‘The forgotten Australian veterans who opposed National Service and the Vietnam War‘, The Conversation, 26 July 2021
Article comes out on the 50th anniversary of announcement by McMahon Government of withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam. Author has a longer article forthcoming in the Australian Journal of Politics and History. Subject is the Ex-Services Human Rights Association of Australia, particularly its leading light, Martin Waddington, ex-RAAF.
To refuse service was not an act of cowardice, the association claimed, but rather the highest form of bravery. As Waddington, protesting the ongoing imprisonment of objectors, remarked in a 1971 letter:
“Two years in jail is the price for national heroes to pay to avoid murdering on a foreign field.”
Waddington and his fellow anti-war veterans were convinced it was as brave to face prison for your beliefs as it was to face death on the battlefield.
This example highlights how, contrary to popular opinion, the ex-service community has always been far from monolithic in its politics. Equally, it shows Anzac is not an uncontestable mantra, but a pliable tradition that could, rhetorically at least, include proud soldiers and brave resisters.
Today, Australia reflects on the withdrawal from Vietnam as we face the aftershocks of another overseas war. Perhaps we should also reflect on those war resisters and their allies who believed, as the Ex-Services Human Rights Association of Australia put it, “war is a crime against humanity”.
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