The Guardian October 29, 2003


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

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