“We rationalised it as boys having harmless fun, or pranks played on people you liked, or bashing someone who deserved it. Repeatedly banging on a girl’s door late at night wasn’t frowned upon. If that was considered harmless fun in my time how much worse could you have gotten if those at 17 or 18 believe that this kind of behaviour was the norm?”

There’s a fine line between bonding and abuse in military circles. The still-serving senior officer who writes for Crikey today has regrets about his time at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Many others — who have done much worse — will be haunted by hindsight as the spotlight gets hotter on bullying and sexual abuse in military ranks.

A likely Royal Commission is an agonisingly complex task of psychological emancipation. And as Army veteran and Lowy Institute military fellow James Brown writes, little good can ever come from it:

“… the outcome of a Royal Commission may be entirely disappointing: for the public, for defence, and for the alleged victims. For the victims, a Royal Commission may deliver neither convictions nor apologies. The facts will be murky and poorly documented. Some of the witnesses will be elderly. And the process may take years to reach any conclusions.

“All the while there will be a daily media menu of depravity and disgust dressed in a military uniform. There will be little dignity for anyone in this process.”

No dignity then, no dignity now.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey