"The gap-year proposal makes our army, air force and navy life a highly desirable option for young people looking for an experience for that year," Dr Nelson said.
"Why should our young people be teaching rugby in the United Kingdom, or backpacking or working in pubs instead of taking up the chance to wear the Australian uniform for a year?"
There are so many things wrong with this suggestion I hardly know where to begin.
The most concerning part of it for me is how it devalues overseas travel experience and suggests it would be more valuable for young Australians to stay in the country and train to defend Australia.
Overseas travel experience is incredibly important for getting a sense of what it means to be an Australian (If there is such a thing- I think the 'Aussie values' debate shows how hard it is to pin this down). I do think there is a certain sense of reflection and perspective that only comes from spending time outside your country.
This is especially the case for a country like Australia, which is quite isolated. I think there is a danger of becoming quite insular and inward-looking here, as the current climate of fear surrounding Muslims and Asylum Seekers shows.
I think we should be encouraging our young people to see the world; to live in other countries; to become world citizens. If they decide to join the army after that, fine.
How can our eighteen year olds be expected to train to defend Australia without experiencing other cultures and getting a sense of what it is they're defending?
(Brendan Nelson, inexplicably, on a motorcycle:)
Realistically, Nelson's comments may have been an attempt to recruit more people to the army, airforce and navy rather than any real dismissal of overseas travel.
Still, the fallout has brought about even stronger claims, such as calls for conscription from a group of former soldiers.
Mitchell Benson of Woy Woy, wrote to The Age on October 17th, saying:
MILITARY service would produce discipline, self-belief, confidence, initiative, and teamwork, which are sorely missing these days. Wouldn't that be so much better than learning how to skol a stein at Oktoberfest?
I'm sure the army does produce teamwork, discipline and other skills. I'm not arguing against that. But there are also a variety of skills such as independence, tolerance of other cultures, and perspective that come from overseas travel, which shouldn't be devalued.
In response to Mitchell, yes, on my overseas travels I learnt to skol a stein at Oktoberfest. But I also visited a concentration camp in Austria. Partying was only one side of it.
Of course, there is the possibility of overseas travel within the army. As Noel Howard wrote to The Age on the same day:
AS DEFENCE Minister Nelson stated, school leavers need not go backpacking to see the world. Join an army and you'll see the sights of Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, North Korea, and the Gaza Strip, etc.