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Shit doesn’t just happen


When Tony Abbott referred to the death of a soldier serving in Afghanistan as 'shit happens', it became a manufactured news event. Offence was taken, explanations given and accepted, and the news cycle rolled on.

But the colloquial phrase itself is of broader interest because it embodies an attitude to individual events that politicians would not normally take. 'Shit happens' suggests a randomness, lack of meaning and lack of significant agency in events like car accidents, assaults on railway stations and drownings. It refuses to attribute responsibility or to accept it when involved in such incidents.

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We rarely meet this kind of attitude and language in connection with military deaths. Military language normally emphasises meaning, responsibility and the virtues that go with personal agency. Tombstones and speeches for dead soldiers are replete with phrases like 'for country and for king', 'he died that we may be free', 'brave to the last', 'made the supreme sacrifice'.

During wars, too, the enemy is usually represented as a malign force whose representatives habitually act in cruel ways to reach sinister ends.

This kind of rhetoric, often heightened by religious reference, provides a framework in which the life of the dead soldier has meaning. His death is dignified by the rightness of his cause, by the massive evil that he resisted, by his nation's indebtedness, by the soldier's intention and by the bravery and endurance that he showed.

Descriptions of military deaths brush out the randomness of war, in which a soldier may well have been killed by 'friendly fire', by malfunctioning equipment or by inattention. In this account shit does not happen. Instead bad people act violently, good people resist them, and may die while resisting.

That kind of sentiment is consoling to relatives of the dead, but it loses credibility when people understand the waste and randomness of war. Wars are never a straightforward struggle between good and evil, and people who represent a cause seen as justified often behave wickedly in war.

And many military actions, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, are undertaken without sufficiently serious reflection and maintained without moral justification.

But even if that is so, the deaths of those killed in wars that are lightly undertaken and prosecuted without due attention are not rightly described by the phrase, 'shit happens'. Nor does the phrase do justice to car accidents or random violence. It denies the human context of such events.

Car accidents involve drivers who have responsibility for their actions. Bashings also involve people who are responsible for them, and complex sets of relationships that help explain their actions. The victims and bystanders are also agents who respond to the violence in distinctive ways.

Even in a war that has no larger meaning, soldiers and civilians often act with bravery and nobility. Their virtue does not ennoble the cause which is said to inspire the war. But nor does the frivolity of the war lessen the dignity of those caught up in it.

In fact, any human misfortune is demeaned if we believe it is a sufficient explanation to say, 'shit happens'. And while it is refreshing to hear politicians speak in unguarded colloquial language from time to time, it would be disastrous if they believed that 'shit happens' were an adequate response to any apparently random events in Australian society.

It would let them off the hook for ignoring the influence of gambling and addiction from which they gain state revenue on poverty, the connections between poverty and violence, and the irrationality of dealing with violence by building more and more prisons.

Neither individual deaths nor deaths in war just happen. They occur in the context of social relationships which we expect politicians to reflect on and address. In the vernacular, we expect them to use their head and to pull their finger out.

Andrew Hamilton Andrew Hamilton is the consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Tony Abbott, Afghanistan, shit happens, channel 7



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Existing comments

In Tony Abbott's case, it wasn't so much the words as the dismissive shrug that accompanied them which rankled. The words just come from trying to act the tough guy amongst guys who are truly tough. It was the shrug which exposed his lack of compassion.

Eclair | 10 February 2011  

I am appalled at the media handling of this matter. From what I saw on TV Tony Abbot was in a conversation with army personnel - we the public did not hear the full conversation or the context of the situation. Shit - it seems to me is now a common word used in conversation by many and has not got a nasty meaning of swearing. The media showed themselves as trash when this was on the radio and TV every hour for 36 hours. Where is the professional reporting. I do not know if this conversation was in totality about the death of the soldier, no one would denigrate what the soldiers are doing in the M E margaret o'reilly

margaret o'reilly | 10 February 2011  

Thanks, Andy for illuminating my sense that something deeper was wrong in Tony's statement.

I'm a bit of a prude and don't like such 'colloquial' language, even its quotation use in a Eureka Street headline. In part this is because it demeans essential bodily functions. If it did not happen to a human literally,he or she would be in deep trouble (yes one could make further use of the term here ...). As Aquinas noted, the effective evacuation of the bowels includes an intrinsic pleasure, that the body is functioning to empty itself of what would be harmful if retained.

I admit that the phrase - better rendered as 'stuff happens - does reflect the truth of the chaotic, de-formational nature of evil (which, as you point out, is often the case in war).

But to my mind, Catholic Christian Tony in getting this phrase into the allowable reportable public domain is doing more than offending my neo-puritan sensibilities. It encourages the anti-body sensibilities that lie behind much of current societal woes. (Don't get me started on the inherent violence and misogyny in other so-called realistic Anglo-Saxon words increasingly used in public speech.)

Charles Sherlock, Bendigo | 10 February 2011  

I do not often take issue with you but on this article I must .This quote was not made at the end of an academic investigation of causal factors where days have been spent wordsmithing and sanatising every word like some bushfire report but on site looking at the evidence with his mates who were in there own kind of grief process.

It is unacceptable to me to distance ones own comments back to "well we should not be here " ,is that what you think he should have said?

john crew | 10 February 2011  

Andrew you are complicit in the sins of an opportunistic media and compounding the pain of the victims. Did you hear the full conversation? Far from lacking compassion, Tony was feeling the pain and grief of the people around him at the time. Do we want wooden politicians who just speak the lines given them by the hollowmen? Because that's what we are getting from the Labor side and it's now obvious why.

Leave your bias on the shelf and try to be even-handed so we, as readers, don't automatically reject anything that you write that involves politics. Eureka Street is generally a breath of fresh air in an otherwise polluted media envirionment. This article, while it makes some good points, attaches them to a false premise.

Ian | 10 February 2011  

A brilliant article, perfect. It says what a lot iof people think. It so easy to say shit happens. I have done it too, but from now I will give more thought to what I say. Thank you for pulling up a lot of us.

irena mangone | 10 February 2011  

One TV commentary show in the morning exhibited some anxiety in their reporting of this issue. The thought processes were driven by fear and a marked lack of understanding. Thanks to Andrew for his comments, I understand the issue better now, and my confusion at the fear-driven commentaries, or as Pell as labelled it 'Commentariat'.

I think that the rudeness and criticism directed at Julia Gillard on the eve of her new year in Parliament, on ABC1's Q&A Programme had a lot to do with her exhibition of intense emotion the next day. And then with Tony's dismissive comment reported above.

Julia deserves to be regarded with respect, a word which means that we acknowledge that our Daddy God YHWH is also regarding her, but with love. The responsibility she bears and can deliver upon rely upon her freedom to be well-regarded, and gently prodded into a free response, with heart and vigour. Words, 'Questions and Answers' alone will only detract from her ability to follow-through on her good mission of leadership. Education, an area which Ms Gillard is passionate about, is also my passion.

Let us pray that we may change the status quo in which 2/3 11 year old girls suffer bullying at school. I never did. And my love of learning grew from my friendly horizon of love.

Louise Jeffree, Kellyville | 10 February 2011  

Hi Andrew,

I have to take issue with you as well. I am defninitely no Abbott fan, but you have fallen into the trap of much of the initial reporting of this incident by assuming that Abbott was referring to the death of a soldier. He was not. From the response of the people he was talking to, he was referring to the issue of the troops having all they need on the ground. Your whole article is based on a misinterpretation.

Having said the above, I do think Abbott needs to choose his words more carefully as a potential Prime Minister of this country. But the real issue for me was the way he responded to the reporter at Parliament House. As others have said, a simple explanation would have been sufficient, rather than the extremely awkward silent treatment he gave the reporter. It is this that may be a catalyst in bringing Abbott down, rather than an off-the-cuff comment in Afghanistan.

Nils | 10 February 2011  

This was an appalling episode, but there is a silver lining. If we give Abbott a bit more time, he will one day go just too far, and destroy any chance he might have had of becoming PM.

Peter Downie | 10 February 2011  

This was a politician talking to soldiers, in theatre, about an event that they witnessed.
He spoke to them in those terms and in language they would understand.
It was not a lecture or considered think-piece for eureka street.
He didn't have time to deliver a sermon on the horror of war or a confected, plastic, media proof response like others might have.

I repeat, this was not a press conference.
Abbott cannot be said to have claimed that shit happens was a sufficient explanation for the events, for the war in Afghanistan, etc; as Mr Hamilton asserts.

Abbott simply spoke to soldiers in their terms and in language they could understand.
Further, by reporting the matter in the way that it has Channel 7 has quite appallingly magnified the loss of the family of the soldier. They should be utterly ashamed.

Paul Bolster | 10 February 2011  

Thanks as always Andy. Two additional points. As is often the case with Tony Abbott, it is not just what he says and does, but how he responds on getting caught out. I'm not too offended by what he said, but his handling of the media interview, giving full warning (not an ambush as some have suggeted) is concerning.

Secondly, if it had been Julia Gillard who had uttered the fateful words, can we imagine that Tony Abbott would have held back in attacking her? It seems to me her silence has been dignified in comparison with that of Abbott.

Neil Ormerod | 10 February 2011  

It would seem that Tony Abbott's comments were directed at the observation that not every contingency can be planned for, and that even forward planning cannot eliminate risk. He wasn't dismissing the death of a soldier. Clearly the people he was talking with agreed, as the commander replied "it certainly does". What we are witnessing is the attempt by a usually pusillanimous tabloid TV news service attempting (and succeeding) to manufacture news from the recording of a private conversation.

Michael | 10 February 2011  

This is it for me, I have been wondering about the usefullness of my Eureka Street email. I am in total agreement with Nils, you have falsely reported what Tony Abbott was talking about. Your politcal bias is so great you ignore the truth. Put yourself in the Channel 7 class of crappy journalists.

Andrew Curtin | 10 February 2011  

I am the first one to question the media's stronghold on the nation's political psyche. However, in the case of the Riley-Abbott interview, the latter was neither ambushed or drawn into a political trap as the Oakley's question during the last Federal election. Riley simply asked Abbott to clarify the context to which the latter referred to.

Abbott did not have an answer. His agonising silence places an enormous doubt on the man's ability and fitness to be this country's alternative PM.

If, by the end of the week Abbott is still the Leader of the Opposition, then we're all in deep s#%t!

Alex Njoo | 10 February 2011  

Andrew, there have not been many things that Tony Abbott has done or policies that he has put forward since he led the Coalition into the last election that I can admire or would want to support, but I think there has been an important issue missed in the 'shit happens' responses.

I see his words, not as justifying the death that has happened, but as giving expression to his/our total inability to comprehend, to say anything meaningful about, the awful realities that confront us everyday. I think he was saying, "I feel for everybody concerned in the loss of this young man's life, but I can't offer anything that that makes sense of it or takes away the pain of it."

Joe Castley | 10 February 2011  

As I understand it, Tony Abbott was in Afghanistan after he had made opportunistic and unwarranted claims about a lack of military support given to the dead soldier in the action that led to his death. The senior officer had just given him information that showed his allegations were untrue. "Shit happens" was a comment that in part recognised the truth of the army's account of the death.

Joanna Mendelssohn | 10 February 2011  

Tony Abbott wsa responding to a situation (as others have said) that was far removed from the normal when one may have more time and less pressure to express onesself.
I have heard a mother greiving the loss of her beloved son in a road accident , also, use this expression.

Sure wars are caused by people they don't just happen nor do car accidents, but that is not the point when we react to loss and grief.

David | 10 February 2011  

Nils - what more explaining could Abbot have done given the circumstances? And I must say I thought Eureka Street would have been above this sort of media circus. While watching the whole interview I believed he was trying to support the people responsible for their very honest misjudgement of an appalling situation.

millie | 10 February 2011  

Thanks for this thought provoking article Andy.

All politicians and especially leaders of political parties need to act and speak in a considered way. Since becoming leader of the Opposition Abbott has found this aspect of his role difficult. He is often awkward and clumsy in the way he articulates and this incident highlights his difficulty. Whether it was a response to the soldiers death or to the circumstances around his death is not the issue.

As a potential leader of the nation, it is unacceptable to use such language. A camera was filming this incident and he would have known he was being recorded.

I agree with others that we don't want wooden responses from politicians but we do want them to be able to show their understanding and compassion to those close to such tragedies without resorting to a colloquialism which is loaded with so many negative connotations and the potential to be misunderstood.

For me, this incident highlights Abbott's poor emotional understanding of the impact of the words he chooses. It also reflects his deep discomfort when his response requires compassion and sensitivity.

Jo Dunin | 10 February 2011  

Donald Rumsfeld is the most famous user of this expression. That was in the context of explaining how torture and other stuff like that can be justified in the face of war. It can't, actually. Tony Abbott,like his mentor John Howard, would be well aware of the Rumsfeld Moral Defence. All three of them are amongst those responsible for the disgrace that is Afghanistan and Iraq. Standing there saying such things when you are the person who made it happen is, well,pathetic, actually.

SHORT TERM MEMORY | 10 February 2011  

This is an interesting article except that it is based entirely on a wrong assumption. Abbott was not referring to the reath of a soldier but the availability of fire support during the battle which the US colonel had just said was not perfect. This has been in just about every media report on the subject that I have seen. You should retract the sentiments in your article

Jim Molan | 10 February 2011  

Thank your for your comments. I regret that the scope of my article was not clearly enough expressed. My opening paragraph was an attempt to say that I saw the incident as trivial, was done and dusted, and to imply that it had no significance in what should pass as politics. But for those interested in exploring what Mr Abbott may have said and thought, Johanna Mendelson's account is persuasive.

In my article I was simply concerned to explore the phrase itself, or more accurately, the attitude that seems to underlie it.

Charles' Sherlock's reasons why it is regrettable for politicians or for Eureka Street to use scatalogical colloquialisms stimulated more helpful reflection. He argues that the use of this language encourages a demeaning view of the body and its functions. I take his point.

I wonder, though, if some forms of the delicacy that avoids such language may also conceal attitudes demeaning of the body. Delicacy can be found together with such attitudes as that all that matters in business is profit, the success of a society is measured by its GDP,the poor are not society's responsibility, and that charity ends at home. These attitudes deny the value of human beings, and the delicacy conceals the fact that within such a view of human life there are no grounds for recognising value in any bodily or spiritual expressions of human life.

andy Hamilton | 10 February 2011  

Andrew I have been critical of your style in the past and on this occasion I would like to congratulate you on a clearly stated analysis of the situation.

Noel Will | 10 February 2011  

The comment was unnecessary (but, unfortunately, characteristic) & the stare was classic hubris. When will the Libs relieve us of this trouble- some faux priest?

endee | 10 February 2011  

Fr Hamilton wrote, "Wars are never a straightforward struggle between good and evil.." I can accept this as few things are black and white. However, I would say that the coalition are a lot closer to good and the Taliban a lot closer to evil in the struggle in Afghanistan. Just look at the hell that the Taliban inflicted on Afghanistan with their version of Islam when they were in control. Women were beaten for showing an ankle in the street. Women were imprisoned in their own homes. Girls were denied an education. Men had to grow long beards as Mohammed had a beard. Life under the Taliban was life under an fascist iron fist. Whatever one's view of the war, would anyone wish this on the people of Afghanistan?

John Ryan | 10 February 2011  

It's a good critique of a bad habit we all slip in to at times. Expressions gain currency because they are punchy quips that seem to say it all at that moment. But they slip out of the vernacular soon after, because they are seen very quickly to not in fact encompass the complexities of given situations and to even demean a person or situation further. They often originate on US sitcoms where an entire industry is based around generating quips that catch on for a day then get stale. I thought this one had slipped out of use but apparently not quite yet. I don't personally think they work for politicians. They carry absolutely no gravitas.

RBH | 10 February 2011  

Tony Abbott often opens his mouth and like all fallible human beings sometimes wishes he had kept it shut.Give him a break here.Pick on something more substantial.

Jack Kennedy | 10 February 2011  

Like many others I am certainly not a Tony Abbott fan but we should distinguish between his use of "shit happens" and his non verbal response to the question at Parliament House. I accept his explanation that "shit happens" was used in a wider warfare context. I don't for one moment believe he ever meant to diminish the sacrifice of a soldier's life. I think he would be horrified at the thought of this. His silence is another matter. I do not accept that it was a considered response to a question he thought was out of line. His body language suggested he simply did not know how to respond on the spot to the question. It was not the situation for an aggressive reply and he was clearly uncomfortably on the back foot. When Downer led the Liberals a similar loss of words on camera was the start of his downfall. As he is the alternative Prime Minister, Abbott's response must raise some questions about his suitability to lead.

Brian Storm | 10 February 2011  

Sadly the current alternative Prime Minister appears to lack dignity and sensitivity, important traits for a national leader

David Ballarat | 10 February 2011  

If such comments had been made by Stephen Smith as Defence Minister, I think those who are justifying Tony Abbott's remarks would view this in a different light. The judgements would be universally harsh. I don't think there should be a different standard for an Opposition leader who supports the war and was a Minister in the Government that took Australians into both Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe we are a little too far removed from Vietnam War days to see this in its true light. Thanks Andrew for this thoughtful reflection.

Kate | 10 February 2011  

The only people who should be entitled to comment on Mr Abbott's comment are those who were present with him on the day. And for people who have no knowledge of what it is like to be a member of the armed services or to have relatives who have served should restrain themselves from criticising Mr Abbott.

I am appalled that the journalist dug so deeply to obtain this comment which has reduced his reporting to gutter journalism. We have chosen to give Channel 7 news and current affairs programs a miss in the future because of this terrible story. The journalist would have been better to provide some positive input about how hard it is for our troops to be away from home in such a harsh environment and how hard it is for their families to carry on at home while they are away. They deserve better than having someone report on a statement from a politician, the meaning of which seems to have been twisted by the journalist to reflect something not intended by the speaker. Just to be 'a story'.

pat | 10 February 2011  

You're a shit-stirrer Andrew.

Peter Flood | 10 February 2011  

Thank you so very much Andrew Hamilton for an astute analysis of an attitude Mr. Abbott spoke of. Whether Mr. Abbott said what he said recently is in the context of a soldier killed and/or how this could have happened,i.e.: the lack of available fire arm support, is debatable. Either way, the colloquialism in question focused on 'the randomness of war' rather than on the misery inherent in a theatre of war and its reasons.

Instead of using the energy requied to conduct a war, perhaps we'd see to it that there will be no homelessness and enough food and water for everyone.

Anonymous | 10 February 2011  

I agree with Pat - The only people who should be entitled to connent on Abbott's comment are those who were present with him on the day. But I am not surprise because half of Australia loves Abbott and the other half hates him. Those who do not support Abbott will find any opportunity to attack him.

Ron Cini | 10 February 2011  

Blown completely out of proportion. I prefer Abbot's own thoughts over the carefully prepared and rehearsed hollow words politicians usually use when a camera is present. The fact that Abbot is speaking for himself shows me that he respects the fallen soldier more than most other politicians would.

Ben | 10 February 2011  

Onya Andrew! Putting words around a complicated use of the colloquial. Very good

sue mcgovern | 10 February 2011  

I dislike Tony Abbott intensely. For all sorts of reasons, I hope that he never makes it to The Lodge. But although he often appears mean and cold at a distance, I don't believe, as some appear to think, that he is incapable of deep feeling when confronted personally with disaster. Abbott was part of the government that took us to war in Afghanistan and Iraq on the flimsiest of evidence and without any assessment of the damage it would cause to all parties involved. He has never, to my knowledge, expressed any doubt about the rightness of that decision nor any remorse about its consequences. But he has now been brought face to face with just one of the inevitable consequences of that action, and he did not know how to respond or make sense of it. He was lost for words, both in Afghanistan and then, later, in Canberra. In 1942, the poet John Quinn put it this way - 'You can't argue with a dead man/ You can't lift his head from the mud/ Wipe the mud from his eyes/And wrangle with him/Over kings and empires/Proletarians and popes.' 'Ask his opinion of a red star/ Or a crooked cross/ And he’ll not tell you./ No stars shine in his black sky./His only cross, the index to his grave,/ And he’ll not know of that...' 'But now,/ Now you want to argue with him./ You want to say, “You died for something great –/ You died for a cause./ Wasn’t it worthwhile to die for a Cause?/ Wasn’t it?”' "Lay his head in the mud again,/ Wipe the blood from you hands./ You can’t argue with a dead man.' For the full text of this poem 'Argument' in the collection "Battle Stations" (A&R 1942) see http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/auspoetry/0/8/1/pdf/ac0813.pdf

Ginger Meggs | 10 February 2011  

Andrew, you have misunderstood both the phrase "shit happens" and the context. The phrase meant that despite sound military planning, an unforseen casualty occurred in a fluid environment. The phrase was in no way referring to the nature of the soldier who died that day or otherwise insensitive. Military language is concise, but you are referring to (predominantly) men whose job it is to eliminate their opposition and risk death. Flowery language like "brave to the last" etc., has no place on the battlefield. The journalist, Mark Reilly, clearly provoked Abbott and intoned that he was making light of the death of a soldier. All Abbott could have done better was to have terminated the interview sooner after making a parting remark. He was gobsmacked that a journalist could make such a suggestion about his character, and that the journalist was in reality the individual making cheap mileage out of a soldier's death. It was unfortunate that the entire media gave the story undue coverage. It was an even worse sight to see certain politician's deride Abbott without cause.

Matheus | 11 February 2011  

I just took it as a case of "Even when you have attended to all social relationships and their context, even when you do use your head, and even when you do pull your finger out, there will be times when shit happens." And there will be, won't there?

Frank Brennan SJ | 11 February 2011  

Andrew you are right. Abbott is self-indulgent, capricious and immature. Not the conduct expected in a would-be PM. Swaggering around trying to look macho and being 'ferocious' in Opposition may fulfil some inner need, but the electorate expects something a bit more thoughtful. The 'language' isn't really the issue. Just because he's Catholic, and parades it a bit when it's useful, it doesn't mean we have to close ranks!

Ann | 11 February 2011  

Frank – I totally agree.

Andrew – Excellent reflective article! The first two paragraphs provide the context and what the article is all about – the use of the phrase.

Something for all of us to consider when we feel like looking at the person (Tony, Julia or whoever) instead of the issue:
'Oftentimes I have heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger onto you, and an intruder upon your world. But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, so the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also. … And when one of you falls, he falls for those behind him as a caution against the stumbling stone. Ah, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone. … [In doing so] he is alerting us all to be careful.' Kahlil Gibran’s 'The Prophet' (1923) as quoted on ABC Radio National's 'The Spirit of Things,' 6 Feb 2011.

Kev O'Sullivan | 11 February 2011  

Andrew --. Get off Abbott's back! Of course he cares and respects our defence personnel as much as anyone. He was talking to soldiers in a different environment than your politically correct zone. You're just another journalist taking an opportunity for political comment.

June Smith | 11 February 2011  

When will he (Tony Abbot) ever learn as to the vicarious eyes and ears of the media. But once again I find the media instance in this matter to be heavily tarnished with utilitarian gain and devoid of any sign of sincere interest in the sad and tragic fate of a young soldier. I don't quite know where the balance point is in the media's core reason and purpose when it comes to getting to the truth or at least close to it. As a military chaplain for over thirty years, my window into what was said does not raise my heartfelt hackles towards our 'when will he ever learn' Leader of the Opposition but at the seemingly 'scungebag' tactics of a media operative, in the gutter of opportunism, far removed from the helpful reflections of Andrew Hamilton that once again make us sit up and take stock of who and what we are as a nation.

Paul Goodland | 11 February 2011  

To all seemingly appalled at the media's coverage of this incident and to others who wrote that only the soldiers present had a right to comment - GET REAL. What do you think Tony Abbott and others in the Opposition would do if a member of the Government made such a stupid comment? We all have the right to comment.... and Tony has the right to respond and comment as well (although he seemed to be lost for words). We are living in a democracy and our political representatives should expect to have their every word analysed and examined.

If some people think it was taken out of context, spare a thought for the majority of people living in wartorn regions where journalists systematically pick and choose what they report in order to please the hand that feeds them. Is anyone foolish enough to believe that journalists are totally objective?

AURELIUS | 11 February 2011  

By now "the shit has hit the fan" more thanks to Tony Abbott demonstrating his excellence in giving the silent rage treatment. (I would not like to have been on the receiving end!) On the same day as the "shit" explosion I heard a state politician (Peter Ryan), on ABC radio referring to an 8th time convicted sex offender as a "gentleman". A gentle man? Heaven help us ... I felt sick thinking about all those victims. And it's an insult to men who are gentle men. It seems time for all politicians to be schooled in language selection. This was a very good article Andy.

Kerry Bergin | 11 February 2011  

Neil Ormerod's comment (see below) and that of Eclair, below, make the best points. Abbott's big ego and self-indulgence leads him to expect that everyone will give him the benefit of the doubt, even when he behaves foolishly or impulsively.On the other hand, he will never give his opponents the benefit of the doubt on any issue and confuses being aggressive all the time with being a good leader. he can't have it both ways. I agree that if Julia Gillard, or Kevin Rudd before her, had acted in this way - shrug, belligerent glare and all - not only would the Murdoch hacks have rushed to their computers to rally to the charge, but Abbott himself would have tried to sink the boot in. Whether his dual standards are due to deliberate hypocrisy, or due to self-centred, narcissistic personality, doesn't really matter in the end. It is a basic flaw and he doesn't seem able to learn..Come on George, a word of counsel perhaps?

Ann | 11 February 2011  

Andrew Hamilton you should be ashamed of yourself for perpetuating the lies to destroy a person’s character, you have shown you have no wisdom or discernment and you are totally biased! I don’t expect my comment to be shown, going by your integrity, or lack thereof.

Ann | 11 February 2011  

Thank goodness that Andrew Hamilton has elevated the discussion of this incident. If only our politicians could emulate his wisdom.

Philippa Flook | 11 February 2011  

Andrew, some good points. Pity they're irrelevant to what Tony Abbott obviously meant, yet can be readily construed by the slightly careless reader as an attack on the man. (See many posts above - QED.) Of course, that wasn't intended. But you can clarify your remarks and rectify misunderstandings easily on this blog on which your original piece was published - as you have seen the need to do, since they were - surprise! surprise! - misconstrued.

But it's a tad more difficult for difficult for someone in Tony Abbott's position to substantively undo the damage done. I'm sure Mr Riley, as an experienced (and left wing) journalist was perfectly aware of that and went with the odds. Have his subsequent retractions and obfuscations reached the same stellar headlines? Again: QED. Congratulations, Mr Riley. Job done.

Dr Omerod, I fear you're trailing your "immoral Abbott" coat. And are we to suppose Mr Abbott's glowing words in praise of P.M. Gillard in her QLD floods speech reveal a further dark depth of this monster's immorality ?

Fr Brennan - for once I can say: touche!

HH | 11 February 2011  

I find 'toilet humour' is an ugly disrespect for our splendid English language, and if fortunes were not made from war, intelligence might be the resolver of disputes,and war deaths stop. Australian language needs to 'pull its socks up' to avoid the acceptance of offending. Of course it won't occur, because too many people think it OK to offend.

Sandra Lamerton | 12 February 2011  

So Margaret O'Reilly, what are they doing in the ME? We don't know because we are not told.

In South Asia, which is where Afghanistan is, they are watching the poppies grow and the children die of starvation and nothing much else.

Marilyn Shepherd | 13 February 2011  

I agree with Paul Bolster. Abbott was speaking with the people who have to literally pick up the pieces when these things happen, who know full well that it could be any one of them, and who must also wrestle that they might have to inflict such injuries on another human. Each person wrestles with their conscience and the awareness of their own mortality every day, in warzones.

Shame on Channel 7 for all its teeth-sucking salaciousness. Channel 7, as ever, reveals itself as Australia's moral equivalent of Britain's tabloids.

David Arthur | 13 February 2011  

Imagine a funeral director telling the family of their dead son or husband "shit happens" it would be the last job as a funeral director. Tony Abbott is insensitive. If he treats Australian soldiers with sort of contempt how would he treat the Australian public if he was Prime Minister.

Kym Kennett | 15 February 2011  

I do agree with Mr Abbott that people have missed the context. He had been trying to blame the government for the death (not because of their support for the war, which he shared, but) because he claimed they had not been supplying adequate equipment. This had annoyed the military, who claimed they had asked for and obtained what they needed, and that in war some deaths were simply unavoidable. In saying "shit happens" he was just agreeing, taking their point. I suspect that the reason he would not explain the context when given the chance on TV was that he did not want to make it clear his earlier attack on the government had been invented and mistaken.

john fox | 16 February 2011  

But doesn't God love Tony Abbott as well as Julia Gillard?

millie | 01 March 2011  

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Women who discovered the world

  • Eleanor Massey
  • 10 February 2011

Adventure and travel writing has long been a male domain. Sports and media guru Peter FitzSimons advises young men to broaden their experience, find their voice, and 'push through the hard yakka'. He says this advice is not for young women.