I’m not one who thinks the Australian Christian Lobby’s Jim Wallace has a lot to teach Australia. But if he has one lasting legacy, it is the salutary lesson that it’s a really bad idea to exploit the memory of ANZACS on ANZAC day by co-opting them to push your own ideological barrow.
Who can forget the firestorm that followed Mr Wallace’s infamous ANZAC Day tweet of 2011:
“Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for - wasn't gay marriage and Islamic!”
Cleverly managing to insult service men and women, the GLBTIQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) community and Muslims in just 140 characters, usurping ANZAC day to push his own particular prejudices was all the more shocking because Wallace is a former SAS commander who should have known better.
Never one to learn a salutary lesson, South Australian Independent MLC, Ann Bressington, repeated Wallace’s crime on Facebook last week. Bressington blithely used the bodies of our fallen soldiers as a mounting block to climb aboard her favourite hobby horse – slamming “BIG PHARMA AND BIG CORP”.
For those unfamiliar with Ms Bressington, The South Australian parliament’s Hansard for 20 March 2013 records a useful account of the honourable member’s predilection for poppycock. Speaking to the topic of “Science”, Labor MLC, the Honourable Kyam Maher says:
“… The Hon. Ann Bressington has been making quite a name for herself recently in her assaults on accepted science. From her Agenda 21 conspiracy, which seems to hold that scientists and policy makers across the world are secretly involved in an elaborate conspiracy to control all aspects of our lives, to supporting the chemtrail conspiracy, which claims aeroplanes deliberately drop chemicals on the population for some reason. Apparently, it happens right here in Adelaide. To quote the Hon. Ann Bressington, 'from two unmarked plain white small aircraft that often land at Parafield Airport after a morning spray'.
Many such conspiracy assaults on science can be mildly amusing and, apart from encouraging others to abandon reason and critical thinking, do not necessarily do much external harm. However, some anti-science irrationality actually causes harm—potentially, great harm.
… some anti-scientific pursuits that can actually lead to deaths, such as the anti-vaccination movement. The Hon. Ann Bressington commented on Twitter as recently as last month that vaccines are about population reduction. Nothing could be further removed from reality. Vaccines save the life of an estimated three million people every year.
As with the fluoridation of water, over time individuals, groups and researchers dwelling at the fringes of science have criticised the efficacy of vaccinations, or they have falsified or overstated potential side effects of vaccinations.
… The risks posed by the anti-vaccination movement are real. Millions die unnecessarily. Children too young to have their full course of vaccinations and the herd immunity that prevents the uncontrolled spread of horrible disease are put at risk. On vaccination the science is clear; the debate is over. The benefits of vaccines are so immense that the morality of advocating against them without very good evidence needs to be questioned. When bad science is promoted such that it can cause great harm, we have an obligation to call it out. We cannot stand idly by and let such claims go unchecked.”
Hear, hear Mr Maher! And, as the grand-child of two World War I veterans (both of whom died of injuries sustained during the war), the grand-daughter of a World War I nurse, and the daughter of a WWII veteran, I cannot stand idly by and let Ms Bressington’s ANZAC Day post go unchecked. I am appalled and offended that Ms Bressington chose to couple her conspiracy theories about vaccination with our national day of commemoration for those who fought on the battlefields and in the trenches.
Why? Because so many of those who died in WWI died of two diseases which are now preventable by vaccines – influenza and tetanus. Had those vaccines not been developed in the years between 1918 and 1939, the horrendous death toll of World War II would, undoubtedly have been higher.
Before launching into her ANZAC day tirade, a few minutes on Google might have informed Ms Bressington that between September and December 1918, more men on both sides died of the flu than were killed by weapons. In total, about one-third of the soldiers who died in World War I died, not from bombs or bullets, but from influenza – now, thanks to vaccination, a preventable disease.
And the carnage continued after the war. In Australia, nearly 12,000 people died of the flu, after the virus was brought in to the country by returning soldiers. Around 50 million people worldwide died of the Spanish flu, as opposed to ‘just’ 16 million in the First World War.
Just imagine the deaths that would have been prevented, the young soldiers who would have returned home to their loved ones, if a flu vaccine had been available! Does Ms Bressington really think that those soldiers and their families would be railing against the ‘BIG PHARMA’ that funded, researched, developed and made available those life-saving vaccines to their children and grand-children?
Quite apart from the Spanish Flu, our WWI soldiers also had to contend with tetanus. During the first years of the First World War, nearly 8 in every 1000 Allied soldiers on the Western Front died of tetanus. An anti-serum developed by the end of 1914 helped to prevent many deaths, but also caused many deaths due to allergic reactions.
Direct, active immunisation was later developed with negligible allergic reactions to the toxoid. Due to the introduction of a tetanus vaccine in the inter-war years, there were only six fatalities from tetanus in World War II and those who died were later found not to have received the vaccine.
Using ANZAC Day to promote one’s own ideological agenda is bad enough. But using it to promote an unscientific, conspiracist argument against scientific and medical breakthroughs that would have saved the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians during the conflict being commemorated is obscene. And, no, Ms Bressington, I am not on the pay roll of ‘BIG PHARMA’ or any other organisation. I am simply an advocate of critical thought, responsible research, scientific method and human decency – all of which you seem to reject.