We are Dying One by One
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Australia, PNG and the coming war with China

From the cover of the novella by Justin Sheedy, available from Amazon as an ebook 


TUMBY BAY - Australia has always had an unfortunate predilection for getting involved in other people’s wars.

If there’s a war on somewhere, we seem to scrabble to be part of it. For some reason we think our involvement is a measure of our relevance as a nation.

We march off with great fanfare, get ourselves mauled and killed and then come home to congratulate ourselves in a never ending and macabre pantomime that seems to grow bigger each year.

Forget Christianity, war is quickly becoming the official religion of Australia.

Immanuel Kant and others have observed that war, with occasional outbreaks of short-lived peace, is the natural default position for human society.

In Australia we go to war because of the very dubious assumption that getting involved in the military adventurism of the big powers will somehow obligate them to come to our aid if we ever get into trouble.

This is a false hope and we know they will only get involved on our behalf if there is some advantage to them, usually economic.

On the one occasion when Australia looked like it was under real threat, the USA joined us in driving the Japanese out of Papua New Guinea.

They didn’t do it to save us however. It just happened that their war with the Japanese had spilled over onto our doorstep. They had started the war and we were unfortunate bystanders who got dragged into it.

It is worth noting that the tactics used by the Americans against the burgeoning Japanese to provoke that war are strikingly similar to the ones Donald Trump is currently exercising against Iran, Korea and especially China.

Apart from World War II our involvement in numerous other wars, starting perhaps with the Boer War and including World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been costly both in terms of resources and casualties for no obvious gain or purpose.

It is axiomatic among big powers like the USA that wars are best fought in other people’s backyards. The war with the Japanese was tailor made for this strategy, as were its other smaller wars.

A war fought this way not only reaps great financial and political benefits but makes a lot of the American government’s domestic supporters very rich.

If Donald Trump does something extraordinarily stupid, as he will, and provokes another war it will be fought somewhere outside the USA.

Now hold that thought and think about where Chinese expansionism is focused. Think about those countries that are currently cuddling up to the Chinese. That’s where any war will be fought. Also think about why this thought creates a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

The term ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’ is remembered largely as a front for Japanese control of puppet governments which manipulated local populations and economies for the benefit of Imperial Japan.

The Chinese Belt and Road initiative is "a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future". What that means is a push by China to take a larger, probably dominant, role in global affairs with a China-centred trading network.

Donald Trump and many others think this is a threat to American hegemony, just like they thought the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a threat.

That’s right on our doorstep again and it involves our nearest neighbours again.

Whether it’s war in the literal sense, with guns and bombs, Trump’s cockeyed version of a trade war or something in between, it’s not going to be pretty.






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Philip Fitzpatrick

Former vice-president Dick Cheney, who was a Halliburton executive made heaps of money out of Iraq.

Halliburton was responsible for all the logistical and infrastructure stuff for the US military in Iraq.

A lot of people don't realise that a lot of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was contracted out to private enterprise, including security.

Who else would have a McDonalds in every military camp?

Men died in Iraq carting Gatorade.

Andy McNabb

Warfare is both an art and science - you are either good at it or not. The US depends on “might” – that is, a huge amount of everything (people, materiel), thrown haphazardly into the battle, and then a peep over the wall to see if it worked.

Compare this to the Aussie Defence Force – I think “Janes Armies of the World” rates the ADF as “small but highly professional” (the last time I looked).

We buy second hand tanks (refurbished), we do not have the very latest weaponry, but we have the class and cut of people to conduct a decent fight and win – The Battle of Long Tan is sufficient proof there.

But it was the betrayal of the South Vietnamese people that was the most significant failure by the US. It was clearly apparent that the whole thing should never have started.

"Don't pick a fight unless you are going to win", as many an over confident, bloody nosed drunk has rued in Australian hotel bars. The Yanks seemed not to have heard of that statement.

But the Yanks seem enriched by war - the MIC (The Military Industrial Complex) is the whole of all industries designing, manufacturing and supplying materiel. It was happy to see the war continue - they made a motza (the shareholders would have been pleased !). It seemed like a helicopter war.

And I was fascinated that so many of the battles were filmed. In that 10 part series, it seemed that a camera operator was lurking nearby at many enemy encounters. I was starting to think that some encounters were staged.

And of course, it was all beamed back to US television, so that at dinner time, the daily battles could be viewed while chomping away at one’s grilled chops and vegetables. “Hey kids – come and have a look at what’s going on in Vietnam”.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I watched the series on SBS Andy and agree with your assessment.

I bet Trump hasn't watched it.

Andy McNabb

If you want to see the most incompetent and disastrous conduct of war operations and American deceit (of its own people and the people of Vietnam), try downloading The Vietnam War written by Geoffrey C Ward and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

It’s a 10 part series, and starts with the French occupation of Vietnam, and works its way forward to the evacuation of Saigon in April 1975.

The US conduct of the Vietnam war was inept (with some successes) coupled with poor leadership and management, and split the USA into many parts. I was surprised to see the number of vets who joined the anti-war movement.

Both sides acted with great dishonour.

I am not sure the US has learnt much from it.

You can download the episodes from YouTube.

Ed Brumby

It is well known that President Roosevelt was eager to involve the US in the European conflict after it began in 1939, but was prevented from doing so by a recalcitrant and isolationist Congress.

It is less well known – and barely acknowledged – that he and the Pentagon knew, via communications intercepts, that Admiral Yamamoto Isokuru’s battle fleet was steaming towards Hawaii in late 1941.

Roosevelt then (a) directed all civilian shipping to stay clear of the area through which the Japanese fleet was due to traverse – so that, presumably, Yamamoto would continue to think that the Americans remained ignorant of his whereabouts and intentions, and (b) ordered the US aircraft carriers to leave Pearl Harbour.

That those naval personnel and others remaining in Hawaii were not warned of the approaching Japanese suggests that Roosevelt was prepared to make an appalling sacrifice in order to achieve his militaristic ends.

All of this, and more, is recounted, with substantial evidence, in Robert B Stinnett’s ‘Day of Deceit’.

Regardless of what the Chinese may or may not do in pursuit of their One Belt One Road and Made in China 2025 strategic plan objectives, I, for one, would not be at all surprised if Donald Trump proves to be as perfidious as Roosevelt in his response. His imposition of trade tariffs bears this out already.

I am afraid, very afraid: not of the Chinese, but of the USA under Trump.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Perhaps to get their APEC instructions Bernard?

Bernard Singu Yegiora

Interesting piece. But how about this....

PNG prime minister O'Neill just dropped a bombshell in Fiji by announcing a meeting between China and other Pacific island nations in Port Moresby before the APEC meeting in November.

Jim Moore

Clive Hamilton is Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra. He wrote a book recently, "Silent Invasion", detailing the growth and depth of Chinese influence in Australia.

If even a quarter of what he says is true, then China is already well on its way to making Australia just a notch on the One Belt, One Road system.

This book scared me like nothing I've read in the last five years. The Chinese have such influence here now that Allen and Unwin, who were going to publish it, withdrew just before the due date after pressure from the Chinese. The book was going to offend Chinese sensibilities.

Papua New Guinea won't even be a blip on the radar in the Chinese march to world domination.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Isolationist America was very reluctant to get involved in the war in Europe and the Japanese thought it wouldn't launch a full scale attack against them.

The war actually began with Nazi Germany's attack on Poland in September 1939, but the United States did not enter the war until after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

American history books still record WW2 as occurring between 1941-45.

Interestingly Donald Trump is busily isolating the USA again. He is also spending record amounts on the military. Is this to make the USA independent of Chinese trade so it can resume its military clout.

I somehow doubt (hope) China will not make the same mistake as the Japanese.

Be interesting to see what the USA offers PNG after the APEC summit - assuming Trump bothers to attend.

Paul Oates

Playing 'catch up' seems to also be a national trait as successive governments are too interested in self preservation to pay much attention to the preservation of national interests.

It's not as if our leaders haven't been warned time after time. Perhaps it's the Canberra syndrome that can't see past their own little cocoon of self interests and ambition to see what else is happening to the near north?

We have dropped the ball as far as defence spending is concerned and will have to pay dearly to scrabble around to try and get it back. The lousy 3% on defence spending of yesteryear has lapsed back to 2% in recent years and our defence force has been squeezed down to pay for military purchases from amazingly, the other side of the world.

Our industrial capacity has been sold off and our national will undermined by self interest.

Our defence force leaders have been sidelined in favour of PC dogma and our national will has also been further undermined by a policy of misinformation or just no information. 'Bread and circuses' are alive and well and constantly in the mind of most of our political leaders.

The real bump when it will inevitably come will be felt by those who haven't a clue what it will be like and think it will be just the same as a video game when you can just reboot and start again. Our young people should try thinking what it would be like to live in today's Syria or the Ukraine? It's not like just watching and switching off the news and then ordering a home delivered pizza.

A very timely and thoughtful piece Phil and Chis. What a pity our political leaders aren't up to the challenge as yet?

Chris Overland

In my recent article on the long, sad history of cunning plans I made reference to how political miscalculation has frequently led to war.

Invariably, those involved in the decision making process are confident that they have taken every material factor into account. They are always wrong.

In the case of Japan in 1941, the leadership made several major erroneous assumptions.

They assumed that their strike on Pearl Harbour would entirely disable the US Pacific Fleet, especially the aircraft carriers. While the largely obsolete battleships were sunk or damaged, the critical aircraft carriers were elsewhere at the time.

The Japanese assumed that the US could not recover swiftly from such a grievous blow. In doing so, they failed to take into account that country's massive industrial despite being warned about it by Admiral Yamamoto.

Perhaps worst of all, they assumed that the Americans lacked the will and resolve to fight. This was by far their most grievous misjudgement.

My central point is that the path to war is paved with such misjudgements and, as Phil has pointed out, the opportunities for China and/or the USA to do so are many and varied.

I agree with Phil's conclusion that if war breaks out it will indeed be ugly and, in all probability, in our backyard.

No wonder the government is so keen to construct nine new anti-submarine frigates, get new and more capable submarines, re-equip the RAAF with F35 fighter bombers and much else besides.

The hard heads in the Department of Defence know what is coming and the government is now desperately playing catch up in a bid to "future proof" us against the inevitable.

We can only hope that they have not left it far to late to adequately prepare for a new and much more dangerous world.

William Dunlop

Craige Brown - greetings and salutations. You have lost sight of the great leader for life, 'Emperator' Mao, and the many millions of Chinese that lost their lives to his madness.
Much greater than Hitler and Stalin combined.

'Emperator' is of my creation in memory of all those lost souls. Now we have another self-created one. Amen.

Philip Fitzpatrick

In the original version of this article, just after the paragraph about the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere I included the line:

"The Chinese know how this works because they bore the brunt of it before the USA got involved."

This is a reference to the Japanese invasion of China.

The line was edited out in the final version.

Editor was very thoughtless - KJ

Craige Brown

So you just discount the invasion and aggressive militarism of the Japanese in China resulting in thousands of deaths, see the rape of Nanking as one example?

William Dunlop

Phil - My sentiments entirely.

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