The Australian Military Scandal(s) and Feminist IR Theory

Lieutenant General David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army

Lieutenant General David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army

Blogging at Duck of Minerva, Megan McKenzie raises some very interesting questions this week about the Australian military scandal. In the past couple of weeks, members of the Australian Defense Force have been accused of secretly videotaping sex without permission and streaming it other soldiers and, in a separate indecent, several soldiers were accused of emailing explicit and degrading descriptions of female soldiers. And to make matters still worse, these recent incidents follow on scandals last year that prompted the Australian military command to “rid the force of sexism” following another sandal last year.

The Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison issued a public video statement condemning the actions of the soldiers engaged in these activities and telling them to “find something else to do with your life… Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future. If that does not suit you then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.” The complete video (just over 3 minutes) is available on YouTube.

General Morrison continues, calling on innocent members of the armed forces to “show moral courage” and take a stand against such behavior in their ranks.

But as MacKenzie notes in her blog this week, Morrison’s video marks an important departure from previous efforts that tend to define such activities as the individual behavior of “a few bad apples.” Instead, Morrison contends that the culture and values of the military should be incompatible with such actions, and that individual soldiers should leave if they feel they cannot accept this. In doing so, MacKenzie observes that,

He may not realize it, but Morison also moves to redefine Australian militarised masculinity when he says that he doesn’t believe that toughness can be built on humiliating others and that all members of the force should ‘show moral courage’ and take a stand against such behavior. It may not seem like a big deal, but shifting the way that courage and toughness are defined could mean more than any grand declarations to rid the military of perpetrators. He also talks about the band of brothers AND sisters- making a concerted departure from a particular masculine image of the force.

There is always room for cynicism at a time like this, but here’s hoping that a thoughtful, prompt, and meaningful reaction to activities that have been brushed off for too long as ‘par for the course’ within defense and defence forces around the world may show times are changing.

Writing for the Sydney Morning Heard, Rachel Olding goes slightly further, describing General Morrison as an “unlikely feminist hero” and summarizing similar sentiments expressed by other Australian personalities.

What do you think? Do General Morrison’s comments represent a new, more feminist orientated way to approach the question of professional behavior in the military? Will he be successful in his efforts to shift the culture within the Australian military? And what might we learn from the Australian example? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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