As Australia comes to grips with accusations that some of its elite soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan, a catchcry for certain commentators is that the ‘fog of war’ explains, justifies and possibly excuses the alleged atrocities that have come to light. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding one’s own capability, the adversary’s capability, and intent. However, the ‘fog of war’ is woefully inadequate in explaining actions that were deliberate, targeted and repeated. Abuses of power and the normalisation of deviance are at the heart of the ‘cultural issues’ that have long plagued the Australian Defence Force. In fact, this can be said of all institutions grappling with the same problems: histories of abuse and secrecy, sexual harassment, and problems of diversity and inclusion. It is always easiest to point a finger at a ‘what’ rather than a ‘who’, so ‘culture’ features prominently in analyses of what went wrong regarding the alleged war crimes committed by Australia’s Special Operations Command. But does a focus on culture provide clarity or obscurity? Does it lead to or is it a barrier to accountability? How do you know when you’ve achieved cultural change? In Blood Lust, Trust & Blame, sociologist Samantha Crompvoets tells the story of what went wrong in the ADF. It is a chronicle of the consequences of pursuing the truth, the politics of accountability, and the cost of action.
Dr Samantha Crompvoets PhD is a sociologist with over twenty years’ experience in the design, implementation, analysis and reporting of strategic and applied academic research. She has conducted extensive empirical research on a number of military cohorts, for both the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Defence, including reservists, women, special forces, Indigenous soldiers and veterans. Dr Crompvoets has led numerous projects focused on improving workplace climate and organisational culture, across the defence and security sector and also the university sector, and for elite sporting clubs. Dr Crompvoets is a member of the NATO SAS-144 panel developing the Code of Best Practice for Conducting Survey Research in a Military Context. She is Chair of the Australian Centre for Excellence in Post-Traumatic Stress and sits on a number of advisory boards across the defence and security sector.