Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel
Last week’s announcement that Virgin Airlines would honour our veterans and offer them priority boarding brought many thoughts to mind, one of which was Samuel Johnson’s famous observation of 1775 that ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’.
Johnson’s biographer James Boswell doesn’t provide any context for the remark, but assures us that Johnson was not indicting patriotism in general, only false patriotism.
It is false patriotism used for political advantage that I will explore in my column this week.
The Virgin scheme followed Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcement of the Veterans Card Initiative and lapel pin.
“What this is about is businesses honouring the services by offering them a discount,” he said.
“Now we’re putting the details in place over the back of this year and it will be out and running next year and it means veterans will have a card which will entitle them to discounts and services.”
The PM announcing something before the details have been finalised is becoming something of a habit of Mr Morrison’s, as was his premature announcement during the Wentworth by-election of Australia moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem.
However, Mr Morrison’s habit of governing by thought bubble is not my topic this week, rather it is the exploitation of our patriotism for selfish political ends that I’ll concentrate on.
But first a note that the Morrison/Virgin ploy thankfully seems to have exploded in their faces.
It seems that the veterans themselves saw through these attempts to exploit them, for “Following Virgin Australia’s announcement, Wagga RSL Sub-Branch’s Richard Salcole says veterans need more” reported the Daily Advertiser (6th November 2018).
The story in the DA went on to report that Mr Salcole said airlines need to make sure they are not naming veterans. “Veterans with mental health issues are going to struggle to fly as it is without the added spotlight,” he said.
He also noted that in 1989 the Defcon Card was introduced as a loyalty program offering discounts to ex-serviceman and it is still active today, and that he hopes to see more support given to veterans looking for a job or accessing medical services, points made by many other veterans after Mr Morrison’s thought bubble.
Virgin Australia has since energetically back-pedalled, releasing a statement saying it will consult with community groups following the backlash, but not Mr Morrison.
The Scott Morrison and Virgin Australia stunt using returned servicemen and women is of course a marketing ploy, in part a commercial one for the businesses, and a political one for the PM, which is bad enough.
But it’s more than that, and much worse. As the New Daily reported “It’s part of a calculated plan to exploit Australians’ respect for people who have taken risks and worse in our armed services.”
Patriotism, jingoism, militarism, national security threats, war memorials, flag waving, border security, medals, warships, policing, $200 billion military equipment budgets, military ceremonies, Captain Cook statues are all right-wing propaganda.
The more a reactionary government with low opinion poll ratings faced with the prospect of electoral defeat can associate itself with things military, and tap into the sacrificial ethos of Anzac, the better it hopes it will be.
It is very American, calculated to look good on our TV news and in the Murdoch tabloids. The shock jocks will loudly applaud. One Nation, Bob Katter and Australian Conservative voters will certainly lap it up, and so, the perpetrators hope, will Liberal voters thinking of jumping to the alternative right.
If the marketing types had really done their homework instead of calculating how good they would look in front of the War Memorial (or throwing money at it), they would have discovered that it wasn’t entirely a flag, a King or Queen or a monument that sustained our troops, it was their colleagues, their mates. As it was in the First World War, the Second World one, and in Vietnam. As it has always been.
Australians willingly acknowledge our returned and serving men and women. There’s respect and honour. We want them looked after and repaired if they are damaged.
But don’t use them for political gain or tawdry commercial marketing.