Thursday, July 22, 2010

This was a Writers' Group assignment about'FRIENDLY FIRE'. It was published in the Soapbox column of 'The Australian' newspaper on 16th of July, 2010.

There are casualties in every war and the most heart-breaking can be those caused to soldiers by their own side. This is usually referred to as ‘friendly fire’, one of those oxymorons beloved by the military, like military intelligence, military justice and military music.
Self-inflicted harm is not always physical; reputations can also suffer from well-intentioned but misguided actions.
I first visited Australia in 1980 with a Zimbabwean boxer defending his Commonwealth Championship. The promotion in Melbourne was well organized; we were met at the airport, taken to a comfortable hotel, introduced to the media and generally feted. Everything was professionally presented until the main bout was about to begin and patrons stood for the national anthem. A nightclub singer in a tuxedo and frilly-fronted shirt took the microphone and crooned ‘Australia Fair’ in a pseudo-American accent. I looked around the stadium expecting the police to drag him away! In Africa a national anthem is a moment of dignity. I’d heard that Australians were laid back and irreverent but taking the mickey out of the national anthem was surely going too far.
Some years later I attended the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix in Adelaide and, before the race began, the crowd of 100,000 was asked to be upstanding for the national anthem. A skimpily dressed young woman mounted the dais and began to warble ‘Australia Fair’ like a gospel singer from the Deep South. The deep south of America, that is, not deep South Australia.
And isn’t it self-defeating to sing Australian country music in a foreign accent? When a recent Australian of the Year was a country music singer he crooned like a Yank – yet when he spoke he sounded like a normal Aussie bloke from the bush. Would it be too much of a strain to sing ‘Strine?
Personally, I can do without chest-thumping nationalism; Samuel Johnson was right when he said “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. If it is deemed necessary to sing the anthem at international events then let’s afford it some dignity.
The latest affront was at the World Cup in Johannesburg when a football team lined up for the anthem before the kick-off. To a man they stood with their hands over their hearts like Good Ol’ Boy Americans. This was the Socceroos. Perhaps there is a case for bringing back National Service, just to teach young men how to stand to attention. If the soccermorons are so anxious to be accepted as Americans, they should do what thousands of others do – walk to the Mexican border and crawl under the fence.



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