The Guardian • Issue #2049

Review by Ron Hall

Road to War

A documentary film by David Bradbury

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2049

As Australia’s most outstanding documentary film maker with 21 films and many awards to his credit, David Bradbury has created another monumental and relevant work in Road to War. Before the Adelaide screening of Road to War, Bradbury had a radio interview with Peter Goers where he reflected on his religious parents giving him the auspicious name of David, as he has now become locked in a David and Goliath struggle against huge vested interests, and is trying to rescue humanity from the disaster of war.

Bradbury, a graduate in political science from the Australian National University, gained recognition early in his career for his documentary Front Line that laid bare the horrifying reality of the Vietnam War through vivid images of the conflict by cameraman Neal Davis.

David Bradbury went on to produce 21 exposé documentaries such as Public Enemy Number One about Wilfred Birchett, the first journalist into Hiroshima after the atomic bomb detonation, who later visited Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam, forbidden to bearers of Australian passports.

In addition, there was Chile Hasta Cuando daringly filmed under the noses of Pinochet’s murderous secret police. Closer to home was Jabiluka about the struggle of the Mirarr people for environmental justice over uranium mining in Kakadu National park.

Clearly illustrating how Pine Gap in the heart of Australia could become a prime nuclear target in the event of conflict with China, Road to War compellingly draws upon the expertise of authorities, including Dr Richard Tanter, a defence analyst who explains with horrifying clarity the devastation that even a minimal localised strike would have on our nation, and above all on First Nations Australians.

Aboriginal voices could have featured more prominently in the film’s narrative as their lands stand to be used extensively as military training grounds, not to mention for nuclear waste storage facilities, while their communities contemplate influxes of hosts of military personnel along with all their heavy equipment.

However, reference is made to the Yolgnu people on the Gove Peninsula whose bauxite mining agreement offered notable benefits to their community. By contrast, the question remains wide open as to whether any advantages would accrue to Aboriginal people whose land became subject to military as opposed to mining intrusions!

In the event of a single nuclear strike on Australia, Dr Tanter suggests that US retaliation would be unlikely as no US homeland base or city would be involved. In the context of the Australian-US alliance, John Lander, a former Deputy Ambassador to China, quotes Henry Kissinger’s warning, “To be an enemy of the United States is dangerous. To be a friend is fatal.” 

Ominously, the film presents stark portrayals of future scenarios of wide scale devastation. According to Dr Sue Wareham of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, even a limited nuclear exchange would be utterly devastating, inducing a global famine possibly affecting two billion people.

Bradbury’s extensive use of news footage is a great strength reinforcing the film’s stark commentary on the world’s future prospects, and adding a sense of urgency to the issues confronting us now. The threat is here and now, not some time in the future! In addition, current bias in the media is well illustrated by comparing the intense coverage given to the devastation in the Ukraine to the meagre attention accorded to the horrific consequences of the conflict in Yemen.

Road to War challenges the sanity of the AUKUS agreement which fails entirely to serve Australia’s national interest, in particular, by potentially turning our best trading partner into our worst enemy. A collapse of our trade links with China accompanied by the inevitable loss of revenue as well as the creation of widespread unemployment, would obviously minimise our ability to meet the huge price tag attached to each AUKUS nuclear submarine.

At the moment, Australia is embarrassingly unable to train sufficient doctors, nurses, teachers, technicians, and others to meet its present needs. At the same time the nation is experiencing glaring shortfalls in housing, and other vital infrastructure construction, all required for our society’s most basic needs.

Such glaring shortcomings of the nation’s capitalist economy raise questions about the capacity of Australia to come even close to training all the nuclear engineers and other specialised workers required to service and maintain a fleet of nuclear submarines, without even considering the possible development and manufacture of these monstrous weapon systems here in Australia in the near future.

The film concludes on a grim note. The narrator, Tony Barry, a noted Australian actor and pro-Indigenous and environmental activist, is lying on his death bed lamenting why “Albo” is contemplating war. All of us should ask this very question, too. Do weapons really prevent war or ultimately promote conflict? One poster caught by David Bradbury’s camera urges, “NO WAR – Negotiate.”

Road to War certainly confirms Bradbury not only as one of Australia’s greatest documentary film makers, but also as a powerful voice to stir the conscience of our nation. Such a thought-provoking presentation commands all of us to view this film in a serious frame of mind and endeavour to thoroughly comprehend its message.

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