ANDY ALCOCK: I was interested to read the article by Kevin Naughton about Jim Forbes, Conscription 50 years on: last Menzies’ Lib stands his ground (InDaily 7 January 2014). The part of the article that intrigued me most was Jim Forbes’ continued belief that Australia’s involvement in Vietnam and conscription for that war were both justified.
Most Liberal Party members with whom I have discussed the issues of this war and conscription agree that this was a very shameful part of Australian history. Also, Malcolm Fraser, who was both a minister for the army and minister for defence during the Vietnam years, came to believe that Australia should not have been involved in the US war in Vietnam. Even Robert McNamara, the former US secretary of defence and a key organiser of the war, stated before his death that the war in Vietnam was a terrible mistake.
Jim Forbes claimed that there was a threat in the region that had to be addressed. The fact that the US side could not win and the fact that Vietnam did not invade other countries and threaten Australia or the US after its victory is an indication of how wrong he was.
Some will argue that Vietnam did invade Cambodia to topple the Pol Pot regime. This is true, but it only did so because it had suffered incursions by the Cambodian army that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. In addition, it was asked to do so by Hun Seng and Heng Samrin, Cambodian leaders who wanted the Cambodian people to be free of the Pol Pot regime.
One has to agree with Jim Forbes that many people died during that unnecessary war. About 500 Australian soldiers and 58,000 US soldiers died during this war, but it must also be remembered that about two million Vietnamese civilians died. In addition, the country was left in a mess.
Although I strongly disagree with Jim Forbes on the issue of conscription, I agree with him on one point: it was indeed a very unpopular decision in Australia and for very good historical reasons. During World War 1, Australian PM, Billy Hughes, held two referendums on the issue of introducing conscription and both were defeated. The majority of Australians, including front line soldiers, believed that our armed forces should be made up of volunteers. Is it any wonder, then, that most Australians did not want conscription to be introduced for an immoral and unnecessary war like Vietnam?
DAVID GUSTAFSSON: The big problem we have right now is secrecy. When the government isn’t transparent and they hide behind national security and operational matters in an effort to shield themselves from criticism it hurts the government, it hurts journalism, and it hurts civil society.
The media cannot report nothing. “No comment” does not fill newspaper columns, or half hour news broadcasts, or blogs. When the only voices the public hears are the honking and vitriol of Bolts and Marrs and endlessly swirling rumours, we end up with a country full of enraged, underinformed people who do not trust anything but their own feelings (because they have really been offered no alternative).
It is not any more sustainable for Scott Morrison to pretend detention centres and asylum seeker boats don’t exist than it was for Julia Gillard to pretend Kevin Rudd didn’t exist. Mirabella, and Wilson, and Bernardi, and whatever stupidity emerges around Australia Day will only distract momentarily, and before too long we will come back to the rumours and opinions about boats and jails and guards and nations; unsupported, unconfirmed, undenied, unchecked, and all unnecessarily so.
We cannot trust a government that cannot trust the governed with even the most basic information, and robbed of that information we cannot trust anyone else.
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