A Conscientious Objector’s Thoughts on the Vietnam War
In this day and age, many of us dream about winning the lottery as it means instant happiness and freedom.
During the Vietnam War, the Australian Government held a different lottery specifically for 20 year old males and if your birth date was called when the lottery balls fell then you had won a two year stint in the army as the government needed more troops for our involvement in the Vietnam War.
We had committed to Vietnam early in the 60s and some army trainers were sent with American advisors to assist the South Vietnam government in their war against the Communist North. It was a civil war to me over ideology, much like the American Civil war in the previous century when northern states fought southern states because of a difference in ideology over slavery.
Australia and the USA in the 50s and 60s believed in the ‘domino effect’ where if one country succumbed to communism then the neighbouring country would also and eventually it would reach Australia. So both countries had no hesitation in supporting South Vietnam to halt the flow of communism in South-east Asia.
USA eventually sent combat troops as the war worsened and our Prime Minister Menzies quickly followed suit and sent in Australian troops. This policy was continued by PM Gorton when he replaced Menzies in 1966 when he went "all the way with LBJ".
Our country was then divided on the issue and unlike today, when we proudly support the efforts of our troops in Afghanistan and look upon them as heroes fighting terrorists, many of us did not believe in the ‘domino effect’ and we wanted no part in a civil war.
In 1964 the government decided on a conscription policy for 20 year olds and the lottery was introduced. This policy caused great division in society and in families as most of the older population agreed with the government policy as they had been fed the “reds under the bed” propaganda for 20 years so believed it and yet I had never met or knew a communist in twenty years of my life so the young didn’t agree and we were prepared to stand up for our views.
There were peaceful marches in the streets against the war but they would often end up in violence as the police were ordered to clear any marchers from the streets with aggression so there was lots of face to face confrontations.
I was bashed by two policemen at a march at Queensland University in 1968 and I witnessed others being handled aggressively for openly defying the government of the day and the government basically condoned their actions.
The anti-Vietnam War groups formed around the country and it was the beginning of the Vietnam War Conscientious Objectors as quite a few of us were not prepared to accept the ‘winning’ ticket and go to war.
The lottery meant you had been drafted for the army and many started to burn their draft cards and were arrested and jailed for that opposing view.
It was an absurd situation where you were forced to do something that you were opposed to by ideology or be arrested yet it was a law not for everyone but only those who won the lottery draw and refused to go.
When my birth date was picked in 1971, I knew I would not conform. I had expressed my beliefs in a lawful way over the previous years and had marched in the anti- war marches that were happening in all capital cities in Australia and the USA as they had reached their peak at this time
I was aware that previous conscientious objectors had used the following arguments in court:
Religious opposition from Jehovah's Witness viewpoint
Religious opposition from liberal Christian (Methodist) pacifist viewpoint.
Moral opposition to wars
Moral opposition to the Vietnam War in particular
Opposition based upon the compulsion and authoritarian nature of conscription and its conflict with democratic processes and ideals.
but they were still jailed as criminals.
Now I had been picked and I was scared of going to jail but I felt strongly enough about my beliefs to stand up to this law and try and have it changed. I refused my draft and was summoned to court.
I was not part of any major national anti-war groups at the time so my defiance was not politically based but more an individual viewpoint based on the last two points listed above.
The magistrate listened as I explained my views on why we should not be in Vietnam and how I could not lift a weapon against an enemy that I held no grudge against.
My father John Murphy was called as a witness and for a man that had spent 1268 days outside Australia during World War 2 and had fought all the enemies of Australia at the time including the Japanese, Germans, Italians, Vichy French and Arabs, his message carried a lot of weight in the court room.
He explained to the court that he had two other sons who would have gone willingly had they been picked so why pick the one that doesn’t want to go. He added that he also felt strongly that he had fought our enemies back in World War 2 so that his family could be free today.
“All Australians should be able to live and speak freely and not to be jailed for a differing view to the government policy of the day,” he stated, ' that is why we fought in WW2".
The magistrate agreed much too my joy and I was made legally into a pacifist on that day and I did not have to serve in the army and fight in that war.
Today I am glad when I see the veterans of the Vietnam war have now been forgiven by all and they live in peace with their memories on ANZAC Day and march with pride for their fallen comrades but I have no regrets for my stand against that war and believe my reasons at the time not to go were just as right as theirs were to go.
Brian Murphy- 2012
A Nasho's Thoughts on the Vietnam War
I have been reading your site for many years and thought I would pass on to you a website that I have developed for a particular group of National Servicemen who happened to be called up in the 10th Intake of National Service in October 1967.
After many years of not wishing to acknowledge our involvement in the Vietnam War, for whatever reasons, after the 1987 Sydney “Welcome Home March” the gathering of groups commenced in various ways around Australia.
For my particular group of Nashos, the momentum gathered pace after we formally commenced bi-annual reunions and cruises in 2005.
We have just completed our 2013 reunion at Sawtell Beach Caravan Park where 81 people attended.
We aim to have gatherings where fun and friendship are the to the fore.
If you are interested to have a look, please go to www.tenthintake.com.au where you will be able to view a whole range of photos from Nasho days through to our most recent reunion at Sawtell.
I read your biography and note that you preferred not to enter into National Service. It is interesting to ponder what effects National Service had on people and what effect it had on their lives.
I was fortunate in that I came through unscathed physically and, in my opinion, psychologically as well, although others may disagree! All of us who come to the reunions share a strong bond from National Service days, not unlike bonds formed from other events in our lives such as school, sport, work etc.
Ray Kohn CFP SSA
Andrew Bolt's column today very critical of Gough Whitlam. My answer- Andrew, I think you are missing the point here. We were over the Vietnam War at the time, we were over conscription, we were over a conservative government that was progressively ripping the country apart, we were over insipid leaders such as Gorton and McMahon.
As a first voter at the time Whitlam had understood our need to change, to be liberated from the highly conservative past, to put Australia on a new pathway that was entirely different from anything experienced before. His ' It's time' campaign tapped into this energy and mode change and he offered us hope.
The rest of it is history and as Keating said this week, "There was Australia pre 1972 and Australia post 1972 and it was all for Whitlam"..like him or hate him.
A mate was handing out How to Vote cards at the Indooroopilly booth in 1972 and the local Liberal member was offered a labor card by him and the member said' I think it is time for a change".
Give the man credit where credit is due for that election in 1972 and forget the politics of it.