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Taliban submarine: not one has ever been detected.

Taliban submarine (with desert-sand camouflage) and lifeboat.

This afternoon I went out onto my front verandah to sit and enjoy the unseasonal cool afternoon breeze. That’s an unusual thing to do at this time of the year in Perth, Western Australia. Usually we’re closeted indoors sheltering from the searing heat. Before I ventured outside I checked the television news; not a word of any Taliban submarine activity off our coast.

Seated outside, and watching a cloud-filled sky that would have excited the English artist John Constable, I listened for the wail of air-raid sirens. There was no wail, only the muted sound of birds in search of food that is scarce in a Perth summer. How strange, then, that this very day we bestowed Australia’s highest military honour for an event that happened on another continent and could never affect my ability to sit on my verandah and enjoy the breeze.

I thought of my father, and how I helped him build the verandah on which I was sitting. Helped him all those years ago, when I was still too young to enter high-school. Still too young to earn my own living, but depended on my father getting up each morning and going off to a job he didn’t much enjoy so the family could keep a roof over its head and my mother could put something on the dinner table each night. I thought of my father, who did all that for years, without being an adrenalin-junkie.

My father would never have made another man’s wife a widow just because my father’s mates were in a place they ought not to be, doing things that in normal circumstances would have had them facing criminal charges. Perhaps that is why we insist upon anonymity for some of our troops, a form of enhanced Nuremberg Defence. Sir John Monash, our most respected soldier, would have torn his way out of his grave in outrage.

Of course we are overseas ‘containing terrorism’. Of course. But have you noticed the number of ‘attempted’ terrorist acts that have been ‘thwarted’ lately, both in Australia and overseas? ‘Attempts’ that produce extensive and expensive show trials, where the accused are given every chance for voicing their opinions, and are then often-as-not safely incarcerated in prison where they no doubt act as hostages for their companions. Have you noticed? Could it be that our foes long ago realised that a living ‘failure’ was of far more value than a dead ‘success’ whose only future is as fertiliser?

In an Australian Rules Football Grand Final we award medals to the winning side only – although there have been attempts to give the losers a medal as well. But the vanquished are not nameless, or invisible, despite probably wishing they were. They are very much a part of a Grand Final ceremony; they played, they lost, but they weren’t denied some form of recognition. So it always disappoints me that we don’t bestow some award – even posthumously – on the opponents who made it possible for the victor to be decorated. It takes two to win a medal.

I move indoors to put all this into an email, and I notice the ‘au’ at the end of my email address. I wonder if all the effort, culminating in a medal being awarded, has done no more than make that ‘au’ a distinct liability.


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