Thursday, 20 September 2007

Can't let this pass .............

There has been a flood of comment about Dr Peter Phelps attack on Col. Mike Kelly (ALP candidate for Eden-Monaro). Groups as diverse as the Jewish Board of Deputies, the RSL and the Vietnam Veterans Association have reacted strongly – but I really can’t let it pass, as basically it makes me angry – but not as much as it did thirty-two years ago…………

Phelps attacked Kelly on the basis that he went to war without believing that the cause was just – and is therefore a hypocrite - or at least that how I read his comments. It’s apparent that he was actually seeking to undermine Kelly’s credibility and using the most bizarre comparisons to Nazi guards in Belsen in WW2 to do so. As Gary Nairn is under pressure in Eden-Monaro, I can understand his motive, but his behaviour can only be described as ignorant and offensive. It’s also apparent that the apology came as a result of orders from above and therefore lacks sincerity.

There are two important issues here –

In a democracy a soldier is sent to war by the people who elected the government of the day. I’d assume Peter Phelps was one of those people. The responsibility for the deployment doesn’t lie with the soldier.

Once that soldier returns to civilian life he/she has the same rights as everyone else to hold a political opinion and to nominate for election. To turn against an ex-soldier because he has the gall to nominate for a party which has a different view of the conflict is a denial of this principle.

It’s pretty obvious that Kelly’s experience in Iraq and elsewhere lends credibility to the ALP policy, and this is the problem for Phelps. He’s also a very impressive candidate (AM, Ph D, etc), with strong links to the electorate of Eden-Monaro.

It’s nothing new of course, and the reason it resonates is because of personal experience. In the bitter 1975 federal election, my father and I went to vote at a polling booth in Newmarket in Brisbane. My dad was never backward in coming forward, and took with him to his grave an enormous amount of bitterness about my service in Vietnam as a Nasho. When an over-enthusiastic Liberal staffer pushed a how-to-vote card under my nose, my dad said “You’re wasting your time mate – he’s a Vietnam Veteran and won’t be voting for your lot”.

The response from this bloke was –

Vietnam wasn’t a real war, and you weren’t fighting for me over there.”

From there, my dad had to lead me off in one direction, whilst the other staffers took this bloke off in the opposite, as a red mist descended. I’ve settled down a bit since then.

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