In 1932, Australian defence minister George Pearce was confronted by a group of ex-soldiers from Western Australia (WA) pleading for military support. The country was already suffering because of the Great Depression, but it wasn’t a foreign power that had invaded Australia. Rather, the minister was advised of the uncontrollable breeding of the humble emu.
Not content with having been granted a place on the Australian coat of arms 24 years earlier, the large native birds had gathered in droves and migrated into Western Australian farming territory, destroying wheat crops.
WA farmers, already hit hard by the Depression, decided it was time to fight back.
The military declared war against the feathered outback overlords on November 2, 1932, and the Great Emu War began. Armed with heavy Lewis machine guns, a group of Australian soldiers travelled to Campion and began a conquest to eradicate a large portion of the “malicious” emu population.
But for every bullet fired, the emus simply scattered and regrouped elsewhere. It became apparent that a sweeping machine gun approach wasn’t going to work. Compounding the problem, the media portrayed the conflict negatively, insisting that fewer than a hundred emus had been culled. The public, perplexed as to the reason for this bizarre vendetta, put pressure on the federal government to withdraw.
At last, the military exited the conflict on December 10. Lacking a military strategy, the birds had nonetheless won the Great Emu War. To date, it remains the only conflict Australia has lost with zero casualties (apart from pride).
The Israelite army would’ve shared the Australian military’s sense of optimism early on when they moved on the helpless city of Ai.
Having just defeated Jericho, Joshua’s army sensed they had the upper hand as “only a few people live there” (Joshua 7:3). Rather than committing a full military force, Joshua sent 3000 men in what should’ve been an easy victory.
Instead, 36 Israelite soldiers died as the men of Ai “chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes” (Joshua 7:5).
The humiliating defeat stirred Joshua, who demanded answers from the Lord. God told Joshua, “Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant . . . They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied . . . I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction” (Joshua 7:11,12). The deliverance of God’s blessing was withdrawn because of disobedience.
The sins described by God were committed by Achan from the tribe of Judah. Items associated with the demonic practices of the Canaanites were forbidden. Achan’s lack of personal responsibility had brought all of the Israelites down.
In the Great Emu War it was personal responsibility that saw eventual triumph against the avian adversaries. The government introduced a bounty system to cull the flightless birds, an initiative that saw 284,700 emus culled between 1945 and 1960.
"The deliverance of God's blessing was withdrawn because of disobedience."
In contrast, it was personal responsibility that brought the Israelite cause down. Achan and his household were destroyed for their transgressions in the Valley of Achor. The next morning, Joshua attacked Ai again with the full might of his military, resulting in the city’s capture. The key difference this time? The full blessing of the Lord meant “into your hand I will deliver the city” (Joshua 8:18).
The actions of an individual can have an effect on the whole group—the difference between success and failure in a war against emus or a small Canaanite town.
By seeking God and listening to His call, we gain victory in the purpose He has set out for us.
After all, it is God who is our Protector and Provider, the One who we can always rely on.