20 January 2007

A well earned award, but with a quibble about terminology

The Australian has announced its Australian of the Year " Join us in saluting the Aussie Digger"
says its front page article, accompanied by a photo of two soldiers in Afghanistan.

Alas, the paper isn't clear as to just who it's bestowing the award upon. On page one it defines "Digger" as "the men and women of the Australian Defence Force", while in its editorial on page 18 it ambiguously states:

Today we define the Digger more broadly than the Australian infantry on the Western Front in World War I, who took the name for themselves. Now the title is rightly taken by the men and women of the army, navy and air force. And this morning we honour the 2900 among them who are on active service, providing forward defence of our democracy against the threat of terror attack.

How far does this broader definition extend? Who are the recipients of the award: all members of the ADF or just those who are serving overseas? If the latter then this reopens one of the oldest sores in Australian military history, the distinction between those who in the two world wars served overseas and those who didn't. True, all present ADF members are volunteers, but not every member would have the same opportunity to serve overseas.

The Australian also acknowledges that the ADF consists of three arms: the front page story highlights the army, but there are separate items on p 8 about the
Air Force and the Navy . How, for example, does the RAN with its rich traditions feel about being rebadged as "Diggers"? If the broader meaning of the term takes root this will amount to a dumbing down of Australian history.

None of this should be taken as a criticism of the award itself, only of the woollyish thinking which has created uncertainty when a simple statement that all members of the ADF are being honoured would clarify matters.

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