The storm in the teacup that was the proposal by Virgin to publicly laud Australia’s war veterans with priority boarding and onboard announcements to other passengers of their presence seems to have faded into the ether.
Which is where it should stay and from where it should never have arisen.
After a barrage of criticism, Virgin Australia raised the white flag on Monday. After trying to rescue some dignity from its ill-conceived idea, by saying it was genuine gesture of respect, it admitted: “Over the coming months, we will consult with community groups and our own team members who have served in defence to determine the best way forward.
‘‘If this process determines that public acknowledgement of their service through optional priority boarding or any announcement is not appropriate, then we will certainly be respectful of that.’’
Neil James, of the Australia Defence Association, rubbished the plan as “tokenistic. There were fare more pragmatic ways to help veterans that would make a marked difference to their lives. ‘‘If you really wanted to thank veterans you’d reinstate the service discount abolished in the early 1980s.’’
Even Pauline Hanson, not noted for saying anything remotely sensible, found she could. The plan was a marketing ploy, she said, and it would be better if the airline would “concentrate on some of these airports to get your luggage out first and make sure you don’t get your luggage lost”.
The idea, which follows similar gestures on some American domestic flights, was initiated by Virgin, but received instant praise from the Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It also dovetailed with a campaign #thanksforserving launched by The Sunday Telegraph, News Corp Australia, Foxtel and HarperCollins to encourage the honouring of those who served.
There is a time and place for showing respect and appreciation for the efforts and sacrifice of those who went to war. We call it Anzac Day and Remembrance Day
Morrison, who is not noted for stepping back and taking the long view of history (lest he scare himself) was effusive. He gave it the thumbs up. It was about nurturing respect.
But it is also about something else. Or rather several other things.
First, it raises a function of government, that is, the armed forces, to a higher level than the tiers of civilian life. If we are talking about respect for members of our society who perform essential services, then surely we should give priority boarding to brain surgeons, heart surgeons, (well any type of surgeon, in fact anyone who helps to save a life or alleviate suffering), paramedics, nurses, firefighters, social workers, police officers, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, artists, musicians, even writers (who may by their words bring light to a person’s inner troubles).
But we don’t. And we don’t single them out among us. Ask a returned soldier in Australia if they would want that sort of treatment. Indeed, were they even asked?
Qantas seems to have a more level head on the issue. It reacted thus: “We’re conscious that we carry a lot of exceptional people every day, including veterans, police, paramedics, nurses, firefighters and others. And so we find it difficult to single out a particular group.”
Second, it elevates the fighting of war to a shelf high above the reach of most of us, and by doing so gives it a patina of respect when in fact the war for which the men and women had to serve (after all, they are soldiers, they obey where their government says to go) may well have been fought for all the wrong reasons and indeed launched on a tissue of lies. (Your flight is ready for boarding Bush, Blair and Howard.)
There is a time and place for showing respect and appreciation for the efforts and sacrifice of those who went to war. We call it Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. It’s not being placed first on the plane, before your countrymen and women.
If governments were attune to the travails of returned servicemen and women, we would not need to read, see or hear of the battles they have to endure to be treated with a similar amount of respect as seems to be able to conjured out of a hat for a pathetic example of marketing wrapped up as the “right” kind of patriotism