[Editor: This article, about defence matters, was published in The Sydney Mail (Sydney, NSW), 6 November 1929.]
Tinkering with defence
Certain considerations leap to the mind in reviewing Mr. Scullin’s announced suspension of Compulsory Military Training, which for twenty years has been the salient feature of our defence programme. Political pressure is, of course, the reason for it. The Labour Party produced the system. The feature of compulsion was hailed as an illustration of the capacity for self-discipline inherent in our most enlightened of democracies. But that high plane has been gradually abandoned, and all that Labour politicians can now see is that young voters and voters-about-to-be complain of the “hardships” of the system.
Even so it would seem that the Cabinet’s decision is unduly precipitate. Drills and camps were first officially discontinued. Subsequently a conference with defence officials is to be held with the object of devising something to lake their place. Such action appears to be a rather wilful putting of the cart before the horse.
Outside the ranks of officialdom Australia possesses men of undoubted military genius, even though they are anything but militaristic in outlook. Sir John Monash is, perhaps, the outstanding example. Had the Labour Government been wholly sincere in its desire to improve our defence programme a commission composed of experienced officers in whatever walk of life might have been created. The report of such a commission would have won the confidence of the Australian people.
As it is consultations with the officials of the Department of Defence will take place with a fait accompli as their basis. Any plan now evolved must function within the restricted circle of the Government’s desires, or rather of the desires of the Government’s more vociferous supporters.
Hints are thrown out that there will be some return to the old volunteer system. Putting completely on one side the undemocratic character of this procedure, it is worth remembering that the requirements of modern mechanical warfare are so exacting as to elude the dilettante efforts of the occasional amateur. It may be that the development of the aeroplane demands some modification be made in this view. Certainly it is true that a volunteer aerial force would attract plenty of volunteers. But just as certainly is it true that the defence of Australia cannot be wholly secured by an aerial force. In the war the value of the aeroplane was as that of the eye to the body. To be all eye and no body is useless. During the recent manoeuvres of the British Battle Fleet exhaustive tests of the aerial arm were made with a view of judging its effectiveness against warships. The results were indecisive. Again, the success of the aeroplane in desert fighting against savages is no criterion of its usefulness against civilised foes similarly equipped. There is one other factor in Australia’s defence problem which should receive due consideration. In one real sense Australia is compelled to stand aloof from the movement towards disarmament which is inspiring the statesmen of older nations. By her adherence to the White Australia policy Australia constantly reiterates a challenge to a large portion of the world.
But the very evolution of liberalism which is bringing disarmament within the range of practical politics is making it increasingly difficult to maintain Australia’s attitude on this question. Hitherto British statesmen have given their support, though sometimes reluctantly, to Australia’s most characteristic aspiration. But recent events at Geneva show that the Empire is no longer to be regarded as a unity in foreign policy. If the Dominions are tending to become national units they must show themselves ready to maintain their individual policies, and when that policy is necessarily provocative, it is obvious that its maintenance must be attended by a certain willingness to shoulder the burdens thus entailed.
The Sydney Mail (Sydney, NSW), 6 November 1929, p. 7
criterion = a condition, fact, factor, principle, rule, standard, or test by which people, situations, or things may be assessed, compared, considered, evaluated, or judged; a standard used as the basis for a decision or judgment (“criterion” is singular, whereas “criteria” is plural; “criterions” is plural, although that term is rarely used)
dilettante = an amateur or dabbler; someone who engages in an area or field as a hobby, as an amusement, or as a matter of casual or superficial interest, and whose knowledge and understanding of it is not likely to be high (compared to a professional, who is paid to work in an area or field, with appropriately training, and a high level of knowledge and understanding)
Dominion = (in the context of the British Empire) one of the British Dominions (Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, South Africa), being those countries of the British Empire which were self-governed
fait accompli = (French) an accomplished fact; something accomplished which is apparently irreversible
John Monash = Sir John Monash (1865-1931), a civil engineer, and a leading Australian army general during the First World War
precipitate = to make something happen abruptly, quickly or suddenly; to make something happen sooner than expected, or sooner than normal; to bring about something hastily or prematurely (e.g. to do something when circumstances are not right, when essential or key elements are not ready, or when it is not sensible to do so)
salient = conspicuous, prominent, of notable significance, noteworthy, most important, most noticeable, something noticeable compared with its surroundings (may also refer to: jutting, pointing, projecting, or protruding outward or upward; jumping, leaping; in heraldry: an animal standing on its hind legs with its forelegs raised, as if in the act of leaping; an outward bulge of a military position on its front line with the enemy)
vociferous = characterised by a loud or noisy clamor or outcry, especially expressing an opinion repeatedly in a determined, energetic, forceful and/or vehement manner