Opinion – Chris Kenny: ‘Let them display their symbols’

In a fortuitous coincidence, The Australian today published comments from Australian soldiers a century apart in their origins and inspiration, yet surely linked by culture and relevance.

Former sergeant Justin Huggett reacted viscerally to new defence chief Angus Campbell’s ban on “death-style iconography” and other symbols used by army units to identify and motivate themselves. He says the new directive “denigrates morale” for soldiers and this can only diminish their combat power.

“There’s a lot of history with this. There’s the spirit and pride. I’ve had Vietnam veterans tell me about the emblems from Vietnam. This is a tradition that has been around for years. They are going to be lost to history,’’ Mr Huggett told The Australian.

It is difficult to disagree with the soldier’s point of view. We expect — nay demand — our military personnel are trained to kill, in order to protect our way of life, and we expect — nay demand — that they are prepared to risk their own lives in order to do so. There can be no greater expectation.

We send our military personnel into theatres of horror and uncertainty. We cannot imagine the pressures or the difficulties, not to mention the terror and grief they have confronted over recent decades in Afghanistan where Huggett was awarded a Medal of Gallantry and 41 Australian soldiers have been killed.


I have been lucky enough to meet soldiers on deployment in East Timor, Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan — their professionalism, dedication and refusal to ever complain is always immensely impressive. Yet, dug in on a mountain outpost in Afghanistan, or bunkered down against terrorist insurgencies in Iraq, we demand they don’t display symbols of death or camaraderie?! They are in a situation where the choice is to kill their enemies or be killed; yet from the offices of defence headquarters in Canberra our soldiers are constantly lectured on gender diversity and fluidity, inclusive employment targets and eschewing symbols of war. They are paid to kill and risk their lives on behalf of all of us but, at all times, to watch their manners and be sure not to offend the sensibilities of self-righteous human resources professionals and human rights advocates back home.

The other quotes — dating from experiences exactly a century ago — come from our most celebrated soldier, General Sir John Monash. He is quoted in Paul Kelly’s article today from his own memoir, writing about the character of the Australian soldier. “His bravery was founded upon his sense of duty to his unit, comradeship to his fellows, emulation to uphold his traditions and a combative spirit to avenge his hardships and sufferings upon the enemy,” wrote Monash.

“Very much and very stupid comment has been made upon the discipline of the Australian soldier. That was because the very conception and purpose of discipline have been misunderstood. It is, after all, only a means to an end. It does not mean lip service, nor obsequious homage to superiors, nor servile observance of forms and customs, nor a suppression of individuality.

“The Australian is accustomed to teamwork. The teamwork which he developed in the war was of the highest order of efficiency. The truest test of battle discipline was the confidence which every leader in the field always felt that he could rely upon every man to perform the duty which had been prescribed for him, as long as breath lasted. A soldier, a platoon, a whole battalion would soon sacrifice themselves than ‘let down’ a comrade or another unit.”

Sir John Monash would know. Our current defence leaders might want to ponder this culture, this legacy.

Our men and women in the battlefield need to be accorded the freedom and encouragement to fight for their values and their comrades rather than have to worry about the equal opportunity goals of their superiors or contemplate how they can mete out the ultimate in violence without ever giving the impression that they might be motivated to employ actual aggression. Let them be. Let them proudly display their symbols of defiance, aggression and teamwork.

Chris Kenny
Associate Editor (National Affairs)  Commentator, author and former political adviser, Chris Kenny also hosts Kenny on Sunday, 7pm (AEST) on Sky News. He takes an unashamedly rationalist approach to national affairs.


  1. Des Prien says

    Chief of Army, Sir.

    Without Malice

    I am very disappointed in your Lance Corporal approach to Units, Sub Units, sections and troops in the Army.

    You are one of the smartest Commanders we have ever had, full stop. You are a great leader and a mentor to many in the SF. I am proud that you wear the ICB, I would kill anyone to have such an honour to have served in the front line.

    2/4 RAR was my induction, 1975. You as the Commander of 2 RAR and now all of us, Infantry, we never leave, we are Infantry. Stay and fight.

    You now, in your Direction, stand on the throat of leadership of every Army Unit and soon all of the Defence units, leading by Fear. By challenging all who Command to explain or destroy a bloody image. It’s nothing, look at every sub unit of SF, it’s a symbol not a mindset.

    Have you turned our most Senior position into, “out doing the next person,” who takes your place. Ask your mate, Rainbow Boy.

    Not good, you are an amazing man and SF soldier. You took a gamble, got out of the Army and then brought your experience back to us. I watched you on TV in ‘ Estiments,’ destroy elected members to Parliament.

    You are no dummy.

    You have, in a very short space of time, lost every man and lady in the Defence Force. You will be remembered by your last Command.

    This is not a personally competition. We, Soldiers do as we are told, your Minute destroys the basic framework of 10 men.

    10 men wisely lead can beat 100 without a head. Leadership 101.

    Leadership by fear of your next promotion, will destroy, what my Grandfather – WW1, my father WW2, I and my Families have done over the past 100 years of Service.

    Leadership based on example.

    You are a great Corporate
    Citizen and a Fantastic Leader.

    We are all human, withdraw your Minute before you leave your post. We all make mistakes, leadership is about standing by your decisions, Men can admit mistakes, withdraw and move on.

    You Sir, will have a groveling effect on our future Outstanding Battle harden Men and Ladies.

    Brigadier J.P.A. Deighton MC would be bloody sick in his Bush hat, reading about your junior approach to Force Guidance.

    BTW, who will see the images you want removed, no Bastard can even get on a Army base after 0800 hrs on ANZAC Day. Hoi

    Des Bloody Prien
    20 year Grunt
    22 years out.
    0418782306 anytime

    With passion
    Out sssssshhhhhh

  2. I am of the opinion the “Political Correctness Loonies” have popped their heads up again and are now, infiltrating ie., poking their “grubby Noses” into our ADF domain. Additionally, it would be of no surprise if some of our ADF associated “Political & Public Service Loonies” are part of the problem. Why do I say this?….Very simple…..My last posting (2) years of Service in Defence Office Canberra was a real experience which convinced me there is very little connection, Public Service wise, with the personnel in the field, so to speak. Disgusted me so much, I resigned after 21.5 years service.

    The “Canberra Boofheads” in ADF live in fear of these “Left Wing Loonies” and again, have morally intimidated (perhaps a form of bullying?) our serving members and disgusting our ex Defence Members again, changing to the whim of the minority loonies of this world.
    Spineless Politicians and Weak Leadership decisions again, in one clean sweep, wipes away Tradition, Good Judgement, Commonsense, Responsibility, Pride, Honesty and Loyalty to all under you.

    Ed Preston (Ex RAAF FSGT)
    Vietnam Veteran (1970-1971

  3. Peter Evans says

    Once again our Defense hierarchy seem to be bowing to the Governments PC…shame !!!

  4. Gordon Rollins says

    Well said that man…

  5. Adrian Hazel says

    I can just imagine our enemies getting hold of the news on what the Australian Defence Forces are not allowed to do anymore and laughing I am now expecting our soldiers to run into battle with bubble blowers as weapons to defend themselves and our country. It is about time our chief stood up and said our soldiers can motivate themselves how they see fit!!

  6. Rod Slater says

    Here Here Chris Kenny! To the CA, soon to be CDF …. I say ‘with incredible respect’ …. Sir, you are very wrong!

  7. Russ Lowes says

    Re the ban on prescribed iconography – I have served four times overseas over 30 years service with the last being in command of a multi-national contingent. I have also served in the same unit as Mr Hugget. The emblem/s so viscerally defended are generally at a platoon or troop level and subject to change on the decision of a platoon or troop command team; I and my team did it.
    In this day and age, noone in the Australian Army is fighting for their platoon or troop iconography be it a skull & crossbones of piracy infamy, the Grim Reaper or other. Yes, there is a perhaps a certain amount of identity pride within the small team when around other small teams but honestly, that’s as far as it goes.
    What the objectors are perhaps not considering is:
    – A bad event in the future is investigated as a war crime and those under investigation serve in a small team with an emblem of death iconography – it could be perceived as a culture in contrast to the Army’s (and Defences’s) standards of behaviour and denigrate the entire organisation.
    – In multi-national coalitions, certain iconography may be actually offensive to some coalition partners.
    – Their prized icon was probably the decision of a platoon or troop commender or NCO many years ago and the history is not known anyway.
    What General Campbell is doing cannot be considered to be decided without consultation. I am 100% confident RSM-A and others would have been consulted to tap into several hundreds of years of collective training, experience and wisdom as to what is best for the Army and Defence. General Campbell has the moral courage to make the final decision and order that will see Australian service personnel kept in high regards 10-20 years in the future.
    Probably best to take appropriate pride in regimental and unit badges and the Australian flag instead – they are the icons warriors over the centuries have fought and died for, and they have a traceable history.