Home > Oz Politics > The Brisbane Line in the 21st century

The Brisbane Line in the 21st century

April 26th, 2006

When I suggested yesterday that Stephen Barton had reinvented the Brisbane Line with his claim that Kokoda didn’t matter I was making the standard argumentative move of drawing a logical inference from Barton’s position which, I assumed, he would indignantly reject. Far from it! As Mark Bahnisch observes in comments, Barton explicitly endorsed the Brisbane Line strategy when he was interviewed on Lateline, saying

What I was saying was that it was an important campaign, but it wasn’t the battle that saved Australia. Australia was engaged in a world war. What that means is that events far beyond our control and far beyond our borders are ultimately going to secure our future. Now let’s take the worst-case scenario, that say they did a diversionary raid or they occupied part of Queensland. Now ultimately did that mean that Australia would lose the war? Well, once the allies won in Europe and the full might of the allies came to bear on the Japanese, ultimately the Japanese would be defeated. So it would have been a terrible situation, it would have been grim and appalling, but it ultimately would have been a temporary situation. We have to remember that this was a world war and when we talk about the battle that saved Australia, we’re sort of putting these parochial blinkers on and seeing the centre of the war’s gravity in New Guinea. We’ve got to sort of step back from that and recognise that it was a world war. (emphasis added)

Given that Barton explicitly draws parallels with the present, it’s reasonable to ask whether he thinks the same reasoning is applicable today. If strategic decisions made in Washington or London require that Australia be left open to attack or invasion, should we be comforted by the thought that “Australia’s security has traditionally been won far beyond our borders, as a member of grand alliances. ”

Barton has previously been a Liberal party staffer, and the ideas he’s presenting are consistent with (an extreme interpretation of) the government’s defence strategy of reducing emphasis on the defence of Australia in favour of a capacity to send expeditionary forces to distant conflicts. So, is anyone from the Liberal side of politics going to step forward and speak in favour of defending Australia, either in 1942 or today?

Also in comments, Ros quotes this useful rebuttal to arguments like those of Barton, from then US Ambassador Thomas Schieffer addressing the Coral Sea celebrations in Perth in 2004

“We know today the consequences of victory. We can only imagine the consequences of defeat. Some argue that the Japanese had no immediate plans to invade Australia. That may be true in the short run but would it have remained so in the long run? At the very least, Japan was prepared to impose a naval blockade on Australia to knock it out of the war and force upon it a dubious peace. So what would have happened if we had lost the Battle of the Coral Sea? What would have happened if the fleet at Midway had been sunk? Can anyone seriously argue that an expansionist Japanese Empire was prepared to tolerate a functioning, free democracy on its doorstep?�

Schieffer is spot-on, but it’s a sad day when the US Ambassador has to defend our history from Australians closely connected with the current government.

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  1. avaroo
    April 26th, 2006 at 17:33 | #1

    “Australia was engaged in a world war. What that means is that events far beyond our control and far beyond our borders are ultimately going to secure our future.”

    He’s certainly right here. Like it or not, Australia is part of the world and as such is just as vulnerable to attack as anywhere else, Egypt, Indonesia, Spain, the US, Turkey, Kuwait, France, Russia.

    “If strategic decisions made in Washington or London require that Australia be left open to attack or invasion”

    How do strategic decisions made in Washington or London leave Australia open to attack or invasion? Isn’t Australia already open to attack just like everyone else? And if not, why?

  2. avaroo
    April 26th, 2006 at 18:14 | #2

    “strategy of reducing emphasis on the defence of Australia in favour of a capacity to send expeditionary forces to distant conflicts.’

    These are not mutually exclusive. In today’s world distant conflicts relate directly to your defense. And how many people would demand that their government wait until the threat hit your shores when it could be and should be taken care of BEFORE it gets there?

    “So, is anyone from the Liberal side of politics going to step forward and speak in favour of defending Australia, either in 1942 or today?”

    I’m not on the liberal side, but I certainly will speak in favor of Australia defending Australia. And Australia’s allies defending it too.

  3. Razor
    April 26th, 2006 at 18:43 | #3

    JQ, your interpretation that it is “the government’s defence strategy of reducing emphasis on the defence of Australia in favour of a capacity to send expeditionary forces to distant conflicts.” – is a load of codswallop.

    I had the misfortune of serving in the Australian Army during the “Defending Australia” period that commenced with the 1986 Dibb Report. This report was basically a way making excuses for not funding the military adequately. Since East Timor the funding of Defence has improved but it is still, IMHO, grossly inadequate. A major focus of the strategy during this period was the defence of the air-sea gap to the North of the continent. Using this logic emphasis was placed on Airforce and Naval assets to project force into this area. The Army was foolishly ignored in having any significant role to play in this kind of battle.

    Having forces capable of expeditionary operations and actually deploying them is the best form of defence.

    The “Defending Australia” Strategy focused on lightly equipped forces and emphasised low-level/low-intensity conflict. The logic of this was flawed. While the possibility of three men and a dog running around Northern Australia was arguable – the argument that wholesale invasion as a threat should have been ignored because it wasn’t foreseeable in the next ten years was flawed because it takes more than 10 years to build (in peace time and with today’s technology) a force capable of defending the Australian Continent from this threat. At the same time an Expeditionary force and can fight a low-intensity conflict but a Dibb style ADF can’t fight heavy.

    An ADF capable of Expeditionary operations and actually deployed on operations adds to Australia’s defence for many reasons. Going back to the flaw in the Dibb approach – it provides a capability base from which an ADF capable of defending Continental Australia can be created much quicker than a non-deployable ADF. At the same time, actually deploying Australian forces then brings a whole range of advantages. On a strategic level it builds important relationships. When East Timor blew up the Clinton administration were slow to respond with desperately needed assistance (desperately needed because we weren’t focused on Expeditionary Operations!) because Australia didn’t have a lot of current Strategic Capital. Surely the situation would be different today. On the equipment and procedures level – the operational experience working with other allies against live enemy is immeasurably better experience than peacetime training. Best practice procedures are worked on. Equipment is identified, developed and bought into service (eg. Why does the SASR use the M4 Carbine instead of the F88 Austeyr and how did they bring it into service so quickly? Operational expediency!). At the same time the ADF personnel builds up a corporate knowledge of operations. Before East Timor, the last of the Vietnam Veterans were leaving,, and excluding a few UN experienced personnel there was little, almost zero, combat veterans. Now we have once again built up this exceptionally important corporate experience – it is this type of experience that saves the lives of our soldiers in the future.

    I am also of the view that I’d rather be fighting the enemy ‘over there’ than here. I understand that many will argue with that view. However, to argue that the deployment of some Special Forces Troops, a battle Group (minus) and some logistics troops, a few ships and some aircraft is in no way reducing Australia’s ability to defend itself at this point in time.

    In big picture purchasing we need two more Collins class subs, 3 Amphibious Assault carriers similar to the US Iwo Jima Class and associated Combat and logistics ships. The RAAF should buy the F22 as well as the F35. The RAAF and RAN should have Tomahawk Cruise missiles. The Army needs to not just buy the Abrams but a complete Armoured Brigade worth of modern equipment. We need to increase the size of the Army so that we have three fully manned Brigades – an Armoured Brigade (Darwin based), a motorised brigade (Brisbane based) and an Air mobile Brigade (Townsville) and all of these need to be fully manned with a 10% over manning as standard. We need lots more tactical aircraft – both helicopters and fixed wing. The LAPD has more helos than the ADF!!!

    I’m just warming up but I will leave it there.

  4. Dogz
    April 26th, 2006 at 19:22 | #4

    So the fact that he’s a former Liberal staffer means the present government has to clarify his argument?

    From the Lateline transcript we read that Barton is not only a former Liberal staffer but also a Perth academic. Are you also going to call for a clarification of his position from all Perth residents?

  5. jquiggin
    April 26th, 2006 at 20:07 | #5

    Razor, it’s all very well to put this interpretation of the current strategy, but arguments like Barton’s do a great job in undermining it, and the silence (so far) of the government (in contrast with both Labor and the RSL) speaks volumes.

  6. Razor
    April 26th, 2006 at 20:55 | #6

    JQ – the professionals (in uniform) within the ADF have a tough enough time trying to get rational defence policy and adequate resource allocations. I hardly think one article by an Academic on my side of the continent who isn’t one of the civilian Defence Mandarins is hardly going to rate a mention for current policy when he is looking at the place a campaign has in the history of WWII.

    A bit like you banging on about the trade deficit, really.

  7. matt byrne
    April 26th, 2006 at 22:26 | #7

    Is this the Liberal voice you were looking for? taken from the same interview…

    PAUL HAM: Curtin inherited a near defenceless country and, you know, our troops, the AIF, were in the Middle East, in Greece, in Europe. We had very few aircraft, very few pilots. They were sent off to fight for Britain in the empire training scheme. We had fewer ships, they were in the Mediterranean. We had very little. We had very little actually. And in that situation you would imagine that you really have to get some sort of defensive shield when the Japanese are in such close proximity. Now the interesting thing about Menzies position is he came around to understanding what Curtin was trying to do and agreed with him. I have a great letter from Menzies to Curtin saying, “Don’t you think we should get our troops up in North Queensland, don’t you think we should be doing this?” This was in 1941. Curtin replied -

    TONY JONES: So you’re saying that Menzies wanted to bring the troops home from Europe and the Middle East.

    PAUL HAM: He came around to that view. And he was saying, “Well, we must sent them to the north, it’s getting critical here, Singapore has fallen.” And, ah, Curtin responded, you know. It’s very reassuring to see your attitude evolving in the direction of mine. Thank you very much.” (Laughs)

    TONY JONES: Stephen Barton, here is, apparently, a letter from the greatest Liberal prime minister of all time, suggesting that he would have done pretty much the same thing that John Curtin did?

  8. rog
    April 26th, 2006 at 22:48 | #8

    Its probably for the better that we only ever idly “imagine the consequences of defeat” rather than experience it.

  9. April 26th, 2006 at 23:48 | #9

    Razor, the thinking you describe is roughly the same comfortable and expedient fallacy involved in British Empire strategic planning between the world wars, of assessing threats ten years out. Of course, they just shortened the horizon when that became uncomfortable. I’ve come to the conclusion that you can get a good view of what Paul Dibb left out by looking at Paul Monk’s far more stuff. In fact, the kind of military threats Australia faces are not limited to invasion; the two other possibilities are infiltration and incursions (and combinations thereof). The Byzantine Empire never fell to invasion, not even to the Fourth Crusade, but it isn’t there any more all the same.

    Avaroo, the thing about the USA as an ally is that it is fickle – far more so than Britain ever was, especially considering that there is no family connection, as it were. The USA would never have bailed out the Falklands; Maggie Thatcher only did because she was under the gun of domestic politics that really cared and knew what she had left undone that contributed to the mess. Leaving aside questions of attitude, friendliness, etc., as one is supposed to do, there are currently three threat nations for Australia: Indonesia, India and the USA itself. This is based on how far they can reach. Other countries like France only become significant in conjunction with others. And, of course, US assistance can be very harmful at many levels; think Lenny in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, without even Lenny’s limited self-awareness.

  10. April 26th, 2006 at 23:52 | #10

    Rats. I meant to put “Paul Monk’s far more realistic stuff”.

  11. Razor
    April 27th, 2006 at 00:00 | #11

    P.M. – can’t agree with you on the infiltration business – as witnessed today by the reports about illegal fishermen. One of our strengths is the sparsity of population in the North – all the locals know what is going on, what is new and what is out of place. With out wanting to overstate their current effectiveness – the regional Surveillance Units and other agencies do a pretty good job. Infiltration just ain’t a big threat. (And trust me I’ve been enemy party on exercises up there and it is pretty tough gig, let alone coming up with a logical reason for another nation to undertake such operations. Insurgency – we are very fortunate that the original owners of this land haven’t gone down this path, and given that they haven’t so far, are highly unlikely to do so in the future.

  12. April 27th, 2006 at 01:08 | #12

    Razor, although that NT stuff with fishermen is infiltration, the term can cover far more serious and large scale activity than that. It’s actually how the USA acquired most of its states.

  13. avaroo
    April 27th, 2006 at 03:12 | #13

    “Avaroo, the thing about the USA as an ally is that it is fickle”

    It’s in the nature of allies to be fickle. Nothing stays the same forever, governments change, policies change, people change, needs and problems change. That’s life.

    “The USA would never have bailed out the Falklands”

    I never saw the Falkland Island issue as anything for the US. It’s a British colony. I wouldn’t think we’d call on Britain if anyone wanted to invade a US territory or protectorate like Puerto Rico or Guam.

    “Maggie Thatcher only did because she was under the gun of domestic politics that really cared and knew what she had left undone that contributed to the mess. ”

    Not sure how much the British public cared about what is basically a pretty barren outpost of Britain’s colonial days.

    “Leaving aside questions of attitude, friendliness, etc., as one is supposed to do, there are currently three threat nations for Australia: Indonesia, India and the USA itself. ”

    I can’t see anything in it for India or the US to bother Australia. Why would either do so? Australia has had its problems with Indonesia.

    “Other countries like France only become significant in conjunction with others. ”

    Sorry, but I cannot say that I think France is significant in any way, militarily, economically or politically. It used to be, of course, but it isn’t anymore. Back to “things change.”

    “And, of course, US assistance can be very harmful at many levels”

    Oh, I agree, anytime you get any US government involved in anything it’s a disaster. You’re much better off taking care of yourselves.

  14. April 27th, 2006 at 03:41 | #14

    The Falkland Islands are British Territory. The people there are subject to British law, thus they are ENTITLED to British protection. And they got it.

    Any suggestion that Falkland citizens are not entitled to protection is abhorrent in the extreme.

  15. avaroo
    April 27th, 2006 at 03:54 | #15

    Who suggested that? What I said was that the Falkland Islands are and were a British colony. It wasn’t an issue for the US, anymore than an invasion of Puerto Rico, which isn’t exactly a colony, but the closest thing we have to one, would be an issue for Britain.

  16. David Allen
    April 27th, 2006 at 08:39 | #16

    We are constantly told we shouldn’t ‘cut and run’ from Iraq but that we should have ‘cut and run’ from Queensland.

  17. wilful
    April 27th, 2006 at 09:48 | #17

    Hey Razor, regarding your wishlist for toys so the ADF can maintain a permanent erection, as a taxpayer, can I ever so politely tell you to take your hand off it?

  18. Razor
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:04 | #18

    wilful – so you are happy to wilfully stop ADF members having access to the tools they require to do their job and allow them to continue to work with second rate equipment.

  19. jquiggin
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:15 | #19

    Razor my main concern is that the job of the ADF should be recognised as defending Australia (with a subsidiary role in providing aid to policing efforts in our immediate neighbourhood). For anything further afield, we should be confining ourselves to stuff we can do with the equipment and forces designed for the primary role (SAS for example).

    If the equipment they are asking for is designed to make them part of a US armoured division in the Middle East, or a global US navy, then the less of it they are given the better.

  20. wilful
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:39 | #20

    erm, ditto.

    Why do we need an armoured brigade at all? In what scenarios would they assist with the defence of Australia, or regional peacekeeping?

  21. Spiros
    April 27th, 2006 at 10:41 | #21

    Razor, that is quite a wish list you’ve got there. How much would it cost (to the nearest $5-10 billion)?

  22. wilful
    April 27th, 2006 at 11:19 | #22

    And which taxes in particular are to be raised to pay for it all? And which class of Australians are to be conscripted to man the machinery?

    Mind you, I’m not some complete pacifist who thinks we should get rid of the ADF in it’s entirety (the New Zealand model). But we’ve got the balance about right, a few more Tiger ARHs and F22s instead of JSFs, cancel the tanks and the Air Warfare Destroyer, and it’s about right.

  23. Razor
    April 27th, 2006 at 12:34 | #23

    JQ, wilful – armour was deployed in East Timor. B Squadron 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment is the Armoured Personnel Squadron the deployed into East Timor as part of the 3rd Brigade. The first Australian vehicles to roll off the Hercules at Dili were their APCs. Elements of the 1st Armoured Brigade subsequently followed. Armour played an essential role in that operation.

    Armour provides protection, firepower, mobility and shock action. If we are going to put Australian soldiers in harms way, then they deserve to have all those things on their side. On top of that the provide excellent communications and logistics capability. As the Mayor of Darwin commented when I worked with them in the mid-90s planning Cyclone support – the armoured vehicles were perfect Cyclone vehicles.

    WWII and Vietnam both proved that tanks can be employed in jungle and mountainous terrain. Ask any infantry man from Vietnam who saw combat with tanks and they will swear by them. War game modelling points to significantly lower casualties when tanks are employed in all types of warfare.

    I was intimately involved in the mid and late ’90s in developing the tactics for the employment of tanks in low-intensity conflict.

    The positives of having heavy armoured units far out-weighs the negatives.

    As my Commanding Officer used to say – “A Tank Regiment is like a Dinner Suit – when you need one, nothing else will do.â€?

    Spiros and wilful – Defence spending should be increased to approximately 4% of GDP. No new taxes need to be raised, just other programs cut. No conscription is required (that would be terrible for the ADF), but pay needs to be substantially increased.

    We have a responsibility as a world citizen to contribute as effectively as we can. By having troops that are capable of fighting alongside our major allies we are fulfilling this responsibility. In both Gulf War I and II, the Australian Government was extremely limited in its’ options of what capabilities to be able to commit. They have realised that this is not an acceptable position to be in.

  24. wilful
    April 27th, 2006 at 12:57 | #24

    I suppose the definition of ‘armour’ needs to be clarified. I’m all for having our troops properly equipped, but they’re not and haven’t in a very long time needed thicker skins than that provided by an upgraded M113. Buying Abrams with a gas turbine engine and a weight of 69 tons means that it’s nice to have war games where you can place a tank on the scene, it’s a pity you can’t actually put it there due to logistics. The impressive pictures of Australian troops demonstrating their mobility in Timor had them all jumping out of Blackhawks.

    “Just other programs cut”. Ahhh, fantasy, now I see. “No conscription is required”. Yep, that’s right, defence force recruiters are having to turn people away at the moment, they’ve got their hands full with loads of high potential soldiers.

  25. Razor
    April 27th, 2006 at 13:09 | #25

    Wilful – The M113 Upgrade will improve protection levels, but I fully support, as said before, the purchasing of a full armoured Brigade, and that includes vehicles in the Bradley/Warrior class of fighting vehicle. I am pretty sure that we are buying M1A1s with diesel power packs. Other Armies seem able to move heavy tanks around the world, and the ADF should be equally capable.

  26. April 27th, 2006 at 15:38 | #26

    Razor, the US army finds it extremely slow and expensive to move their tanks around the world. That’s why they periodically consider out-there (but rather cool, if you’re an engineering nut) ideas like 1000-tonne capacity blimps, super-fast transport ships, and ekranoplan-style sea-skimming aircraft for the job.

    As for your suggested acquisition spree (well, further acquisition spree, seeing the Australian military is about to go on a huge spending splurge over the next ten years to buy the AWD’s, the landing ships, the Abrams, the aerial tankers, the AEW aircraft, the new fighter planes, and so on…), as Prof. Q. was pointing out this very day in the Fin Review, cutting government spending seems like a great idea until you actually have to do it. The Republicans can’t seem to manage it, the Howard government doesn’t even try.

    Secondly, Australian defence acquisitions do not occur in a vacuum. The Indonesians look on us with suspicion now. How do you think they’re going to react if we suddenly double our military spending despite there being no obvious threat on the horizon?

  27. Razor
    April 27th, 2006 at 16:47 | #27

    Robert Merkel – ohmy god!! It’s expensive to move capital equipment. Quick – stop the presses.. . . I am well aware of the costs involved. One of the reasons we are buying the C5 Galaxy transport aircraft. It is really an issue of how much you are prepared to pay for insurance.

    As for the spending spree – at last some catch up is finally occuring after the almost criminal degradation of capabiltiy in the eighties and nineties. I’d be happy to point out where to cut spending – starting with the ABC and the Arts in general. Just becasue somethiing is tough, does that mean it shouldn’t be done?

    Do you think that the Indons will think that we want to invade them – a country of 20 million versus a 245 million – now that would be a good idea -not!

  28. April 27th, 2006 at 17:14 | #28

    “Yep, that’s right, defence force recruiters are having to turn people away at the moment, they’ve got their hands full with loads of high potential soldiers. ”

    Was this supposed to be sarcasm?

    The ADF turns away thousands upon thousands of potential applicants away each year.

    I was rejected from the RAAF because I have eczema. The doctor said that a rash on my feet could become infected during basic training and I could die. I told him that was patently ridiculous, and he agreed, but the point is if I did die then the ADF could be sued for ridiculous amounts of money.

    By the way I was applying for a position as an air traffic controller.

    Additionally of course, a great percentage of applicants are rejected because they are too fat or too slow, regardless of whether they are applying for combat positions or not. A number fail the BMI tests even though they are in peak physical condition, and are sent away to diet and stop training for 6 months so they can reapply when they are lighter.

  29. April 27th, 2006 at 20:41 | #29

    When I suggested yesterday that Stephen Barton had reinvented the Brisbane Line with his claim that Kokoda didn’t matter I was making the standard argumentative move of drawing a logical inference from Barton’s position which, I assumed, he would indignantly reject. Far from it! As Mark Bahnisch observes in comments, Barton explicitly endorsed the Brisbane Line strategy when he was interviewed on Lateline,

    Reductio ad absurdum logical moves dont seem to have much legs when one is dealing with brazen lunatics.

  30. April 27th, 2006 at 20:53 | #30

    the ideas he’s presenting are consistent with (an extreme interpretation of) the government’s defence strategy of reducing emphasis on the defence of Australia in favour of a capacity to send expeditionary forces to distant conflicts. So, is anyone from the Liberal side of politics going to step forward and speak in favour of defending Australia, either in 1942 or today?

    Up until Iraq War I thought that the LN/P’s pro-US sabre rattling were just noises made to appease Washington. But the latest round of big ticket item defence procurements, made with very little critical public debate, have made me re-think this notion.

    It is hard to see how the ADF will need main battle tanks, JSF air strikers and air-warfare destroyers to defeat terrorists and militias, who are the main security threat in our region. The SMH reports the massive shopping spree. The numbers involved are astronomical. :

    AUSTRALIA’S Defence Force is about to embark on its biggest weapons buying spree since World War II, spending $52 billion on new planes, ships and tanks.

    The massive expenditure will make Australia’s navy, army and air force the most powerful and high-tech military in the region well into the 21st century.

    The spending splurge comes not to combat the war on terror, but because much of the Defence Force’s most costly equipment is 30 years old and has to be replaced.

    Pressure from international arms firms to sell Australia the big ticket items is intense.

    It looks like boys toys for the military, big bucks for the arms traders and strategic assets for the Pentagon. Is this why Curtin and the Chocko’s repuation is being trashed?

  31. April 27th, 2006 at 21:01 | #31

    jquiggin Says: April 27th, 2006 at 10:15 am

    the job of the ADF should be recognised as defending Australia (with a subsidiary role in providing aid to policing efforts in our immediate neighbourhood). For anything further afield, we should be confining ourselves to stuff we can do with the equipment and forces designed for the primary role (SAS for example).

    If the equipment they are asking for is designed to make them part of a US armoured division in the Middle East, or a global US navy, then the less of it they are given the better.

    The ADF should have some main force expeditionary assets up its sleeve, just in case a major power such as INDON, INDIA or PRC gets narky somewhere over the horizon.

    Australia’s supporting role ito the US in the Cold War was very worthy. We helped to contain global Soviet naval and aerial forces. Also, the forward presence of the Australian Army in SE Asia during the Vietnam War probably made PLA military adventurists think twice. But nowadays there is nothing to compare with the threat of the USSR in Europe or PRC in Asia.

    If we have to go for big ticket items I think we should be concentrating on building robot terminators. The Predator was pretty cool.

  32. April 29th, 2006 at 16:48 | #32

    Avaroo, “What I said was that the Falkland Islands are and were a British colony. It wasn?t an issue for the US” – well, actually, it was, precisely because of the 1960s trade-offs that were negotiated by which the British gave up their out of area capabilities in return for promises that the USA would take up that burden.

    But the main point I was trying to bring out was that US commitments get dropped at the drop of a hat. Whenever it suits the US to stop helping – as, say, in South Vietnam – anybody left behind gets left in the lurch. US commitments aren’t worth the paper they are written on. As for people looking after themselves instead, that tends to get treated in a very dog in the manger fashion if people even try (not to mention that the capacity for it is often crowded out by the USA in the first place). Self defence would be a good idea – pity that we are kept from it.

    Razor, the “cost” of moving equipment is not a financial cost as such, although it does work through and show up in money terms. It actually reflects physical practicalities. Simply throwing more money at those matters doesn’t help except to the extent that it flows through to engineering solutions. The lack of those in turn shows up in the elasticities, which make less bang for the buck the more bucks you apply. In the end money doesn’t get you enough bang (or, in this case, mileage) until the physical facts alter in response.

  33. April 29th, 2006 at 16:56 | #33

    I see I should clarify further. I wasn’t suggesting that the USA had an interst in the Falklands, but rather that if it had had a similar threatened outlier, it would have abandoned it since there was nothing in it for the USA. It has happened before. But no, the Falklands weren’t a US outlier; I was pointing out how a British outlier got better treatment. It doesn’t pay to be dependent on the USA, but it does (a bit) to be dependent on Britain. And on France, whatever people may think of France.

  34. April 29th, 2006 at 21:11 | #34

    12 Curtin to Churchill
    Cablegram Johcu 38 CANBERRA, 30 July 1942
    MOST IMMEDIATE MOST SECRET
    With reference to Dominions Office cablegram No. 532, the
    Government is appreciative of your own personal acknowledgement in
    Part 2 of the difficulties which confront it in this matter.
    2. It is frankly disappointed that the review of the Chiefs of
    Staff dwells at some length on the strategical position in the
    Middle East but does not even mention the position in the Pacific.
    We know that we can count on an understanding by you of how
    vitally important the Pacific must loom before the Australian
    Government in reaching a decision on the disposition of its
    limited forces.
    3. It can be asserted that since the outbreak of war we have never
    received from the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff an appreciation
    that has indicated a full realisation of the possibilities of the
    situation in the Pacific, either in respect of offensive action by
    Japan or offensive action by the United Nations to defeat Japan.
    4. Australia has been critically threatened on two occasions -
    firstly following the fall of the Malay Barrier, and secondly
    following the threatened advance through the Coral Sea. Japan is
    now consolidating her position in New Guinea and the Solomon
    Islands and has made a landing in Papua which threatens our
    important advanced base at Port Moresby, which is vital to the
    defence of the north-eastern coast against enemy landings and the
    maintenance of the passage through Torres Strait for the supply of
    Darwin.
    5. It is imperative to force the enemy back to his bases in the
    Mandated Islands in the north-east and to drive him out of Timor
    in the north-west. The Government desires that the Commander-in-
    Chief, South-West Pacific Area, shall have at his disposal for the
    defence of his base and for offensive operations in the Pacific
    all the Australian Forces it can place at his disposal. Furthermore, superior seapower and airpower are vital to wrest the initiative from Japan and are essential to assure the defensive position in the South-West Pacific Area.
    6. For the reasons stated, it is impossible for us to do more than
    agree to an extension of the period for the temporary retention of
    the 9th Division in the Middle East. As the Commander-in-Chief of
    the Australian Military Forces strongly advises against the
    breaking up of ancillary units for reinforcements because of the
    effect on morale, approval has been given for the despatch of two
    months’ reinforcements on the average scale of activity, the total
    number being 1,989. These, with the 3,203 reinforcements recently
    available in the Middle East, will provide a total of 5,192 for 2
    1/2 months’ reinforcements on the intense scale of activity. The
    Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East will therefore need to have
    these facts in mind in his use of the Division.
    7. The Commander-in-Chief, South-West Pacific Area, has had
    assigned to him all the combat naval, land and air forces of the
    Commonwealth, but we are gravely concerned about developing the
    air strength for which we are capable of providing the personnel
    and which our own advisers and the Commander-in-Chief, South-West
    Pacific Area, consider the minimum for the defence of Australia.
    This arises from the inability to obtain a definite assurance on
    the supply of equipment. The Government’s willing agreement to the
    temporary retention of the 9th Division in the Middle East is
    therefore conditional on an assurance being given by the United
    Kingdom Government that, in conformity with Ismay’s letter to
    Evatt, its representatives in Washington will be instructed to
    do their utmost to ensure the allotment of the aircraft required
    for the re-equipment of the R.A.A.F. and the provision, as
    personnel is trained and squadrons are organised, of the equipment
    required for the programme of a total of 73 squadrons by June,
    1943. The case for equipment is supported by the fact that 7,800
    trained personnel have been sent overseas under the Empire Air
    Training Scheme. It is also desired to raise the question of the
    regular allotment to the South-West Pacific Area of Australian
    squadrons with operational experience.

    CURTIN

    The conditional agreement to have the 9th Division remain in the Middle East and to despatch 5,192 men as reinforcements for the Division, must be placed in the context of Australia’s critical situation in mid-1942. Curtin did not use phrases like “critically threatened”, “gravely concerned” or “it is imperative” without careful consideration and full justification. Australia faced almost imminent invasion and had pathetically small, inexperienced and ill-equipped forces to meet the threat.
    In those circumstances, the 9th Division or even the 5,192 reinforcements would have been of enormous value if they could have been deployed in New Guinea. If just some of those men had actually been deployed for the defence of Kokoda, the town and, most importantly, the airstrip might have been held, with the prospect that supplies and reinforcements could have been brought in and so the Japanese could have been held at bay and, in time, forced to retreat.
    At the same time, we must concede that, whatever forces were available, whether returned from the Middle East or available in Australia, the most acute problem was to get sufficient troops into the front line where they were most desperately needed. In the last ten days of July, that meant deploying them in the area of Kokoda and north of the town. That had proved to be impossible, even though greater numbers were available in the Moresby area.
    After Curtin’s cablegram of 30 July, the Japanese, having taken Kokoda, pushed steadily south along the Kokoda Track for almost two months. Although the Australians withdrew, their retreat was orderly. They kept their forces intact and substantial reinforcements were gradually added, especially experienced 7th Division units returned from the Middle East.
    In the event, the enemy did penetrate far into the mountains, despite courageous resistance by the Australians at Isurava and elsewhere. They reached as far as Iorabaiwa, only about thirty miles from Port Moresby. However, having got to that point, they were able to go no further. The terrain contributed to their defeat. So did disease; but they might still have reached their goal if it had not been for what I called in Haverleigh, “a handful of brave kids, hungry, buggered and poorly armed.” Those kids held up the Japanese at Oivi, Kokoda and especially at Isurava, long enough to allow reinforcements and supplies to arrive over the Kokoda Track. The Japanese units were then gradually reduced to a condition that made it impossible for them to go forward from Iorabaiwa.

  35. April 29th, 2006 at 22:03 | #35

    In my previous message, I sent you a cable from Curtin to Churchill just after the Japs landed at Buna and Gona in July 1942.
    I landed in Moresby, with a shipload of “reinforcements” for New Guinea Force, on 6 June 1942. On the face of it, we were a pretty poor lot. I was 19 years old, I had just started my final year of Arts at Q’land University. I knew nothing about soldiering. I had fired a .22 and weapons like that in the bush but I had never fired a .303 before I was “lent” one at Victoria Barracks in Brisbane and handed out, over a short period, 20 rounds to fire at a static target. A great old sergeant-major from the First World War showed us – in a short burst – how to stick a bloody bayonet into those bastards.
    Most of the “reinforcements” were my age or younger – some as young as 15. Only a very few had a clue what it was all about. Some older ones, like Colonel Owen (killed in Kokoda), might have had some recollection from the First World War what it was all about or might have had some training and been returned from the ME. But most of us had been taken from our jobs or studies, given a rifle and bayonet of our own only when we were about to board the troop train going north and that was that. “Good luck,” was about all they wished us. We didn’t have even warm, friendly words of advice on how to survive – except from our families who were terrified at what was happening but who knew that the youngsters had to do whatever fighting there was to do. That’s the way it always has been: the oldies make the mistakes; the youngsters fight to correct them.
    Were the Japanese going to invade Australia? Should we have defended only along the Brisbane Line?
    I’m sorry, mate, but so far as I know that never entered the heads of those who landed in New Guinea in those terrifying days of 1942.
    May I just say a word about the way the kids behaved? I’m not talking about myself; I’m describing what I observed.
    The Australian troops who faced the Japs at Oivi numbered only a couple of dozen. The Australians who faced the Japs in the main battle for Kokoda numbered something like 80. They were kids – except for Owen whose bravery and sacrifice of his life at Kokoda has, I think, received less reconition than it deserves. There was too an ancient MO from the First World War who behaved with incredible calm and courage.
    Who were they facing? Thousands of Japs were landed at Buna/Gona in the first few days. They didn’t all get to Kokoda right away but they greatly outnumbered the Australians. The same was true when the Australians – still mostly kids belonging to the 39th Battalion – withdrew to Isurava where they put up a great fight.
    Why did they do this? Why didn’t they just withdraw to the Brisbane Line? The real answer is that they hadn’t a clue about the Brisbane Line or any strategy – or tactics – whatsoever. All they knew was that they were supposed to hold the Japs back and beat the bloody hell out of them if they could.
    That’s what they did. They weren’t all heroes and most of them, as well as being as ordinary as you and me, were dead scared most of the time; but most of them put on an unbelievable performance doing what, so far as they could work out, they were supposed to do.
    Some time much later – I think it was after I was discharged in 1944 – I heard about the Brisbane Line. People argued about it then and dedicated historians will continue to argue about it ferociously way, way into the future. But, for those in New Guinea in 1942, it was simply not a factor.
    Might I just say that, in the light of what we learned in New Guinea in 1942 and later, the Japanese weren’t as “invincible” as we thought and they would have had a tough trot if they’d really tried to land in, say, northern Queensland.
    However, remember that in July 1942, no one had beaten them in the Pacific War. They’d cruised from victory to victory. If you were a betting man, they’d have been odds on to beat us in New Guinea – to do us like a dinner. And then, wonder of wonders, we beat them first at Milne Bay and later at Kokoda.
    Perhaps that was the great achievement of those two campaigns: we showed the Japs they could be beaten and, from there, it was a long trek but a pretty certain trek, all the way back to Tokyo.
    By the way, there was a bunch of kids at Milne Bay – the 61st – who did just about as good a job in facing the Japs as the gallant 39th did at Kokoda. Clowes, the commander at Milne Bay, had a rough trot from Macarthur and has never got the recognition he deserves. Perhaps the historians could work on that. I tried to do him some belated justice in “Haverleigh.”
    I’ve run on but there’s a lot to say on the history of those times. I had a message the other day from an American whose father was a New York Times correspondent killed on a small-boats operation when we were tying the Japs up at Buna/Gona/Sanananda. That was in October 1942. The story will now be told apparently – and will entail the discovery of much more interesting detail on both the Milne Bay and the Kokoda campaign to add to what we have now.

  36. avaroo
    April 30th, 2006 at 08:24 | #36

    “I see I should clarify further. I wasn’t suggesting that the USA had an interst in the Falklands, but rather that if it had had a similar threatened outlier, it would have abandoned it since there was nothing in it for the USA.”

    You mean like Grenada?

    “But the main point I was trying to bring out was that US commitments get dropped at the drop of a hat. Whenever it suits the US to stop helping – as, say, in South Vietnam”

    It would be difficult to make the case that South Vietnam was dropped at the drop of a hat. After how many years and more than 50,000 American dead.

    “US commitments aren’t worth the paper they are written on. ”

    Honestly, sometimes I wish that were true. I am not in favor of propping up the security of other nations. I think everyone should be responsible for themselves. I’d feel terribly insecure if the US government depended on any other government for our security. Because at the end of the day, no other government is going to be as interested in your security as you and your own government are.

  37. May 6th, 2006 at 17:39 | #37

    No, avaroo, not like Grenada. Grenada wasn’t a place to which the USA had an obligation it might have welched on, it was a place where the USA perceived an interest of its own and which it went into without regard for anybody else’s interests – either those of the locals or of the British. Here is a recent reference to how some Americans see it, despite general US opinion. A great deal of cultural change was imposed, e.g. the substitution of baseball for cricket.

    Of course South Vietnam was dropped at the drop of a hat. That hat was dropped at the fall of Saigon. The final evacuation of US personnel from the embassy was achieved by making false promises that further helicopters would come to evacuate those who had taken refuge there.

    And there were similar abandonments of ethnic groups that had assisted the US presence in Indochina, not helping them either there or in getting out and resettling (I’m not suggesting that the likes of Gough Whitlam behaved any differently).

    And the USA has a track record here, of being worse than other countries in not keeping faith. It goes all the way back to the expulsion and non-compensation of the Loyalists, despite treaty commitments (that came back to bite them though, by preventing the implementation of all British commitments which did not become binding). Every generation has seen something or other of this sort, including – if you pierce the veil – notorious repudiations of financial obligations and destruction of property rights of foreigners (see the back story of Billy the Kid and what happened to his former employer).

    The issue here is how democracy works in a short termist way; it’s what led to the French describing Britain as “perfidious Albion”, even though leaving the Dutch in the lurch in the early 18th century worked as much to French advantage as anything else. It’s just that it’s even worse and more flagrant – to those with eyes to see – in a people with more such institutions and such a high regard for what it has made them. If anything, Americans are the first victims of this sort of Americanism before they even became the inflicters of it on others. See my recent remarks on “rock against workchoices” to see how this attitude to obligations simply works out as casting off the cloak of righteousness and resorting to, shall we say, direct action whenever things don’t come right.

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