Shenanigans in the Prime Minister’s Office over D-Day illustrate an intriguingly reductive mindset.
At 5.14 yesterday afternoon, subscribers to the Prime Minister’s media distribution list received a media release marked “A message from the Prime Minister — 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings”. The email included a video of the PM delivering the statement, explaining that he’d be joining in the commemoration of the D-Day landings with seven Australian participants.
All well and good, except the reference to D-Day was almost perfunctory — barely 60 words — before the PM changed gear, with all the subtlety of a semi-trailer struggling up a steep gradient:
“Following the D-day commemorations, I will be travelling to Canada and the United States — and will be joined by Australian business leaders. My message to overseas investors is that Australia is open for business.”
There followed another 160 words lauding the government’s economic achievements, with Abbott concluding on what he and his media advisers must have believed would be a proud note that would resound through the ages:
“The United States, Canada and France are long-standing friends. We stood together at D-Day, we trade every day, and we have always shared a commitment to democracy, to enterprise and to people’s right to be free.”
Apart from the confusing omission of the Brits from D-Day –- especially given we weren’t there – and the fact that the “D-Day, we trade every day” line sounds like an effort by a 12-year-old rapper — the overall effect was clumsy at best and possibly offensive in its effort to link the liberation of Europe with the Coalition’s policies and the suggestion the troops stormed the beaches at Normandy for the sake of free enterprise. Presumably Abbott won’t be showing up at any Russian WW II commemorative events, where his suggestion that 10 million Russian troops might have died for “enterprise” would probably go down like a deflating barrage balloon.
Within an hour social media had, inevitably, gone, erm, ballistic, and the Prime Minister’s Office, perhaps feeling like a German machine gunner in a beachside bunker, dumped the media release from the site and replaced it with another release that dwelled at length on the D-Day commemoration and only mentioned the trade delegation in passing. It also misspelled Pearl Harbor, but what’s a superfluous “u” when you’re under heavy bombardment?
This morning, the original release reappeared suddenly, but minus its misleading title and still dated yesterday. Now it was just “A message from the Prime Minister”. Alas, not merely had the initial media release been sent to thousands of inboxes, but the PMO had gone to the trouble of recording the accompanying video, which remains available online, which is presumably why the silliness of pretending it hadn’t been issued was abandoned.
Apart from clumsiness and stupidity of such word games, the otherwise-trifling incident reflects a fascinating mindset of determinism almost Marxian in its rigour. That Allied troops stormed ashore spurred by a commitment to “enterprise” isn’t self-evidently silly if you seriously believe economic liberalism is hard-wired into humans and only stifled by government. The complexities of the war — the vast government structures established in democracies during the war that have remained in place ever since, the role of the Soviet Union in doing the heavy lifting in the European theatre, the obsession of the British and French with preserving their empires, the decidedly illiberal economic policies pursued by Britain and France after the war — all vanish into a reductive world view of freedom-good/other stuff-bad.
Once upon a time, the Diggers died for the flag, or king and country, or to fight tyranny, but in the deregulated marketplace of ideas even that conservative complexity has been stripped away in favour of the austere glory of free-market economics.