“Togs: How far do you think Australia has to go in actually coming to grips with Vietnam and the war in Indochina?
Brian: Jesus! I don't really think that sections of Australian society, political, military and otherwise will ever admit Vietnam was a mistake. They just won't. There is too many people who still believe in the so¬ called ANZAC tradition. Now I have a great belief in certain parts of the ANZAC tradition because the ANZAC tradition was a very hard won honour.
[The soldiers in this picture are;
top row; Sergeant Norton Niblet Mentioned in Dispatches, Wounded in Action three times, Lance Sergeant Stephen Tognolini Military Medal and Bar, Wounded in Action twice, Lance Sergeant Victor Edwards Military Medal and Bar,
Middle row; Sergeant J.S. Sheringham Wounded in Action, Company Sergeant Major George Hunt, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Wounded in Action twice, Killed in Action July 4 1918, Company Sergeant Major William Trevascus Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, Mentioned in Dispatches, Wounded in Action and Boer War Veteran,
Bottom row; Lance Corporal J.H. Cotterell Military Medal, Died of Wounds September 18 1918, and Lance Corporal J.J. Craigie Military Medal
Querrieu, France, 27 June 1918, brother non-commissioned officers of the 21st Battalion.
The 21st Battalion fought at; Suvla and Gallipoli, The Somme, Pozieres, Bapaume, Bullecourt, Ypres 1917, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcappelle, Passchendaele, Hamel, Amiens, Albert, Mont St Quentin, Hindenburg Line, Beaurevoir, Montbrehain.
The 21st Battalion's casualties were 872 killed, 2434 wounded (including gassed) A battalion was a force of 1,000 soldiers.]
For example if you look at our casualties in World War One where the ANZAC tradition was formed and if you look at Australia and New Zealand they suffered the highest casualties of any nations in World War One, per percentage of those put in the field and the ANZAC tradition after World War One. Although a lot of people have tried to put it down; the facts of battle, the things that occurred in battle, the amounts of times the Australians actually did heroic things in battle is well documented and can't be taken away. Where other armies lost places, the Australians took them back and that happened on a couple of occasions. So, the ANZAC tradition was there and the ANZAC tradition should always remain.
What I don't like about it is that people tend to use the ANZAC tradition as a form of propaganda to brainwash people into believing that war is good.So, the ANZAC tradition should be kept within its' correct perspective. The ANZAC tradition is the gallantry of men. The mateship of men. The ability to fight. The ability to stay together and do a job under terrible adverse conditions.
Nowhere should the ANZAC tradition say that war is good. Some good comes out of war. It must because the Japanese and the Germans were defeated in World War Two and that was good. So, good does come out of war if the war is just. But I don't think the ANZAC tradition should be used for political or for propaganda purposes to affect the minds of young people. So that they believe one, that we are the best soldiers in the world and all the other soldiers, the Asian soldiers and all these German soldiers and all these others are no good because that's not so. That is not so.
The ANZAC tradition should make our youth aware of war. It shouldn't make them want to go to war. ANZAC Day shouldn't make people want to go to war. ANZAC Day should make people aware of war and what war does.That's the part that upsets me. Is the way that it is used. And the way it was used in the Australian Army to make people believe when they went to Vietnam that what they were doing was correct.See for example, I just could not believe and found it very difficult in the end to believe that the Australian Army had been used for political and military gain in South East Asia. I always thought the Australian Army would be used for good things. I just didn't believe that our government would have used the Australian Army as a cheap mercenary outfit to run around the world killing people to make politicians happy or more powerful and this security of Australia.
That the Vietnamese could ever come down and invade us, you know, the Domino Theory, that was all crap. But people actually used the ANZAC tradition in conjunction with these theories to convince people like myself and thousands and thousands of others that by going to Vietnam we were serving our country and we weren't. We were serving the politicians. We were serving the Americans and we were there basically doing in Vietnam what the Japanese did in Asia and what the Germans did in Europe. We invaded a foreign country to stop those people from having the government they wanted, whether we agree with it or not, surely the first thing is democracy. By going there we were actually killing democracy. We weren't helping people to become democratic.”
Some readers might remember Brian from John Pilger’s book A Secret Country where he said, “I remember one night a very senior American officer, who was a close friend of mine, said he had nothing but praise for the expertise and discipline of the Australian soldier. He told me, ‘We really like having you guys here.’ And I said, ’Why’s that? And he said, ‘You’re very good, you’ve helped us a lot….it’s like the British having the Ghurkhas, we have the Australians.”
I’m working on a review of Les Carlyon’s books, The Great War and Gallipoli. These two works are what I would call “safe history”. They don’t devlve deep enough into class and power. And sadly Carlyon dosn't even look at race, Aboriginal ANZAC's don't get a mention in both works. his massive works unfornately falls into the tragic adventure scenario, they had to go and fight. In The Great War, Carlyon borders on being an apologist for the British Mass Butcher, General Douglas Haig.
One of the results of Howard’s militarisation of history is that the stories of ordinary people, soldiers and people on the homefront are swept to the side. They become smothered by “safe history”. Let’s not talk about ANZAC being a part of the mass mutiny in the British army at Etaples in 1917, and ANZACs' shooting British military police and training instructors (who came from the British prison system and were widely hated as sadistic trench dodgers). Wilfred Owen called Etaples, “the bull ring.” Like the above interview with Brian, holes can be poked into myths and cracks in the parchment of legends can be exposed to proper examination.
I believe that history is telling what happened and why. Free from any romantic nonsense of adventures. I believe in empathy and in studying my own family’s history with ANZAC in both World War One and Two, I know history can hurt and we should not let any politician or set of cronies play on it too justify imperial adventures such as Iraq and Afganistan.