John Howard’s biggest lie to the Australian people. Why we should be cautious in how we respond to recent events in Syria.

During John Howard’s speech to parliament on 4th February, 2003, “Weapons of Mass destruction”, was referenced 16 times and a driving factor for Australia’s motivation for going to war was as quoted by Prime Minister Howard:

“The ultimate nightmare for us all must be that weapons of mass destruction fall into the hands of terrorists.” [1]

History is now written in stone and as such, we now know that the claims of WMDs were false.

In light of the Chilcot Inquiry in 6th July of 2016, John Howard had to deal with many questions from the media in light of the scathing finding that the report had uncovered in regards to his decision to send the nation to war.

On the 7th of July 2016, John Howard defended his actions making bold claims.

“In the years that have gone by there has been this constant claim that we went to war based on a lie.”

“There was no lie, there were errors in intelligence but there was no lie.” 

“Can I also make the observation that the Chilcot report imposes a standard of beyond doubt. Can I offer the view that when you’re dealing with intelligence it’s very very hard to find a situation where advice is beyond doubt.” [2]

On face value, this seems reasonable however our key ally, the USA, was spinning a different story to this.

In the very words of the Vice President of the United States of America, Dick Cheney in 2002;

“Simply stated, there is NO DOUBT that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction;

there is NO DOUBT that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” [3]

It is shocking that politicians can engage in such falsehoods that result in the waste of billions of dollars in taxpayer’s funds, countless civilian lives and the subsequent humanitarian crisis triggered by a campaign of war.

Yet there are no repercussions to these criminal actions.

We now have a similar scenario unfolding before our eyes in Syria.

Allegations of chemical weapons attacks conducted by the Syrian government against civilian populations.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Syria of engaging in war crimes and that Russia should pull the Assad regime into line. [4]

Simultaneously we have our key ally, the USA, threatening a campaign of missile strikes against Syria in retaliation. [5]

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Marise Payne said Australia would consider any “reasonable request” to join military action lead by the US.

“It is absolutely vital the international community stands up and opposes the use of chemical weapons in the strongest possible terms,” Senator Payne told ABC radio. [6]

Should we take our leaders’ accusations at face value?

Should we be trusting of our government’s statements and narrative?

If the claims of WMDs in Iraq were an isolated incident then perhaps it would not be unreasonable.

However, historically our leaders have lied to us time and time again in order to justify and manufacture consent to send troops into foreign war zones.

The Vietnam war was sold to the Australian people as a war to protect Western freedoms from the expanding communist sphere of influence.

Prime Minister Menzies was quoted at the time saying:

“The takeover of South Vietnam would be a direct military threat to Australia and all the countries of South and South-East Asia. It must be seen as a part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.” [7]

From 1962 to 1972 this lie was to cost Australia 500 troops with over 3000 wounded in a military conflict that saw 61,000 Australian troops deployed in Vietnam. [8]

Where do we draw the line of action vs inaction?

What moral and ethical obligations does Australia have to the broader international communities?

More importantly, how can we as the public, make informed decisions in what wars we willingly participate in when factual information is a rare commodity.

The constant lies risk a scenario of The Boy who cried, Wolf.

One of these days, the government may tell the truth but our hesitation to trust that information based on a history of deception, may be catastrophic.












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