Very Unhappy Anniversaries

Australia's forgotten heroes.

As I sat dictating on August 18, 2009 (Aust. EST), Australia was remembering our war dead from Vietnam.  Our politicians are wearing a sprig of wattle in Parliament to commemorate the battle of Long Tan, a name which will probably mean nothing to the average Joe Citizen and perhaps even the Vietnam veterans in the US. (1)

When I was in Washington for the first time, I visited the mighty Vietnam War memorial.  I was staggered by its sheer size and deeply moved by all those names, many with flowers and cards nearby.  I didn't have to sign the petition offered by veterans urging the government to continue to look for MIAs, not being an American, but the vets were delighted to have an Australian signature and I did it because I believed that it was the right and proper thing to do.

Our soldiers were deployed in Vietnam alongside U.S. and other allied armed forces, just as they are in Iraq. As I've written previously, despite the huge size of our country, there are only 23,000,000 Australians - and even that is a theoretical figure because you don't know how many of the people who live here have divided loyalties, one of the fruits of multiculturalism.

When we first committed troops to the Vietnam war, there was bipartisan support in Australia except of course for the pacifists whom we could respect (provided they were genuine) and the communists and extreme left who were the internal enemy. Our army was volunteer-based, but conscription had to be introduced, and the method of its introduction was possibly one of the most crass acts to have been committed by any government, anywhere, any time.

It is universally known that Aussies love to gamble and one of the most popular forms, along with poker machines, is a lottery. Australian lotteries as a serious business begun in the 1860s by drawing numbered lots from a wooden barrel, rotated to ensure even distribution, or at least that was the theory.  Thus it was with the Australian draft: if your birth date came up then you were liable for National Service. (2)

The Enemy Within

The rise of the antiwar movement in Australia paralleled that in the US and Europe. Its genesis lay with the usual suspects, namely Communists, Trotskyites and others within the left of the labor movement and the Australian Labor Party. The irony was that the ALP had supported the government on Vietnam until the tide of public opinion turned.  Much of that was fed by communist propaganda, TV footage from the battlefront - more often than not was obtained from US feeds - and a veritable smorgasbord of organizations specifically established in opposition to the war.

The left of the ALP has always been a natural constituency for those with anti-American attitudes and feelings, and Communists had penetrated the party for years. But the protests eventually drew in churches and mothers groups as well as genuine pacifists.

The intelligence establishment spent a great deal of time and effort in analyzing the antiwar movement.  The headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), then in Melbourne, was besieged as frequently as the nearby US Consulate General. The bulk of the physical and operational resources deployed to cover and monitor the activities of the protest movement were drawn from state police forces and the Australian Federal Police (AFP, or the Commonwealth police force as it was known at the time).

ASIO was directed to collect information by all means including human sources (HUMINT) and telephonic interception along with the full gamut of technical devices. This was specifically ordered by the Prime Minister of the day, a direction that in due course came back to bite the organizational posterior.

Many years later, it became popular for some intelligence officers to claim they were against the war from the start.  There is probably a grain of truth in that argument because professions know the cost of war better than most people can imagine.  However, conditions of service strictly prohibited political involvement by officers and I think my view was fairly typical.

The domino theory propounded within the US establishment had its adherents in Australia but they were essentially a minority, swimming against the tide. As the intelligence, police and security bodies were under attack physically with officers being under surveillance by trade unionists who then proceeded to reveal their identity publicly, there was a great deal of fury all round.

A left-wing organization had been formed with the objective of having ASIO abolished, as it was believed to be a secret police force and an arm of the Liberal and Country Party Coalition conservative parties which governed for 23 unbroken years from 1949. Nothing could be further from the truth - indeed, a Royal Commission in 1976-77 found many organizational problems but discovered that the Organization comprised a staff that was reasonably representative of the general population. (3)

My view was that which was generally held at the time - we believed that the Communists had initiated the Vietnam War in the 1950s with North Vietnam receiving materiel and moral support from the Soviet Union and China. (4)  Furthermore, an intelligence view of the spread of communism around the world presented a picture of expansionism. On that basis, I supported the war.

At a more basic level, my support was grounded in the fact that a legitimately elected government had decided to involve our troops.  While dissent was perfectly legal, political subversion was another matter.

A complicating factor was that certain intelligence organizations around the world were determined to prove that the KGB directed and funded the "peace" movement. It was certainly true that KGB officers in Australia, as elsewhere in the West, ran agents in the organizations that comprised the broader peace movement. It is my considered opinion on the basis of various reports that Soviet funding and direction was involved, but only on one occasion did we get smoking gun evidence that a demonstration had been ordered by Moscow and had occurred as planned.

As several KGB defectors have pointed out, the political line (PR) of the KGB's first chief directorate was tasked with organizing opposition to the Vietnam War in the West; while many such agents claimed success in their undertakings, in actual fact the antiwar movement had grown too big and too strong to be directly by a small, externally funded leadership group. (5)

I had no personal agenda when it came to genuine pacifists expressing their opposition against the war such as the Quakers. However, I took umbrage several years later when a number of Labor Party members who had occupied executive positions in the peace movement were rewarded for "community activity." (6)  Some of my colleagues and acquaintances were far angrier and some less so but I had a great deal of sympathy for one officer who was consistently harassed while traveling to and from work. He finally snapped and threw a bucket of water over some protesters with cameras outside the headquarters building. (7)

The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the experiences of the US and Western countries that permitted dissent is that the protests inevitably led to our withdrawal from Vietnam. Many people aver that the war in Vietnam was lost in the lounge rooms of America, on TV screens and with media assistance.  Looking back to those days, however, the US position had been weakened by a series of political disasters and a genuine quest for a negotiated peace.

The Vietnam experience raises the point that under certain circumstances a population can be mobilized against a duly elected democratic government to such an extent that the political system can become paralyzed. The protest movement started out in sociological terms as a subculture, especially among students, but became more of a counterculture with concomitant challenges to legitimate authority.

My reason for writing about the Vietnam War is that the tide of public opinion is turning against the war in Afghanistan and against doing anything about the axis of instability. Once again, Western society is being mobilized to oppose armed forces deployed against a totalitarian entity - in this instance, fundamentalist Islam.

I noted with concern that on the eve of the elections in Afghanistan, opinion polling in the US showed rising opposition to the military deployment despite some unexpectedly strong rhetoric from President Obama. The Internet, in its infancy at the time of the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Communist bloc and which has grown in strength and influence subsequently in other struggles against tyrannical government, literally abounds with extreme left-wing views and conspiracy theorists that blame the CIA for everything.

I monitor quite a number of extremist online hangouts such as: antifascist calling; Dandelion Salad; Information Clearing House; global, The Seminal; Tomgrams; Infowars Ireland and a veritable slew of Creative Commons strings which have been colonized by those whose hate for George Bush, the CIA, and America knows no bounds.

I have nothing but contempt for those who regard Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and Robert Fisk as preeminent chroniclers of US actions around the world. I take much more notice of the renegade leftist Christopher Hitchens who has seen the light, Theodore Dalrymple and others unafraid to challenge the dominant political paradigm. Some are very well balanced: like me they have a chip on both shoulders but at least we know where we stand and more importantly, why.

The Forgotten Heroes

In just about every armed conflict overseas in which the US has taken the lead; some of which took place under the United Nations banner, Australians have fought alongside Americans. Our numerical weakness means that we are always overlooked. And yet, I had relatives who fought in Korea and Vietnam and the bond between the armed forces of our two countries is still pretty strong.

I read quite recently that the US chief of operations in Afghanistan would like Australian forces to be more proactive. With due respect to the General, when Australian servicemen are posted to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, part of the contingent helps those of the local population who are prepared to stand up against al Qaeda or the Taliban. Invariably, there is a medical team, which includes hygienists who try to persuade the locals that there is merit in keeping clean and having potable water.

Those whom you don't read about are the ones brought home in a coffin for burial on Australian soil. They are more usually members of the Australian SAS, the equivalent of US Special Forces, who operate in small bands behind enemy lines. They don't like publicity; they don't like to be identified in the press, and the SAS never leaves anyone behind.

Australia can never be described as a totally subservient ally and most of us wouldn't have it any other way. We lack the strength of nationalism that Americans evince: I was genuinely surprised on my visits to the US to see the Stars and Stripes everywhere - on government buildings, private offices, public spaces and in some areas in everyone's front yard. Australians are not that demonstrative; part of the problem is that we are not terribly sure of what it means to be Australian - we have a national identity crisis.

In some respects, state loyalties are stronger than those to the federal government except when something big comes down the pike. Unlike America, Australian states have specified powers under the Constitution, and only the residual powers lie with the Commonwealth or federal government.  From being a miscellaneous collection of colonies from 1788 onwards, Australia only became a federation in 1901. That day is not a public holiday, unlike Australia Day on January 26 each year, when many people stand for citizenship ceremonies and are solemnly given certificates of nationality and in most states, a tree to plant.

We commemorate our war dead each year on Anzac Day.  I can clearly remember some of the early marches featuring veterans from the Boer war (South Africa 1899-1902), which commenced before Australia became federated.  In common with most of the Western world, we commemorate the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year in honor of those who fell in "the war to end all wars" and subsequent conflicts.

On Anzac Day, after the early morning church services and wreath-laying at memorials, together with playing of the Last Post, the veterans are served with hot milk with rum and they adjourn to pubs and other places where they play the strange Australian game of "two-up." On a personal level, that is the only form of gambling of which I approve: those men went off to fight and many didn't come back, so who am I to tell gallant men that they can't gamble once a year?

With the passing of the years, the ranks have thinned considerably. There are no more Boer War veterans; none from World War I and the lines of World War II veterans are fewer each year.  I worked with men who had seen service in both world wars and I can say with no fear of contradiction that those who had done the most, talked the least about their experiences.

Of course, the opposite obtains - the biggest blowhards never left the country and usually served behind a desk.  I am not derogating the work and worth of those who acted in a support capacity but I regard myself as privileged to have worked with genuine war heroes.

The Unreformed Communists

In an earlier article, I mentioned the strength of the anti-American left in Australia. Most would support the ALP, especially since Communism was exposed as a sham and its practitioners as ruthless thugs. I certainly didn't protest at TV programs showing the executions of the the Romanian tyrant Ceausceus.

While traitors walk free, there has been no process to rival that of de-Nazification when it comes to the Soviet bloc. Vladimir Putin and his ruling cronies are quietly whitewashing history and the mass murder of millions. It is no small wonder that several of my acquaintances in the Baltic communities are worried. Most of the client states of the former USSR are now dependent on Gazprom for energy.

This dependency sits ill with those who suffered so much.  I have seen and spoken to survivors of the gulags and their stories are heart wrenching. Expected to exist usually in subarctic conditions on 1200g of food each day and forever trying to keep warm, we in the West have forgotten them.

I remember a 90-year-old Lithuanian Roman Catholic priest. When he spoke, which was infrequently, he had to use a hand to hold his jaw in place. The cold, lack of food and nonexistent medical treatment had been particularly hard for him.  Nearly 50 years under the tender care of the KGB guard detachments and yet he had managed to keep his Bible and breviary hidden and his spirit alive.

To our shame, we have people who would claim that the Communist system was not responsible for the suffering of people like that priest.  To make matters worse, years after the fall of the Wall and the implosion of Communism, I found myself visiting the offices of politicians only to find that some had stylized pictures of Chairman Mao, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro on their walls.  The excuse was inevitably: "Well when we were young."  I have yet to meet a politician that has a picture of Adolf Hitler on a wall, though Mao and Stalin killed many times more innocents than Hitler.

So now, as we approach our spring in the southern hemisphere and you are coming in to fall, the differences appear trivial. Australia was basically founded on British settlement and migration, with other nationalities coming later such as the Chinese for gold in the 19th century and after World War II, mass migration from Europe and more recently, Asia and the Middle East.

In 1941, when Britain was exhausted fighting Hitler and unable to actively assist in the defense of Australia, the Prime Minister of this country John Curtin rose and called quite publicly for American assistance in his New Year message (Published in the Herald, Melbourne on December 27 1941:

Without any inhibitions of any kind I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.

And America, still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor, heard the call and acted.  Would it, could it, do so today?

I conclude this paper by noting that the tide of public opinion is turning against the common fight against fundamentalist Islamists in many areas of the world.

It is somewhat ironic that the ALP, a social democratic party (and more center-right than many) supported the war in Vietnam, then changed course to full opposition and outright hostility to the Armed Forces. Yet it took the courage of a later ALP leader to stand up, take charge and bring the boys home, with public parades and recognition. The experience of our servicemen was much the same as those of the US including such maladies as posttraumatic stress disorder. The Vietnam veterans have been recognized and their ranks swell the marches on Anzac Day but they have not been treated well.

Those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated slightly better than other vets - rightly so - but I'm quite sure that the returnees could have done without the words from a somewhat hysterical but influential person in the Obama administration, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, who raised the ire of many by concluding that they would be ready-made recruits for right-wing militias, neo-Nazi groups and others who organize to oppose the administration.

Hitler came to power because he successfully manipulated the myth of "the stab in the back" and I continue to wonder why Ms. Napolitano has not been sacked. It says a great deal about the weaknesses of a democracy that a government can send troops off to fight in conflicts overseas and vilify them on their return.

Party politics is no excuse, in this case or any other such.  To further confound those of us who see the worldwide menace of Islamic fundamentalism as a clear and present danger, hearing terrorist acts such as 9/11 described as "man-caused disasters" is more than a slap in the face.

America and Australia find themselves fighting several enemies: Islamic jihadists abroad, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism at home and worst of all, governments who either can't or won't understand that this is a fight for survival and fail to grasp the nettle when faced by articulate appeasers for terrorists.

God bless America - and God help Australia.


[1] The Armed Forces of all countries celebrate and/or commemorate certain battles during wars: t'was ever thus, but at Long Tan in a rubber plantation, about 27 km northeast of Vung Tau on August 18, 1966, a company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, along with elements of another Australian task force encountered a Viet Cong unit advancing in strength. In the ensuing battle, New Zealand and US personnel aided the Australian forces. The first North Vietnamese communiqué claimed that: "Liberation Fighters ... wiped out almost completely one Battalion of the Australian Mercenaries in an ambush in the Long Tan Village." However, the official Australian losses were 18 killed and 24 wounded. The official Australian figure that 2,500 NVA/VC were involved in the battle with D Company was determined by US and Australian Army Intelligence Reports. The official Australian count was 245 Communist dead and 150 wounded. This battle is used quite frequently in Armed Forces training as an example of the importance of combining infantry, artillery, armor and military aviation and is seen as the most famous battle fought by the Australian Army in Vietnam. For that reason, Long Tan has acquired almost mythic status. On the day the celebrations were held in Australia this year, I was gratified to read in the Washington Times that a ceremony to welcome home units that served in Vietnam was held at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, home to the 101st Airborne Division. (Washington Times August 17, 2009. "Vietnam war vets get belated welcome home.")

[2] The history of Australian gambling is worth a paper in its own right but I do not wish to extend the argument because it is not germane to the main article.

[3] The Campaign Against Political Police (CAPP) was a very small group but it was drawn from the left of the ALP and trade unionists, many of who were openly pro-Peking or Maoists; they had access to vehicles and two-way radios to monitor ASIO/CPF staff. They spread lies about ASIO officers being armed and promulgated a rumor about concentration camps being built in the deserts of Central Australia, where all antigovernment people would be placed and worked to death. Ironically old Australian Communist party documents contained plans for such facilities to detain anti-social and extremist elements.

[4] It was only later with the opening of Soviet archives that further information became available which showed that Ho Chi Minh was "encouraged" by Moscow in much the same way as Kim il Sung in Korea. We later learned, via electronic means shared by the Allied powers, that Warsaw Pact advisers were present in Vietnam and Soviet pilots flew against the Allied air forces.

[5] Oleg Danilovich Gordievsky who defected to the UK was one of a number of PR line officers who punctured much of the myth-making about KGB influence in the peace movement. Defectors from other KGB directorates, especially the counterintelligence line KR, were extremely sarcastic about the claims made by their colleagues and even disputed their success at planting stories in the press. Our analysis of rumors in the Vietnam War about chemical warfare and especially yellow rain showed that the KGB successfully inserted specious reports through the Indian press and some of those reports were picked up and reprinted by liberal Western newspapers.

[6] I was particularly incensed by the case of one prominent left-wing member of the Labor Party who was given an Order of Australia award, when the ALP regained power in the federal arena in 1983. I drew some reassurance from the fact that many British traitors and KGB agents had also managed to "score" civil awards. Although this person is now deceased I am not prepared to name him, but it's highly likely that he was a KGB agent; that is, someone whose activities were directed by a KGB officer. I also lost a great deal of respect for the Quakers when they helped spring the KGB officer George Blake from a UK prison and facilitated his successful, triumphant return to Moscow.

[7] This officer should have been treated much better by management but in a sense, he secured early retirement but with the stigma of mental illness. There are many anecdotal tales about intelligence officers being harassed for doing their job but what provoked genuine and lasting anger were the phone calls to wives and relatives in the middle of the night or when they were home alone. In my view, insufficient support was given to those concerned and the perpetrators were lionized and not punished. Australian intelligence officers did not carry weapons in those days but I can imagine the reaction of say an FBI agent in similar circumstances. A joke that went the rounds in those days was that the best underarm protection for a man was not Old Spice or Norsca but a Smith & Wesson .38 in a shoulder holster. Gallows humor carried many of us through.

Christopher Marlowe is a retired intelligence operative from a major NATO nation.  Read other articles by Christopher Marlowe or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
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