BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS: DIPLOMACY, ECONOMICS, JOURNALISM AND JAPANOLOGY;
BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE
The ANU and the Vietnam War Debate
1. Connecting with the 'The Australian'
2. Joining the Vietnam Debate
3. Back to the PhD – trying to learn economics, and Japanese
4. The China Book, and trying to explain the Sino-Soviet dispute
5. Jim Cairns, and the Enclave Solution
6. Finding a Publisher
September 1965. After almost a decade within the bureaucracy, the umbilical cord was finally cut. I had formally resigned from External Affairs.
It was not an easy decision. The people with whom I had worked so closely for almost a decade were now firmly on the other side of the fence. At age 29 I was entirely on my own trying to make a new career in an entirely new milieu.
And while today I realise that I had to make the move, at the time its logic was not obvious.
On the other hand, I was now able to begin to speak my mind about the growing horror of Vietnam, and the anti-China lies and fantasies with which I had had to live for years.
No longer would I have to exist as a tongue-tied government official in a state of artificial limbo for four more years.
I was free. And realising that freedom came much sooner than I had expected.
1. 'The Australian' Newspaper Connection
I had run into Eric Walsh earlier in the year when he was still a cub reporter for the Canberra Times. He had since moved to working for a Sydney evening paper as Canberra correspondent.
Eric was and remains someone who knows a lot of people, well, even in those early days. He gave me an introduction to Adrian Deamer, then number two on The Australian, the national newspaper based in Canberra that Rupert Murdoch was trying bravely to create.
In those days, The Australian was the one media voice of progressive good sense on Vietnam, and many other issues. Murdoch himself was also mildly progressive. His shift to the Right only came later, triggered in part by the problems he began to have with the leftwing print unions in Sydney and later in London.
Many have praised Deamer’s liberalism and intelligence as a newspaper editor, and I can only add to the praise. He introduced me to the chief editor, Walter Kommer. Both were more than happy to run the minor scoop I had given them, on how a ‘senior’ External Affairs official had resigned in protest against Australia’s intervention in Vietnam.
That report was picked by the agencies and run in a few newspapers abroad. But for most part the reaction was fairly muted.
I may have been the first Western diplomat to resign in protest against the Vietnam intervention. But in those early days, Vietnam was still not a hot issue. Most assumed that the intervention would soon be all over. Most believed it would be impossible for the pro-communist forces in the South to resist the full weight of US power.
However, Pravda took the news seriously (no doubt it had its KGB reasons). It published a long two column piece about how even in my Moscow days I had realised the immorality of Western intervention in Vietnam (how did they know that?) and had bravely decided to resign when confronted by the anti-communist beast in Canberra.
Needless to say, the Pravda intervention sent the ASIO people into fits. I heard later that it had led these trusty guardians of Australian security to conclude that not only was I in the pocket of the Soviets, but also that the Soviets may have prompted me to resign from government service so they could use me as a tool to boost their global anti-US campaign over Vietnam!
(I would have thought I would have been of much more potential use to them if I had remained in the diplomatic service. Moscow had quite a record of milking information from pro-Soviet External Affairs people.)
Kommer and Deamer had also encouraged me to write something explaining my Vietnam views. Entitled ‘Australia and the Lost War,’ and published in October 1965, my article strongly criticised the aims and tactics of the US-Australian military intervention in Vietnam.
But contrary to the title, it stopped short of actually predicting US- Australian defeat. Like most others, I assumed that the sheer weight of US military power would probably win out in the end. After all, if you kill enough people, then as Stalin, Hitler and quite a few other butchers had proved, the rights and wrongs of disputes become irrelevant.
The article also launched me firmly into the ranks of Australia’s nascent anti-Vietnam War protest movement – people whom in my conservative External Affairs days I would have avoided as a bunch of long-haired radical ratbags. I even had an approach from the Sydney-based branch of the Australian Communist Party (which I dutifully reported to my former External Affairs colleagues – the umbilical cord was still not quite as firmly cut as it should have been). And at Deamer’s request, I followed up with a series of articles on China and Russia.
Needless to say, none of this activism passed unnoticed in the government. I am told it even led John Gorton, then minister in charge of education affairs, to query how and why the government-funded ANU was providing refuge to this anti-Vietnam War subversive.
I am also told that the ANU people decided to resist Gorton’s pressure. But that did not mean they approved of what I was doing. At around the same time, Crawford, then the head of the Research School of Pacific Studies where I had my scholarship, pulled me in for a formal dressing down over the dreadful sin of agreeing to give an extension course on Chinese history at the affiliated Canberra University College.
PhD scholarship students were obliged to concentrate entirely on their PhD studies he told me. The implication – lay off the anti-Vietnam War activities - did not escape me, even if it did not deter me.
2. Joining the Vietnam Debate
Government pressure was not my only problem.
Within weeks of arriving at the ANU I was thrown into a life of total confusion. On the one hand I had to try to educate myself rapidly in the economics needed for PhD studies (the second year economics I had studied back in 1958 was not quite enough, I soon discovered). I also had to start learning Japanese (I had already discovered that Chinese and Japanese were two very different languages).
Meanwhile I was being pulled around Australia to talk to anti-Vietnam War seminars and conferences.
On my anti-Vietnam talk trips to Sydney I also began to get to know some people from the Sydney Push – libertarians who believed in free love and quite a few other human vices. For a refugee from puritanical Canberra it was all very exciting.
The Push people did a lot to broaden my still very narrow conservative outlook. But none of that did much to help my PhD studies.
I had also joined the Canberra branch of the Australian Labor Party, thinking that there at least I would be able to do something about the Vietnam issue. And among the leftwingers in the branch I did find support, especially from Bruce Macfarlane, the political scientist.
Bruce later was to go overboard in praise of Mao and Cultural Revolution China. But his generosity and personality helped carry me through a difficult period. He even suggested that I should try to be the ALP candidate for the seat of Canberra, an invitation I was able to decline even if it felt rather flattering.
At the time the ALP was badly divided over Vietnam. On the Left were ideological leftwingers such as Macfarlane who would instinctively support any and all pro-communist revolutionaries around the world. With them, but separate from them, were the concerned activists – people like myself with no political bias but who were badly upset by the cruelty and immorality of the US intervention.
Opposed to us, however, was a powerful ALP rightwing, particularly strong in the Canberra and NSW branches, and which basically supported the Vietnam intervention.
Even worse were the lumpen ALP proletariat - workers and trade-union officials who subscribed to the crudest of all the pro-Vietnam arguments: ‘Kill the little yellow buggers up there before they get down here and try to kill us.” It was not a happy mix.
One activist group I came to respect highly were the Quakers. At an early stage of the war they went to a lot of trouble to prepare a booklet giving facts and opinions on the Vietnam war, including my own original article in The Australian. Needless to say, they were totally ignored by Australia’s dominant conservative media.
Another group was centered around a Melbourne magazine called Dissent edited by a very concerned activist, Leon Glazer. I will never forget one of the covers for their magazine – a dozen of so unarmed young Vietnamese men in peasant clothing lying dead by a stream, with a group of smirking heavily-armed US soldiers behind them. The obscenity of it all still remains with me.
A Run-in With 'The Bulletin.'
Glazer had asked me if I could write something for them, and by chance I could.
The Sydney-based magazine, The Bulletin, had under its very rightwing editor, Peter Coleman, just run a long piece by the equally rightwing commentator, Brian Buckley. In it they had taken great delight in flagellating the Left, and Dissent, for their alleged failure to realise the dangers of global communism and China, especially over Vietnam.
It was an unusual article since unlike the standard, lazy, ‘bash –the- lefties’ style of Australia rightwing polemics at the time, the author seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble to muster facts and dates to support his case, including even alleged Chinese plots against Afghanistan. It was especially contemptuous of the Left for failing to realise the threat posed by Beijing.
But as I read the Buckley article more closely, I realised that large parts of it had been lifted, in part word-for-word, from a London Economist article only a few months earlier. The Economist in those days was also up to its neck in anti-leftwing vitriol over Vietnam and China.
In short, our ‘bash-the-lefties’ types were now into plain, old-fashioned plagarism to cover up their weaknesses in their own thinking and research.
I also realised that if one looked closely at the wording of the anti-communist vitriol of the original Economist article, it was very similar to the wording of the anti-capitalist vitriol that the Soviet ideologues were then using to lambast their own dissenters, in particular one unfortunate author Victor Nekrasov who had foolishly urged a more sensible approach to the West and some understanding of the merits of the capitalistic system.
The mirror-image mentalities of pro-communist and anti-communist ideologues was something that had long interested me.
So I began my Dissent article first by noting the remarkable similarities between the Buckley article and the earlier Economist article. Some might suggest that plagiarism was involved, I said tongue in cheek, but in fact it was simply great minds thinking alike, I noted.
I then was able to take each of the anti-communist, anti-China, anti-Leftwing tirades in the article and set it along side its mirror image in anti-capitalist, anti-West, anti-Nekrasov tirades then underway in the Moscow ideological rags. More great minds thinking alike, I was able to note.
Even better, I was able to pick up points where the Bulletin article was even stronger and more vitriolic than the original Economist article and use them, even more tongue-in-cheek, to argue that Buckley had done even better than the Economist in matching Soviet thinking.
If I say so myself, I think it was one of the best and more powerful articles I have ever written. And having just spent two years listening daily to Soviet pro-communist ideologues, and endless years listening to their anti-communist, mirror-image opposite numbers in the West, it was a topic on which I had some expertise.
It was the perfect opportunity to pillory the ideological biases of both sides.
But if anyone in Australia realised those points, they kept it to themselves. Not just the rightwing, of course, but most of my colleagues, both leftwing and mid-road, could not even begin to grasp the concept of equating the foolishness and word-for-word similarities of our pro-communist and anti-communist fanatics.
Australians simply could not handle that level of political sophistication. For them ideological debates began with the assumption that one side was right and the other was wrong. They could not cope with assumptions that both were equally mad.
One or two of the mid-roaders even rebuked me for having been so cruel to the hapless Buckley. In other words, it was alright for the Right to pour scorn and vitriol on the Left, but it wrong for the Left to retaliate. I could never get to the bottom of that kind of logic, but it seemed quite strong in Australia at the time.
Needless to say, the Right, including the Bulletin, were outraged; Coleman even threatened legal action. Why had I not bothered to contact him before I wrote my piece, he thundered. If I had done that he could have assured me that it was only by accident that an attribution to the Economist had been cut from the original Buckley article.
Needless to say, Coleman did not even bother to try to rebut the main thrust of the article, namely the mirror-image similarities of Right-Left dogmatists.
Nor was there any hint that Buckley, in launching his anti-Leftwing tirade, might have been under any obligation to contact the people he was lambasting to find out exactly what their views really were. As I have found so often with the Right, both in Australia and elsewhere, their over-weening confidence that they alone are the repository of intelligence, goodwill and the truth remains unshaken, even after Vietnam.
Anyone who says otherwise has to be in the camp of the enemy. Their views can be ignored.
The Economist remains a particularly good example of this unsullied confidence in action. But the Bulletin, both under Coleman and his equally virulent anti-communist successor, Donald Horne (he of the subsequent smarmy conversion to pro-Whitlam and other trendy leftwing causes) were not far behind.
More Vietnam Debate - AIPS
Thanks to the Dissent people and occasional anti-Vietnam talkfests, I got to know many of those active on the Melbourne front. Max Teichman of Monash University helped me greatly and introduced me to some of the denizens of the dreaded Victorian Left. Their zeal, and their hatreds, were impressive.
The Left in Sydney seemed much less motivated; many seemed keener on enjoying life rather than hunting down enemies and arguing foreign policies. The Push people were also anarchistic and anti-government, which made them fairly intolerant of all regimes, communist ones included. There was little sympathy for Vietnam's plight.
Their ideological flabbiness was highlighted by the way their guru at the time, Paddy McGuiness, later defected to the Right. There he managed to show much the same intolerance and sloppy argumentation has he had shown on the Left.
John Barton’s newly-formed Australia Party tried hard to bring me in to support their anti-war position. But they were badly disorganised.
One of my darker moments was sharing the stage at a party rally in a Sydney suburb with Alex Carey, a genuine humanist who agonised even more than I did over the Vietnam atrocity. He had dragged in a mountain of historical and legal documents –1954 Geneva agreements etc - to prove the illegality of the intervention. But before us was seated an audience of exactly ten - three old men, six housewives, and a dog.
The climax to all this was being asked by John Mant, then a conservative but concerned Sydney lawyer, to give a paper at the Australian Institute of Political Science annual conference in January 1967. The theme was ‘Communism in Asia – A Threat to Australia?’
On the threat side they had a strong array of well-known names - J.D.B, Miller, Owen Harries, Zelman Cohen and some flown in from the abroad, including that longtime US State Department subsidised, biassedly anti-communist academic, Robert Scalapino.
On the anti-threat side there was just one combatant - me.
Once again I was on my own. Fitzgerald had carefully declined my requests to help me make a joint presentation.
The paper I delivered can be found on this website. I put enormous time into preparation, even if I let my agony over the escalating atrocity in Vietnam get the better of me. My main aim was to try to counter the conventional wisdom that said the world, and Australia, faced a grave threat from China’s innate aggressiveness and its communism.
Much of the anti-China hysteria in Australia at the time was due to the polemics of the Sino-Soviet dispute. Time and time again the pro-Vietnam War faction would drag out one or other of Beijing’s fiercer statements in the dispute, and intone wisely how at the very least we had to take the Chinese at their aggressive word.
That, together with the grossly distorted view of the 1962 Sino-Indian dispute, had created the indelible image of an extremist Beijing far to the Left of the more moderate Western communists in Moscow.
This is turn underlay the topic chosen for the AIPS conference, namely that in Asia, Australia faced a variety of Communism far more virulent than any other Communism the world had seen before. The West had to do everything it could to oppose the spread of this Asian ‘virus’, specifically in Vietnam, regardless of the rights and wrongs of what was actually happening in that unfortunate country.
By way of counter-attack, I had tried in my AIPS paper and elsewhere to get people to focus in on what exactly both sides were in fact saying in the Sino-Soviet polemical dispute. And when one did that it was fairly clear that both sides were simply trying to score points against the other by dragging out different versions of communist dogma. Both remained just as communist as the other. Indeed, by carefully choosing quotes, one could easily prove that Moscow was the extremist and Beijing was the moderate.
A particular Canberra obsession at the time was Beijing’s vocal support for something called wars of national liberation, with the war in Vietnam seen as the forerunner. But as I pointed out in the paper, Moscow was saying exactly the same about wars of liberation, and just as vocally.
As well, Moscow was doing far more than Beijing about helping those wars materially, especially in Vietnam. In any case, both were entitled to want to see pro-communist regimes emerge in a world where they were constantly threatened by anti-communist activities.
(In postwar Greece, Malaya and elsewhere the West had been equally determined in making sure that anti-communist regimes prevailed, even when they did not deserve to prevail.)
As I mentioned earlier, I had begun this research into Sino-Soviet polemics while in Moscow; and had even sent off a paper on the topic to External Affairs, which had been kind enough to include it in the Department’s Digest of Dispatches circulated to embassies and others each month.
It was probably my one and only contribution to Australian foreign policy wisdom, even if it ended up as water off EA’s anti-Beijing biassed back.
To the AIPS prestige audience assembled in Canberra, this kind of research was equally ineffective. The image of Beijing as some kind of Asiatic monster plotting Asian takeover was too deeply ingrained to be shaken by a few quotes from obscure polemical documents.
I had wasted not just time but also opportunity to present the anti-Vietnam War case before an important audience. I had failed. I should have saved my breath.
It reminded me of Alex Carey’s dilemma in the Sydney lecture hall, even if my audience was much larger and better educated. Australia simply did not have the foreign affairs sophistication to handle sensible argument or debate about Communism or revolution. And the establishment gurus ministering to that ignorance were determined to keep it that way.
Peter Hastings of the Sydney Morning Herald, yet another of the many ASIO tainted journalists in a position to mould Australia foreign policy opinion, managed to report in detail on every one of the pro-Vietnam War conference papers. He omitted only one - mine, even though I was the only one to give the other side of the debate.
At the time of the AIPS talkfest the other big issue was Beijing’s intense anti-Americanism. This too was dragged out constantly to prove Beijing’s inherent aggressiveness.
I am not sure why being anti-American meant being anti-peace. But back in those pristine days, to be anti-American in Australia was to be even worse, anti-God even. After all, had not the Americans saved us from the Japanese aggressors just a generation earlier?
Few seemed to realise that the Chinese they were trying to paint as aggressive monsters were in fact precisely the same Chinese who had joined us in trying to fight those Japanese aggressors.
Even fewer wanted to think about why a Beijing regime that had suffered from cruel US intervention in its former civil war, which was still under US trade embargo, which had seen the US deny its legitimate claim to Taiwan, and which was still under constant threat of US attack via Taiwan, might want to direct a few harsh words against the source of its problems.
In the minds of Australia’s easily brainwashed public, and not a few of its weak-minded academics, if Beijing was anti-US then that proved it must be aggressive, expansionist and anti-Australian.
The Asian Languages Fiasco
The almost total non-reaction to my AIPS efforts, even among the Left, left me deeply depressed.
In desperation I had in my AIPS paper thrown in something about the scandalous lack of Asian language speakers in External Affairs. In those innocent, pre-Vietnam debacle, pre-Watergate days, the public assumed naively that the people at the top were responsible people who had the information and expertise to know what was going on.
If they said China was aggressive then China was aggressive. If they said intervention in Vietnam was needed, then it was needed.
The only way to counter this naivete, I thought, was to prove that the people at the top did not really know very much about what was going on in the world. They could not even speak the languages of the countries which they were happily condemning.
External Affairs, still under Plimsoll, came back with a document in which anyone who had ever claimed even a smattering of a local Asian language was listed as a fluent Asian language speaker. Hastings gave it publicity, finally mentioning that someone called Clark had spoken at the AIPS conference, and adding that in view of the EA document, Clark had obviously got it all wrong.
Deamer at The Australian was good enough to give me space for a rebuttal, and this time I was finally able to persuade Fitzgerald to lend his name. But the damage had been done.
Writing a Book?
Those were dark days.
Fortunately I was getting to know R. whom I had met earlier when she was doing part time work at a small Civic Centre coffeehouse run by a Ukrainian lady with whom I liked to practice Russian. R's gentle femininity did a lot to calm a tortured soul.
Gradually I began to realise that if I was to present the anti-Vietnam War case properly, I had no choice but to confront the China question fully and properly. And if I was to do that I would have to write a book.
It was no use quoting bits and pieces from the past statements.
Nor were occasional articles in The Australian or elsewhere enough.
In a book I could try to explain the full background to Beijing’s various foreign policy disputes. I could go into details - the Korean War, the occupation of Tibet, the Taiwan problem, the Sino-Soviet dispute, everything I knew about the Sino-Indian dispute, even the origins of the communist revolution in China.
Taken together, all this would show that the disputes were largely interconnected, and that they came back to Beijing feeling that it had a legitimate right to protect its territory and its borders, whether in Korea, Taiwan, India or Tibet. Beijing’s highly justified position over Taiwan in particular was the key to most of what the West wanted to see as innate belligerency.
With all these details explained, Beijing’s attitudes began to make sense, even during the mad days of Mao. One reason they made sense was because foreign policy remained very much the bailiwick of two intelligent and moderate Chinese – Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping .
But how do you sit down to write a full-scale book on Chinese foreign policy when you are a PhD researcher still trying to get on top of advanced economics, master the Japanese language, collect research materials for a difficult PhD topic - Japan’s direct investment overseas - not to mention still being involved in the anti-Vietnam War debate?
3. Back to the PhD – trying to learn economics, and Japanese
Fortunately some of the problems on the economics study side of things were beginning to be resolved.
After a dreadful experience with a typical ANU theoretical economist delegated to teach advanced economics to PhD candidates (these characters can fill an entire blackboard with figures simply to prove some obscure point of economic theory quite divorced from the real word of economic activity) I was taken in hand by the ANU expert on trade economics, Max Corden.
Corden too liked economic theory. But by using graphs and diagrams, he could explain things so clearly, neatly and simply that finally I began to realise not just what the theories were about but also the logical beauty of economics as a science.
I learned how readily one can come up with the right analyses of complex economic situations, provided one gets the variables in the right cause and effect order. It was a lesson that would help me enormously later in getting to understand the Japanese economy.
Max was also a very moral person. He too agonised over the Vietnam War. But his mathematical mind was never able fully to grasp the bias and emotion behind so much of the policy debate.
He wanted to believe that if, as in economics, one simply set out the political variables in the right sequential order, the conclusions would automatically emerge, QED. But in foreign affairs there is little room for this kind of logical analysis.
Meanwhile, I was also trying to do something about the Japanese language side of things. Initially I had tried to plough through economic texts with the help of dictionaries and my knowledge of Chinese ideographs. I was getting nowhere very fast.
Soon I was forced to realise that I had no choice but to try to learn the language from the bottom up, as a living language, before I could use it for research. As I had discovered with Chinese and Russian, to read a difficult language easily, you must reach a stage where, when you see the script, you ‘hear’ the spoken equivalent.
When you do that, meaning emerges naturally, as if you were slowly listening to someone saying the same thing. But if you do not do that you have to consciously translate each word into meaning, and then try to assemble it all consciously into sentences which provide some kind of consistent meaning. That can be very painful and time-consuming.
How to learn Japanese from the bottom up while still stuck in Canberra?
My first step was to enrol for a course in the Japanese language department at the university. And since I had already taught myself the Japanese phonetic script –kana – and knew Chinese ideographs I was allowed to enrol for the second year Japanese reading course.
I soon realised my mistake. The course was a classic example of the criminal irresponsibility of Australian universities when it came to the teaching of Asian languages at the time (fortunately some have since improved).
Our alleged teacher was a typically useless Japanese academic recruited at great expense from Tokyo. His main aim in life was to preserve his dignity as an ivory tower resident, improve his English, and convince us how remote, refined and impossible was the language we were supposed to be learning.
For each class he would set a few paragraphs from a very difficult Japanese literary text for translation. Taking a sentence at a time, he would ask students in turn to attempt a translation.
Since students knew in advance the order in which he would ask for a translation, they would be careful to sit in the same order at each class, which meant they needed only to prepare in advance the sentences which they knew he would ask them to translate – a total of about two sentences per class.
Ivory tower man would then spend long slabs of time explaining, in English, the subtleties of the vocab and literary expressions in that sentence. Finally he would give us his official translation of the sentence, which we were all supposed diligently to write down.
In the final exam our so-called teacher would set for a translation one of the very few literary texts he had managed to teach the class during that year. Needless to say, none of the students could have handled the Japanese in the text, even after a year in the class.
But by that time they would have memorised the official translations they had received during the year and had diligently written down. All they then had to do was write out what they had memorised, and if they did that correctly, a pass mark was guaranteed.
Ivory-tower man would then tell the world how in just one year he had brought his students to the level where they could all easily translate these difficult literary texts. And the world, including the university authorities, knowing nothing about the way the class was run, believed him.
The scandalous fact that his students could not even stammer out a sentence in simple Japanese, or translate a page of simple Japanese text, remained unkown.
At first I could not believe that serious, fee-paying students could want to go along with this nonsense. But all they wanted was the pass mark and the credits needed for graduation. Later it was to remind me of the fraudulent way young Japanese are taught English in Japanese universities.
In years since I have met several from that ANU class. Like their Japanese equivalents learning English, few of them ever recovered from the damage they had suffered from the bad teaching. Most ended up as hopeless speakers of the language despite years of subsequent effort. Some were determined never to see or speak the language again.
It was a good example of something I have since come to realise strongly: start people on the wrong foot in learning a difficult language and usually they will find it impossible to recover.
It took me all of three weeks to decide I did not need to be part of this fraud. I would begin to learn the language by myself, in the same way that I had begun to learn Russian four years earlier.
I abandoned the class and found a rather nice Japanese woman, Mrs Crawford, married to a former Australian soldier who had been based in Japan.
As with Mrs Gapanovich when I was learning Russian, each week I would ask her to tape- record a few very simple texts for me to study. I would listen closely and repeatedly to the tape over the week, check a textbook for the grammar and vocab, and then try to talk to her about the contents at the following meeting a week later.
Given the many other distractions in my life at the time I did not get very far. But at least it gave me a start with the language, something those poor wretches in the university class would never have.
In later years I would try occasionally to expose the scandalous way Chinese and Japanese were being taught at most Australian universities. But I was tilting at windmills. The only result was to upset the academic establishment and be bombarded with angry rebuttals.
As I have discovered over the years, when Australians are criticised they either cry or get indignant. Few reflect on why they are being criticised.
I even wrote a long letter to Crawford once, when he was ANU chancellor, begging him to intervene and try to change things for the sake of Australia’s relations with Asia and not just for the students. I got no reply.
4. The China Book, and trying to explain the Sino-Soviet dispute
Meanwhile, I still had the much larger problem of what to do about explaining China and its polices to an Australian audience. Writing a book would require enormous time and effort, even though I had much of the material in my head.
In those days we did not have computers for typing. There was no Internet Search to help us. Everything would have to be done by old-fashioned hand typing and library research. R. was willing to help. But was that enough?
Nor did I have much experience as a book writer. I had had some years of writing submissions and reports in EA. But that is not a very good way to learn how to write books. In fact, it is a very bad way, as I still have to remind myself.
As well, I had no publisher.
There was a further problem. If I was to write a book I would need time off from my PhD scholarship work, and there was no guarantee it would be granted.
My anti-Vietnam War activities had made me persona-non-grata with J.D,B. Miller and his international relations department. And I had already had my run in with Crawford. Now I would be asking for permission to write about Chinese foreign policy when my specialization was supposed to be Japan and economics.
Meanwhile the Vietnam War and the political situation in Australia were getting uglier by the day. Someone had to present the anti-government case. Could I stay forever on the sidelines?
The turning point was an invitation from Lo Hui-min, a middle aged researcher into Chinese history at the ANU, to give a seminar in the Asian Studies department.
Lo was 100 percent Chinese; he fretted constantly over the way I courted political reprisals by criticising government policies (in China, the key to survival had always been to keep out of the way of the people in power) . But he appreciated what I was doing and wanted to give me a voice, at least within the university.
I chose the Sino-Soviet dispute as the topic of the seminar. Finally I was motivated to start doing the homework I should have done much earlier, namely to try to nail down the origins of the dispute rather than concentrate on who said what to whom.
If the dispute was not ideological, as I had discovered, then what was it?
Origins of the Sino-Soviet Dispute
Explaining the dispute was not just important in itself. It was also crucial to any attempt to explain Chinese other policies and actions, since the standard theories about the dispute did much to distort views on those other policies and actions.
This in turn was supposed to have led Beijing to embrace dangerously aggressive policies throughout the world.
True, later documents confirmed that the Chinese were not entirely happy about the 1956 attacks on Stalin. They, unlike the Russians, had not suffered decades of mad dictatorship and killings. But any Beijing discomfort over Khruschev’s anti-Stalinism could hardly have been decisive.
At a 1957 gathering of world communist parties, the Chinese had specifically endorsed Moscow’s leadership of the communist bloc. As late as January 1959, Mao Tsetung had sent an effusive message to Moscow praising Khruschev’s leadership of the Soviet communist party.
Like all communist movements (come to think of it, all political or religious movements) need an icon - a leader and founder to admire. (Beijing still needed some time before it could elevate Mao to become that icon - the glorious leader and source of all wisdom.)
At the time Stalin and Lenin were the only icons available. But Stalin had done very little to help China’s communists, both before and after 1949. So why would they be greatly upset by Khruschev's criticisms?
As for some alleged lapse into hardline policy extremism, already in 1956 Beijing was showing some sensible pragmatism in its own domestic and foreign policies.
True, at a later stage there had been intense personal dislike and rivalry between Mao Tsetung and Khruschev. But that had only become obvious after the dispute had begun, not before.
For example, in June,1957, Beijing had thrown crucial support behind Khruschev in his life-and-death confrontation with the Moscow hard-liners - the anti-party group centered on Molotov. If Beijing was hard-line, anti-Khruschev from 1956, why was it going out of its way to help him escape attacks by hard-liners in 1957?
Beijing had also given some support to moderate Eastern European communist regimes confronting Moscow. None of this did much to support the thesis of a Marxist fundamentalist China determined ideologically to confront a soft-line Moscow.
But in that case what had triggered the dispute? And why had it become so vicious and intense? To find a causal factor, I decided to go carefully through the chronology of events between June 1957 and the early 1960’s when the polemics burst into the open. And when I did that I found I could narrow the field of suspects greatly.
On October 15, 1957, soon after he had ousted his hard-line opponents, Khruschev gave Beijing a promise to help China develop nuclear weapons. It was in effect a promise of nuclear backup if China was subjected to nuclear threat.
Khruschev also endorsed the Chinese model of communist development. Clearly these were acts of gratitude for the support he had gained from Beijing in June 1957.
But on June 20, 1959, the Soviets cancelled their nuclear agreements with China. Soon after they began open criticisms of the Chinese communist model.
Clearly the cause of the dispute had to be something that had occurred between June 1957 and June 1959. What was it?
By careful elimination I ended up with just one event – Beijing’s August 1958 confrontation with a US-backed Taiwan over the Offshore Islands in the Taiwan Straits.
Already while in External Affairs I had heard hints that the US, at a crucial period in the confrontation, had threatened use of nuclear weapons against China.
Meanwhile Khruschev had already begun his attempts to reach détente with the Eisenhower administration in Washington – attempts which began with the 1955 'Geneva Spirit' of detente, and culminated in the famous ‘Camp David’ meeting of September 1959.
Just three months before Camp David, Khruschev had cancelled his nuclear promises to Beijing.
The causes, and effects, seemed obvious.
In other words, the Taiwan Straits crisis had forced Khruschev to realise the full implications of his nuclear promise to China – that he would committed to help China in a nuclear confrontation with the US at precisely the same moment that he was trying to ease tensions with the same US.
That this indeed was the origin of the dispute was confirmed in the subsequent polemics, where the theme of Moscow’s foolish willingness to trust and appease an aggressive US was a constant refrain in the Chinese statements.
In short, the dispute had little to do with one side being ideologically more moderate or more extreme than the other, or being more aggressively inclined than the other. It came back squarely to a clash of national interests, with Beijing locked into confrontation with the US by the Taiwan issue – an issue for which the blame lay squarely with Washington rather than Beijing - and Moscow understandably trying to lock itself into detente with the US.
Both had good reasons for what they were doing. But what each was doing was bound to antagonise the other.
Beijing’s openly avowed dislike of Khruschev and the Soviets after June 20, 1959, was a result, not a cause, of the dispute.
At the time Beijing was making much of the fact that it did not fear nuclear war with the US; that it could lose much of its population and industry and still survive. This was immediately picked up by our hawks, and to some extent by Moscow, to prove Beijing's inherent adventurism.
But if you are threatened with nuclear attack, and you have no way to retaliate with nuclear weapons, then all you can do to dissuade the likely attacker is say you do not fear nuclear attack.
(If anyone is being adventurist it is the side which is threatening nuclear attack. But in those days in the West you were not allowed to say that kind of thing. The US was supposed to be pure of heart, and all-powerful.)
Needless to say, this kind of detailed analysis went straight over the heads of most of the assembled ANU academics at Lo’s seminar. But as an historian Lo realised that I had dug up material of value. He urged me strongly to get it published somewhere, and I realised he was right.
At the time not just the media but the overwhelming majority of China watchers went along with the conventional wisdom of an aggressive China confronting a moderate Moscow. My material not only undermined the wisdom; it provided a very valuable insight to the mechanics of the Cold War at the time.
If I say so myself, it was an important piece of historical and political research, with great implications – one being that the claim a Vietnam intervention was needed to restrain Being's adventurism was false.
Indeed, it does not get much more important than that. I really did need to have my research published, somewhere, somehow.
(Some Chinese researchers have published similar material lately. But to this day, as far as I know, no one else in the West has done the detailed research. China-watchers such as Donald Zagoria with their former detailed studies of the polemics 'proving' the aggressive China thesis are still regarded as the experts on China for that period, and even later.)
But once again I was back my earlier problem: to explain the Sino-Soviet dispute I would have to give much of the background to China’s other foreign policy disputes, Taiwan especially, and that would require a book.
I put in an application to the ANU authorities for leave to do preparation. Crawford very reluctantly approved a maximum of six months, with scholarship stipend suspended during that period.
I should add that in four years at the ANU, Lo was the only person to take any real interest in my views on China, despite the fact that as the ex-China desk officer in External Affairs and a former First Secretary in Moscow it was obvious that I had much information of interest. Not once did I even get to talk to most of the people in that wretched, ASIO-infiltrated, ANU international relations department.
And that included the alleged ANU expert on Vietnam and wars in general – Hedley Bull – for whom I note the ANU has shared the slavish communist need for icons, even flawed icons. They have named a building after him.
The only person in that department to show any interest in my information was an American, Hanno Weisbrod. His excellent work on US and Australian covert involvement in Laos in the early sixties never received the attention it deserved, even though it was crucial to the later US-Australian involvement in Vietnam.
5. Jim Cairns, and the Enclave Solution
Meanwhile I was still trying to fight the Vietnam war outside the ANU.
I had got to know some people in the very leftwing Victorian ALP executive. Through them I had met up with Jim Cairns, later deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam government, and then the leading ALP voice of reasoned opposition to the Vietnam War.
Later in my dealings with Cairns I was to discover there was a sloppy, indulgent side to his personality, especially when women were involved, and that was long before the Morosi affair of 1975. Ultimately this would lead to his political downfall.
But for all that, his political views and arguments were clear and good. His book “Living with Asia” not only gives an excellent analysis of the dynamics of leftwing anti-government insurgencies and revolutions; it also happens to include one of the best outlines I have ever read of the evolution of Soviet communism in the twenties and thirties.
That a self-educated ex-policeman from Melbourne could get to know in such detail the events of another age in a very foreign country on the other side of the globe is amazing. Yet even on the Left, and certainly not on the Right, he never got the credit he deserved for this research.
When the Vietnam War got underway his principled opposition to that war would be written off as the typical way-out bleatings of an old-time leftie. The writing-off would be done by establishment academics proud that they had never sullied their minds with any serious study of Communism and its origins, let alone the dynamics of insurgencies and revolutions.
Through Cairns and the Victorian ALP executive I got drawn into ALP infighting a lot more than I probably should have. But I was motivated by what as I saw as the urgent need to force a debate over Vietnam.
It was a race against time. The US military machine had the power to grind down the insurgents in South Vietnam just as the British had crushed the insurgency in Malaya.
But unlike Malaya, where much of the war and the brutality were hidden, there was a good chance that with time people in the West would come to realise what was actually happening on the ground in Vietnam – that a genuine and very justified resistance movement was been suppressed with great cruelty in favour of a corrupt and incompetent regime in Saigon.
Some first-class journalists on the ground were beginning to report much of this in detail. I assumed, naively, that the soldiers and the officials involved with Vietnam must also be coming to realise the facts and be seeking ways out.
As well, I knew already how Australia had played such a crucial role in encouraging Washington into Vietnam. By getting the facts of the war into circulation in Australia, there was a chance of a change in Australian opinion, which in turn offered a very real chance that an anti-war Australia could exert a strong influence on Washington's view of the war.
Maybe we could even stop the war – if we tried a bit harder!
Fanciful thinking? Of course. For soon I was to discover in the clearest, and worst, possible way the impossibility of stirring any sensible debate in that intellectual and moral morass called Australian public opinion.
The Enclave Solution
It began with a chance meeting mid-1966 in Sydney with Brian Johns, then trying to make a name for himself as the Sydney Morning Herald correspondent in Canberra.
I had first met Johns in Canberra in 1957 when I was still a fresh EA recruit and he was trying to become a government information bureaucrat. We had got on reasonably well with each other even if in those days he seemed burdened with an Irish Catholicism and an inferiority complex due to his lack of formal education
Later in 1975 when he was to become spokesperson and media handler for the Whitlam government, we both worked together for a while and he was to leave me holding the can over the Vietnam Cables affair (details later). He would then go on to be ALP media tzar and to head the ABC, while I ended up back in Tokyo.
Johns was a typical mid-road Australian moderate for those days.
Deep down he subscribed to Yellow Peril and anti-communist bogies. But he did not want to seem to support government policies. Like most journos he liked to mix in leftwing circles and be seen as mildly (and safely) radical.
I got to talking with him about Vietnam. I told him what I knew about the crucial role Canberra had played in 1965 in getting the US more deeply involved in a war that it (the US) might otherwise have not wanted. From this it followed that if Australian opinion could be made to realise the facts about the war, then Canberra might conceivably play a role in getting the war wound down.
But something had to be done quickly. Thousands of Vietnamese were being killed and bombed every day for a totally worthless cause. Could not his newspaper be persuaded to take a closer look at what was actually happening in Vietnam?
As I agonised over all this to Johns, I could see he was less than fully engaged. At the end he turned to me and said, in effect: “ Greg, it is all very well being anti the war in Vietnam. But in that case you have to put forward an alternative. You can’t just ask Australia and the US to walk away from it all.”
He was right, in a political, even if not moral, sense. An alternative policy that preserved US face, and guaranteed the survival of the anti-communist Vietnamese, had to be put forward. And as chance would have it, I had that policy. I called it the enclave solution.
While in EA I had realised, and urged, the role that Taiwan could have played in moderating Beijing’s occasional lunges into crazy economic and other policies if only there was some contact and exchanges between the two sides (needless to say, none of this made any impression on my hawkish superiors).
Beijing’s fits of anti-Westernism could also be moderated if there was some guarantee the US would not try to use Taiwan as a beach-head for attacks against China. Even better would be some guarantee that the US would not oppose eventual reunification with China.
Why not push this idealised Taiwan model as the answer in Vietnam?
The mechanics of it all were quite simple. It would begin with the West recognising that a civil war was underway in Vietnam, and that while it hoped the South would win out against its pro-communist enemies, the West would only provide as much support to Saigon as the pro-communists were receiving from outside sources.
Once it was clear that the pro-Saigon Vietnamese could not win out in their civil war, the West would then say that, while it had no choice but to accept the outcome of a civil war fought on equal terms, it could not tolerate seeing the anti-communist Vietnamese wiped out by their enemies.
To prevent this tragedy, it would provide them with an enclave – some coastal territory where they could regroup and continue their anti-communist existence.
From then on, the Western military intervention in Vietnam would be restricted to protecting the borders of this enclave. Meanwhile much of the money being used to prosecute the war would be diverted to help create a viable economy for the enclave.
Eventually it might even come to provide not just a haven for the deserving anti-communist Vietnamese (as with Taiwan, they included a number of educated people with conscience who deserved to be rescued). It would also provide an economic and social model for the rest of Vietnam also certain to be bogged down in Marxist ortherdoxy, as Taiwan was to do for China.
Would Hanoi and the other pro-communist forces in Vietnam accept this? Almost certainly, I thought.
They too were tired of the war, and they were suffering a lot. Provided there was some guarantee of eventual reunification, or at the very least some kind of confederation agreement, say after 20 years, they could feel they had achieved their objectives.
In the meantime they would be able to set up their own government for the rest of Vietnam. War hatreds would gradually abate.
My first move was to try to sell the enclave idea to the ALP, then in opposition. I went first to Cairns. Despite his close identification with the ALP Left, he realised the merits of this compromise solution.
But he said he would first need to try to sell it to the Victorian ALP executive. After that, he would try to have it endorsed as ALP policy.
Cairns did not even get to first base. I am told that at the end of his presentation to the Victorian executive, one of the more extreme leftwingers had sarcastically congratulated him on having outlined the government policy, and would he now kindly outline the leftwing policy.
I heard no more from Cairns for a while.
I decided to try another tack. An election was due later that year. The then Prime Minister, Harold Holt, was trumpeting his famous pro-Vietnam War slogan – All the Way with LBJ.
In advance of the election, LBJ, in the shape of US president Lyndon Baines Johnson, was about to descend on Australia to give support to Holt's Vietnam intervention policies.
During his visit LBJ would also condescend to meet the ALP. But the then ALP leader, Arthur Caldwell, was getting nowhere with his calls for a withdrawal of Australian troops from this ‘dirty, filthy unwinnable war’ even if history was to prove him 100 percent correct. He would get even closer to nowhere if he just repeated this to LBJ.
Meanwhile Caldwell’s heir apparent and ALP foreign policy spokesman, Gough Whitlam, was just keeping his head down and saying nothing. He was leaving Caldwell to take the flak.
My idea was to get to Whitlam and persuade him of the merits of the enclave solution in advance of the LBJ meeting. Obviously LBJ would reject it. But the ALP could then go into the election saying it had put a moderate, compromise solution to Washington , only to see it rejected out of hand.
This proved Washington was not interested in sensible solutions. In which case, the ALP was justified in seeking the withdrawal of Australian troops.
My first problem was how to get to Whitlam, whom I had never met and who had little reason to know me. Eric Walsh said he could give me an introduction to John Menadue who was then Whitlam’s secretary.
Menadue met me cagily, but promised to pass on my proposal. I never got a response from either him or Whitlam. The ALP went to crashing defeat in the election.
The election over, I still wanted to do something about my idea. I leaned hard on Deamer to give me space in The Australian to publish it, which he did – almost an entire page.
But once again the reaction was minimal. There was a querulous letter from an ANU international relations academic who thought my idea flawed since the communists would never accept it and the enclave would be indefensible anyway.
As for the rest of pro-war crowd, I can only assume that they saw my compromise proposal as a sinister leftwing attempt to forestall the inevitable US victory.
It was, after all, only 1966 and almost everyone, including myself to some extent, assumed a gory US victory was likely if the intervention and the killing continued.
Years later, after the US and its Saigon friends had lost the war, completely and humiliatingly, I tried to prick a few consciences by reminding our Vietnam hawks how much better things would have been for their anti-communist Vietnamese friends if they had been willing to consider a compromise solution.
But once again, no reaction. By definition, I guess, being a hawk means never having to say sorry or admit past mistakes.
6. Finding a Publisher
Meanwhile I was plodding away with the manuscript of my China book, helped as ever by the unstinting and uncomplaining R.
My six months time limit from the ANU had quickly expired. I was eating into the time that I should have been using for my PhD work. And I still needed a publisher.
Some time earlier I had had an offer from Lloyd O’Neil, the energetic and very liberal-minded manager of The Lansdowne Press based in Melbourne. I had met him at some anti-Vietnam War affair, and he was keen to help me get my ideas into print.
But Lansdowne usually concentrated on popular books –sport, nature, childrens’ tales. It was an unlikely place to go for a serious book on Chinese foreign policies. Even so, O’Neil seemed very keen to have the book.
As the writing progressed, my doubts grew. I was moving into some rather heavy academic territory. Could Lansdowne really handle that kind of book?
I decided I should check out first whether the ANU Press would be interested. They took one look at the emerging manuscript and fled. They were not into publishing polemical books, they said.
Later I learned that they had passed the MS to my dear friends in the ANU international relations department, who had lost no time in saying that this ‘leftwing, pro-Beijing tract’ was quite unsuitable for an academic publisher.
It was a serious setback. But around the same time I had had an approach from a rather slippery character called Peter Ryan running the Melbourne University Press.
I knew something about Ryan's rightwing views and various past involvements with Australia’s spy networks. But surely none of this would carry over to his management of a reputable university press, I thought.
I was wrong. Ryan had gone out of his way to tell me how much MUP wanted to put out a book on China and I had cooperated by giving the book a much stronger academic slant than I had originally intended.
I had then hopefully sent my MS off to him for appraisal. He sat on it for months, by which time I was already in Japan. I then got an abrupt letter saying it was much too biassed to be fit for publication.
It was a bad setback. Fortunately I was able to contact O’Neil from Japan, who was still willing to publish. But there was no way sitting in Japan I could rewrite it as a more popular book. I never really recovered from the MUP setback, which was probably Ryan's intention from the beginning.
Once again, the Empire had struck back.
Japan was to become - had to become - the only way I could escape the nightmare I was facing in my native Australia.