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War without thought

By Kellie Tranter and Bruce Haigh - posted Wednesday, 10 March 2010

With ongoing investigations into the tragic deaths of six Afghan civilians killed last year in a raid by Australian forces, alleged “warnings” by US General Stanley McChrystal that Australia's restrictions on the deployment of its troops in Afghanistan is impairing the US-led war effort and the upcoming visit to Australia by President Barack Obama, perhaps now is the time for Australians to reflect and think about the legitimacy of Australia's involvement in Afghanistan at all.

For those of us who lived through the pain, dishonesty and frustration of the war in Vietnam, Afghanistan is shaping up as a passable re-creation.

The war in Vietnam consumed an earlier generation in a decade of protest, fear of conscription or service in the Army. There was wall-to-wall media coverage with anti-war songs, literature and movies. The mistakes were there for all to see, except the US Administration and the military leadership. As always Australian politicians, the military, significant sections of the media and the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, went along with the US establishment.


At the time, the US said the war in Vietnam was to contain the spread of communism and thwart Chinese and Russian ambitions in South-East Asia. Never mind that the two were deeply suspicious of each other, the US had them in bed together. For the US, communism was monolithic and was controlled from Moscow.

Nowadays the fight is against so called “enemies of freedom”.

Bush let his dogs off the lead and they tore into Afghanistan, crushed a very surprised and unprepared Taliban and hastily departed Afghanistan for Iraq with blood in their nostrils, but without the scalp of Osama bin Laden.

The Inter Service Intelligence Agency, ISI, recovered their balance and began training a new generation of Taliban fighters, which like the Mujahideen before them, had many diverse reasons for fighting but eventually were loosely united through the common enemy of a foreign occupying army, of which the US was the largest and driving force.

We will rue the day when the then Prime Minister John Howard committed our country to this “war of aggression”. In his address to the Australian Defence Association on October 25, 2001 Howard said, “The UN Security Council unequivocally condemned the attacks in New York and Washington, and affirmed the need for all nations to combat by all means the threats to international peace and security caused by such terrorist acts.”

The public protests that did occur were simply ignored. Where was the silent majority? Sitting silent in the audience.


In 2003, the then Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd delivered The Annual Castan Lecture at Monash University. In it he not only gave a damning assessment of the Howard Government’s decision to invade Iraq, but he also said:

... The relevant Security Council resolution on Afghanistan post September 11 explicitly drew on Article 51 in authorising military action by member states. Furthermore, we had direct alliance obligations at stake because the metropolitan territory of our American ally had been attacked. But when it came to Iraq, no linkage could be established between Saddam Hussein and September 11 ...

Where was the silent majority? Still sitting silent in the audience.

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About the Authors

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Kellie Tranter
All articles by Bruce Haigh

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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