Defence battling the enemy within
Forget Iraq, Afghanistan and any other theatres of battle Australia has been involved in recent years. The Australian Defence Force is in the middle of a battle of its own - and the enemy is within.
The latest flashpoint started just over a week ago after revelations that a young female cadet at the Australian Defence Force Academy was allegedly secretly filmed having consensual sex with a male counterpart, and that he had allegedly broadcast the tryst to other soldiers via webcam.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s forthright and outspoken condemnation of the way the incident was handled and military culture in general blew the lid off a simmering internal dispute over incidences of bastardisation, bullying and the gender divide, and opened the wider question of whether women should be allowed to fight on the front-line.
Opinion in online news forums largely welcomed the minister’s response and decision to call a series of inquiries into the defence force’s own “underbelly”.
Sammi was one of many who backed an inquisition, writing to The Daily Telegraph: “The problems in the ADF must be addressed now. Obviously some senior officers already consider themselves to be above the laws of our country. Just how far are they prepared to go to make sure they stay that way?”
Rob of Melbourne, posting on the Herald Sun, hoped stamping out the abuses would lead to better quality recruits: “Well done Stephen Smith. Keep going, don’t get gun shy (pardon the pun). The goings-on in the ADFA are a sad reflection on society in general. Hopefully this and all the other issues are sorted out and then our defence forces can seriously attract and develop young people into real role models.”
However, Peter, commenting to ABC Online, added a note of caution: “Well done, Stephen Smith. But don’t forget what happened to the last Defence Minister who disagreed with the generals.”
A few commenters believed Mr Smith had overstepped his mark. Take for instance DaBo of Brisbane, writing to The Courier-Mail: “Politicians should stay out of internal discipline matters as they should if the victim decides to make a complaint to police. Ministerial pressure can lead to adverse prejudice.”
The debate also quickly turned to the role of women in war after Mr Smith instructed the ADF to bring forward plans to allow female soldiers to fight on the front-line.
Most online commenters were critical of the move, many questioning women’s ability to keep up with their male counterparts in the heat of battle.
Infantry Solider, in a comment to The Australian, wrote: “It is strange to me that nobody is insisting that we allow women into male football teams. I assume this is because it’s obvious they wouldn’t be able to compete. I’ve seen combat, and if people think that war is any less physical, competitive and downright brutal then they are insane.”
Criselee of Central Coast, posting to The Daily Telegraph, pointed to the risks and dangers to women soldiers: “Do we really want to be a country which sends its women into combat? If we can’t protect them here, what are they going to do if they get captured overseas in Afghanistan? The thought is mind numbing.”
But RAAF Girl, commenting on the Herald Sun, defended women’s right to equality on the battlefield: “It would appear that most of the issues people have with women on the front-lines is their capture and rape. OK, what exactly do you think happens to male soldiers who are captured? We don’t want your protection, boys. Go be a Hardy Boy somewhere else.”
While tensions remain over gender roles in the military, the reality is that women already play an increasingly important role in the ADF. Recruitment campaigns target both males and females and show them working side by side.
The battle of the sexes is a critical conflict that the military hierarchy will need to resolve if Australia is to have an efficient and effective defence force in the future.
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