Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 00:00 | SYDNEY
Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 00:00 | SYDNEY

Afghanistan: Death with sense


Graeme Dobell

17 March 2009 09:43

Australia’s morning started today with what is becoming a familiar, saddening ritual. Television and radio crossed to the Defence Department in Canberra. In front of an array of flags, the chief of the Australian Defence Force, Angus Houston, announced the death of another soldier in Afghanistan.

The ninth Australian death in Afghanistan is an ominous prelude to the visit to Washington by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The ‘Why Afghanistan?’ discussion on The Interpreter is being conducted with equal point and passion across Canberra as Rudd prepares to up Australia’s stake in Afghanistan.

Since 2002, 112 Canadian soldiers have been killed serving in Afghanistan. Canada has also mourned the deaths of one diplomat and two aid workers. What would the Australian debate look like if this were the 100th time the Defence Chief had fronted the morning cameras?

The challenge for any government committing to a long foreign conflict is to deliver death-with-sense. As the US found in Vietnam, a government has to be able to give its people some sense or purpose for the deaths of its soldiers in a long campaign.

Consider some of the political dimensions that Rudd must grapple with as he talks to his Defence chiefs ahead of the Obama meeting. How convincing an explanation can the Prime Minister give to Australia for signing up to a generational conflict in Afghanistan? How long will the Opposition deliver bipartisan support? How many sad morning press conferences in Canberra with the Chief of the Defence Force will it take before Australia’s polity has to confront the death-with-sense question from its voters?

How you answer these questions goes to a complex set of judgements about Australia’s values, its interests in Afghanistan and the nature of the alliance with the US.

Photo of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, by Flickr user digitalreflections, used under a Creative Commons license.