Two weeks ago I mentioned that I would be attending the third forum presented by the ANZAC Centenary Peace Coalition. This series of fora has been running throughout 2015 at the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church, following a chronological trajectory of the history of the peace movement from the early 20th century through to today.
This third session, hosted by the Victorian Council of Churches, dealt with the period immediately following World War Two through to Vietnam. Of course, by this stage we’re venturing into living memory. Many of the audience were themselves participants in these events as part of their life-long commitment to peace activism.
Andrew Hewett commenced with the post-war period. During the 1950s and early 1960s the peace movement was largely caught up in the politics of the Cold War. Conscription was introduced for the Korean War, but not for overseas deployment. It was not a time of militant activity or demonstrations and the Peace Council was strongly identified with Soviet ideology. The Melbourne Peace Congress was held in 1959 with over 1000 delegates and led to the formation of the Council for International Co-operation and Disarmament. The Communist Party of Australia and the trade unions provided original grunt and international links. They were joined by the Peace Parsons, the Unitarian Rev Victor James, the Presbyterian Rev. A. M Dickie and Rev. F. J. Hartley from the Methodist Church. In 1960 the first CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) group was founded in Melbourne and the Victorian Peace Council was disbanded. The CND, part of an international movement, increasingly turned its focus to Vietnam. (See e-Melbourne for a good entry on this).
Michael Hamel-Green, who gained much prominence as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War took up the story for the 1960s and 1970s. The CND focused on the Pacific, where nuclear tests were taking place. Some ALP politicians took up the cause (Calwell, Cairns and Uren) and a nuclear-free Pacific became ALP policy. The introduction of conscription for Vietnam and the extension of conscription for overseas service came as a surprise to many. In the two years after its introduction (1964-1966) there was initial dissent, particularly amongst teachers, and between 1967-9 there was a shift to non-violent civil disobedience. The government was reluctant to jail large numbers of objectors. Between 1970-2 there was mass mobilization, culminating in the May 1970 Moratorium march (interesting video here- look at it!), which 1 in 30 Melburnians attended, blocking the city from William Street to Parliament House. The Liberal/Country Party coalition government withdrew all combat troops in 1971. (See a 1970 article written by Michael Hamel-Green in all his youthful passion here)
Finally Rev Dr. Sandy Yule spoke about the relationship between Christian Churches and the anti-Vietnam protests. He was a member of the Student Christian Movement at time, and the Church had had a long-standing presence in the peace movement of the late 1950s and 60s through the Peace Parsons (Revs James, Dickey and Hartley) and through the World Council of Churches’ opposition to the apartheid regime. The 1948 Christmas Bowl Appeal marked the shift of the churches towards development as a vehicle for peace, as did the Action for World Development inter-denominational initiative. He noted that the churches have a role as a source of peace-making, especially through models of consensus decision making.
The evening finished with questions from the audience. The masculine dominance amongst the speakers (and the audience-questioners too) was properly noted by an audience member. The next and final forum, ‘From Military Security to Human Security’ to be held on 26th October, will provide some balance here, with three female presenters (Professor Jacqui True from Monash University; Prof Robyn Eckersley from University of Melbourne and Ass.Prof. Marianne Hanson from UQ).