Almost eighty years ago Prime Minister John Curtin prepared a New Year’s Eve message for the Australian people. It was written three weeks after the war with Japan had begun. It was published in the Melbourne Herald on 27 December, 1941:
‘Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.’
With this message he informed the world that Australia’s foreign policy direction must change, in response not only to the military situation with Japan, but to Australia’s location in the Pacific. From then on, he states, Australia will be proactive, the architect of her own interests.
Australia disengaged from the ‘general war’ to concentrate on the Pacific conflict. Both Churchill and Roosevelt were surprised, and dismayed, but the die was cast. Australia survived the war, but only with massive assistance from the U.S. America has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy ever since.
Eighty years later, are Australia and the U.S. still a ‘perfect match’, or is it time to re-consider the partnership? Although America is the pre-eminent power on earth, does Australia need its protection, and secondly, does America provide said protection, and at what price? Is there a credible threat to us, or would we be more sensible to take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book, and be no-one’s enemy, and no-one’s target? It is important to look at our similarities, but also at the areas where we diverge.
Shared history, shared values?
For years, at least until President Trump was elected, there was a type of consensus that what we had in common far outweighed our differences. Recent events, particularly in America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and then the Black Lives Matter protests, have thrown some doubt on that shared vision.
Many have used the “shared history, and shared values” argument to justify our continued relationship. Others question the value for Australia, which has stood loyally by its mighty ally, through its many wars, with not much to show for the effort, except in terms of lost lives, and wasted military resources. We were never there as equal partners.
We supported American wars whenever we were asked
Australia joined the U.S. in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War in Iraq, the Afghanistan War, the Second Gulf War in Iraq. When push comes to shove, Australia is expected to step forward, no questions asked. Perhaps the debt from 1941 – 1945 has been paid?
Australia and the U.S. are both nominally democratic societies, and yet there is in the U.S. an active campaign to suppress the vote for minorities, and to rig elections by gerrymander. There are efforts to outlaw postal voting, even when in the midst of a pandemic.
Australians are used to electoral matters being decided by independent umpires. We are not only encouraged to vote, but we are punished if we do not. So is America still a democracy, and worth defending?
Guns in America
Probably the most contentious right Americans possess is the right “to keep and to bear arms”. Covered by the Second Amendment, and intended to permit the personal use of arms as a defence against state tyranny, it has mutated into a violent and uncontrolled gun culture.
In 2017, gun deaths reached their highest level since 1968, with 39,773 deaths by firearm, of which 23,854 were by suicide and 14,542 were homicides. see here Another side of this tragedy is that suicide accounts for almost twice as many deaths as homicide.
By comparison Australia’s gun deaths in 2017 were 189. It is incomprehensible to Australians that Americans insist on their right to kill, and to be killed. The USA had a death rate from guns, in 2017, that is effectively 14 times that of Australia.
This situation is exacerbated by the militarisation of the various state police forces, and the sheer number of mainly gun-fuelled deaths. Most of those deaths are of Black men, arguably by overzealous police. Do we share the values of a nation which practices officially sanctioned, racially based murder?
There is no universal healthcare in America. If you get sick in the U.S. someone has to pay, and there are tales of patients treated for Covid19 who have been charged as much as US$34,000 for testing and treatment. Estimates of costs usually range from US$9,000 to US$20,000.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine says the biggest reason for bankruptcy in the U.S. is medical debt. President Trump appears to be fixated on abolishing Obamacare, which is the closest many Americans come to being covered for illness and treatment.
In Australia we have universal health care. Many see it as a basic human right. Some people opt for private insurance, but it is increasingly seen as a poor option, driven by elitism. The U.S. is actively pushing to remove any health insurance, and any welfare support, from its most vulnerable citizens. Do we share those values?
Is Morrison committing us to a war with China?
Recently our Prime Minister has ramped up the hysteria and the rhetoric concerning China. He even committed a sum of $270 billion to defence, which included funding for long range missiles. These are presumably to warn China that we are deadly serious about defending ourselves, militarily, against our largest trading partner.
This can be traced back to a slavish desire, on Morrison’s part, to please Donald Trump. The President, in an attempt to divert attention away from his own criminal negligence toward handling the pandemic in America, has sought to demonise China for somehow ‘inventing’ Covid19. So by jumping on Trump’s bandwagon, Australia is going to be ‘protected’ if China reacts badly to our belligerence.
The logic behind that approach to foreign policy defies belief. If America was once a trusted ally, the Trump presidency must cause us to reconsider where we stand. A buddy this week, maybe not so much next week? We need to tread carefully until the U.S. has a leader who can be trusted, and we need to consider whether we actually do share values suited to a common future. Or is the American Empire heading toward its inevitable end? In Australian terms “have we backed the wrong horse?”