Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Britain Commonwealth as a Superpower" -- sans Australia?

"Anonymous" left the following response to the above posting, "Britain as Superpower":

Britain's military is as well trained and equipped as either the United States, Russia, or China.

Yes our armed forces are smaller, as is our population, but in a crisis, Britain has many friends. If Britain was in peril you can practically guarantee the support of much of the commonwealth, many of whom share equipment and routinely conduct shared military exercises. Even today the British Army draws a significant proportion of its recruits from the commonwealth, and even Ireland.

Britain has fought for or alongside many countries in the past and these may also offer it military support, Poland and France(though Sarkosy seems to have forgot about Britains role in WW2, and the United States may feel obliged to repay the debt of support we have given them.

Few countries in Eurasia, China or Iran would willingly support Russia against any significant threat unless they themselves were directly threatened. Eurasia makes all the right noises to Russia at the moment, but they would all gain from a weaker Russia. Chinas policy of growing economically without rocking the boat is working to well to get involved in Russian sabre rattling.

All that said I would rather the world powers competed in space and for the future rather than compete over old territorities and historical disputes.


By "debt of support," I assume you mean Britain's support in the Iraq war against Saddam. Yes that was supportive of Britain.

Probably most Americans would Britain owes the larger debt. America came to Britain's support in both world wars. America's participation in both of these largely European wars (excluding the Japanese segment of the second one for the moment) was decisive. In the First World War, Germany knew America was coming and if it got to Europe before Germany had won, Germany couldn't win. But German generals were convinced that they could win before America got there. As it turned out, they didn't manage it; which is to Britain and France's credit. But then after the Americans arrived, perhaps they wouldn't be up to European standards. Perhaps they wouldn't stand against the German army. So the Germans tried them at such places as Belleau Woods and found that they were rather more formidable than they imagined. So the leadership in Germany rightly concluded that Germany could not win (something the German leadership was not wise enough to do in the Second World War),

As the Second World War began, Britain once again needed American help. But America had returned to its isolationism. Many Americans thought World War I was fought for petty European reasons. Many resolved never to support another "European War." But as we know, Churchill was not to be denied and America did indeed come to Britain's aid.

But I don't see America or Britain as being overwhelmingly in debt to each other. The tenor of my previous note should indicate that we work well together in a war. I am not as convinced that some of the other nations I mentioned have worked that well with us – or would do so again in the future.

Max Hastings on page 337 - 340 of Retribution, the Battle for Japan, 1944-45 wrote, "Remoteness had made Australia a parochial society, but this is an inadequate explanation for the behavior of some of its people. The refusal to adapt to participation in a war of national survival, when Japan aspired to make them subjects of its empire, was extraordinary. Public alarm about home defence prompted the Australian government in 1942 to insist on the return of all its soldiers from the Middle East. Churchill with difficulty retained the famous 9th Australian Division in Montgomery's eighth Army until El Alamein in November, but this provoked anger in Canberra. When the Middle East formations returned home, they were committed to action in Papua New Guinea. There, through late 1942 and 1943, Australian troops under MacArthur's command fought some of the fiercest actions of the war against the Japanese.

"with every month of the campaign, bitterness mounted among those volunteers for overseas service towards the host of their fellow citizens who refused to leave home. Their own country, they said, had become a bludgers' paradise.' 'Bludger' is a word denoting a parasite, loafer or scrounger. The country seemed burdened with a depressing number of all three, many in uniform."

. . .

"American and British officers arriving to serve in Australia were stunned by the industrial anarchy which prevailed, the difficulties of getting ships offloaded or repaired. 'Many . . . laborers refused to work in the rain or handle refrigerated food and many other types of cargo,' an American official historian noted with dismay. 'They objected, with some success, to the utilization of mechanical equipment.' U.S. Army quartermaster details had to be kept on standby at docksides, lest rain suddenly halt off-loading by civilian labour. Absenteeism among the workforce at Townsville, on the north coast of Queensland, for instance, averaged 18 percent. Some dock labourers reported for work only at weekends, when double or triple pay was available . . . An Australian docker handled just a quarter of the average daily cargo shifted by an American soldier."

. . .

"Almost half a million days' production was lost through strikes in 1942 and the first half of 1943, many of these in the docks and mines. Coal output fell substantially. By November 1943, no Japanese submarine had launched an attack in Australian waters for five months, yet Australian ships' crews refused to put to sea without naval escort, and downed tools to enforce their point. Americans were increasingly disgusted by what they perceived as Australian pusillanimity. MacArthur said: 'I tell you, those Australians won't fight.' . . . In September 1944 the Sydney Morning Herald published a dispatch from India, saying that British and American servicemen were asked whether Australia was 'pulling right out of the war.' This report provoked a question in the Senate in Canberra on 13 September, demanding 'whether the Australian Army was to take any further part in the war.' . . ."

"In some degree, Australian behavior reflected a crisis of national purpose and identity. Beyond this, there was frustration that, while their country's men were expected to fight, its leaders were denied a significant voice in Allied decision-making."


Max Hastings strives to be objective, even when it is painful for him – as it obviously is when he describes Australia's role in the war with Japan. He cannot understand why Australia wouldn't enthusiastically support a war against a nation that fully intended, should it win, to conquer and enslave the Australians.

Ten years after these events, I was stationed in Korea very near an Australian outfit. I liked their beer and their attitude, and they said they thought they were much more like American Marines than the soldiers they had met from an American Army unit. I have been partial to Australians ever since. So how shall I account for the behavior Hastings describes?

We all have our bludgers. America has them in abundance. But I'd like to think that few of them would want to go into the Marine Corps, even if the Marines would accept them. And Hastings describes Australian unites that distinguished themselves in the war against Japan; so the Australians were able to field competent fighting units. But apparently they were peppered by enough bludgers to put MacArthur off. He lost confidence in them. Whether MacArthur was being fair I don't know. Hastings is not an admirer of MacArthur.

I do take note of the idea that the Australians were not given a seat at the war-table. That was wrong, and should we ever have another war like WWII, that error should not be repeated. Any sort of amalgamation like I imagine should be a free one. British, American, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand should join together because they have a common cause. Probably British or American Generals should lead these efforts because they have the equipment, men and training, but Australia, Canada, and New Zealand should be given however much voice it takes to make them comfortable. The way the Americans and British worked in Iraq seems a good template. Let them decide who is to take on which segment of the war and then let them operate largely independently.

But I agree with the final statement of Anonymous, assuming I understand it correctly. I had these thoughts about Britain as a Superpower while in discussions with Michael Kuznetsov about Russia being a modern Superpower. But I sincerely hope that we never again have a WWII-type war. I do think we should spend our efforts moving into space. Perhaps "competition" would be a good thing, but I hope it could be friendly competition: "You Brits have got your Martian city up and running before we Americans have" – that sort of thing.

No comments: