Dennis Argall ,
Palm Sunday Peace Rally,
Nowra 13 April 2003 .
Two weeks ago I resolved to say to you today that Australian commitment to this war represents the single greatest error of strategic judgment in the history of Australian government.
Nothing in the events of recent days has changed my mind.
I have never spoken at a peace rally before. I come to you after a career at the heart of defence and foreign policy, profoundly convinced that what has been done has been absolutely wrong.
Lord Acton, a British historian, said: “All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That describes Saddam Hussein and his departure is a good thing. But he was brought down by the use of absolute power, the most absolutely overwhelming use of conventional military power in history. The total situation is now corrupted.
This has been a colonialist action, action by nations which believe they have a moral right to impose their will on those who oppose them. Throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa – among the great majority of the world’s peoples it breeds resentments and hostility.
The effects of this war and of Australia’s involvement in this war will be with us for a long time.
We will need to consider how to recover from the damage -
- damage to our national interests abroad;
-damage to the hearts and minds of ordinary Australians.
We all have friends and acquaintances who to this point trust and follow this government in its obsessions with terrorism and violence.
They will find they are being led into a dark alley.
Let us always act wisely, so that more people see wisdom in courses other than war.
First, though, let me say this.
It has been suggested by some that, because we are in a place with a
significant number of service families, we should from loyalty fall in
behind this commitment to war.
We understand the unique situation of service personnel, who take up arms and place themselves in harm’s way, committed to obey every lawful order.
So let's be clear about this:
We all wish for those who have gone to this war, from whatever country, that they may return safely and honourably home, sound in body and mind.
... as citizens in a democratic country we have not just a RIGHT but an
OBLIGATION to be vigilant - VIGILANT that the use of force - the
sending of members of our armed forces to fight - only occur:
FIRSTLY - on the basis of wise judgment
SECOND - as a very last resort
THIRDLY - to advance international security and reduce armed conflict, and
FOURTHLY – all that must be consistent with broad Australian national interests.
I put it to you that our going to war in Iraq has FAILED ALL FOUR
of those test:
- FIRST: Rather than as wise judgment, they have embarked on a war much as occurred in 1914, the beginning of the First World War, with blind confidence in military abilities and reluctance to address broad issues of equity and injustice, and to protect narrow interests. As in 1914, there is a widening cycle of violence and conflict. Sure the overwhelming power of US military capability cleared all before it. But this is only the beginning. And I don't know where it will end.
SECOND: far from being a last-resort decision, this was an emotional,
self-righteous, vengeful drive to war.
THIRD: as regards broader international implications:
- the war has disturbed and destabilised a large number of moderate Muslim countries - from Morocco on the Atlantic to Indonesia to our north.
- It has also added tension to relations between many countries beyond that area, countries that should be or need to be friends.
- It opens the way to a rise in terrorism and to opportunistic war in a number of places, because it is itself an endorsement of the efficacy of violence.
- It has involved a deliberate undermining and perhaps fatal weakening of the United Nations, by ideologues, in Australia but especially in the United States, who have wanted the UN out of their way for a long time.
This whole business risks serious consequences for the world economy - leaving aside [sigh] what might have been achieved with such enormous funds were they thrown equally recklessly at third world problems instead.
FOURTHLY: regarding the impact on Australian interests. Achievements of Australian foreign policy over decades have been seriously set back, and it will take a generation to fix We won't fix it with Australia joining a government of occupation and Alex Bloody Downer talking to bloody Americans about bloody-handed construction projects in post-bloody-war Iraq.
It's a bloody, bloody tragedy and it will get worse.
... so what do we do, not just to protest, but to rescue the situation?
With war advanced thus far, we cannot confine ourselves to saying 'end
We have to recognise that a great body of decent Australians trust the government and have bought the government line.
A Muslim shopkeeper, a lovely lady in Lakemba, said to me last week: "Why do they send their children to die at the other end of the world and why do they poison people's minds?"
This 'mind poisoning' is the critical issue. Minds of many trusting and decent people, 'poisoned' as they have been, will be further confused as things get worse.
Let us not underestimate the turbulence and unhappiness in the broader community that is going to develop as what appears now to be some kind of victory unravels into a mess. And as there is more turbulence in other countries and perhaps security threats to Australia.
Let us aim to heal, and correct the direction.
Let us always be clear that there have been good and sensible and important reasons for opposing this war.
Let us be a light of common sense and never allow ourselves to be drawn into violent paths of our own, however angered we may be by the readiness of government and enthusiasm of too many people in this country to send our armed forces into action.
We were very, very lucky in East Timor, it’s no model for anything else, and we are stuck with a long-term military commitment there.
It seemed until recently that we were, as a nation, capable of being a fine example to the world in our cultural diversity, tolerance, mutual understanding and fair dealing among ourselves as well as with our
We have faltered, lost our way.
I joined the Australian foreign service back in the 1960s, when we still had the White Australia Policy. It has always seemed to me since then that for Australia the choice never quite goes away:
- whether to be open and receptive to life in a changing and culturally diverse world, or
- whether to slip back into the sorts of smug, isolated, resentful and deluded moral righteousness found under apartheid in South Africa, segregation in the United States or White Australia.
This latter path is easy, it is comforting in fear, it creates a self-feeding fortress mind-state. But it can only be a bitter dead end. That's not what this country is capable of being!
Let us have the courage to stick with our convictions and help this country be positive again.