Chapter 6a

Returning to the Vietnam War Debate- 1968-9

1.    Whitlam, Cairns and Vietnam

2.    Australians and Vietnam

3.    The Australian Rightwing

4.    The Last Straw

In 1965-66,  when returning from Moscow, I could feel the mild euphoria of joining a genuine debate over the rights and wrongs of a controversial war that was just beginning. 

In the anti-war ranks I had found new friends and new values, in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. 

But when I returned from Japan in 1968,  the debate had fossilized. 

The Liberal Country Party (LCP) coalition was firmly in power, thanks largely to the ruthless way it had been exploiting alleged China and Vietnam War threat issues. 

The US atrocity in Vietnam had escalated, and was spilling over into Cambodia and Laos. 

Not just the rightwing DLP but even the Liberal Party was into pasting red arrows from China pointing towards Australia. And the public showed every sign of wanting to continue to believe this nonsense for some time to come. 

The organs of the Right - the covertly CIA-financed Cultural Freedom people and its literary organ, Quadrant magazine, especially - were in full cry. Most of my anti-war friends from those earlier heady days of the mid-sixties had lost their jobs or had given up. 

1.  Whitlam, Cairns and Vietnam 

Even the possibility of moving into politics - the one remaining reason for wanting to remain in Australia - was withering. 

(I am not suited to politics. But I could see something of a career as an adviser to an anti-Vietnam War, pro-recognition of China political party, if such existed.) 

Whitlam had consolidated his position in the ALP and was determined to keep anti-Vietnam War people like Cairns and myself very much at a distance. He had become mealy-mouthed on Vietnam. Over China he was disturbingly rightwing. 

Partly he may have been acting opportunistically; Labour had stumbled from one electoral defeat to another because the great Australian public had been led to believe the party was weak on Yellow Peril threats. 

But Whitlam himself, and many in the ALP, went along with Yellow Peril fears. 

I tried to find out the basis of Whitlam's anti-China bias. From Cyril Wyndham, then ALP federal secretary, I learned that like many others (including Kissinger) he had been greatly influenced by the false version of the 1962 Sino-Indian frontier war pumped out by Western propaganda agencies. 

India in those days was being seen by Whitlam and other centrist progressives as a model of peaceful, socialistic development. So if even harmless India had become a target of alleged 'unprovoked' military attack, then China was clearly a menace to the rest of the world. 

In 1964 Whitlam had spoken openly about China's "invasion" of India. 

Invasion? When it was India that had attacked China by pushing troops north even its own (Indian) frontier claim line in the NEFA era, and the Chinese had then responded? 

And when the Chinese had withdrawn completely to the Indian claim line, ignoring its own claim line much further south, once the Indian  move had been defeated and punished? 

A key player in spreading the "invasion" myth was the rightwing, Canberra-based historian, Geoffrey Fairbairn. 

Personable, an expert on India, and a favorite of the Quadrant crowd, his views carried clout in the circles where Whitlam moved. 

I knew Fairbairn quite well, and once took some time to give him the facts of the Sino-Indian frontier dispute. He did not try to deny them. But he made no effort to correct the distorted version he had been propagating, and continued to propagate. 

Fairbairn had also been very influential in creating the myth of guerrilla war as somehow immoral  - the dangerous and sinister tool for spreading global Communism. 

So the French Resistance to the Nazis was also an immoral form of warfare? I once asked. 

 I did not even try to argue with him.  

In 1967 Whitlam had returned from a Vietnam visit, bringing one of the more unusual reasons for criticizing Canberra's involvement there. He said the US top brass there had personally briefed him, and it was clear that the war on the ground had already been won. 

From this it followed that Canberra had got it wrong in wanting to send more troops there. What was needed was material aid to help rebuild the countryside, he concluded triumphantly. 

As his aide Graham Freudenberg admitted to journalists at the time, an arrogant and all-knowing Whitlam had been thoroughly "snowed" by the US military establishment. 

Others in the ALP establishment went along this particular piece of Whitlamesque nonsense - the highly forgettable deputy ALP leader, Lance Barnard, in particular. 

But the main theme among the ALP rightwingers was that Australia could not abandon the US in Indochina, even if the Americans had made a few mistakes. 

My own attempt to suggest an alternative back in 1966 - the enclave solution - had obviously gone nowhere. 

Among the working class Left, the argument that "we have to stop the yellow bastards up there before they got down here" remained firmly in place. 

Face with this barrage, most on the ALP Left have been reduced to silence. 

In effect, the anti-war camp had been narrowed down to a few doctrinaire leftwing ideologues and the very few informed, conscience-striken progressives who had survived the dumbing down of Australian foreign affairs thinking. 

Only when the conscription issue began to hit the headlines did popular opposition to the war get underway. 

In effect some Australians were saying: "We don't mind it if the Americans are up there killing the yellow bastards. But if good Australian lads have to get killed in the process, that is something different." 

Living with Jim Cairns 

Even Cairns was starting to get flaky. 

True, he had done much to enthuse the anti-conscription movement. 

And as I recounted earlier, I had seen a lot of him in the mid-sixties, and had even got him to take political risks to support my enclave solution for Vietnam. 

But Cairns had his weaknesses too, some of which were to become apparent with the Morosi affair of 1975. 

I had once gone to Sydney,  at his request,  to spend a weekend working with him on a promised definitive, in-depth document setting out the anti-Vietnam War argument in full detail. 

We had agreed that something like this was badly needed to give more impetus to the anti-war movement. 

But when I arrived, Cairns made it clear that he was more interested in spending the weekend at the house of a young female student he had just met. 

Years later he was to be invited to visit Hanoi, and to take one Australian newsperson with him. As a Tokyo-based correspondent, I was keen to go. 

But despite all that I had done with him in the past over Vietnam he turned me down, in favor of a rightwing Singapore-based Fairfax journalist whose connections with British and Australian intelligence were so blatant that even the rather politically naive Cairns must have known about them. 

Most have forgotten that Cairns was also a member of the February 1965 ALP Parliamentary Foreign Affairs committee that endorsed US bombing of Hanoi on the basis of the phony Tonkin Bay attack. 

Cairns could turn hot and cold on issues as the occasion demanded, even if he was more solid than most others on the so-called Left. 

True, there were a few others in the ALP who were also good on Vietnam in those days. Bill Hayden was one (that was before his subsequent gallop across the ideological spectrum to become a darling of the Right on a range of issues). 

(Like Cairns, Hayden had begun life as an uneducated policeman. The moral maybe is that a reasonable level of education is needed to help people realise the need to maintain consistency in their political positions.) 

The only ALP activist able intelligently not just to share my feelings about that war, but also to realise that the ALP had to try to come up with a solution acceptable to the ignorant Australian public, was the now quite forgotten Tasmanian peace activist turned politician,  Neil Batt. 

In 1967 he was able to push through a Federal ALP Conference a resolution advocating something very similar to the enclave solution which I had had published in The Australian earlier that year. 

In other words, Australia would agree to join the US in a holding operation to rescue the anti-Communist Vietnamese from the results of their inefficiency and corruption, and help them recuperate -i.e. to create a Taiwan-style enclave. 

But it would not join help the US outside the enclave . 

Batt had picked up my idea and run with it. 

Whitlam, who had ignored my idea when it was put to him via Menadue in 1966, was finally forced to think about it. His response? 

That Australia had no right to impose conditions on its US ally. Brilliant! 

The fact that the enclave proposal was the only way the ALP could put forward a coherent Vietnam policy acceptable to the Australian public had gone over his politically naive head, just as it had done in 1966. 

The fact that it was the only way to stop the dreadful killing in Vietnam, and give the anti-communists in Saigon a very undeserved chance to survive and even make a comeback, had also gone completely over his head. 

Among Whitlam's rightwing ALP friends the favorite wisdom was an alleged "obligation" to support Australia's big and powerful friend. 

In the rightwing media the same mantra was repeated endlessly. 

The implication, that you have to support someone bent on murderous war, regardless of rights and wrongs, just because he looks strong and says he is your friend, was frightening. 

There were a lot of people who once supported Hitler on the same basis. 

At times I used to wonder whether Whitlam's rightwing foreign policy bias was due to his having been bought by the CIA, via his Cultural Freedom friends. 

But more likely his problem was his weakness in foreign policy (economics was not his only blind spot) combined with a desire to continue to be seen in conservative Sydney circles as respectable, as not wanting to associate with those horrid "leftwing extremists." 

Either way, it meant I did not have much future in ALP circles as a foreign policy adviser, even if the more personable, and more opportunistic, Stephen Fitzgerald was later to seize the opportunity. 

But I am getting ahead of my story, which is pulling together the Vietnam War reasons why increasingly I felt I had no choice but to leave Australia. . 

2.  Australians and Vietnam 

The weakness of the Vietnam debate in Australia was not just a constant agony for me. It also forced me to think a lot more about Australia itself, and whether I had any future in that country. 

Why were Australians were so unconcerned about the atrocities going on just to the north of their big, fat continent? 

Was I really alien to the society which I had known from childhood, which had raised me and which I liked in many ways? 

Australians are not an inherently cruel people. Put some atrocity in front of their eyes, like the degradation of the aborigine community,  and they will fret over it.  They may even try to do what they can to stop it (though it is highly likely they will fail to find the reasons for the problem and end up with solutions that do more harm than good).

But when it is all far away in Vietnam?  Forget it mate. 

Ultimately the problem came down to yet another Japanese aspect of the Australian psyche - a particularism that makes people quite unable to extrapolate,  unable to focus in on the details of events removed from their immediate range of view (or shiya, as it is called in Japanese). 

So in foreign policy they can happily remain oblivious to the fact that millions of foreigners will have brutally to be killed simply to protect their own narrow view of where their selfish interests lie. 

As Decartes (or was it Pascal?) is supposed once to have said: The test of the moral man is he who, when facing a button which when pressed will return him one hundred francs but will cause a hundred nameless Chinese to die, will refuse to press the button. 

By that standard there are few moral people in this world, Australia especially. 

Even so, why was I, as a typically Queensland-raised, gut-conservative who in 1956 had stood on the deck of a boat close to Suez and had cheered Anthony Eden as he tried to justify the brutal British attack on Egypt, so completely out of touch with my countrymen? 

Largely because of my China experience, I guess. It had forced me to realise there was another and even more important world out there. 

I had come to sympathise with the Chinese in their struggles first against Japanese brutality and then against a corrupt government supported by the US. . 

For me, the Vietnamese were in the same situation, except they also had had to struggle against French colonisers. 

As in China, millions of them would have to die simply so that they could regain control of their own country. 

Worse, I would also empathise with them as individuals. For me every Vietnamese being napalmed was a human being I might have known and liked.

And as a member of a nation that had supported and to some extent encouraged that napalming,  I too was responsible.  I could not ignore their sufferings. 

Australians, both then and now, seem quite unable to extrapolate like this. 

The sufferings of the Vietnamese, even when imposed by Australian soldiers and policies, remained quite beyond the range of their feelings and consciousness. 

The pathetic post-Vietnam War efforts by the Australian rightwing establishment - Quadrant etc.- to justify that war, even when almost the entire civilized world had turned against it, were typical of this self-centered obtuseness. 

Worse, they seemed quite unable even to grasp the concept of war guilt 

If they need a definition, I will give it to them, a la Nuremberg. 

It is a war crime to go into a foreign country and kill people for spurious reasons. 

How do we define spurious?  One very simple definition or proof is whether or not the people who did the killing are prepared to repeat those reasons  after the conflict has ended.  

That certainly was the basis for the 1946 Tokyo war crimes tribunals. 

Canberra's reasons for the Vietnam intervention were that it was needed to prevent China from using "its puppets in Hanoi for a thrust between the Indian and Pacific Oceans." 

Would any of our rightwing Vietnam-war rationalizers care to repeat that claim? No? 

Well, in that case , and by the standards set in those Tokyo war crimes tribunals,  in which Australians played such a leading role, they too should heading for the scaffold and be strung up by the neck until they are dead.

That, of course, is not going to happen. Indeed,  we do not even get an apology out of them, even as Australians today rush in to do business with the Vietnam with which Canberra now claims such a good relationship. 

Even the Americans have enough moral consistency to realise that if they do not want to apologise, then they should at least not pretend to want good relations. 

And the US has at least thrown up a Robert McNamara, something we have yet to find among Australia's Vietnam War policy planners. 

On the contrary, we have even seen an official attempt by the Canberra War Memorial historian, to justify the war and criticise the anti-war activists.

Even in the USA we have not seen such official crassness. 

For me, the almost total lack of conscience among the many Australians - bureaucrats, politicians, journalists, academics, soldiers - involved in supporting or organising the Vietnam atrocity is appalling. 

For an equivalent I can only turn to the Japanese inability to realise and apologise for their atrocities in Asia before 1945. 

Like the Japanese, Australians lack principles. They operate more on the basis of the mood, consensus and feelings of the moment, even if they think they are operating on the basis of principles.   

But while I can understand the cultural factors involved (and this to some extent together with the many other Japan-Australia cultural similarities are reasons why I like both societies at the basic, gut level),  it does not make it acceptable.

As far as I am concerned the immorality of the Australian involvement in the Vietnam War is on a par with the rape of Nanking.  

Guerilla Warfare 

One aspect of this Japanese-style particularism was what I call the Fairbairn syndrome. 

This was the strange inability to understand the basis of guerrilla warfare, namely that brave people with a cause confronting a vastly superior power of a government or an invading army have no choice but to fight incognito, and to rely on the tactics of surprise. 

(This happens to have been the case in the Spanish war of resistance to Napoleon's invasion, where the word guerilla was coined.) 

Even if one does not agree with the cause, surely the fact that people are willing to fight and die under appalling conditions for that cause at least deserves some appreciation. 

What's more,  the fact the guerillas are doing this without any promise of material reward, unlike the semi-mercenaries on the side of the government or invading army, makes it very likely they see their cause as just. 

They are not just zombies chained to machine guns, as some of our pro-Vietnam War propagandists like to claim. 

The fact that their women are willing to join them in that fighting (which is usually the case in most guerilla wars), makes it even more likely they genuinely believe their cause is just. 

Yet somehow in the minds of most Australians, including many who should have known better, the incredible bravery and endurance of the guerilla forces is turned round into proof of incredible deviousness and evil. 

Throughout history, mercenary armies have always had an especial dislike for guerilla fighters. They reserve for them their most vicious punishments, as if it is grossly unfair for people to try to defend their homelands by 'sneaky' guerilla tactics..

Once again the Japanese analogy pops up - the way guerilla fighters in China were seen as sub-human, and the dreadful cruelties reserved for those who were captured, including live vivisection and bacterial experiments in Japan's Unit 731.

Alan Watt, a former EA head, once produced one of the less memorable books about Australian and Vietnam. In it he spoke darkly about the sneaky Vietcong enemy refusing to come out in the open and confront its enemies. 

And leave itself open of yet another B52 bomb attack? 

This inability to think of the terrible unfairness of the war in Vietnam, or even to think of the other side as human beings with legitimate desires and goals,  was probably ugliest aspect of the Australian approach to Vietnam. 

Dogs and Vietnam 

I remember an evening, probably back in 1968, with two progressive or even mildly-leftwing Canberra academics - one of them was Don Aitkin of the ANU I recall. 

The Australian military had just released a gushing press notice about Rover, a guard dog sent to Vietnam. 

It seems that Rover had been sniffing in some bushes and discovered a local Vietnamese woman who probably had been sent to scout for the anti-government forces. She had been shot and killed immediately. 

Well done Rover. One up for the dog, was the jubilant press notice message. 

I tried to tell my two friends just how disgusting all this was - praise for a dog responsible for the killing an unarmed and unnamed woman, whose only crime was having the courage to assist her men-folk trying to resist foreign attack in her native country. 

My two colleagues were quite taken aback by my anger. Aitkin politely tried to suggest that I was getting a bit over-heated on the Vietnam issue. 

I used to get the same message from so many other so-called progressives in Canberra. The word they liked for protest was 'gradualist.'

Be more gradualistic, I was told. 

But how you can be "gradual" when at that very moment your own government and tax monies are assisting the slaughter of thousands for a totally worthless cause? 

Protest is meaningless unless it happens at a time when the atrocities are in progress. There is no point protesting afterwards. And to be effective it has to be accompanied by action - marches, writings, refusing to pay taxes. 

The fact that this upsets the sensitivities of our cheese and campari progressives says more about them than about the protestors. 

When I look back on those futile years in Canberra, my worst memories are the bruising arguments over Vietnam in the ANU tearooms and corridors, trying to persuade some of those "gradualist progressives" about the need to do something now and then rather than wait till it was all over.  

 How to Protest 

But the gradualists are right in one sense, even if they do not realise it. 

Watching the policy makers in action over the years, I am convinced that a major reason they persist in their immoral wars is simply because they are determined to prove the protestors wrong. 

Often they would often be quite happy to declare victory and slink away from those often unwinnable conflicts. But if they did that they would be admitting that the protesters were right, and that they themselves were wrong. 

Marches and other emotional protests simply harden their resolve to prove the protestors wrong. Even us writers with our more vitriolic writings do some damage perhaps.  

In retrospect, I often think the most effective thing the anti-Vietnam War camp could have done was to set up booths outside Parliament House, government offices and the embassies of pro-Vietnam War nations. 

There the protestors could sit quietly, day after day, year after year, handing out anti-war materials to those who were interested, arguing with those who thought the war was justified, and getting to know other anti-war protestors. 

With something like that in place even I might have been persuaded to get off my futile pedestal at the time 

But I still do not think the 'gradualism' of our progressives was the answer.

For many of them it was simply an excuse allowing them to keep their heads down and their noses clean. They would weigh in much later, when it was safe and respectable to do so. 

In the process they would leave it to others to take the brunt of establishment hostility, while they consolidated their own comfortable positions in academia and elsewhere. 

3 The Australian Rightwing 

Dealing with Australian progressives was difficult enough. Worse was the  hectoring I was getting from rightwing fanatics. 

One was the hard-line journalist, Peter Samuel, who wrote for the Canberra Times and the Bulletin. 

In a breathless article Samuel once told us that the US had already won out in Vietnam, but was keeping its Vietnam victory so secret that even its allies there, including Australia, did not know about it. 

The glad news would only be revealed when the US had thoroughly subdued the countryside. 

Another was Malcolm Mackerras who today would probably be embarrassed if reminded of his pedantically rightwing views in those days. 

Mackerras shared the rightwing penchant for fussing over small details, such as Hanoi's 'illegal' support for the Vietcong, while ignoring the far more illegal US, and Australian, refusal to abide by the  1954 Geneva Agreements that had in effect promised a reunification of Vietnam which would have been largely on Hanoi's terms. 

As in the US, the Australian rightwing took great comfort and support from the alleged failure of the 1968 Tet offensive. That was supposed to prove lack of popular South Vietnamese support for the pro- communist cause. 

It never seemed to cross their simple minds that the fact that the offensive could be launched in the first place, and could only be suppressed by massive US intervention, totally discredited their earlier anti- communist fictions about the Vietcong being simply a bandit rabble hiding out in the jungle and lacking any basis of support in the society generally. 

Over China, a favorite gambit among people like Samuel, the Santamaria/DLP crowd, The Bulletin and other right-wingers was constant reference to a CIA circulated map of Chinese-controlled territories in Ching dynasty times, with much of Southeast Asia included. 

Beijing was allegedly holding up this map as the goal for its future territorial expansion, with Australia as the target after that. (see page 153 of my In Fear of China book for details) 

Yes, the map did exist. It was included, once and once only, in a 1954 Chinese school history textbook which was withdrawn a year later. 

By the 1960's Beijing was negotiating very generous border agreements with many of its neighbours. Not only were those agreed borders quite different from anything shown in the Ching dynasty map; Taiwan was even attacking them as sacrificing territories that it (the Nationalist government) had long insisted were Chinese territories. 

In short, the claims about the map were a blatant lie and one of the bright shining variety. But ignorance of facts, and acceptance of doctored spy information, was par for the course in Australia at the time. 

At the time an ASIO-spoon fed Melbourne Herald writer, Denis Warner, was warning the world about Chinese roads being built deep into the heart of Laos. Beijing was already expanding southwards, he intoned. To date no one has been able to find the roads for some reason. 

If the Left was to come up with the same kind of lies and distortions over issues as important as this, imagine the outcry from the Right. 

Lies and exaggerations in alleged defense of the nation are different from other lies and exaggerations, it seems, even if the former result in your having direct responsibility for killing of the citizens of another nation in large numbers. 

Even the worst mistakes by the Left - arguably by those who tried to justify Moscow's various atrocities -  were never to require Australian participation in those atrocities. What's more, most on the intellectual Left who had supported Moscow had the moral courage later to admit their mistakes.

This difference between Left and Right, or rather between progressives and conservatives (ideologues, whether of the Left or Right, tend to be more argumentative) ,  on the question of moral responsibility is a fairly universal phenomenon. It has something to do with conservative positions usually being more gut emotionally based.

When your actions are gut emotional you never have to say sorry.

 ( Once again, the example of Japan - a very conservative nation - springs to mind.) 

Another lecture I use to get from the rightwing ideologues in those days was the need to realise the evils of the KGB and Soviet communism. For someone like myself, who had just returned from first-hand experience of both, it was a lecture I did not need. 

It was also irrelevant to the situation in Vietnam. 

Here, the role played by anti-communist east European refugee intellectuals such as Frank Knopfelmacher was especially ugly. In effect they were saying that because they and their friends had suffered, some deservedly, under Soviet-imposed communism back in the forties and fifties, it was quite right for Australians and Americans to go out and kill Vietnamese in sixties and seventies. 

Neither Knopfelmacher nor any of the other east European, anti- communist -emigre crowd so active in Australia at the time, knew much about Asia, Vietnam especially. But that did not stop them talking, and being accepted by the conservative and rightwing media, Quadrant especially, as experts on the subject. 

Quadrant once ran a poem by the virulently anti-communist poet, James McCauley. It spoke of the bravery and restraint of the US and its friends as they sought to battle the dark communist menace hiding away in the Asian jungles. 

At around the same time US pilots were wiping out entire towns and napalming villages from the safety of their high-flying B 52's or fast flying jets. Not much bravery or restraint there. 

But for all their faults, the Quadrant/Cultural Freedom crowd did at least show pretensions of intellectual integrity. They at least had the honesty to admit there might be other views, and to listen to them, even if they were not going to be persuaded. 

They even managed to include me in some to their debates at the time. My experience with the ALP had been far less encouraging. 

An ALP Experience 

I had joined the Labour Party in the mid-sixties, in the naive belief that this was what an honest citizen had to do if he or she wanted to see policy changes. 

At the time the Canberra ALP branch was split fairly evenly between left-wingers and right-wingers. But thanks to the growing numbers of concerned anti-Vietnam War activists, the left-wing was starting to get a majority. 

Returning to Canberra after my year in Japan,and having joined the ALP out of a sense of moral responsibility,  I found myself deep into branch factional politics.

 A national election was due. The well-organised left-wing in the branch (headed largely by my old mate, Bruce MacFarlane) was determined to oppose pre-selection for the sitting ALP member for Canberra, "Big" Jim Fraser, a typical ALP right-wing conservative and covert supporter of the Vietnam War. 

A key branch voting requirement had long been the need to have attended at least three branch meetings in the year before the pre- selection vote. 

Unlike the progressives and the left-wingers, most of the right-wingers had been too lazy or apathetic to make the required three attendances. So they would automatically be disqualified from voting. 

A victory for the left-wing candidate, Geoff Walsh, seemed imminent. 

But as the struggle over numbers heated up, the rightwing New South Wales ALP executive decided to exercise its control to make sure Fraser got re-nominated. 

How? The branch also had a rule that said those members living more than three miles from where branch meetings were held could be exempted from the three-meeting attendance quota. 

Normally three miles means just that, three miles. But according to the NSW executive, Canberra was an exception. 

Why? Because in Canberra, the bus routes are notoriously circuitous. The NSW executive promptly decreed that three miles did not mean three miles as the crow flies but three miles as the bus runs. 

Thanks to this piece of simple skullduggery, many of the negligent right-wingers found themselves entitled to vote. 

Even so, the numbers were still very evenly divided. This raised the problem of myself and Bob Gollan, an eminent leftwing ANU political historian who was also a branch member. Both of us had been out of Australia for much of the year, so we too had failed to make the required three attendances. 

In our cases, the bus ride would have been a lot more than three miles. Surely we too should be allowed to vote? 

Of course not. 

In the logic of the NSW executive, being 10,000 miles away as the airplane flies was nowhere as significant as being more than three miles away as the bus runs. 

So those apathetic right-wingers could vote, but we could not. 

At around this point I decided that I did not need to waste any more time on ALP politics. 

4. The Last Straw 

A 1969 run in with the SMH editor - the Englishman, John Pringle - was a psychological last push I needed to get me out of Australia and its futile Vietnam debate. 

Pringle had a reputation as a genuine liberal. He had used a full page of his newspaper prominently to publish a long and agonized think-piece by himself in which he called for open debate on the great issue of the day, namely Vietnam and China. 

In it he said how he too was horrified by the ugliness of the Vietnam War. But he had then gone on to argue point by point how Beijing's ominously aggressive behaviour, towards India especially, gave the world no choice but to intervene in Indochina. 

Concerned liberals had to accept this reality, he concluded, heavily. 

I mustered all the authority and information I had to write something that would rebut his arguments about China, point by point. It was a topic on which I was bound to be more informed than he was. 

I told myself that if he had the integrity he claimed, he would be willing to publish my piece. He could, of course, run his rebuttal of my rebuttal. But I would at least have the chance to get a few facts into print. 

If I could spark that kind of debate in the pages of the media, there might be some point in staying on in Australia. 

But all I got was a letter from him, polite enough, but refusing point-blank to publish. 

When Pringle retired, he went on to become the darling of Australian progressives, with his agonizing over the environment and other trendy leftwing issues. The Australian was to publish a lot of his mushy wailings. 

Black Information 

What one saw in minds like Pringle's was the drip-drip effect of the relentless black information activities underway at the time. That China had attacked India in 1962, for example, had become an item of gospel truth. 

Indeed, the implication in Pringle's letter to me was that only a nutter or a pro-Beijing fanatic could suggest the opposite. 

That fact that I got my information from being China desk officer in Canberra at the time, while his information clearly came from black information sources, was irrelevant. 

The black information operated in various ways. One of the more influential was the Current Affairs Bulletin then being put out by Sydney University. 

The CAB had every appearance of being an unbiassed, even if anonymous,  outlet for views and information prepared for the benefit of the Australian public by concerned Australian scholars via the politics department of Sydney University, run by one Henry Mayer. 

On this basis most assumed it had to be impartial. Many, ABC commentators especially, liked to rely on it for facts and opinions. 

At the time I was puzzled by CAB's persistent anti-communist slant.

 I had no illusions about Australian scholars knowing much about the realities of world affairs, Asian affairs especially. 

But why were so many of these CAB contributors so seemingly willing simply to rehash in nicer words the crude anti-communist venom of the US and Australian spy-financed and other conservative establishments? 

Only later did we find out, via insider Sydney University revelations, that the CAB had become, or maybe had even started out as, a willing channel for covert spy disinformation activities. 

Yet even those revelations did little to disturb consciences in Australia's irresponsible intelligensia. 

Another black information technique  were the seemingly impartial fact and background sheets sent out privately to inform concerned journalists and academics about Asian developments. 

The slanted material would soon start appearing in allegedly objective articles about Chinese intentions, Vietnam events, the Sino-Indian dispute and so on. 

For some reason the UK disinformation agents were especially active and effective in this kind of activity. The British skill at measured understatement gave their material the cloak of seeming objectivity. 

One of their larger coups was the phony Forum Features operation, which for years was able to feed articles directly into conservative media - the Fairfax Press in Australia especially - until it was eventually exposed as the spy outfit it was. 

The Burchett Factor 

Another last straw, for me at least, was the continual persecution of Wilfred Burchett. 

That an Australian who single-handedly had made it out into the world of international journalism and who had been on the inside of so many crucial Cold War events, could be treated so shabbily by his own country was for me the final proof that I did not need to waste any more time in Australia trying to bring sense of the foreign affairs debate. 

(For details of Burchett's feats and sufferings, see that excellent but largely ignored book "Burchett" edited by Ben Kiernan. Also Burchett's own book "At The Barricades.") 

Some time in 1968 Burchett had asked me to come to Sydney testify in a defamation case he was running against yet another grubby right-winger who had said he, Burchett, was a KGB agent because he had lived in a luxury Moscow apartment for a time. 

I had seen the apartment and I knew it was not luxury. 

Burchett was also able to find the evidence needed to refute the other allegations of KGB agent activities. 

But the right-winger was able to win the case by claiming that he was just repeating claims made by someone else under parliamentary privilege. The burden of court costs was unfairly imposed on Burchett. This forced him to become a refugee from his own country, till his death in 1980. 

One of Burchett's bitterest enemies and public critics was the journalist, Denis Warner. He liked to pillory Burchett for the physical help he got from the communist side in covering events - help that was often the only way the world could get to know something about the views and activities of other side in many of the Cold War disputes and wars raging at the time. 

But the same Warner himself made no secret of the help he got from the US and Australian military and officials in providing us with his heavily biassed accounts of what was supposed to be going on in Vietnam. 

While working in EA I had noticed a strange thing about Warner and the several other conservative journalists claiming to cover Asian developments and dominating the media mainstream at the time -Peter Hastings of the SMH, for example. 

Often memos from the intelligence agencies in Melbourne would cross our desks saying that a reliable Australian contact would be visiting such-and-such Asian country, and did we have any intelligence requests for him. 

Sure enough, a week or so later one or other of these journalistic worthies would turn up in said country and begin filing his allegedly objective reports for his media outlets. 


It was a battle I knew I could not win. 

If I was to keep my sanity I had to get out of Australia and back to Japan.

In those halcyon days Japan was still regretting its past militarism. Its progressives were quick to realise the similarities with the militarism of US and Australian behavior in Indochina.

Its commitment to pacifism seemed genuine, even if the rightwing hawks were already beginning to try to spread their wings.

At the very least I would be able to feel I was part of a non-militaristic society.  I would not have to feel I was in some way part of the atrocity being pushed daily into my face in Australia.