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Lieutenant-General Cosgrove and the born-again Vietnam protesters.

The timing of Australian Chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove's foray into the field of history, by criticizing Australia's participation in the Vietnam War that ended decades ago, is unfortunate. His revaluation came amidst three distinctive moves by others, not only to give respectability to those who protested against the war a generation ago, but also aim to make the opinions they held into mainstream, politically correct beliefs for the coming century, marginalising research-based scholarly accounts, and attacking and isolating scholars who failed to endorse their beliefs, in the same way as they and their research findings were discounted by such organised groups as C.A.S.A.N. (Concerned Asian Scholars of Australia and New Zealand) who placed observers in university lectures and manipulated book reviews to see which scholars should be promoted and who marginalised.


1. New American Source Book

The first major effort to guide minds to make dissenters' beliefs the mainstream historical account for the 21st Century came from America with the publication of a two volume book entitled Reporting Vietnam. This consists of a selection of then contemporary newspaper reports, which although in the main biased, are presented as esteemed and reliable, as Dr. I.C.F. Spry, Q.C. pointed out in his analytical article Lessons from the Vietnam War. (1) This volume does not inform so much about the state of affairs in Vietnam, as about the nature of the popular press and its reporters in America at the time, and this was not impressive, primarily because American reporters did not understand ideological politics which do not exist in their own system. That topic however can be learnt. Quentin Reynolds had a good understanding of Nazism which he used in his writings which are not a patch on those of Douglas Reed who, in Europe, imbibed ideological conflict with his mother's milk. There was no noticeable correspondent from America in Vietnam of their quality. What American reporters in Vietnam did in the main was search for imperfections in new born South Vietnam which aimed at democracy, and the hundreds who were there found imperfections while ignoring the totalitarian form of government in North Vietnam whose expansion they welcomed, at the expense of sacrificing democracy. The logical result of this method of reporting, and the source book, would be to comprehensively unmask and report on the large scale fraud and dishonesty in the democratic nation of America today, and pave the way for a takeover by a neighbouring totalitarian state to eliminate the corrupt together with their democracy.

This book should be assessed in the light of scholarly research-based works such as articles in the S.E.A.T.O. journal, and analyses of united front strategies and the concept of people's war which permeate the thoughts of Asian Communists, amongst whom, incidentally, Ho Chih Minh was an ideological pigmy. Scholars have to turn elsewhere to comprehend the strategies he used to create a socialist paradise and new world for the Vietnamese proletariat, a fact American reporters and officials seemed not to understand. They were swamped by reams of intelligence reports which were not incomprehensible as commentators make out. Communist documents contain core documents which contain the key to arrange the papers in understandable patterns of digestible size.

2. Following Australian Effort to Make the 1960s a Cultural Turning Point

The American move has been followed by a more distinctive Australian effort which aims to revalue the 1960s historically, creating the belief that the drug culture and the alternative lifestyles which emerged then, together with noisy, organized political protests, mark a major turning point in Australian history and culture, ushering in a brand new outlook and literary expression and literature.

This revaluation is attempted in a 589 page hard-covered book entitled Michel Dransfield's Lives: a sixties biography, written by Patricia Dobrez and published by the Melbourne University Press. The book is about a drug addict who wrote anti-Vietnam war verse under the influence of narcotics, and died from drugs at the age of 25. The intention of the work is to create the impression that Dransfield is as much a literary giant marking an era of change, as Australia's earlier cultural heroes who, deservedly, still stand high. This is done in an amazing way. To heighten the worth of Dransfield, frequent references are made to Keats and Tennyson and other acknowledged great poets. But judging from what he wrote, it would have been more apt to compare Dransfield to the Decadents of the 1920s and 1930s whose fashions of thought have been outmoded, and are no longer relevant, nor a worthwhile model, for earlier attempts to promote the Decadents as heralding a new age with a brand new outlook have rightly failed. The prime reason for this is that political activists, and authors who seek to sanctify them, when they write history, have their own peculiar concept of time. They focus on kairos instead of chronos, seeing developments taking place in sudden huge leaps which coincide with their eschatological views of progress in which an old outmoded age is suddenly replaced, almost automatically, by a new progressive age (as the Vietnam War protesters believed Ho Chih Minh was doing in Vietnam, a fact with which the political refugees and others would disagree).

3. New Probe for Anti-war Bombing Attack on Conscription Records

The third initiative in the drive to revalue and dignify 1960s anti-war activism is in the form of a media campaign launched (The West Australian, 10 August 2002) to interest the Western Australian Royal Commission. This has been launched by anti-war campaigner Rupert Gerritson who pleaded guilty to planting a bomb in 1973 to blow up conscription records and the building they were stored in. He maintains that his co-accused, who allegedly pleaded guilty, was innocent. This has raised three important points and issues. First, the detective who arrested the bombers and handled their prosecution, Bob Kucera, is now Minister for Health in the W.A. Labor Cabinet. Also in that Cabinet are two former anti-war activists who allegedly gave references for Gerritson at the sentencing stage. The latter is not important. The point is Kucera has been accused of wringing a confession from an innocent man, whose case the bomber now wants investigated by the Attorney General, one of the two referees for Gerritson who chose the Royal Commissioner and detailed the Royal Commission's functions. To complicate matters, Kucera has threatened action for defamation. A further main point is that if the Royal Commission investigates the case, Gerritson has indicated he will reveal the names of those now allegedly in high places, who helped and supported him, publicly bringing them out in the same manner as gays are revealing closet homosexuals.

This campaign commenced just after Cosgrove came out with his revaluation. It is not clear if this helped decide Gerritson and the media, but whether he likes it or not, Cosgrove and his office are linked with the efforts of the "Born Again Peace Warriors", which may have repercussions. Cosgrove, in future, is not likely to be asked to address meetings of Vietnam Veterans on their sacred days, nor the R.S.L. on these issues. More important, his office will have to take care when it seeks the information needed to make sound judgments. It should not appear to be a soft target for activists who have now achieved power they can use to peddle the beliefs they might have carried with them in their baggage as they rose. There is ample evidence to show that they continue to marginalise scholars who did not conform to their ideas, favouring instead their fellow travellers, in a system of political cronyism. The army should not follow in their tracks to become part of this. They should ignore politics and use the best research-based scholarly advice.

It is wholly understandable and to be expected in democratic society that young radical protesters when they grow old enough to rise to prominent positions, seek respect and recognition. That is now happening in democracies everywhere. But what is not academically or otherwise acceptable, is to make their early emotional beliefs, in the case of Dransfield enhanced by narcotics, into mainstream thought that is historically correct and intellectually respectable, for they have not that quality. They are emotional beliefs that were not prejudiced by the fruits of research and reading, for the anti-Vietnam War marches and sit-ins bypassed libraries, research centres and places of learning, and shunned learned academics.

Attempting to make anti-Vietnam War sentiments and slogans the truthful record of Australia's Vietnam involvement, and historically respectable, in fact is no more acceptable than allowing "Born again Jacobins" to make old Jacobin views fashionable, and support this by publishing a source book of newspaper reports by the untutored and uninformed journalists found in such papers as Jacques Hebert's La Pere Duchesne, which were disseminated to feed the enrages. Wiser counsel prevailed in France in the Napoleonic period when scientific academies brought scientists in from the political wilderness, restoring French prestige and providing a model for the learned academies of America which unfortunately, did not make a noticeable scholarly impact during the politicisation of the Vietnam War by the popular media.

Scholars in America, for example, could have pointed out the fact, not unknown in the history of their democracy, that fragmented political wills are acceptable in those polities, and that the idea of a general will provides the foundation for and justifies totalitarian regimes such as those found in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia and the kingdoms of blue ants in Mao's China and North Vietnam and its neighbours with their killing fields. Criticism of the Jacobin and Babeufian commitment to a general will, and the Reign of Terror this unleashed, incidentally explains why America opted for the Westminster System as a basis for its constitution, and why it did not intervene in the French revolutionary wars which spread to its doorstep. America then was more concerned about democracy and its foundations.


The cultural foundation for supporting democracy, and for the defence of freedom for individuals and democratic nations, for which not a little bit of blood has been spilt, lies not in France nor in the Norman part of the history of Britain which has long championed democracy, as the records show, but in its Germanic past which provided the roots of parliamentary democracy, the sovereignty of free people, and an elective kingship, for Britain has Heirs Apparent, not Crown Princes. It has readily sacked and executed monarchs, and changed dynastic houses in the manner the early Saxons chose the most suited to work with their councils. Incidentally, of the 60 monarchs who have reigned in Britain since the Saxon King Egbert the Great united Britain, only some 24 could be classified as Heirs Apparent, so that not even they are guaranteed the throne, a fact missed by Australia's republicans.

A good way to comprehend this and the tradition of defending freedoms and democracy including the efforts by the first and second waves of Anzacs, followed by the Vietnam Veterans, is to look at Shakespeare's historical dramas, for these contain knowledge that the Armed Forces Academy would find value in teaching so that their personnel will know their place in the scheme of things, and will acquire some intellectual vigour.


Shifts of position by military men, such as apparently changing to side with the Vietnam peace warriors, is not unlike the course Enobarbus followed in Shakepeare's Antony and Cleopatra, when he forsook Octavius and Rome and the army which nurtured him, and joined Antony in Cleopatra's Egypt. Antony's doing this is not surprising. One sees a hint of what he was like from his appearance in Julius Caesar, staged some six years before. In this Antony shows himself to be a thoughtless demagogue who speaks from the heart. The republican Brutus, who fears autocratic rule, is far more rational, and acts to prevent the seizure of power by a man who would be Caesar and rule as a President which Antony accepts. Antony has the same outlook, ruled by the heart, when he joins the seductive Cleopatra and her luxurious court in the sequel, Antony and Cleopatra. Enobarbus in the play and in real life as the Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus found in the pages of Plutarch's Lives, makes a mistake when he forsakes Rome and its tradition, to side with Antony and Egypt. When he comes to his senses he realizes that he has confused his loyalties, and made an error he cannot undo. He spends the rest of the play, thereafter, looking for some foul ditch in which to die.

The real point about this incident, which Shakespeare drives home to his audiences in his other Roman and early British plays, is that if Antony and Cleopatra with Enobarbus had won the battle of Actium, Western Europe and its civilization could have been fashioned on a corrupted system of government with personal, arbitrary rule exercised by eastern-style potentates, instead of that offered by Rome which favoured the rule of law and a system of government by consent which Octavius represents for theatre-goers to the play. For they knew that Octavius would become Augustus, whose rule and model they preferred to that offered by the Pharaohs or the Moors or by Mongols such as the inhuman and dictatorial Tamberlaine who was shown on the stage to use the skulls and bones of the enemies left on his killing fields, to build his ramparts.


It is, of course, too early to expect to find Shakespeare championing parliamentary democracy above totalitarian systems and absolutist rule, which is largely what the Vietnam War and Australia's participation in it was about. Parliament is mentioned in only two of Shakespeare's plays, 1 Henry VI and 3 Henry VI, and then merely as a building used for a setting. It was not until later that parliament was given its modern political form and function when the imperious Charles the First was cut down to size by the renascent Parliament's axeman. However, a spirit of democracy can be found in Shakespeare's British history plays, especially the military drama Henry V in the major tetrology. The interesting point about that play is that Shakespeare ignores the unique force of English longbowmen which historians acknowledge won the battle at Agincourt, implying instead that the battle on St. Crispin's Day was won by a British spirit that was essentially democratic in a nation where "honour's thought reigns solely in the breast of every man". This is conveyed not so much in Henry's famous St Crispin's Day speech (4. 3. 18-67), but when he is in disguise mixing with his troops (5.1) talking about kings and kingship, indicating that kings are the same as any other blokes, although they are up at the top. The idea is also found in his famous patriotic call to the soldiers on the field "to go once more into the breach and close the wall up with English dead" (3. 1. 1-34). His reference to "English dead" filling the gaps, of course, does not correctly reflect the situation. For the next scene is a very multicultural one, with English and Welsh and Scots talking in accents one can barely understand, all preparing to go into the fray together, with there being expressed not a little democratic spirit based on Christian humanism--for Henry and the recruits drawn from taverns and the like all stand as one--implying that it was this spirit that led a small British force of volunteers to wipe the floor with a professional French army four times its size. That same feeling was not absent amongst the First and Second Anzacs and the Vietnam Veterans who fought with a spirit of democracy against totalitarian dictators.


The point about this concept of rationality is that it was early accepted in Britain, no doubt derived from Saxon as well as Christian and classical origins, where it was believed that Man created by God is rational, and should be governed only by those who have the citizens' consent to govern them. The Archbishop of Canterbury departs from this in Henry V when he urges Henry to go to war, and supplies him with funds, informing him (1. 2. 183-221) that people are like bees, each having assigned places in the hives in which they lived--rather like the blue ants in totalitarian China under Chairman Mao, and in Ho Chih Minh's Vietnam and other Asian communist states led by Marxist-Leninists who refuse to believe Man is rational and acts with reason. That is why they never hold elections, ruling instead as leaders of the proletariat class which they believe is in the majority. Elections, in those circumstances, are unnecessary. Once communists take charge, the states they rule automatically become People's Democracies even when power is imposed solely through the barrel of a gun.

Shakespeare and his Britain are of a different ilk. He makes quite clear, like Ezekiel in his biblical adage about the Cedars of Lebanon, that ordinary people, and not only leaders, have reason and are fit to rule or to elect representatives to rule them, and are in fact the salt of the Earth like the Duke of York's gardener in Richard II, who clearly knows what is and what is not good government and how the nation should be run like a fruitful garden.

It was this outlook that laid the foundations for the creation of modern systems of government by consent, where people hold sovereign power and elect representatives to pass the laws that underlie the rule of law which applies equally to all, no matter what their status or wealth. For in democracies all men and women are held to be equal, with all needing to be treated with humanity, these being principles guiding the First and Second Anzacs, and the Vietnam Veterans when they went to help win freedoms.

That is an old established British tradition that goes back many centuries. The unique British longbowmen, for example, not long after their victory at Agincourt, went to help Portugal win freedom from Castille and the rule of the Spanish Inquisition, to become one of the first modern nation states. Since then Britain has not seldom helped others in their fights to achieve democracy and to remove tyrants and oppressive governments, and has helped fight for freedoms with no little loss of blood, as the historical records show. That is the tradition that led many of the first and second waves of Anzacs to volunteer, to be later joined by the Vietnam Veterans who fought to try to prevent Ho Chih Minh's tyranny in Vietnam, and to help ordinary people in South East Asia freely elect the governments they wish, in the same way as the Anzacs in the Second World War went to preserve democracy at a time when it was pushed back to a small sector in Europe, and to put bullies in their place and liberate people from the rule of tyrants.


Lieutenant-General Cosgrove's public revaluation of the Vietnam War is likely to have personal repercussions as well as affecting his office and the nation. This is not because he made a statement, but because he went about it the wrong way. The most acceptable method used to make historical revaluations, is to make intensive researches, preferably in previously unused sources, and present the result at a learned seminar composed of experts. Unresearched statements picked up by the press are not likely to win intellectual respect.

On the personal side, like others who have been featured in the press, he is not likely to patronize the Vietnam Veterans or the R.S.L. on these matters, or present an address on days of significance in the history of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, for there were victories worth commemorating.

On the larger scale, Australia's neighbours are not likely to be impressed. Members of S.E.A.T.O. who preferred democracies to totalitarian communist regimes, are not likely to approve of the shift. Nor will Asia be impressed by the implied suggestion that it is alright for Asia to have systems of government Australia finds unsuitable for itself.

On the home front, the resurrection of the 1973 bombing incident in Western Australia referred to above has revealed that divisions may exist in modern Cabinets, especially Labor, suggesting that some of the political decisions may be vermiculate, in particular if old beliefs and the prejudices and hatreds they fostered persist and hold sway. It is essential, in the circumstance, for the armed services to seek and use the best scholarly advice if they wish to make sound judgments in scholarly fields like history.

(1.) National Observer, No. 40, Autumn 1999, pages 39-47.

PROFESSOR LESLIE R. MARCHANT was the Foundation Director of the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia, and is a member of the Faculty of the University of Notre Dame, Western Australia.
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Author:Marchant, Leslie R.
Publication:National Observer - Australia and World Affairs
Geographic Code:9VIET
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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