Lots and lots of comments

The other day I mentioned that I had a political piece on the ABC website: Unleashed. That piece, called ‘The real defence exception’, now has 454 comments. Having a look through them was pretty instructive, I thought.

Have a look at my piece, but in short I was suggesting that perhaps we ought to stop thinking of a military career as just being another job, since dying isn’t in the job description for other careers.

I knew that the ABC would be pretty hostile territory for the kind of argument I was making. Surprisingly, maybe 25% were pretty supportive. The nicest one that I noticed:

Thank you Stephen. A lone voice of clarity and truth. This is what many serving and ex-Army readers have been wanting to say I am sure.

Many more were condemnatory. A surprising number somehow managed to extract from my piece that I approve of sexual exploitation of young women, rape on the battle field and military supremacy.

The comment abutting the above one was:

This article perfectly illustrates what is wrong with the current military mindset. You seem to be implying that because these cadets are training for warfare, the normally expected norms of morality regarding sexual behaviour, should not apply, and the commandant in charge of the academy should not be expected to enforce appropriate behaviour and discipline. What a disgusting and immoral proposition. How can you produce “Military Officers, who are prepared to shoulder responsibility of duty unto death” when they are allowed to behave in this reprehensible manner, without any punishment or disciplinary consequences?

I replied to a number of comments the other night. Indeed, I must confess that some ten per cent of the comments (46 of them) were from me, in reply to others. My reply to this one was:

JILL C, I am very sorry that what I wrote could have been interpreted in the way you suggest. I did not address what I actually thought of the behaviour. Nor did I address what I think the ADF thinks of this behaviour.

FWIW, in my opinion this reprehensible behaviour, if shown to have taken place as reported, should result in the expulsion of all the ADFA cadets involved.

My conclusion was that many readers formed a judgement on my piece — and me — based only partly on what I wrote. Much of it was based on the attributes they imagine appropriate to a category into which they placed me. I was pro-military, therefore I was … well, whatever they felt that the pro-military people must be.

Perhaps I should finish by repeating one the replies I made:

… I suggest you re-read what I wrote. You are not alone, an extraordinary number of comments here seem to assume that just because I am making a case for military exceptionalism, I am making a case for male soldiers treating female soldiers horribly. I am not.

Political and other opinion is not restricted to two-dimensions. It is often multi-dimensional. I can (and do), with the reservations due to any Government organisation, support the military and recognise that it is most definitely different in kind to most organisations, while simultaneously holding that behaviour within it which is, in effect, a betrayal ought to be harshly punished.

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