(This talk was part of a forum also addressed by Elizabeth Humphrys of NSW Greens. Check out Liz's writing on Left Flank - link in sidebar).
I recall a discussion in the early Greens in NSW, around the time of the 1987 Senate campaign, as to whether to have “Peace and Non-Violence” as the description of one of the four Green principles, or “Disarmament and Non-Violence”. We opted I recall for the latter more active term: it is easy to believe in Peace, but are we prepared to take the more assertive steps towards Disarmament?
Apparently, it seems, not. We are currently falling short in our Peace and Non-violence principle by not confronting the war machine, which has at its heart, the Australian-US Alliance. The 2010 Afghan War debate and the recent Obama visit are cases in point. In the first, no criticism was made of the US-Australian Alliance, bizarre given it’s the whole reason Australian troops are there. And during the Obama visit, notwithstanding criticism of the Marine base proposal, no criticism was offered on the ANZUS treaty (it is our policy nominally to withdraw from it) and no mention made of the intelligence bases which are linked to Obama’s expanding global drone wars and covert operations (it is Greens policy that all foreign bases be withdrawn).
We have been the party of “inconvenient truth” on Asylum seekers and global warming, but during the Obama visit we sat back and allowed Gillard and Obama peddle convenient historical lies about the advantages to Australia of the Alliance, an Alliance that has embroiled us in wars that have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands, and has been rooted in racial fears, whether of Asians or more recently Arabs and/or Muslims.
There is no doubt that the federal Green parliamentary caucus is playing down our antiwar policies, specifically any critique of the Alliance, out of fear of an electoral backlash. The McCarthyite campaign against the NSW BDS policy earlier this year demonstrates what will happened if the Greens stray over in to the “no-go zone” of Australia’s key foreign policy relationships: the relationship with the US and its best friend Israel.
An example of the power of the war machine occupying this “no-go zone” can be seen in the extraordinary militarisation of the Canberra constitutional landscape with the defence and security establishment, clustering around the WWII US-Australia monument on one of the points of the parliamentary triangle at Russell. Historian Peter Edwards has also commented that the US-Australia Alliance has almost become part of the de facto constitution, rather like the monarchy!
The Alliance is also culturally and politically reinforced through the secretive Australian American Leadership Dialogue and Australia-Israel Leadership Forum. Leading journalists in the mainstream media are regular participants.
So certainly we should be realistic. If we are to take on the war machine and the Alliance we are going to be hammered by the mainstream media, the major parties, and the foreign policy and security elites. But we must do so, showing the same determination and courage as in the (equally unpopular at first) asylum seeker issue.
I want to conclude by turning briefly to the ways in which we can take on the war culture, particularly as it is expressed through Anzac Day and the Anzac mythology. This war culture is founded on the notion that it is a noble thing to enlist and go off to fight, and possibly die, in dubious imperial wars. Of course there are some contradictions within the Anzac commemoration process. The jingoistic, militarisation of Anzac Day, and the presence of uniforms, contrasts with the shift from the focus on the participation of (declining number s of) veterans, to the dead, through commemorations such as dawn services here and in Gallipoli and on the Western Front. We should not assume that participants in these commemorations, particularly the young, might not come away with questions about the futility and waste of war.
But if we are to provide answers to those questions we must think of ways of countering the Anzac mythology. One way might be to promote alternative antiwar commemorations on the day itself (such as the aboriginal “invasion day” activities on Australia Day). I would like to suggest that as an alternative we promote May 8 as “Moratorium Day” (it is the date of the first big anti-Vietnam War Moratorium in 1970). It could seek to commemorate the individuals and movements that have campaigned against war and mourn the lives of all victims of war. It would closely follow Anzac Day, and something like a dusk candle-lit vigil on that day might provide a poignant counterpoint to the Anzac Day Dawn services – reminding the public that for war’s victims it is an end, not the beginning. Much more needs to be done to counter the Anzac-based war culture but this might be a start.
Above all, if the Greens are to give leadership in confronting the war machine and war culture, then that leadership should be primarily focussed on building a strong antiwar social movement and culture, not just focus on achievable outcomes inside the parliament.
Since this talk the Greens have come out against the proposal to use the Cocos islands as a drone base for the US. But they are still making no mention of the intelligence bases in Australia which are crucial to the Obama administration's drone wars and covert and special operations, especially in the Middle East and South Asia. The reluctance by the federal Green MP's to focus on these intelligence bases (even though Greens policy is opposed to all foreign military bases) flows from the knowledge that they are essential to the US-Australia Alliance and any criticism of them will involve an attack on the Alliance. This the Green MP's are apparently not prepared to do. There are deeper questions here - with a national policy review that looks likely to water down national policy, coupled with the push by Bob Brown and others towards centralisation of decision-making, this is a harbinger of the growing lack of transparency and accountability by federal MP's on policy questions.