Armistice Day

After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a chance Australia might finally be at peace next Armistice Day. Most combat operations in Afghanistan will cease early next year, and we can hope that the final pullout will take place not too long after that. In my lifetime, Australia has been involved in three long wars, none of which have produced the promised results. In two of them, Iraq and Vietnam, the pretext for war was clearly fraudulent. The overthrow of the Taliban regime, which had sheltered Osama bin Laden, was plausibly justified on grounds of self-defence, but the conduct of the war, and particularly the decision to invade Iraq, ensured that the effort would end in failure, as it has done. The best that can be said about the wars of the last decade is that they have been less costly, at least in Australian lives, than was Vietnam.

What is really striking, looking at the recent past, is how much has been achieved by peaceful means. In our own region, Indonesia has been transformed from a dictatorship (generally seen as representing a long-term military threat) to a stable democracy, which has largely overcome the challenges of terrorism, religious violence, natural disasters, and the attempts of the military to retain its central role in politics and business. With the aid of Australian peacekeepers, East Timor has made a start on a difficult road out of poverty. Elsewhere in the world from Eastern Europe to South America to the Arab world, seemingly durable dictatorships have collapsed or handed over power, mostly without the intervention of foreign governments.

Saying that war should be the last resort sounds like a platitude. But it is among the most important lessons we learn from history. Those who choose war rarely achieve the outcomes they expect and usually bring disaster on themselves as well as others. War in self-defence is sometimes necessary, and there are rare occasions when outside intervention can prevent an immediate human catastrophe. Fighting wars for justice, or democracy, or national honour, or to prevent future wars is a path to ruin.

130 thoughts on “Armistice Day

  1. @Jim Rose

    why are people so keen to regard the Gaza Strip as occupied? Hamas would not be keen to signify such weakness.

    Contrary to the implication of some, there are no spokespeople for Hamas here. For example, I’m an atheist, a humanist and a proponent of authentic community. I find the politics of Hamas repulsive. That doesn’t change the facts on the ground though.

  2. It is worth remembering that this is not the first time we have seen the unfolding of a sequence of Palestinian (or other Arab) unguided missile attacks on Israeli territory and a subsequent massive military response by Israel. If we think back to Operation Cast Lead and its prequels in 2008-2009, the war with Hezbollah in 2006, and the Israeli-PLO exchanges which culminated in the war in Lebanon in 1982, we have over 30 years of this sort of thing to reflect on. What is evident is that these sorry sequences of events are bad all round, the missile attacks have not advanced the Palestinians’ political goals, and Israel has not been able to achieve lasting security by military means.

    What has changed, of course, is that this is the first time such a flare-up has occurred since the start of the Arab Spring.

  3. The Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai on the imposition of a “shoah” by the IDF:

    The more qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves {my emphasis}

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