Flat White

A Reader’s Digest manifesto for our new woke military?

5 July 2021

3:12 PM

5 July 2021

3:12 PM

ITEM: The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, Saturday, July 3 2021:

The Australian Defence Force has turned to some of the world’s best civilian minds to help write a 72-page “foundational” doctrine to redefine ADF culture and leadership in the 21st Century.

Revered Australian author Thomas Keneally, pioneer of business and culture change management Harvard’s JP Kotter, famed American psychologist Abraham Maslow and even Plato are among those cited as indirectly contributing to the new military manifesto.

The result represents a significant departure from the usual military service “expectations” manual…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a shack down the back of a humble cottage in a small North Queensland town.

Nestled ‘neath a spreading mango tree, it was where a young lad would go to contemplate alone the mysteries of life, while performing more fundamental but necessary functions.

Sorbent was as yet unknown so the unlit confines, with a wooden seat, sawdust, phenol and solitude, was a place for evacuation and contemplation.

To complete the inevitable paperwork, a tattered copy of an ancient Reader’s Digest was suspended on a nail.

These turgid page-turners performed two important functions, to pass time as things passed and to tidy up afterwards.

To simple folk, the Reader’s Digest condensed great affairs of state and entertainment into a few pages, a mini Encyclopedia Britannia with fewer pages but more pictures.

Here a young man could discover the great men and women leaders of history, not to mention the greatest literature of all times.

War and Peace in 50 pages over two editions, Winston Churchill in 12 pages, President Dwight D Eisenhower in 10, Charles de Gaulle in eight, Adolf Hitler in six then, when finished, to be wiped away in two up, two down and a polish.

It was a successful publishing phenomenon.

The Chief of Australia’s Defence Force, General Angus Campbell has attempted to do the same with a 72-page pamphlet, described as “foundational doctrine to redefine ADF culture and leadership in the 21st century”.

Given the ADF has been around now for about 120 years, perhaps ‘fundamental’ might have been a better word.

Perhaps either word is redundant.

The basic principles have been around since Horatius held the bridge. Maybe earlier.


Perhaps fifty thousand years ago when the first guardians of Australia started their watch. (Chapter 1).

In all the ADF public relations folderol accompanying the launch, we were breathlessly informed ‘revered author Thomas Keneally, pioneer of business and culture change management Harvard’s JP Kotter, famed US psychologist Abraham Maslow and even Plato are among those cited as indirectly contributing to the new military manifesto’.

Karl Marx, who actually wrote a manifesto, doesn’t rate a mention.

The others rate a single mention in the “Acknowledgements and further Reading” appendix, save Maslow who is also mentioned in passing in a footnote.

Anyone who has studied leadership in the ADF who hasn’t heard of Maslow either slept through those lessons or wasn’t listening. Or both.

Someone who wrote extensively on the art of war, which one would have thought was the ADF’s key priority, but fails to get a mention was general, military strategist, writer and philosopher Sun Tzu.

This was probably because firstly he was Chinese, and secondly, the current ADF hierarchy are stricken with mass incontinence wondering what China’s military intentions for Australia may be.

But wait, there’s more.

“It is a real page turner,” Campbell said of the doctrine released this week in written and audiobook form, no doubt for visually impaired ADF members or senior officers.

If the ADF still treated its wounded and impaired as compassionately as it once did. (See Chapter 6, Principle 6).

“The result represents a significant departure from the usual military service ‘expectations’ manual and instead is a lively thesis on war, leadership, behaviour and mateship,” he said.

“Australia’s future strategic environment will be challenging and to overcome these challenges we need well trained, thoughtful, forward looking leaders at all levels of our organisation.”

“Leadership is about inspiration, how you connect with people,” Gen Campbell said.

“It’s not about just having people obey your legal direction – that’s command authority – leadership is about inspiring people to do so much more, to believe in the purpose, to achieve great things.”

Campbell described the manifesto as “part-philosophy, part-instructional manual that flags its ‘intellectual debt’ to various sources from a variety of civil and military figures in history, all aimed at guiding ADF leadership training today.

Corporal Daniel Keighran VC and Chief Petty Officer “Buck” Rogers GC DSM were the only two personnel singled out in the manifesto as shining leadership examples.

Keighran was decorated for his valour in Afghanistan, while Rogers, who already held the navy’s highest gallantry award the Distinguished Service Medal, was awarded a posthumous George Cross for his selfless example during the loss of HMAS Voyager, not one of the ADF’s more inspiring leadership occasions.

No mention of Rogers’ DSM in the manifesto which suggests the authors had no idea what it was.

Keighran and Rogers, with more leadership in their bootstraps than in the entire ADF hierarchy, have simply had their award citations reprinted verbatim.

Even the Reader’s Digest would have allowed more space for such inspirational stories.

When asked to describe war, Campbell said: “War is a failure of politics and policy by other means in the Western tradition and war is now, enduring and on all fronts in the Eastern tradition and for Australia war is both and we must master both and find its integration.”

Whatever that means in the Diggers’ boozer at five minutes before closing.

If they were still allowed to have boozers, where mateship and bonding were their core operational objectives. (See Chapter 3, Table 2).

Having read the manifesto in its electronic version and knowing that was precious time spent but now lost forever, one can’t help feeling left with one of life’s lingering mysteries.

Where’s a Reader’s Digest on a nail when you could really use one?

Ross Eastgate OAM is a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon and military historian who writes a weekly column on defence issues and blogs at Targets Down.

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