Saturday, April 25, 2015

TIME to STOP Fighting Other People’s WARS

TIME to STOP Fighting Other People’s WARS

It is 50 years since the US got us into another conflict, one no one wants to remember.

Tony Abbott was 3 years old when Australia went to war with Vietnam.

Australians born in the last ten days of April, 1965 began turning 50 on Tuesday this week. It so happens Tuesday was also the day our latest Prime Minister flew to Brisbane's Enoggera army base to farewell the latest Australian troops to be sent overseas to someone else's war at someone else's request. 

Those of us with any memory or sense of history would know April, 1965 was seminal in yet another –someone else's war into which we were drawn by the same-someone else's request half a century ago.

Don't we have any national self-respect in what we do and how we're seen when we persist in kissing foreign backsides? 

That war was the 13-year Vietnam conflict, and those who got us into it were the Americans and our own duplicitous politicians. It lasted, for Australia's armed forces, ten destructive years and 500 dead, and gained nothing other than ignominious defeat and humiliating withdrawal for the United States in March 1973.

The prime minister who involved Australia in Vietnam's war between the predominantly Catholic south and the Communist north in May, 1962 was the Liberals' Bob Menzies, known, among other political insults, as Ming the Merciless. And it was Menzies who, three years later, on the night of April 29, 1965 announced Australia was now sending a full battalion of 600 combat troops, plus support ancillaries, to join the by-then 200 Australian military advisers already in Vietnam. 

Nine months later, on Australia Day, 1966, Menzies stepped down as prime minister, quitting political life altogether and leaving his successor, the Liberals' Harold Holt, to announce military conscription of 20-year-olds two months later and the tripling of our ground forces in Vietnam to 3000. These numbers peaked at 8000 in 1969, from a base of just 30 initial advisers in May, 1962.

Political conduct of the war also saw off four of our prime ministers, all Libs, from Menzies, through Holt, to John Gorton and Billy McMahon, until Labor arrived in government under Gough Whitlam in December 1972. By then McMahon, in an election year, already had withdrawn the last of our combat forces the previous February. It remained only for Whitlam to end conscription, which he did in Labor's first week of office.

 Fifty years later and the anniversary of Australia's entry into its first war without Britain, the "mother country", is ignored, smothered by the jingoism of the circus the Gallipoli centenary has become. Two defeats, both conflicts in which Australian forces were no more than battle-field fodder manipulated by two "great and powerful friends", one defeat deified as "glorious" and "nation-defining", the other nobody wants to know. 

 Now, a further 12 years on from yet another military debacle – John Howard's decision to contribute 2000 Australian troops to Washington's manipulation of the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003 –the Liberals' Simian Man has said yes to Washington yet again in committing, in total, almost 1000 troops in nine months to help train Iraqi soldiers how to be soldiers, even though 3000 Australian troops who thought they were largely doing just that were withdrawn seven years ago, in 2008, by the Rudd Labor government.

 Tony Abbott says this latest "training" program – cutely labelled the Australian Build Partner Capacity program – is to be a two-year project to be reviewed after 12 months. So how do Australian numbers get to be almost a thousand?

Seven months ago, at Washington's request, the Abbott cabinet sent 200 special forces troops, plus 400 military support staff and six Australian jet fighters, to Iraq to join a US-led multinational force to "assist" the Iraqi government in its campaign against Islamic fanatics, whom Abbott prefers to call "the death cult".

After a "formal request" from Washington with the "support of the Prime Minister of Iraq", the Abbott government last month agreed to commit another 340 ground troops, in tandem with 143 New Zealand troops who will join the Australian "training" force at a base north of Baghdad next month. 

It was these additional Australian troops Abbott was farewelling in Brisbane this week. What he doesn't seem to realise is that his government's piecemeal decisions on military deployments to Iraq eerily mirror what the Menzies and Holt governments said and did exactly 50 years ago as they persisted with the pretence that they were reacting to appeals from South Vietnam's besieged government rather than colluding with Washington in an escalating Asian civil war that, unlike Australia, Washington's European allies wanted nothing to do with.

Doesn't anybody in this ridiculous government of ours pay any attention to the mistakes, blunders, lies etc of their predecessors when it comes to forever knuckling under, previously, to London, and now to Washington? 

Don't we have any national self-respect in what we do and how we're seen when we persist in kissing foreign backsides?

No Australian under 50 today was alive when we went to war in Vietnam in April, 1965. Our London-born Prime Minister was just 3 when his parents migrated here in 1960 and 7 years old that April night Menzies announced we were sending ground troops to Vietnam.

Is lack of firsthand knowledge, of having lived through those often dramatic and hugely divisive times, political and social, any excuse for repeating the folly of Australia having joined the United States in Washington's war there?

Or are the lives of 500 dead Australians seen as acceptable in keeping favour with the White House when the United States sorely needed, for political and strategic reasons, other white faces alongside American ones in an otherwise wholly Asian war?

And now, for the second time, Australian forces are back in Iraq, and we are participating in our seventh conflict in half a century – Vietnam, confrontation with Indonesia in Borneo, the first Gulf War, Afghanistan, East Timor, the invasion of Iraq, and now the Islamist uprising in Iraq and Libya – while 11 prime ministers have come and gone and we've reached far down in the barrel to find number 12.

Dick Woolcott​, a former senior diplomat and respected head of our Department of Foreign Affairs emailed this week: "Australia should not be involved in this many-faceted imbroglio and we should review our policy and extract our forces as soon as we can [from Iraq] before even more damage is done to our national interest and security. Sound political leadership is overdue."

Nobody seemed to be listening amid the clamour of the weekend football and various other extravaganzas which seemed to say very little about genuine remembrance of a century of war dead. Alan Ramsey, SMH


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