OPINION

A little less baying for blood would help our troubled world

General Campbell said the wrong thing, but the intent behind his statement was noble. Picture: Defence Department
General Campbell said the wrong thing, but the intent behind his statement was noble. Picture: Defence Department

Many years ago, I was badly assaulted (though the word seems too soft - viciously attacked gets the idea across better). Nearly a half century later, I still remember the kicks in slow-mo. Literally half a rugby team stood above me as their star player kicked me around the body and head.

I needed serious dental work afterwards, but more significantly, it changed me. I had a minor breakdown, staying in bed for a week, emerging with a different personality. Darkness had entered my soul. I was no longer a sunny person.

I knew the kicker-in-chief then, and I know who he is now and where he hangs out in the town I lived in on the other side of the world. He was the kicker-in-chief for the local rugby club. That's why I didn't go to the police. I would continually have had to meet the attacker and his friends.

There are obvious reasons why people don't report serious crime when they are the victim.

But had someone warned me not to go down that particular alley late at night after the pubs had shut, I wouldn't have viewed the warning as any kind of "victim blaming". To tell someone of real dangers doesn't endorse the crime.

And so we turn to General Angus Campbell, who urged first-year military cadets not to make themselves "prey" to sexual predators by being out late, alone, drunk and "attractive".

His mistake was to suggest that women, in particular, should somehow deny their very being, for fear of legitimising an attack. Women should clearly be free from fear of men. Men who don't recognise that are the problem. General Campbell clearly got it wrong.

The degree of the mistake depends on the context - and that we do not know. Did he ever lay down the law to male cadets that treating their female equals with any kind of disrespect was wrong? Did he look the men straight in the eyes as a general and tell them how sexual assault of whatever degree would get them into serious trouble? He may have. He may not have.

He says he was taken out of context.

"Considering incidents that have affected military personnel in my years of service, my intent was to raise awareness and challenge the group to do what they can to mitigate risk and take action if they witness unacceptable behaviour," he explained.

"I am aware that my comments have been interpreted by some in a way that I did not intend. There is never an excuse for perpetrating sexual assault or sexual harassment, and the perpetrator is always to blame."

But we live in an age of outrage, where every transgression is fallen on by a lynch mob. The baying for blood is amplified to the nth degree on social media.

The danger with any loose language and "incorrect" thought in our frenzied culture is that talented people can and do lose their jobs.

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I think on balance it's a good thing for the free world that that infamous racist Winston Churchill lived before the age of social media.

Some of his comments are too offensive even to quote today. Even his less odious views would have got him sacked.

I wonder how long he would have survived in his position had he tweeted this: "I think we shall have to take the Chinese in hand and regulate them. I believe that as civilized nations become more powerful they will get more ruthless, and the time will come when the world will impatiently bear the existence of great barbaric nations who may at any time arm themselves and menace civilized nations. I believe in the ultimate partition of China - I mean ultimate. I hope we shall not have to do it in our day. The Aryan stock is bound to triumph."

That's a reprehensible sentiment. But thank goodness this dyed-in-the-wool racist didn't live in the age of outrage and Twitter, you might say, considering the outcome that might have resulted for one particular ethnic minority (apart, of course, from the 6 million of them for whom the Allied victory came too late). Mr Churchill's leadership was also part of the reason imperial Japan was defeated and Australia not conquered.

People are flawed. We are mixes of virtue and vice. Good people make mistakes, even on our own side (whichever that may be). The world isn't neatly divided into the good and the bad. We are mixtures of both.

A bit more understanding of complexity and a bit less baying for blood would be useful if we really do want to improve our troubled world.

  • Steve Evans is a Canberra Times reporter.
This story A little less baying for blood would help our troubled world first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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