ROSS Fitzgerald had an excellent column in The Australian on Monday decrying the psychological and cultural unpreparedness of this generation to be mobilised for war against China over Taiwan in alliance with the United States, Japan and other nations. The emeritus professor of history and politics argues that young Australians are taught at every turn – and in every amenable forum – to loathe their own country; would thousands of them be willing to die for it? Would any government commit them to such a conflict anyway? The regular soldiery of the ADF was thought too feeble for Iraq and Afghanistan. How likely is it those same troops will be sent to drive the PLA out of Taipei? These are fair and solemn questions, to be sure, but however much I share Fitzgerald’s doubts, I no longer consider them to be uncomplicatedly alarming.
Why? Start with twenty-plus years of phony war-mongering by the military-industrial complex and intelligence agencies – the guardians not of democratic life in the West but of elites disdainful of its liberties. Just because Peter Dutton and the Pentagon-sourced briefs placed before him assert war with China is inevitable, that doesn’t make it true. Second, contra-Fitzgerald, despite the prettiness of its one-child princelings in uniform, Beijing has nowhere near the number of combat veterans at its command as the Anglosphere and Europe. Moreover, if being brainwashed by amoral fascists is disadvantageous to the young-at-arms, we still have the edge. The best thing Mr Dutton can do for national security – cost-free – is ensure a culture of putting the fear of God into our enemies is not merely protected in the SAS but standardised. The eyes for procurement in this country are bigger than the stomach for battle.
If China does conquer Taiwan it will do so by gradually ignoring one line in the sand after another to undermine its rival from within. This is the longer march but is the only realistic option – unless Beijing wants to crash the Chinese economy and its global prestige (such as it is) forever. China is rich and powerful but it cannot beat the world. Contemporary history is strewn with the wreckage of ant culture states that thought otherwise. Growing technical prowess and wealth, martial hubris and the enticement of a myth-fuelled revival of greatness combined to actuate – and destroy – all of the last century’s wannabe imperiums. Only the United States has lasted, empire-like – though it is now Constantinople to its own fallen Rome – and, to my mind, one of the big reasons for that is its avowedly Christian national ethos. As Kim Beazley once observed, the US is the only country in history that made itself a target for complete annihilation to protect millions of people for whom it was not administratively responsible.
What worries me about the AUKUS arrangement – if the noise of a brass band warming up can be called an arrangement – is that it constitutes nothing more than symbolic safeguarding of alliance rather than a commitment to a future war. This week, a Department of Defence review found there was no reason to overturn the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company (which is to say, the Chinese Communist Party). President Xi may be arrogant but he isn’t stupid. He plays the game of pretending to be outraged by AUKUS – all the better to lull Australia into believing it makes a strategic difference – but he knows a country that will not re-claim its own land is hardly likely to launch missiles on China from a submarine. This is farce so high it could have a near-miss of its own with the Tiangong space station.
Variously attributed to John Bolton or Dick Cheney or ‘an administration official heard to say,’ the neo-con slogan, “boys go to Baghdad, real men go to Tehran,” needn’t be seen as wholly passé. The cold war with China is likely to be a long one; Taiwan might even be ‘lost’ along the way or its allied defenders might win a shooting war. Then what? The contest won’t end in the former case, nor the shooting in the latter. The prize is not an island nation, a sea or a region. It is a world order forever vectoring toward peace, democracy, free trade and individual human rights. Beijing itself is where we have to go – not with armies but with ideas and values that will prevail over the next 100 years. Professor Fitzgerald reminds us the campaign begins in the classroom. It cannot succeed, however, prescinded from Christian culture. We don’t have to be saints – though the more of those we have the better – but we do have to be civilised.