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Beyond the Battlefield: Understanding Australia's Role in Afghanistan

Laurence Quinn

We are pleased to present a thoughtful response from one of our loyal readers, Laurence Quinn, a seasoned veteran with deep insights drawn from his personal experiences with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in Afghanistan. Laurence's letter, featured below, offers a unique perspective on the complex interaction between war experiences, societal perceptions, and our collective understanding of the ADF's role in recent conflicts. His words remind us of the very real human faces behind these vital discussions.

Dear AVN,

In response to Eamon Hale’s recent article, I’ve often said that the last two decades of conflict, especially Afghanistan (as it relates to my experiences in particular), has been a situation of the ADF at war but not Australian society.

The ADF has faced the issue presented to many modern Western nations: how do we convey our wins in any format? Wins such as building Salem Baba schools in Uruzgan, the reactivation of Tarin Kowt Hospital, and the encompassing mentorship of the Afghan National Security Forces and all facets of Afghan governance significantly contribute to the country’s overall stability. The truth is that despite our contribution to Afghan society over almost 20 years, our own society prefers to focus on the exceptions rather than the rule. At the end of the day, it is simpler to form an opinion in black and white without nuance than it is to develop one with insight into the nuance. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why we have fallen into a pattern of condemning the whole for the alleged actions of the few. When the average punter reads of misconduct by ADF personnel, they read of organisational-wide misconduct fueled by the incorrect premise that a rotten apple is a product of a rotten orchard. Whilst the rest of Australians learnt ethics and morals in a classroom with no real-world application, some members of the ADF learnt morals and ethics in places where there have never been any that are recognisable to Western perceptions. We need to be mindful of the majority of society directing the process of how the war is read in history; a favourite Mark Twain quote of mine is, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. Australia and the ADF need to reflect right now and ask that when we condemn a whole on a moral principle, does that condemnation reflect on what we hold that principle to mean? Thanks, Laurence Quinn



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