There’s a lot going on right now (life-changing floods, bushfires, war, the threat of nuclear catastrophe, an impending election where both major parties are committed to fossil fuels for decades to come), but still, it could be worse. At least we aren’t Ben Roberts-Smith.
The winner of the Victoria Cross, Australia's highest military honour, was so offended at media implications he was involved in horrific war crimes in Afghanistan, as well as bullying and domestic violence, that he sued for defamation.
Some of the headlines since the court case began last year include: SAS soldier tells court Ben Roberts-Smith ordered shooting of detained Afghan man; Ben Roberts-Smith described alleged execution of Afghan teen as ‘beautiful thing’, court hears; Witness stands by claims Ben Roberts-Smith was instrumental in two Afghan executions; Ben Roberts-Smith shot Afghan captive in the back, SAS member tells defamation trial; SAS soldier cried describing Roberts-Smith kicking man off cliff, court told; Former soldier tells court Ben Roberts-Smith ordered mock execution during training; Ben Roberts-Smith used software to ‘scrub’ laptop but denies destroying evidence; SAS soldier tells Ben Roberts-Smith defamation trial war veteran threatened to shoot him in head; Superior officer tells court Ben Roberts-Smith threatened to ‘smash his face in’; Ben Roberts-Smith punched woman in face in Canberra hotel room, court told; Private investigator tells court he severed ties with Ben Roberts-Smith over alleged threatening letters; Soldiers believe events that earned Ben Roberts-Smith Victoria Cross may have been ‘falsified’, court hears.
Last month, New Zealand soccer player Meikayla Moore made headlines after the defender scored an unfortunate hat-trick of own goals in an international match. Moore can take heart, however, that Roberts-Smith has put her efforts in the shade.
It is always possible, of course, that an astonishingly large number of people are simply determined to perjure themselves just to destroy Roberts-Smith’s good reputation for reasons that remain obscure. Who knows why anyone does anything these days?
Roberts-Smith does not seem the kind of guy to relate to Oscar Wilde. That’s a shame, as he may have learned something about starting a libel case over public allegations that you’ve been doing the same sort of thing that a whole bunch of people are going to stand up in court and say you’ve been doing.
But whereas Wilde was sentenced to two years with hard labour in a gross injustice driven by bigotry, if Roberts-Smith is guilty of even a tenth of the things claimed in court, then that would be an unbearably mild punishment.
You could, of course, ask bigger questions. Is this an inevitable consequence of militarily occupying a foreign nation? Or what does it say when one of your military’s biggest heroes is an alleged total fucking psychopath?
Or maybe you aren’t actually “the good guys” and should think twice before denouncing the crimes of others. Or even that a system that allows huge wealth to be accumulated by the dictionary definition of oligarchs while destroying a safe climate might also see no issue at all with unleashing the likes of Roberts-Smith on an occupied people.
And that however the Roberts-Smith case resolves itself, Australia owes Afghanistan a huge debt that should be repaid with no-strings-attached humanitarian aid and opening the doors to refugees.
Or you could just enjoy the schadenfreude. It’s not an either/or situation. We could all use something to feel good about in times like these.