A reminder of Vietnam
by Pauline Mitchell* The death of Dr Jim Cairns signified the passing of an era, the protest era, as it was known. The 1960s and '70s were an era when everything was changing and being challenged — new benchmarks were being put into place on a whole lot of issues. It was also a time of enormous activity and opposition to the Australian Government's policies of support for the United States war in Vietnam. In the '60s Communist North Vietnam began to loom large in United States war policies and in 1964 President Johnson said that hostile North Vietnamese forces had fired on US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. This enabled President Johnson to get a resolution through the US Congress to send more troops to South Vietnam and widen the conflict between the North and South. It has since been proved that the Gulf of Tonkin incident, as it became known, was entirely fictitious and there is no evidence of such a thing ever happening. Britain and Europe refused to join the United States in sending troops to Vietnam, but Australia did send troops and "All the way with LBJ" became a well-used slogan. From the beginning of the rumble of war drums over Vietnam, there was growing opposition among the Australian people but when the government introduced Conscription the rumblings became a roar. Jim Cairns had travelled in Europe and realised that the people needed a movement where they could voice their protests on the Vietnam War only and so the one-issue Vietnam Moratorium Campaign was launched. Late in March 1970, Dr Cairns called upon workers, students, mothers and all people to occupy the streets of Melbourne on May 8. The establishment was horrified, predicting blood in the streets and the Minister for Labour and National Service said "it was an invitation to anarchy". Later he called the supporters of the Moratorium "political pack-raping bikies" while the Prime Minister of the day said they were storm troopers. The papers wrote many editorials about this dangerous path and dangerous protest and the Herald editorial on March 31, 1970 said that our streets were not for occupation. But "occupy the streets" they did — the government had grossly underestimated the breadth of the feeling in the community. On Friday May 8 between 70,000 and 100,000 people marched in Melbourne and decided to stage a sit-in, in Bourke Street, bringing the city to a halt for hours. There was a tremendous outpouring of feeling and people who couldn't get to the demonstration waved from windows and balconies. It was the biggest demonstration that Melbourne had ever seen and by far the biggest in Australia. The media that had been predicting mob violence the week before the Moratorium changed overnight to hail Jim Cairns as the man of peace. Those that led the Moratorium became the "good guys" and the brave Draft Resisters were regarded as heroes. The government kept saying that these young men were "draft dodgers" but they were not "dodgers" at all, they told the government that they didn't believe in the war and were not going to go into the army. They resisted the government at every turn and many went underground to evade capture by the Commonwealth Police but many did go to jail for a time. On August 8, 1972 Dr Jim Cairns was elected Chairman of the Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament, taking over from the Reverend Alf Dickie who was another pioneer of the peace movement of Australia and who had been its Chairman from the beginning. In his report to the Annual General Meeting of the CICD in 1974 Jim Cairns spoke of the objectives of CICD and developments in the peace movement. He expressed concern that Australia was acting as a "mini- imperialist power" with growing military involvement in our region and "Perhaps it is unreal for the peace movement to expect Australia to swing to a non-aligned foreign policy until we have achieved much greater success in exposing the threat to Australia of the United States alliance", he said. This speech could have been delivered recently as it has relevance to today. Now Australia is taking part in the US war on Iraq with the "coalition of the willing". And Dr Cairns must have been struck with this similarity with the politics of yesteryear and the politics of today. Dr Cairns was also present at the big demonstrations held against the involvement in the war in Iraq at the beginning of the year and the movement of the Victorian Peace Network, which is uniting all people in one-issue protests. Dr Jim Cairns was a significant Labor Party politician, rising to the position of Deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam Government, but will always be best known for his struggle and persistence during the Vietnam War years and the public recognition of the peace movement.
* * **Secretary for the Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament