Recent road works in Gallipoli have uncovered the remains of soldiers killed there in 1915 during World War I. Australians from all walks of life have expressed concern about our diggers’ last resting place being disturbed.
All of this tells us that the ANZAC legend has been embraced by nearly all of the community and is alive and well. But with Remembrance Day (November 11) tomorrow we need to include those from the Vietnam War as part of this legend, this ethos. It seems there are those who still make a “distinction” between Gallipoli and Vietnam, even though there are similarities.
The Gallipoli campaign, fought on the shores of Turkey and starting on April 25, 1915, involved Australian soldiers being sent to invade a foreign state, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and ease the pressure on our then ally Russia.
The Vietnam War (1962-72), once again, saw Australia send troops to a foreign country to aid our allies, the United States and South Vietnam, then fighting off communist takeover from its northern counterpart.
However, prominent journalist Ray Martin, who veterans over the years have thanked for his enthusiasm and passion for keeping the ANZAC legend alive in the media, views the Vietnam conflict differently:
Being a patriot, eulogising the ANZAC legend etc doesn't require anyone to volunteer to fight a senseless, immoral war. Even Peter Cosgrove [then Chief of the Defence Forces] has acknowledged that Vietnam was wrong.
I support every one of our troops who put their lives on the line. But that doesn't require everyone else to sign up, every time Canberra decides to go to war.
Being a patriot doesn't mean you blindly accept what the pollies [politicians] want.
Now compare this to the introduction to Ray’s story for 60 Minutes about Gallipoli (April 21, 2001):
Eight thousand, seven hundred and nine Aussie soldiers were killed at Gallipoli, but now 10 times that number of Aussie tourists make their pilgrimage each year. Most of them are about the same age as the soldiers who died there.
As Ray Martin reports, it's a phenomenon, almost a rite of passage - young Australians in search of our history, and perhaps in search of themselves.
The tone is reverential for Gallipoli but not for Vietnam. Why this disconnect? The circumstances are almost the same except that Vietnam was a counter-insurgency war and shown on television.
If commentators praise Gallipoli but condemn Vietnam is that not a contradiction? If you condemn Vietnam should you not criticise Gallipoli?
The Gallipoli campaign was fought more than 93 years ago and there are no more veterans still alive. Vietnam, on the other hand, is still a tangible, living memory for the men of Ray Martin’s generation who came to young adulthood in the mid 1960s.
The way I see it, if you support the ANZAC legend and Gallipoli, you need to support the Vietnam War. The two are connected.
Victorian Premier John Premier said on Vietnam Veteran Day (August 18, 2008) at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance that it was time that Vietnam was accepted as part of the ANZAC legend.
Perhaps Ray should pay attention to Premier Brumby’s sentiments on Remembrance Day, November 11.
Another politician in the news over Gallipoli is Paul John Keating, Australia’s Prime Minister from 1991-96. He has been at it again. Letting go with recent comments at a book launch that would guarantee media exposure. His latest outburst is about the relevance of visiting Gallipoli.
Funny that during Keating’s prime ministership his criticism of Gallipoli was mute.
How could we forget Keating’s moving comments about the Unknown Soldier, brought back from the World War I French battlefield to finally rest in Canberra, in 1993?
We do not know this Australian's name and we never will. We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, or precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances - whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.
Then again during his time in office he sent Australian troops to Somalia, Cambodia and Rwanda in an attempt to act tough on the international stage.
Since leaving politics not once has he expressed any concern for the soldiers he sent into combat. We know that the Rwanda mission in 1994 was flawed from the beginning, with inadequate rules of engagement for our troops caught in the genocide between two rival ethnic groups in the heart of Africa. No wonder that some who returned from that hell hole suffer from PTSD, having been forced to witness massacres.
Nor can we forget Keating’s cynical political use of the Kokoda Track battle from World War II. However, Keating did lose a relative during World War II, as did a large number of Australians.
Keating, who was born in 1944, did not volunteer to fight in Vietnam but using the ANZAC legend or for that matter sending others into combat for political gain is nothing new. The unfortunate thing is that there are many in the Australian media who refuse to scrutinise our leaders and experts.
They are, in effect, letting these people off the hook. This will continue because some commentators see themselves as future government advisors or spin doctors on big fat salaries. It is not in their interests to rock the boat.