As the Liberal Party proudly boast of the inclusion amongst their ranks of distinguished Retired Army General Jim Molan, an unelected soldier parachuted into the Australian Senate, it is forgivable to find oneself obliging to the school of thought that great military leaders somehow equates to good political leaders.
This is certainly perpetuated by the American political manifestations that revere military service to such a degree it was once almost considered a prerequisite to honourable political aspirations. Even today, within Trump’s administration, four of the top civilian positions are currently filled by Generals, suggesting the American idolatry of its military is far from dissipating.
But what reasoning is provided to substantiate the idea that we should welcome members of the military into our political institutions? Certainly the obvious validation is due to any soldier’s assumed exemplary display of patriotism. It is not an exaggeration to acknowledge that any man or woman who has enlisted into the armed services has, to varying degrees, consented to risk death or serious injury for the cause of their country. For this reason alone they are indeed deserved of our admiration and respect. But do we measure the value of any other political leader by their personal bravery or their willingness to risk death for the nation? Is an individual’s level of patriotism a factor we should be considering when electing public officials?
The suggestion that a person’s love for their country is a characteristic to be valued is a notion derived from nationalism. It is no coincidence Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin all donned military garb to present their desired image as leaders of patriotic causes. The ultimate power in allowing the state to be personified by a uniform is it permitted any enemies of the uniformed man to be easily portrayed as enemies of the state they represented.
Within a mature peace time society there is no reasonable doubt over the allegiances of any Member of Parliament, even in the absence of any overt displays of loyalty. In a healthy democracy it is criticism of the status quo that encourages progress and there is much truth in the common suggestion that anyone who protests against a government are doing so due to their patriotic desires to improve their country.
Opposing sides of Australian Politics rarely, if ever, suggest their adversaries harbor anything but the best intentions for the country they compete to run. They instead focus on ideological and policy differences and dispute which is the most desired course of action to achieve these shared positive intentions. There has never been a reasonable argument put forward by any mainstream politician that one of their virtues is that they in any way love their country more than their opponent. There is an expectation that any person who has committed to a career in the administration of this country has at least a sufficient baseline desire for the best intentions of the country and in any respect their democratic success depends largely on their ability to demonstrate a positive service of country. The population is generally more concerned with the aptitude of its governing institutions than its level of emotional commitment to a flag.
So why then has the Liberal Party assumed immediate political capital in the introduction of military candidates like Molan and former SAS Soldier Andrew Hastie? Their bravery is admirable yet of little use within the protected quarters of Parliament House. They are no doubt great leaders of a disciplined infantry aspiring to a common goal, but once they lose the authority of their military stripes and their troops consist of a large often dissenting public, sporting competing desires and aspirations, there is little evidence any general has the capacity to bring that same efficiency to a general population without the machinations of a fully militarised state.
The fact is a politician’s bravery and patriotism are virtues worthy of individual admiration but have almost no tangible worth in politics beyond election day. Any attempts to encourage reverence to a man due to the uniform he wore is a dangerous and illogical ploy that capitalises on the unavoidable influence of American flag worship.
Recently the Prime Minister was asked to defend Senator Molan after he shared (and refused to remove) a number of anti-Islamic videos from a far-right British group (yes the same one that attracted the attention of Trump). This is how he chose to do it:
“He defended Australians’ values in the battle against Islamist terrorism in the Middle East. He has stood up for our values, put his life on the line, led our troops and our allies’ troops in conflict. He has led thousands of troops in the battle for freedom against terrorism. The leader of the opposition wants to describe him as a racist. That is deplorable. It is disgusting. Jim Molan is a great Australian soldier. We are lucky to have him in the Senate. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. He has stood up for freedom, stood up against extremism.”
This rhetoric is dangerous in the precedent it sets and clearly presents the threat to democracy caused by diluting the accountability we demand of our politicians with the long held tradition of patriotically supporting our military servicemen. It may serve our country to quarantine our military from public critical inquiry, it will not serve our country to afford our politicians this same luxury.