Songs that put it in perspective:

War – Edwin Starr –youtube.com/watch?v=_d8C4AIFgUg

Eric Bogle – The Band Played Waltzing Matilda - youtube.com/watch?v=WG48Ftsr3OI

Redgum – I Was Only 19 - youtube.com/watch?v=Urtiyp-G6jY

You're The Voice – John Farnham - youtube.com/watch?v=6m2m_9Uijso


Wars are the worst of humanity. If there is a more intelligent life force out there they would surely rate us as ignorant and aggressive. I know I’m an idealist, perhaps in many ways naively so. But I just don’t get it. Is war, as so many people seem to think, actually inevitable? Is man's inhumanity to man “natural”? And why does it seem that we have learned so very little from past conflicts? Given the horrors of the two World Wars and how the second was concluded (the use of nuclear weapons upon innocent civilians) why is war now even an option? And why, in a world where resources could be better employed on preventative measures, are there such huge expenditures on military weaponry and personnel?

Couldn’t the money spent by governments on defence and wars be much better spent on social programs? Australia is currently spending 2% of GDP on defence. That amounts to $32 billion in the next financial year, and is projected to be around $58.7 billion by 2025-26. The United States spends 3.3% of GDP, China 1.9%, Russia 5.4% and Saudi Arabia a whopping 13.7 (got to protect those oil reserves). But there are many countries in the world that spend virtually nothing on defence, with some such as Japan, Monaco, Iceland and Panama having no armies at all. Countries like South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland spend around or less than 1%. Greece, a country which has just cut its pension payments by up to 55% because of budgetary constraints, is spending 2.6% of their GDP on defence. While governments around the world wind back “unaffordable” social programs, defence spending is quarantined.

The fact is that politicians assume, usually correctly, that any vote against the military budget will be used against them in attack ads. Wealthy lobbyists supply the cash needed to run expensive modern campaigns. And voters who would otherwise take their representatives to task for waste and corruption will cheer on almost any spending, no matter how frivolous, if it’s justified by repeating the words “national security”. It's because our most dominant emotion is fear, and governments and the media take full advantage of that. But surely the best form of security is to make our primary objective to be peace. This is hardly the mantra of countries like the US, China and Russia, whose major focus is world supremacy. But there are several nations who have opted out of this game, more peaceful countries that have no allegiance to any of the super powers who are comfortable with their own image.

Wars seem to me to be motivated by greed, megalomania and a need to control. These are human traits that are prominent in all walks of life, and represent the insecurity of individuals. But the majority of us fail to comprehend the motivation for the excesses of the extreme violence of war. And wars depend upon the willingness of politicians to assign duty and military personnel to willingly participate. But I would have thought that, at least, Australia would have learned the futility of war. It seems not.

War Boy

Australia, who had an understandably reliant dependence on Britain for so long, joined WWI at their bequest. It was a war that should never have been, but we felt and obligation to answer the call. WWII wasn’t much different - obligation to the mother land. Hitler was a real threat to Europe as a whole, and if Britain was under attack, so was Australia, in the Commonwealth way of thinking. It was no surprise when Menzies, who was fiercely pro-British, declared war on Germany. Over 95% of Australians had a British background so supporting the mother country was never really questioned. We could have avoided deploying to North Africa and Greece, but fighting the Japanese in the pacific was unavoidable - our very survival was threatened, and we banded together to fight with the yanks in the Pacific and Indonesia.

By 1948, as a product of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, Korea was split into two regions, with separate governments. Both governments claimed to be the legitimate government of Korea, and neither side accepted the border as permanent. The civil war escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces, supported by the Soviet Union and China, moved to the south to unite the country on 25 June 1950. On that day, the United Nations Security Council recognised this North Korean act as invasion and called for an immediate ceasefire. When the North refused, the UN decided to dispatch forces to the conflict. Twenty-one countries of the United Nations eventually contributed to the defence of South Korea, with the United States providing 88% of the military personnel.

The Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as Resistance War against America) was waged between 1964 and 1973. The North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong were fighting to reunify Vietnam. They viewed the conflict as a colonial war and a continuation of the First Indochina War against forces from France and later on the U.S. The U.S. government viewed its involvement in the war as a way to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam. This was part of a wider US containment policy, with the stated aim of stopping the spread of communism, an obvious threat to western capitalism. By then Australia’s ties, culturally, economically and in the matter of security meant we had formed a close alliance with the US. Australia had made itself essentially dependent on American help in the event of external aggression and that dependence had a price tag of involvement in American foreign policy. The plain and simple fact was that if Australia did not help America now, then America might not come to Australia in her hour of need, if it ever arose.

Psychologically, Australia had been prepared for another war since the conflict in Korea. Compulsory military training and universal conscription had been briefly re-introduced in 1951. The Australian people had been told so often to prepare for war that they all thought it was only a matter of time before they would have to go into battle with the communists. Many people were thinking why wait until it's too late and fight them when they invade our own land - let's go out and meet this threat head on. Much of the Liberal government's foreign policy was formed around this idea of 'forward defence'. The threat that Australia needed to defend against at the time was communism spreading from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. There was popular support for going to war in South East Asia. Australians had been bombarded with anti-communist propaganda and the threat of communist invasion for so long, that this war was their chance to change the future of Asia.

But as the war became so protracted and a result appeared unlikely, Australians started to question our involvement. Soon the ant-war protests began. The movement against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began as small among peace activists and leftist intellectuals on university campuses, but gained national prominence in 1965, after the United States began bombing North Vietnam in earnest. By the time U.S. planes began regular chemical bombings of North Vietnam, some critics had begun to question the government’s assertion that it was fighting a democratic war to liberate the South Vietnamese people from Communist aggression.

Anti-war marches and other protests, such as the ones organised by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), attracted a widening base of support over the next three years, peaking in early 1968 after the successful Tet Offensive by North Vietnamese troops proved that war’s end was nowhere in sight. In the early years of Australian involvement in Vietnam, opposition, even to the policy of sending conscripts to a war zone, was limited. The National Service Scheme did attract opponents as soon as it was introduced, but it was only when the government increased the size of Australia’s commitment to the war in Vietnam in May 1966, making the use of conscripts necessary, that significant public opposition arose. In 1972, when the United States began removing its troops from Vietnam, Australia followed suit, irrespective of the protests. As more and more detail about the use of chemical weapons by the US became public, the war was ultimately perceived as corrupt and Australia’s involvement totally unnecessary.

Despite this, Australia followed the US into the Gulf War (1990-1991), though it was not being sanctioned by the UN. Following that was the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq War and the continuing Middle East conflict against ISIL. Since then, Australia has been targeted by so-called terrorists from the Middle East, with the threat of attack labelled as “probable”. But those countries that did not participate in any of the recent conflicts face no threat at all. So it seems our willingness to back the US in its self-appointed role as global policeman, becoming militarily involved in what are essentially civil wars, has increased the threat to our national security.

While Australia remains strategically vulnerable to possible future desire of its land and resources by over-populated countries to its north, and definitely requires long-term protection, I question whether we need to answer every call to arms that is made by the US, now the most hated nation on earth. Surely we must be allowed to determine our foreign policy based upon what is best for the country in the immediate future. And I question as to why humanity hasn’t learnt from the past and done everything possible to promote peace above war. Self-interest seems to override everything else, and compromise is seen as weakness. This is simply not intelligent. To back the US in its struggle to stave off for as long as possible the inevitable rise of China as the world supremacy may seem logical to those in power. But it looks very much like a school-yard brawl to me. And, by that reckoning, warfare is simply an immature response to inappropriate needs and personal fears. Only when all humanity realises that the truth of the world is that we are all one, and co-operation rather than conflict with each other is the only thing that will save us in the end.

“We're all someone's daughter, we're all someone's son …. how long can we look at each other down the barrel of a gun?”

Geoff Mooney