For too long, the gatekeepers of nationalism have been the far right. However, I have a solution, because losing our fellow citizens to someone else’s wars doesn’t make me feel particularly proud.
As someone who sits on the left-hand side of the political bus, there’s a certain route on the map I’m unable to take. One that drives the streets of the polar opposite. It’s best I wait for my usual route, lest my foot meet the first step, progress would be halted in favour of a high pitched whine of Oi! This is ourssssssssss.
I’m speaking about nationalism (noun – a term which allows you to be proud of things you haven’t done and hate people you haven’t met).
Last week, when Malcolm Turnbull leant over the shoulders of the rippling, yet balding bodice of the American war machine to shake his fist at North Korea, wheezing “yeah, what he said,” I realised something: not only the cold fact of the commonwealth being the last contestant in the nuclear penis measuring competition, but that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way Nationalism works in this country. Instead of looking out for our own interests, we decide to shoot a foreigner in the middle of the face for someone else, to prove that we love our country.
Foreign blood + foreign soil x foreign interests = patriotic Australia.
For too long, we’ve been the geopolitical beta-male of the international playground, one who is repeatedly told to go smash that strange new kid, and who does so on the understanding that we’d be able to eat lunch with the cool set. But history points out that we’re constantly between sitting down and the next fistfight, and our sandwich goes untouched.
The name of the beast is currently North Korea, but it’s also Islamic State, and also the Assad regime, and maybe Russia. While it’d be lazy, and incorrect to the blame the current wars on the current system, or the right wing at large, this has been happening to us as a nation since the end of the 19th century. We’re bullied by the bullies, so we become the bully. But as we swing at our victims, we do so unsure of the reasons why we’re doing it.
Now, if you’ll allow me to rattle off the historic evidence in song form.
We’ve fought everywhere, man, we’ve fought everywhere,
We’ve fought in:
South Africa, Swaziland,
South Korea, North Korea,
Iraq I, Iraq II,
Might be havin’ Yemen soon
In all of these we shouldered up arms for the British or American empires. The sole exception was World War II as we defended our borders as the Japanese Imperial Army knocked on our door. Plus that Hitler bloke. I don’t want to disparage those who fell on foreign soil, I just want to know the reasons why. Totalling all those lost in the wars (sans WW2, which we’ll call justified, but complicated), the mortal cost stands at 63,085 dead and 159,320 wounded Australian citizens. Not factored into that sum are the psychologically wounded, or indeed the socially dead who paid the cost for refusing conscription, resistance to propaganda, or the propagandised eyes of those closest to them.
What that figure represents is a century and a half of mishandled nationalism.
Which makes it strange, because we’ve repeated the dose of fighting someone else’s battles for the betterment of our country while it seems to miss the point. As do those who support such fervent nationalism, who spout the phrase “pack up yer bags and get out of the country.” Well, to you, fellow citizenry, perhaps you should relocate to the country who owns the war we’re fighting.
There is a possible solution, one I’d like to raise my (left) hand to suggest; something that aligns with our national identity. We can honour the past, with great gallantry, as we do, but in future conflicts, let us take the easy route, and succumb to laziness. Send all the aid you want. I’ll even peel myself off the couch to trundle down to the post office and fund as many villages as it takes. Whatever, so long as it avoids another Australian returning home in a box, a life snuffed out by a roadside bomb en route to protect a resource proxy war we have no station in. Until the hordes of whoever descend on this sunburnt utopia, let us holster our pieces, kick back and watch our country grow.
Now that’s nationalism.