Infamous anti-war protester shares his message with soldiers:
“Banners flapped ferociously behind Graeme Dunstan as he yelled “good morning!” over his loudspeaker to the soldiers guarding the entrance to Talisman Sabre military camp.
His van was surrounded by an arrangement of deck chairs and a camp fire that had not yet been lit – all of which suggested he was going to be staying a while.
The self-described “peace pilgrim” was primed and ready to launch into a speech aimed at the members of the Australian and American forces in town for the bilateral Talisman Sabre training exercise.
What came next was a tirade against the Australian-US military alliances formalised in the ANZUS treaty of 1951, bringing into question Australia’s responsibility to follow Americans into battle.
And of all days to do so, he picked July 4.
“Happy Independence from America Day,” Mr Dunstan repeated twice.
“Now let me speak to you as an ex-military person.”
Mr Dunstan is a Royal Military College Duntroon dropout and claims he woke to the perils of all things war during his time on the inside – in his words, “disillusionment set in”.
He then moved into engineering at the University of New South Wales and it was there he found an affinity for political activism, particularly in opposition to the Vietnam War.
Referring to his time as a cadet he said, “Our thinking had been channelled and we all seemed to have the same opinion.”
“When I left Duntroon and I got my honours degree in engineering but I also graduated in student organising,” he said.
“Here I am, 55 years later, standing outside a barrack, talking to privates who are pretending not to listen.
“You can’t stop listening when you hear the truth.”
He went on to describe the horror experienced by Vietnam vets he had talked to during his decades-long anti-war campaign.
A recurring theme emerged around conscripted Australian soldiers killed by Australian land mines and formed the baWARHOL-ESQUE sis of his address on the misdirection of military leadership.
During his speech he cited the Australian cult classic I Was Only 19 by Redgum, a song recounting the Vietnam War and the post traumatic stress disorder that ensued.
“The stories they told me about their time in Vietnam change your mind about the official history,” he said.
Mr Dunstan believed the great bloodshed during war was as a result of the minorities in charge.
However, he explained it was the discussions and concern of those not in leadership roles who ultimately mitigated further loss and led to the withdrawal from Vietnam.
“Private conversations in the mess amongst privates and officers expressing their doubts, it was their discussions that saved lives,” he said.
That is where the message he was directing at lower ranking officers was aimed.
“What has come from the US alliance?” he concluded rhetorically.
Mr Dunstan believes war lost its “nobility” with the end of World War II.”