Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 05:09 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 05:09 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: Calling a token a token


Raoul Heinrichs

20 March 2009 14:26

In his thoughtful rejoinder to my recent admonition against ‘going big’ in Afghanistan, Soldier X at once seems to accept Australia’s commitment as strategically tokenistic, and at the same time recoils from the thought of it being described in such a way. It’s a telling position, not dissimilar to the view held by our own Government.

Above all, it reflects the strange disjuncture that has grown between Australia’s operational and strategic realities in Afghanistan — between the extraordinary exertions of our servicemen on the one hand and the symbolic political purpose to which their overall effort is being directed on the other.

As I suggested, Australians are naturally averse to the idea of fighting wars for tokenistic purposes, simply to consolidate Canberra’s credentials as a reliable US ally. To civilians in Australia, the acknowledgement of this as our fundamental purpose in Afghanistan would be unpalatable and, frankly, a little disempowering. I can only imagine how disconcerting the same thought must be to our soldiers on the front line, exposed to the horrors of war and whose lives, as we were tragically reminded this week, are very much at at stake. 

I think we do ourselves no favours by mincing words. That the war has begun to exact a greater human cost only reinforces the need to think and speak as clearly as possible about what we’re doing in Afghanistan, why we’re there, and whether – under conditions in which none of our vital national interests are stake — we should be prepared to expend the lives of our soldiers.