Morrison, Binskin and Napoleon · 30 August 2012

Lt. General David Morrison, Chief of the Australian Army, recently wrote that while he was a strong supporter of discussion and debate on a wide range of issues, including the future nature of warfare, it is important that the Department of Defence and Government knows what public comment is being expressed and that it is correct. We should be careful, however, not to base our debates on false premises.

This reminded me of Napoleon’s approach to his Council of State after he had been in power for about a decade. Napoleon would say: Read the draft proposal aloud. He would then give his view on the decision that should be made, before concluding: Does someone wish to speak about the wording?

I suspect that this is how Morrison sees things: he already knows what is correct and there is no need to debate any of his basic assumptions.

And then we have Air Marshal Mark Binskin in commenting on the recent deaths of 3 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. He said: We remain committed to the mission.

After Napoleon had arrived in Paris while his army tried to struggle home from Russia by itself, he spoke, according to General Caulaincourt, of his disasters, of the mistake he had made by staying at Moscow, as a stranger might have done. The venture failed by a week’s time, he said. Everything in the whole depends on that. The right moment, timeliness, those are everything. In meeting with some senior officials, Napoleon’s first words were: Well, well, gentlemen, Fortune dazzled me. I let myself be carried away, instead of following the plan I had made and that I spoke of to you. I had thought to gain in a year what only two campaigns could achieve. I have made a great blunder; but I shall have the means to retrieve it.

In reality, Binskin has as much chance of completing his mission as Napoleon did. Perhaps he, along with Morrison, should reconsider some of his basic premises.