The Angels of Mercy hold the Curtain, which prevents us from seeing the Future.

By Staff Writer: Harvey Fewings.

December 2020.


Note : Harvey Fewings served as an NCO and a Commissioned Officer in the Australian Army during the 1960’s and 1970’s ; He was also a Commissioned Officer in the New Zealand Army during the late 1970s. He was wounded in action in Vietnam in 1969.

In the last two weeks, I have read stories in Australian print media that I thought and hoped I would never see again.

These are the stories which relate to the ‘ alleged ‘ activities of SAS troopers in action in Afghanistan during the last 10 or 15 years.

Most of you, reading these words, will know what I am talking about.

When the Prime Minister of Australia, in 2005, John Howard, committed Australian troops to Afghanistan he could have had no idea what lay ahead for those troops, for the Australian Defence Force and for Australia as a nation.

Had he been able to glimpse the future – it is unlikely that he would ever have lifted his pen to sign the order to commit the troops.

And, what that means is that you never know what you are getting into when you decide to commit your nations’ soldiers and your Nation’s treasure to military operations.

And, that is why it is so essential that you know as much as you can about what you are doing, why you are doing it and how long you are willing to keep doing it when military operations are on the table.

And, in the case of our commitment to Afghanistan, just as it was in Vietnam, I am not sure that our political leaders really understood what they were getting into…?

I am not comparing the military operations conducted, by our troops, in Vietnam to those conducted, by our troops in Afghanistan.

There is no comparison.

Afghanistan is and has been, the graveyard of Empires. The British Raj, with all their military strength and resources, were soundly defeated in Afghanistan in the last century and the Soviet Union, with its massive Army of tank and rifle divisions, was defeated in this century.

Why is this so?

It is an intriguing question: but one that I shall not address today.

Today I speak to the courage and commitment of young Australian men and women who served our Nation in Oruzgan Province in Afghanistan.

In our recent history,this Nation has sent hundreds of thousands of our young men and women to overseas conflicts to take part in military operations. We do so because of direct threats to our Nation’s security – Kokoda in the 1940’s – and upon request from our allies, SEATO brought us into Borneo and Malaya and Vietnam, and, obviously, we react to requests from our great friend and partner, the United States of America.

Simply stated, we went to Afghanistan because we were asked for help by the USA, and, it was also very much in our direct interest, to confront Islamic Terrorism and its hydra-headed leadership.

So we sent our military to Afghanistan, along with many other European and South-East Asian Nations.

For obvious political reasons, obviating military casualties was foremost in the minds of those making the strategic decisions, and so, for mainly casualty mitigation reasons, our Special Air Service Regiment and our Commando Regiments were committed to the task.

I make no comment about these decisions, other than what I have already made.

It was at that point in our Nation’s destiny that when our leaders looked towards the future, the Angels lifted their Curtain.

And just as well they did!

Military combat is a ferocious beast created by Homo Sapiens alone. No other species of life on this planet engages in military combat, or any kind of combat, for the reasons humans do!

And, it is a beast which consumes all those involved, one way, or the other!

Our young men and women, our warriors in Oruzgan Province, were facing a brutal enemy with barely medieval standards of social behaviour. Men owned women; children were expendable, savage revenge and blood feuds were intrinsic to village life, and self-appointed warlords prevailed over the details of daily life.

Our military task was to confront the armed fighters of Islam, known as the Taliban, and, through vigorous military action destroy their influence over peoples’ daily lives thereby, hopefully, providing the Afghani people with a chance to build something better in their communities.

The details of the daily fighting, the stories of the fighting patrols, the application of the overwhelming airpower of our Allies are all contained in movies, books and television documentaries, and I do not intend to highlight any of those combat details – except to say – that the Taliban were barbaric enemies, tough, hard fighters using women, children, schools, hospitals and even animals as part of their tactical plans.

Such constant, cruel and casual brutality by the Taliban does not figure in the standard military expectations of Western democracies, and our troops were confronted with often shocking tactical decisions…do you shoot the boy on the side of the road who is holding a mobile phone and dialling a number which will send him, his IED [ read anti-personnel mine ] and you all to hell?

The answer is Yes. You do! Otherwise, you are dead or destroyed.

But you pay a terrible personal price for those actions. It is anathema to our people to shoot children in military operations. But is it not for the Taliban, it is normal practice, and you will be dead or disabled unless you confront this reality quickly?

Facing that reality each day of your life as a combat soldier in Afghanistan forces you build a shell around your soul; so that you can go on functioning with your comrades in arms. You are secure in your base one minute, and within the hour you can be walking amongst bits and pieces of human beings, hearing sounds and seeing images, the like of which, will never leave you.

When you return to Australia; to normal daily life in this country, no one knows, and not many care, about what you have seen or heard. Only other veterans can know those things.

Community respect is freely given to veterans, by our Politicians, our Community Leaders and our Community in general, it is evident on days like ANZAC DAY, Remembrance Day and occasions when we pause to reflect on the price we pay, as a community for these commitments.

Thousands of our young men and women have served with courage, compassion, and uncompromising toughness of mind when it comes to combat in Afghanistan – they have acted in a manner which reflects brilliantly on their actions.

Australians can be proud of them and the tough job they have done. Like all veterans of combat, that ferocious beast will live in them forever, and they will all handle it differently – but, they will all handle it.

What they don’t need is the hysterical media circus currently unleashed across our country.

Uninformed, sensational, self-serving and unsubstantiated comments by “ Colonel Blimps or similar armchair blimpish experts”. A repeat of previous hysteria from the Vietnam War, about alleged battlefield atrocities.

Our soldiers have brought no shame on themselves, their comrades, their uniforms, their combat units and the Australian Army in general by their actions in Afghanistan.

I shall proudly stand amongst them any day, anywhere!

The alleged actions of a few have no currency when it comes to the actions of the many.

Terrible events occur in military combat; reality becomes distorted, and memories often mercifully blank out the sights, the smell, the sounds and savagery of human combat.

And.

Until proven in a Court of Law in Australia; allegations are just that- allegations!

Curiosity drives me to ask two final questions:-

One: Why was a Canberra sociologist – with no obvious Defence or military experience used to investigate and report upon battlefield soldiers?

Two: Why did not the ADF use its investigative service, the ADFIS, or Military Police, to pursue these matters?

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