done a fairly exhaustive record of her ancestors and in-laws who served in WWI – 8 dead from 27 – nearly one in three lie in a foreign field.
The four brothers are in the badly reproduced newspaper photo above with Uncle Viv’s father-in-law, who also survived, in the middle. That’s Dad’s lost uncle on the
left right, with the stylish moustache, always and forever dashing Uncle Bert.
As we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning,
We will remember them.
We will remember them.
The ANZAC Dedication: For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
Does anybody *ever* believe that old “fatal accident while cleaning his pistol” lie? Why do they still say it? “He accidentally loaded a round and put the barrel in his mouth, we think with the intention of licking it clean, when he somehow accidentally cocked the weapon, disengaged the safety and pulled the trigger”? Come on.We expect these guys to fight and die for us, the least we can do is treat them right when it all starts to fall apart for them.
The Australian military contingent in Iraq has been stage-managed by Howard and BushCo to provide the best possible PR about Australia supporting the USA with the lowest possible risk to our soldiers – there are only a few hundred Australian soldiers in Iraq, as I understand it they are all from very very well trained elite units, and their duties are protecting the Japanese peacekeepers while they do their thing, far away from the hotspots like Fallujah.It would have been a bad enough PR hit for Howard for there to have actually been a combat fatality, although they were probably prepared for that, and the electorate would have accepted that as what comes of going into what is called but not officially declared a war. For a death suspiciously looking like suicide to occur implies that there is something very wrong indeed going down for our people in Iraq.There’s going to be an official enquiry, and Yes, Minister taught me to be cynical regarding those, but we shall see. I hope at the very least some acknowledgement of the mental assault that war comprises on all those who engage in it might be more widely shared.