The opening From the Bookshelf paragraph from a few weeks ago was from John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began, the first of seven in the Tomorrow series for teenagers. It follows the adventures of an Australian high school student, Ellie and her group of friends, and uses the basic idea of ‘what would happen if Australia was invaded?’ as the backdrop for an exploration of the emotional and social pressures faced by teenagers.
When the invasion occurs, Ellie and her friends are away on a camping trip, and so are not captured and detained along with their families and friends. Instead, they embark on a series of guerrilla attacks against the invaders, with mixed success. While the target market for these books is definitely teenagers, Marsden pulls no punches in his treatment of a variety of issues, and I can highly recommend the books to anyone who enjoys a well-written page-turner.
I’m also quite interested in the hypothetical that the books are based on. It seems prevalent recently, with Kevin Rudd wanting to spearhead the creation of an Asia-Pacific Union, along the lines of the European Union, which would include countries such as the United States, Japan, China, India and Indonesia. I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of such an arrangement at present (except to say that the U.S. shouldn’t be in it), but it has been suggested that one of the benefits behind the creation of such a union would be a degree of stability in a region with six of the world’s nine states with nuclear weapons. But until that time, we have to just sit with fingers crossed that diplomatic channels continue to be open.
So who is the largest military threat to Australia? It is never made explicitly clear who the invaders are in Marsden’s books, but I think there are enough clues to suggest that it’s Indonesia. The Tomorrow series was first published while Suharto was still president of Indonesia, but even though things have mellowed out a bit there since Susilo Bambang became president in 2004, I’d say that they are still the biggest threat.
In a number of areas, the two countries couldn’t be more different from one another. Indonesia has a population around ten times Australia‘s in an area about the size of Queensland, just over 20% of Australia’s total. The nominal GDP per capita in Indonesia is a paltry US$1800, compared to close to US$50,000 in Australia. So we’re wealthier, and have a lot more space. It might also be comforting to know that Indonesia’s army is six times larger than Australia’s.
My second hypothetical is: if Australia were invaded, who would come to our aid? In the Tomorrow series, New Zealand ignores the sting of defeats in the World and Bledisloe Cups and throws every resource of the country behind attempting to liberate Australia (I don’t know if they’re successful or not yet, I’m still seventy pages from the end of the seventh anf final book). The US and the UK are notable in their absence, unwilling to get involved for fear of sparking a larger global war.
Do I really think Australia is going to be invaded by Indonesia? Not really. I think geographical empire building and war is a thing of the past. The wars being fought now are more ideological and cultural. In general, the sovereignty of states is recognised (though the leaders of those states may not be). But I do enjoy a good hypothetical. So, any theories out there about these two questions?