Saturday, 30 April 2016

Back Where it Belongs

Today I marched with my union for the first time in thirty years.

The reason for this was the reinstatement in Queensland of the May day celebration back where it belongs.

This victory over political spite (which was the only reason for shifting it) was worth celebrating.

There was a great rollup, and it was good to reconnect with people I had worked with over the years in a variety of schools and situations. Songs were sung, speeches made, and a good time was had by all.

We were reminded of the origins of the Labor movement in the 1891 shearers' strike. The harsh suppression of this strike (including the use of the military) was largely responsible for the formation of the Australian Labor Party.

In order to do a bit of stirring, I wore my unit reunion shirt to the parade. Large numbers of ex-military are anti-union, so I thought that it might be instructive to remind them that the right to organise was one of the values that Australians had always fought for.

Scattered amongst the crowd were ex-public servants sacked in Newman's purge in 2012. It was interesting listening to them explain how that action had motivated many to become very politically active.

The surprise defeat of his government was in no small measure an outcome of his broken promise about public service redundancies. People (and their families) don't forget these things.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Anzac Myth

Photo courtesy the Saturday Paper

I came across this well written piece in The Saturday Paper.

It is especially relevant at this time, on the eve of ANZAC day, given the extensive and overblown mythology that has developed around what was always intended as a day of commemoration.

It also resonates with some research I did recently through the Australian War Memorial into a great uncle who served in France.

My great uncle's military records indicate that he jumped ship in Durban on the way to Plymouth, and was consequently separated from his unit. On arrival in the UK, he went straight into hospital with VD, no doubt picked up during the ten days he was AWOL in Durban.

His service records show that he embarked for France a few months later after a long stint in hospital, but the fact that he ended up with a different posting in a different unit from his original probably saved his life. More than half of his original unit were casualties, dead or maimed, in the nightmare that was the Western Front..

He survived and ended up marrying a French girl who had nursed him in hospital, strangely in the UK. I never did discover what she was doing in England.

They lived in France for a while after the war, but eventually found their way back to Australia in the twenties to settle in Clermont,central Queensland.

He died fairly young, possibly as a consequence of his service, but my French great aunt lived to a ripe old age. Stories of her eccentricities are part of our family history.

The article linked above discusses these issues at some length. It recounts the reality, not the myth.

Somehow the myth continues to grow, like a parasite on the truth, and it dishonours the memory of those who did not return.

On a personal note, I have been accused on a military blog of lying because I had the temerity to point out that the story going around that all Nashos who served in Vietnam were volunteers was rubbish. Somehow, the fact that National Servicemen were obliged to serve in Vietnam whether they wanted to or not, does not fit the narrative that we were enthusiastic about driving the Commies out of South Vietnam.

The National Service Act made it very clear that national servicemen on full-time duty were liable for ‘special overseas service’ including combat duties in Vietnam. This fact is conveniently ignored. The "all were volunteers" myth has been thoroughly debunked in mark Dapin's book - The Nasho's War, and before its release, research I'd done at the AWM was leading me to the same conclusion. There is no record of alleged "opt-out parades" anywhere in unit records or AWM documentation.

There may have been isolated incidents of unit commanders taking matters into their own hands and finding ways of weeding out unwilling conscripts, but I certainly was never given the opportunity. To enlarge this alleged practice to cover ALL Nashos is pure fiction.  

Dapin interviewed hundreds of Nashos and came to the same conclusion.  

The myth persists, and until a short time ago was included in material available to schools on the ANZAC day website. I emailed them with my evidence, but was ignored. My email remains unacknowledged.

Those who served were on the whole, ordinary men caught up in the absurdity of war. They wanted to live - they saw no glory in dying in war. They loved and were loved. They who were killed left family and lovers behind who will mourn them forever. 

Perhaps telling the truth about the ugly absurdity of modern warfare is too much for our delicate twenty-first century sensibilities, but is it OK to invent a false narrative to avoid such unpleasantness?

Update - As of 6th August 2018, and in response to further emails and a phone call, the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee has amended their website and removed the reference to all Nashos being volunteers.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...