Spar­tan is all Greek to new chief of de­fence

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS -

MY grand­fa­ther Jack Magee fought on the Western Front in World War I with the Aus­tralian 51st Bat­tal­ion.

A red-haired, broad­shoul­dered crack shot from the Western Aus­tralian wheat belt, he sur­vived the sav­age bat­tles of 1917-1918 which raged around French vil­lages such as Pozieres, Mou­quet Farm and Ypres.

At Noureuil, on April 2, 1917, he was wounded and awarded the Dis­tin­guished Con­duct Medal for “con­spic­u­ous gal­lantry and de­vo­tion to duty”. He was just 18 years old. He was patched up and sent back to the front.

On An­zac Day 100 years ago, he was in­volved in the leg­endary at­tack on VillersBretonneux, which dec­i­mated the 51st.

By the time he re­turned to Aus­tralia at the end of the war, after a stint of of­fi­cer train­ing at Ox­ford Univer­sity, he was not yet 22 and had spent 44 months in the Aus­tralian Im­pe­rial Force, in­clud­ing 13 tours on the front line.

Of 97 men en­listed from WA’s Kulin dis­trict, 24 had been killed. He mourned his fallen mates for the rest of his life.

I only knew him as a tac­i­turn old man, and he never men­tioned the war — my mother said he rarely men­tioned it when she was grow­ing up, ei­ther.

He went back to a quiet life on the fam­ily farm, apart from en­list­ing again in World War II, and the only re­minders of war were the horse he called Fritz, a fond­ness for French baguettes and a re­luc­tance to eat meat after he killed a sheep. “Poor brute” he would say, as he slit its throat.

So my gen­tle grand­fa­ther had killed with courage and val­our, but he was not a killer.

He prob­a­bly would not have wanted to wear the kind of “death iconog­ra­phy” (be­low) that Lt-Gen­eral An­gus Camp­bell banned last week in a let­ter to all of army.

I say this to try to un­der­stand where Camp­bell, AO, Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Cross re­cip­i­ent, no arm­chair gen­eral like his pre­de­ces­sor but a sea­soned for­mer SAS squadron com­man­der, might be com­ing from.

Camp­bell’s first act as new Chief of De­fence last week was to ban Aus­tralian sol­diers from dis­play­ing “sym­bols of death” or iconog­ra­phy glo­ri­fy­ing war. “On vis­its across army and our de­ployed forces I have oc­ca­sion­ally come across the dis­play … of sym­bols, em­blems and iconog­ra­phy at odds with Army’s val­ues and the eth­i­cal force we seek to build and sus­tain,” he wrote in a di­rec­tive last week.

“I re­fer in par­tic­u­lar to the use of what could be termed ‘death’ sym­bol­ogy/iconog­ra­phy, such as the Pi­rate Skull and Cross­bones (mar­itime out­laws and mur­der­ers), the Phan­tom or Pu­n­isher sym­bols (vig­i­lantes), Spar­tans (ex­treme mil­i­tarism) or Grim Reaper (bringer of death).”

Camp­bell says such sym­bol­ogy “im­plic­itly en­cour­ages the in­cul­ca­tion of an ar­ro­gant hubris and gen­eral dis­re­gard for the most se­ri­ous re­spon­si­bil­ity of our pro­fes­sion: the le­git­i­mate and dis­crim­i­nate tak­ing of life … As sol­diers our pur­pose is to pre­serve the state, em­ploy­ing vi­o­lence with hu­mil­ity al­ways and com­pas­sion wher­ever pos­si­ble.”

Em­ploy­ing vi­o­lence with hu­mil­ity and com­pas­sion is a no­ble aim. Glo­ri­fy­ing death does not hon­our our veter­ans, past and present, who of­ten suf­fer from the deeds we re­quire of them in war.

And yet Camp­bell’s edict has gone down like a lead bal­loon, es­pe­cially with Aus­tralian veter­ans who served in Task Force Spar­tan in Afghanistan in 2006, a joint en­deav­our with the United States’ 10th Moun­tain Di­vi­sion. Are their JT Spar­tan caps now ver­boten?

And what about the RAAF’s C-27J Spar­tan Squadron op­er­at­ing the C-27J Spar­tan bat­tle­field air­lifter out of Richmond air base? What do they do about the “Spar­tan” on their squadron patch?

The US In­fantry has a Spar­tan com­bat brigade. Cana­dian mil­i­tary drills are named “Spar­tan War­rior”. The Bri­tish use “Spar­tan” ar­moured ve­hi­cles. Pi­rate skulls are one thing, but ban­ning the Spar­tan mythol­ogy em­bed­ded in mod­ern mil­i­taries is con­trol freak­ery be­yond the power of any gen­eral.

Memes mock­ing Camp­bell’s ban sprang up im­me­di­ately in mil­i­tary cir­cles, in­clud­ing a car­toon of Fred Jones, the leader of Scooby Doo gang, un­mask­ing Camp­bell with the cap­tion “Let’s see who the new CDF (chief of the de­fence force) re­ally is”. Un­derneath? David Mor­ri­son.

It would be eas­ier to take Camp­bell at his word if he wasn’t such a dis­ci­ple of the di­ver­sity re­li­gion pro­moted by for­mer Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion Com­mis­sioner Liz Brod­er­ick, and fel­low “Male Cham­pi­ons of Change” Mor­ri­son and Qan­tas CEO Alan Joyce.

Mor­ri­son and Brod­er­ick’s so­cial ex­per­i­ment to stamp out the male “An­glo Saxon” war­rior cul­ture in the army de­stroyed good men, dam­aged morale and threat­ens our war fight­ing ca­pa­bil­ity.

Un­for­tu­nately, as Chief of Army since 2015, Camp­bell ap­pears to have drunk the Kool Aid, bol­lock­ing army re­cruiters for not hit­ting di­ver­sity tar­gets fast enough. and au­tho­ris­ing a rain­bow­coloured Army Pride lapel pin — pro­vided to troops at tax­payer ex­pense — as part of the of­fi­cial uni­form in hon­our of Syd­ney’s Gay and Les­bian mardi gras.

An army that bans Spar­tan sym­bols while pro­mot­ing rain­bow lapel pins has no cred­i­bil­ity as a fight­ing force, and dis­re­spects sol­diers past and present.

Mi­randa’s grand­fa­ther Lieu­tenant John Owen Magee DCM re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia aboard the troop­ship City Of Ex­ter in July 1919.

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