The distressing saga of Private Jake Kovco has already created some troubling and confusing political issues, including:

  • A full military funeral was awarded to a solder who was killed as a result of a yet-to-be-explained pistol mishap. He wasn’t killed in action and he wasn’t killed by “the enemy”. On the contrary, he was killed as a result of an unauthorised discharge of a weapon in a security compound. Had he lived, he would now be facing charges under military regulations.
  • The full military funeral was attended by Prime Minister John Howard, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, Chief of Army Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, Kovco’s regiment, a military band and an RAAF fly past. According to a Canberra contact, the cost was in the vicinity of $1 million.
  • This was the first time in the nation’s history that the PM and the defence chiefs have attended the funeral of a returning serviceman. In all the years of our Vietnam commitment, no such recognition was given to the war dead.
  • Can we now expect every serviceman/woman killed overseas to be given the same full military honours as Pte Kovco? Howard, Nelson, Houston and Leahy can hardly do less because it will be seen as an insult to any future casualties from Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever.
  • John Howard seems to have arranged this vastly overblown event to give himself yet another photo opportunity: the “war leader” wrapped in the flag standing alongside the top brass from the military. But, more importantly, we should note that he has been prepared to go to these quite extraordinary lengths for another reason – to stay on side with the Kovco families. Why? All we can conclude is that the Kovco case is a political time bomb. Howard knows it, the defence chiefs know it. When are we going to be told?
  • Not for six months, it seems. That is the government’s time line to discover how Pte Kovco lost his life in a room where he was either a) on his own; or b) with two other soldiers, or c) with three other soldiers. And he died because he fired a shot or someone else did. Or it happened while cleaning his handgun, or when it accidentally discharged when he dropped a laptop on it, or while he was “skylarking” with the gun.
  • Veterans from World War Two, Korea, Vietnam and other overseas operations have been nauseated by the way the unfortunate private has been turned into a “war hero” for the political interests of the Howard Government. Losing his body in Kuwait was an unforgivable stuff-up, but how and why he died may turn out to be even more damaging than anyone imagined.

Peter Fray

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