Monday, 27 February 2017
A timely history lesson………………..
The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 2017:
We have no excuse for overlooking the meaning of this anniversary. And its timing compels us to consider its lessons.
In last week marking the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore, Malcolm Turnbull called it "shattering". Bill Shorten called it "unthinkable". It was the bitterest strategic betrayal in Australia's history since white conquest.
The fall of Singapore was, according to Winston Churchill, "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history". Britain has never recovered from the blow to its prestige. For Australia it was about much more than prestige. It was about national survival. The fall of the supposedly impregnable British fortress in Singapore opened Australia to Japanese invasion. With Singapore taken, Japan's bombers opened their first attacks on Darwin just four days later.
Yet even as Parliament paused last week to reflect sombrely on that shocking event, officialdom showed troubling signs of utterly missing the point. Neither Turnbull nor Shorten drew any big conclusions about the fall of Singapore in their speeches. They paid tribute, rightly, to the troops and the civilians who were the immediate victims of Britain's incompetence when they were killed or captured by the Japanese…..
Betrayed by one great and powerful friend, Australia threw itself into the arms of another. Curtin's expression of independence was to take Australia from one dependency to another. Of course, it was the right thing to do in the face of imminent invasion.
But the lesson of the fall of Singapore must surely be that Australia can not trust its survival wholly to a foreign power. Even a close ally. Yesterday Britain, today America……
Yet, as historically tectonic as China's return may be, it is not the biggest source of uncertainty for regional security. Nor is it Russia's aggression. As a Russia expert from America's Georgetown University, Angela Stent, remarked at the Munich Security Conference on the weekend: "You come here and you realise that the biggest source of instability in the world right now is not Russia. It's the US."
There is no prize for guessing what, or whom, she could possibly be talking about. Some American patriots are trying hard to reassure US allies that the America remains reliable despite its President……
Did Payne or her US counterpart mention the biggest source of instability in the world, the man who overshadows every conversation, Donald Trump, I asked?
"Given the strength of the defence relationship," Payne told me, "there was no need to venture further afield in that regard."
In other words, the Australian and American defence ministers and their governments are trying to conduct relations pretending Donald Trump doesn't exist. "Oh, who is the mad king shouting from the top of the castle?" we ask. "What mad king?" the officials reply, straight-faced, trying to be heard over the ruckus.
Which sane country would wager its national security on the sanity of the mad king? Would you catch him in a moment of lucidity, or would he be preoccupied with a non-existent terrorist attack on Sweden, perhaps?
When the commander of the British fortress on Singapore, General Arthur Percival, was asked why he refused to erect essential defences against the Japanese, he told his subordinates that it would be "bad for the morale of troops and civilians".
Allan Gyngell, former head of the top intelligence body, the Office of National Assessments, writes in the Financial Review: "The natural tendency of Australian foreign policy advisers faced with change is to suggest going along for the ride [with America] and seeing where things end up ... It is sometimes excellent advice. But not this time."
We have no excuse for overlooking the meaning of the fall of Singapore. If the dead could shout, they would be shouting at us now.