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Big Brother or self help?

By Sasha Uzunov - posted Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Paris terror attacks last year as well as the Sydney cafe siege here in Australia also last year hammer home the point that ordinary people are targets in Islamic State's war against the West. Instead of knee-jerkingly calling for Big Brother, increased security surveillance or even arming the populace, a la American style, perhaps it is time to give the ordinary citizen skills that will help him or her cope with a terrorist attack. Maybe the time has come for conscription to be re-introduced in Australia and in many of parts of Europe.

Recently, Australian expert David Kilcullen told the ABC Q&A panel discussion program:

It is inevitable that we are going to see some kind of terrorist attack here in Australia."

"I don't mean to be pessimistic, but I think we have to be realistic that if you think the Government can protect you from any kind of terrorist attack, you are living in dream land. Just like these things happen in other countries, they will inevitably happen in Australia also.


Compulsory military service,the draft, national service, you say? Yes. However, I will leave it up to the the Australian people to decide if they want to conscript women.

Isn't conscription going overboard? No, it's not. Let me put it to you this way: hypothetically speaking would you prefer to do 18 months national service or would you prefer ASIO or government bureaucrats gain more power and monitor all your emails, phone calls because of terrorism fears? Or be stripped searched at airports? The time has come for average citizens to stand up for themselves, within the law of course.

Prominent American military thinker and critic, the late Colonel David H Hackworth once said that conscription is the admission price we pay for living in a democracy. You have to ask is it fair to ask less than one per cent of the population, volunteers, to protect us?

Conscription teaches the average person some basic self defence skills, understanding weapons, ballistics, formulating a plan, discipline, quick thinking in a moment of crisis, first aid etc - so that's the practical side. An example is the two holidaying US servicemen, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos who foiled a Jihadist gunman on a Paris bound train in August.

From a cultural perspective, it teaches young people about AUSTRALIAN values, the ANZAC Legend, and might divert them from radicalisation. It remains hilarious that some of Australia's elite thinkers have this obsessive fear of the ANZAC legend somehow turning ordinary Australians into militarist savages. Thus far we haven't heard of any radicalised ANZAC-ist beheading anyone. The average Australian is smart enough to realise that ANZAC has a unifying appeal for Australians: sacrifice, endurance and so on.

Time and time again, we have witnessed Westerners without a sense of identity embrace Jihadist ideology - take young Melbourne lad, the highly intelligence Jake Bilardi who grew up in an "atheist" and non political household and was killed fighting for Islamic State in the Middle East. People need to have a sense of identity. When you strip it away for some utopian fantasy, they end up embracing someone else's identity. It boils down to a competition of Strong identity and Soft Identity.


As a safety measure, I would argue that conscripts can only serve in Australia unless they agree to deploy overseas, should the need arise. Professional military forces and politicians do not like conscription, because of the intense public scrutiny it brings. Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard (1996-2007) was willing to bleed our special forces, the SASR and Commandos, dry fighting conflicts in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq rather than have our regular infantry battalions do the fighting or for that matter using conscripts.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s the anti-Vietnam War movement only gained ground at the tail end of that conflict. In 1966 and in 1969 federal elections the sitting conservative government which supported the war was returned.

Respected authors on the Vietnam War, Paul Ham and Michael Caulfield, have argued that the impetus for the anti-war movement came about because of conscription. That is when you force members of the general public, namely young men, into a war; then the public becomes interested in the debate. Mortgages and the economy take a back seat when your own life could be threatened by going to war.

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About the Author

Sasha Uzunov graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia, in 1991. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army as a soldier in 1995 and was allocated to infantry. He served two peacekeeping tours in East Timor (1999 and 2001). In 2002 he returned to civilian life as a photo journalist and film maker and has worked in The Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. His documentary film Timor Tour of Duty made its international debut in New York in October 2009. He blogs at Team Uzunov.

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