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Why do we fight?

By Kellie Tranter - posted Wednesday, 28 April 2010

"They had no idea of how terrible it was. I used to look at their young faces and think of their mothers. Next day most of them would just be blood and bandages. Wherever you looked there would be these poor buggers on the side of the road, all wanting cigarettes, all busted up, some with arms and legs gone.... Now you can't tell me there is anything good about war - you think that's fair enough?" - Peter Casserly WWI digger who declined to participate in ANZAC day marches for some 85 years.
As the war in Afghanistan marches on, and will soon escalate with the planned Kandahar offensive, spare a thought for the 11 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and for their friends and families who have been left with the agonising emptiness of the loss of their loved one.  Spare a thought also for more than 100 Defence personnel counted by the ADF as having sustained injuries categorized as amputations, fractures, gun shot wounds, hearing loss, lacerations/contusions, concussion/traumatic brain wounds, penetrating fragments, and multiple severe wounds. And for our combat veterans returning from Afghanistan with long-term mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Is the suffering worth it? 

Presumably everyone has an opinion, but there is no public debate. In fact there hasn’t even been any real parliamentary debate about the war in Afghanistan and our involvement in it since we joined the initial invasion in 2001. 


Australia’s not unique. United States Congressman Dennis Kucinich raised the same questions when he recently introduced a privileged resolution which required the House of Representatives to debate whether to continue the war in Afghanistan. Although the House rejected Kucinich’s resolution by a vote of 356-65, his victory lay in getting Congress to at least debate the merits of this war. We haven’t been afforded that opportunity here in Australia. 

In the Independent recently Brian Brady labelled this conflict “Afghanistan: A conspiracy of silence”. Sadly, I agree.

Over the nine years since the horror of 9/11 we’ve had time to suck in some air and reflect. Sure, when things like that happen emotions cloud judgement, questions aren’t asked and poor and hasty decisions are made. But that's no excuse for not reflecting and reconsidering when the initial emotional response subsides.

On 12 September,2001 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1368. It doesn’t authorise the use of force, and it doesn’t even mention Afghanistan

Three days after the September 11 attacks the then Prime Minister John Howard announced:

“....the federal cabinet had a special meeting today primarily to consider the consequences of the awful events that have occurred in the United States in recent days.  We came very quickly to the view that the provisions of the ANZUS Treaty should be invoked in relation to the attack upon the United States....”


On 17 September 2001 the Prime Minister moved a motion that the House, amongst other things, “believes that the terrorist actions in New York City and Washington DC constitute an attack upon the United States of America within the meaning of Articles IV and V of the ANZUS Treaty”. The motion failed to make mention of the references to the UN Security Council within the ANZUS Treaty (Articles I, IV and VI).

The Democrats and the Greens voiced their opposition - for what it was worth - to any proposed military action. On 26 September 2001, to her credit, then Senator Stott Despoja said:

“..... The parliament, though, must have the opportunity to examine in detail the commitment of Australian troops to battle.  It is one thing to provide intelligence support or to send medical personnel, but the commitment of troops to war is another thing.  In fact the ANZUS Treaty says very clearly that the United Nations Security Council would have a central role.  I urge particularly those government members who have asserted that the UN does not have a role in present actually read the ANZUS Treaty.

I recognise that, in our sorrow, there is a great desire for us to do something, for us to act, but it must be effective and it must be proportional.  Courage, compassion and commonsense must guide us, and we must respect the rule of law – domestic and international – and, of course, the rules of war, including that civilians are not legitimate targets and that the ultimate aim here is peace, not World War III.....”

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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