Watching Greg Combet, in his designer glasses, and robotic new-skool ACTU voice announcing that women would be able to serve in the frontline military, is a chilling reminder of the sources that Rudd Labor is drawing much of its energy from.

Like that other designer eyewear, erm, wearer, John Faulkner, Combet is from the party’s Left, a faction that at one time had some principles about exactly when you commit your young people to kill and die in a war, especially when your military service years were spent crunching the numbers in the front bar of a Sussex St/Lygon St pub.

John Curtin stands for the best of that tradition. A pacifist in WW1, and anti-war in the ’30s (as was, en passant, St George of the Orwell) he committed himself fully to the war against Japan when it was clear that, whatever its origins in European imperialism, it had become a struggle for national survival.

The Afghan war, on whose altar Faulkner is now sacrificing his morality, his reputation, the memory of his good works and the lives of an as yet unknowable number of Afghans and Australians, is not that war. But Labor (and Obama) have decided to own it, and rebrand it, as a way of not being outflanked on national security.

Part of that rebranding means emphasising the “progressive” qualities of the war. This connects it to a tradition of imperial wars waged by the Liberal-left, from the 1896 US invasion of Cuba onwards, on a variety of slippery justifications, from the best interests of the civilians being bombed, to the cause of world peace.

The push to have women at the frontline completes that process, because it puts the cause of rights-based equality at the heart of the war — one of its justifications then becomes that process of gender neutrality. Bravo! The war is an advance for women! Who could be against such a progressive cause.

That may be why this push to have women killing and dying to no purpose has thrown some sections of the anti-war contingent into a bit of a loop — because they can’t trust their own deep-seated abhorrence at the prospect, in the face of a rights-based, equality argument.

In this respect Greg Sheridan’s article against front-line feminism is interesting in several respects. Much of it is tangled in an old DLP masculism — discussing the ferocity of rugby league to point up essential gender difference, he seems to suggest that the physical mayhem of league is the highest and unequalled expression of physical bravery. It isn’t. Ferocity is not courage per se, as female mountain climbers, astronauts, downhill skiers, etc, would tell him — and even the groupers used to have the grace to acknowledge that the pain and foreboding of pre-modern childbirth demanded a courage and fortitude few men are so regularly or routinely called upon to summon.

But Sheridan’s core point — that war requires propensity to extreme violence in large quantities — is well made. Trouble is, he makes the anti-war, anti-standing army point, without realising it.

Women, Sheridan argues, lack the male capacity for violence that armies rely on. Mostly true, but the past century has shown us that large numbers of women can commit to such violence in two situations — revolution and the defence of their homeland and people. From the USSR in WW2, through Cuba, Vietnam, South Africa, Timor and elsewhere, women will fight and kill with no hesitation when the cause is real, justified and no other option is available.

What they won’t do, in large numbers, is kill for kicks, for pay, or because slick ads convinced them it would get them laid. In other words women tend to embody the principles of a just war, while men can be more easily re-engineered as violence machines, pointed in any direction you choose. No wonder people such as Sheridan, ready to sign on for any military adventure their masters’ voices order up, don’t want them in combat units.

Sheridan blames feminism for this push — in fact the only army with a major female frontline combat contingent is the US army and the social group pushing it the most is evangelical Christian churches.

But it’s true, the push for female combat troops is the culmination of imperial feminism, the war fever spruiked by people such as The Age’s Julie Szego and the late Pamela Bone — and then adopted by the pro-war party en masse when all other justifications had run out. It is death masquerading as life, and Left-liberals confused, as they always are, by talk of equality, should trust the originary sense of abhorrence that the prospect brings up.

The Rudd government’s policy of equality will be fulfilled when a young Australian mother is killed on the front line, and her small children can fold up a flag and put it on her coffin, while the guns fire uselessly into the air.

Great result, Mr Combet, Julia, Nicola, et al. Well worth those decades of struggle and something to be proud you were a part of.

MARK DAY VERSION: Greg Sheridan, the bearded man with the toy soldiers in your office, in lieu of ever actually reporting from a war zone himself, has done a piece telling women they lack courage.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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