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What Did They Fight For?

One of the basic reasons for engaging in war is often stated to be protection for freedom of speech. If that is true then we should find it very ironic and perhaps hypocritical when people want to deny the right to that freedom when our engagement in wars is involved. I am of course referring to the recent case in Australia where sports reporter Scott McIntyre was fired after making some rather critical tweets regarding Australia’s war efforts on the 100 year anniversary of the World War 1 actions commemorated by ANZAC day.

Before I go any further I should comment on the actual content of the tweets…

First he said that he found the “cultification” (which I’m not sure is really a word but clearly means turning something into a cult) of the “imperialist invasion” of a foreign nation (Turkey) that Australia had no quarrel with is contrary to our moral standards.

Well he has a point there, although the action was against an ally of a much worse aggressor (Germany) so it is debatable whether Australia had a fair reason to invade or not. Also calling the commemorations on ANZAC day a cult is a bit of an exaggeration. There are some elements there (repetition of key phrases such as “lest we forget”, formal ceremonies, failure to accept criticism) but there are a lot of elements of cults missing too.

Next he wondered if the “poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered.”

This is deliberately insulting obviously, but let’s move on to the key point about consideration of the bigger picture of suffering on all sides. In my experience that does happen. The Turks have been portrayed by many not so much as an enemy but more as fellow victims and several quite touching stories of friendship have emerged. Also the horror of war in general is a common theme but there is also an element glorifying some of the events. So the tweet is probably poorly considered but it is still a fair question.

The next tweet caused the most consternation, and rightly so: “Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ Anzacs in Egypt, Palestine and Japan.”

I believe there were some atrocities committed by Australian troops in World War I and those should not be ignored, but this tweet is a gross exaggeration and simplification of the truth. It’s also rather confused historically speaking. So the point could be made but I think it could have been made in a more accurate, rational way (although he was restricted by the limitations of Twitter, of course).

Finally there were two tweets relating to the nuclear attacks on Japan: “Not forgetting that the largest single-day terrorist attacks in history were committed by this nation & their allies in Hiroshima & Nagasaki” and “Innocent children, on the way to school, murdered. Their shadows seared into the concrete of Hiroshima.”

Those attacks were carried out by America and as far as I am aware Australia had very little to do with them, so this is getting a bit off topic. There is a very good case to be made that the nuclear bombing of Japan was the greatest war crime ever, but an equally good case could be made to say that they shortened the war and saved many lives too. Either way they didn’t have a lot to do with the ANZACs although in the greater theme of war in general they are relevant.

So those are the tweets which causes the controversy. In summary I would say that they all make some reasonable points which should be discussed but that they are undoubtedly exaggerated, not necessarily completely factually accurate, and poorly worded.

But assuming we disagree with him what is the appropriate response? Well the worst possible response is what we got: a grossly inflated sense of insult, an insistence for the discussion to be shut down, and a demand for the person to be fired even though the tweets had no relevance to his job. All that does is make me feel like he might be right and people are trying to hide the facts.

Would a more sensible approach not be to point out where he is wrong (assuming he is), to offer a more balanced perspective, or maybe to say “these are all points we can discuss but now is not the time” (I don’t necessarily agree that this is not the time but a case could be made that it is).

And finally the fact that his employer fired him as a result of this public and political pressure is a very poor precedent to set. If I was him I would be taking legal action against my employer because forcing their own political opinions, or worse – taking action just to avoid unreasonable criticism – is just morally reprehensible. Of course, that is standard behaviour for many employers – don’t get me started on the BBC and Jeremy Clarkson again!

As far as I know the comments were made in his own time and on his own Twitter account (if I am wrong about this it weakens my point but I still think firing him was wrong) so what right does his employer have for censoring him like that? Absolutely none! As I said at the beginning of this post, that is the sort of behaviour our brave soldiers were defending. If this deliberate suppression of fair debate is where we are at now you have to wonder this: what did they fight for?

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