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 wasnâ€™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 letâ€™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, weâ€™re sort of putting these parochial blinkers on and seeing the centre of the warâ€™s gravity in New Guinea. Weâ€™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
â€œWe 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?â€?
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.