Over eighty years ago Prime Minister John Curtin prepared a New Year’s Eve message for the Australian people. It was written three weeks into the war with Japan. It was published in the Melbourne Herald on 27 December, 1941:
‘Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.’
With this message he informed the world that Australia’s foreign policy direction must change, in response not only to the military situation with Japan, but to Australia’s location in the Pacific. From then on, he states, Australia will be proactive, the architect of her own interests.
Australia disengaged from the ‘general war’ to concentrate on the Pacific conflict. Both Churchill and Roosevelt were surprised, and dismayed, but the die was cast. Australia survived the war, but only with massive assistance from the U.S. America has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy ever since.
Eighty years later, are Australia and the U.S. still a ‘perfect match’, or is it time to re-consider the partnership? Although America is still the pre-eminent power on earth, does Australia need its protection, and secondly, does America provide that protection, and if it does, at what price?
Is there a credible threat to us, or would we be more sensible to take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book, and be no-one’s enemy, and no-one’s target? It is important to look at our similarities, but also at the areas where we diverge.
Shared history, shared values?
For years, at least until President Trump was elected, there was a type of consensus that what we had in common far outweighed our differences. Recent events, particularly in America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and then the Black Lives Matter protests, have thrown some doubt on that shared vision.
Many have used the “shared history, and shared values” argument to justify our continued relationship. Others question the value for Australia, which has stood loyally by its mighty ally, through its many wars, with not much to show for the effort, except in terms of lost lives, and wasted military resources. We were never there as equal partners.
We supported American wars whenever we were asked
Australia joined the U.S. in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War in Iraq, the Afghanistan War, the Second Gulf War in Iraq. We even joined the so-called War on Terror.
When push comes to shove, Australia is expected to step forward, no questions asked. Perhaps the debt from 1941 – 1945 has been repaid?
Australia and the U.S. are both nominally democratic societies, and yet there is a tradition in the U.S. of actively trying to suppress the vote for minorities, and to rig elections by gerrymander. There are efforts to outlaw postal voting, begun when in the midst of a global pandemic.
Australians are used to electoral matters being decided by independent umpires. We are not only encouraged to vote, but we are punished if we do not. So is America still a democracy, and is it worth defending?
Guns in America
Probably the most contentious right Americans possess is the right “to keep and to bear arms”. Covered by the Second Amendment, and intended to permit the personal use of arms as a defence against state tyranny, it has mutated into a violent and uncontrolled gun culture.
In 2021, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 48,830 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the CDC.
This was the highest number of gun deaths since 1968. see here Another side of this tragedy is that suicide accounts for almost twice as many deaths as homicide.
By comparison Australia’s gun deaths in 2019 were 229. It is incomprehensible to us living in Australia that Americans insist on their right to kill, and to be killed.
This situation is exacerbated by the militarisation of the various state police forces, and the sheer number of mainly gun-fuelled deaths. Most of those deaths are of Black men, arguably by overzealous police. Do we share the values of a nation which practices officially sanctioned, racially based murder?
Did Scott Morrison commit us to a war with China?
Our previous, unlamented Prime Minister ramped up the hysteria and the rhetoric concerning China. He committed a sum of $270 billion to defence, which included funding for long range missiles. These are presumably to warn China that we are deadly serious about defending ourselves, militarily, against our largest trading partner.
This can be traced back to a slavish desire, on Morrison’s part, to please Donald Trump. The ex-President, in an attempt to divert attention away from his own criminal governance of the country, had sought to demonise China for somehow ‘inventing’ Covid19.
By jumping on Trump’s bandwagon, Australia is going to be ‘protected’ if China reacts badly to our belligerence. That must be why we are investing in nuclear powered submarines, to be ‘delivered’, in dribs and drabs, if at all, in the 2040s.
It is uncertain whether human civilisation will even survive until the 2040s. Already climate change is contributing to mass migrations; droughts and floods are affecting food and water security; the West is already fracturing under the political pressures of exploding refugee numbers, and political volatility is out of control. Russia is just the first rogue state to bust out of the bubble.
Labor has drunk the kool-aid
The logic behind following the United States anywhere is flawed. It is a nation which seemingly needs wars, in order to keep its over-sized military busy, and focussed outwards. How else to restrain its generals and admirals?
The American Century is over. The country is hopelessly divided, and its people are not only divided on political grounds, but also on economic, religious and racial lines. Inequality has morphed into something resembling the Middle Ages.
If America was once a trusted ally, the Trump presidency must have caused us to reconsider where we stand. A buddy this week, maybe not so much next week?
We need to tread carefully until the U.S. has a leader who can be trusted. Joe Biden is 80 years old. His main opponent will probably be Donald Trump, who is crazy, old and unstable.
This then is the horse we have hitched our wagon to. In Australian terms “have we backed the wrong horse?”