Sunday, 24 April 2005

Leunig in The Age

Tim Blair, for his sins, feels beholden to read that great Melbourne paper, The Age.

My own experience of being reported in that paper was a most happy one : the journalist condensed my words, and produced an accurate, pithy article.

Well, just before ANZAC day, the Age printed an article by the well-known and highly-respected cartoonist, Michael Leunig. In my humble opinion, Leunig's work is very uneven, often mediocre, but when he's good, he's one of the best cartoonists of our time, showing great sensitivity, a vast talent, and a keen awareness of the human condition.

He's a thoroughly good human being. So exquisitely good, that on Christmas Eve 2001, barely a hundred days after 9/11, he didn't call for prayers for the victims or their families. I mean, anyone can do that. No, he called for prayers for Osama Bin Laden.

But no prayers for soldiers on ANZAC day, or at any other time. Here's a quote from his article, which confuses the Military with Militarism :
We live in a national culture that glamorises soldiers, yet the sight of a military uniform with its obvious connotations of morbidity and violence provokes in me the question: "What sort of person is attracted to the killing professions?" Army recruiting advertisements beg the same question.

The raising of this query in public will bring hostile responses as well as the inevitable, "If it wasn't for soldiers you wouldn't have the liberty to ask that question", as if I owe my ration of happiness, sanity or spiritual health to militarism.
Where the Prime Minister sees courage, decency and goodness in professional soldiers - all those "best and finest" qualities - I cannot help but also see the possibility of perversity, emotional sickness and a latent murderous impulse. The innocent question won't go away: "What sort of person volunteers to devote their life to the skills of destruction and the business of hunting, trapping and slaughtering humans?"
Soldiers can quickly tire of patriotism and piety in the globalised world. Many become mercenaries now and sell their souls to the highest bidder as hit-men; which may tell us something about what it takes to be a soldier. Iraq is crawling with these lapsed "best and finest" people. No doubt many of those innocent young ADF people in uniform, photographed with the leering, beer-juggling Prime Minister, may in time see the light, take to his private enterprise ideas and move on to the big bucks - to hell with the medals and to hell with the cosy car parks of Gallipoli. At the end of the day, as Socrates said: "All wars are fought for money."
That some people who are good at what they do get seduced by the "Dark Side of the Force" is incontestable: the French Foreign Legion exists, and no-one seriously believes that all who join it do so out of Francophilia.

But let's examine a bit more closely what the "mercenaries" in Iraq are actually doing, and who they're guarding.

Iraq is in great need of repair, or in many cases, greenfields construction of things like hospitals, schools, bridges, clean water supplies, sewaerage, telecommunications, and the industrial and resource infrastructure to support them all.

There are people, often from outside countries, who are doing their best to make sure that Iraqis remain disease-ridden, starving, and poor "for the good of their souls". They do this by beheading people who have the temerity to vaccinate toddlers or build bridges, and do so in propaganda "snuff" movies designed to discourage others.

Hence the need for armed guards.

Now being an armed guard under these circumstances is not exactly risk-free: neither is being a deep-sea salvage diver, or someone who puts out oil fires. All of those examples get paid far more than equivalent occupations (such as security guards at supermarkets) who don't require either the specialised skillset, or run such risks. It's not as if these people are going round massacring the innocent for a buck, a la "Mad Mike" Hoare : it's their opposition who's doing that, and being paid $200 a kill for doing it.

For that matter, there's no suggestion that Mr Leunig wrote this article purely out of the goodness of his heart. I'd be willing to bet long odds that he got paid for it, and paid rather more than someone of lesser skill would. Being fair, I'd also bet long odds that he wouldn't have written it unless he sincerely believed it.

So why can't he give credit to other people, people who might do something they believe in, and still get paid for it? No, only he has a monopoly on virtue, he cannot conceive that anyone of differing opinion might be anything other than a knave, or a dupe.

What sort of people are attracted to the killing professions? Well, Mr Leunig, what type of people are attracted to the Lying professions, like propagandists or cartoonists? Some Cartoonists have helped cause wars, deliberately poisoned societies, and encouraged genocide. You have to ask the innocent question, what type of people do that?

I can tell from personal experience what some soldiers are like though. I taught some at ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy. Not as a lecturer, but in the computer science lab, getting to know them as individuals, face to face. Here's what I wrote in reply to the Age about them :
One of (those) who I taught, Midshipman (at the time, later Lieutenant) Goodall, died in a helo crash recently, helping give aid to Indonesians after the recent earthquake.

The kids I taught weren't saints, nor some form of heroic ideal. They were normal but exceptionally bright kids who'd decided that Australia was worth protecting, and that someone had to do it. Just like all the other Australian military volunteers who died of enemy action, accident or disease in all parts of the world, or who returned whole and safe, or shattered in mind and body.
As for cartoonists and other propagandists, "I cannot help but also see the possibility of perversity, emotional sickness, cowardice and a latent desire to abet genocide."

Everyone has the capacity for evil to one degree or another. What Christians call "Sin". Some people fight against it, others sit back and carp.

Some people don't just think that helping those who need it and protecting the weak is a good idea, they actualy put their lives on the line to do it. Others just sit back in "happiness, sanity and in spiritual health", but above all, in safety and smug superiority, and defecate on them.

To do so at any time is bad enough, but could be excused as mere inadvertant insensitivity. To do so immediately before ANZAC day, so as to cause maximum distress, to be so artistic in emotional sadism, now that takes a really great Propagandist.