The oral records of the anti-war protests, tells us that the experiences of the anti-war movements was deeply enshrined in political ideologies, however greatly varied with the society in which the protesters lived in. It must be acknowledged that the experience of the Australian anti-war movement was much less profound than it was in America, and to understand this topic, this point must be accepted. Curthoys recognizes, accepts, and explains this point in her text.
Anne Curthoys, an active member of the feminist movement, and the new left, recounts her experiences in these movements, which is furthered by her historical knowledge as a lecturer at Australian National University, which allows her to assess the difference in experiences between the two nations. Two main areas in which the experiences of the anti-war movement differed in Australia as compared with America, is the engagement of the political ideologies (in particular the left) in the movements, and the focus of the protest in both nations.
In America, the three main political ideologies (which at times conflicted with each other in their protests against the war), were: (as was stated) the Political left, (also known as the new left) which, appealed to the student youth, and used non-violent tactics, in the search for a middle class social and cultural revolution (in contrast to old left socialist desires of worker, and economic revolution), the Liberals, who were a peace-movement, and the radical pacifists, who used hostile, and violent means to achieve their ends and who were also heavily involved with the civil right movement.
The stance of an individual ideologically influenced the experience of the anti-war movement dramatically, as all the different parties operated their methods to the anti-war movement in vastly different way. For example Curthoys has given various examples of how the radicals initiated and engaged in student street battles, and open hostilities against the army. The radicals were abusive, were vandalistic, and very often ended up arrested for any length of period.
These experiences were vastly different to say the Liberals who, (as was mentioned) were a peace movement, who engaged in the anti-war experience through the methods of petitions, debates, meetings/organizations, speeches, occasional marches, and even just handing out leaflets in the street, in universities, or in schools. It is worth noting that there were those in the Liberal movement (some politicians) who supported the war movement, and didnt attend all these rallies and demonstrations.
Interestingly, in Australia many workers opposed the war (being socialist/trade union supporters) however in America; workers supported the war as they were the living representation of capitalism at work earning money to further a private enterprise. Interestingly, there is evidence that ethnicity, or the perspective of race had an impact especially on the Negro Americans perception of the war.
While Curthoys argues that the blacks saw Vietnam as nothing more than white people sending black people to make war on yellow people in order to defend the land they stole from red people which, indicates a negative view on Vietnam, and therefore anti-war, an interesting theory emerges through Leslie H Fischel Jr. who claimed the Vietnam war (and the anti-war movement) both stimulated and impeded the negros drive for equality.
He says this because Black America also suffered to the losses in Vietnam, as just like any white, they had friends, and relatives fighting, but furthermore the American dream, and its values are imbedded as strongly in any Black as it is in whites, so therefore they also feel threatened by the ideas of communism. However, the anger towards the anti-war felt by many whites was occasionally vented through racial attacks both in the military, and in the anti-war protests.
When referring to the left in regards to its impact on the anti-war experiences, it must be recognized that old ideological socialist movement of the 1920s 30s, which appealed to the working class to create a revolution, is not the same as the left in regards to the 1960s 70s. One of the more significant things about the left was its characteristic of being a non-communistic left, which was put together by those disheartened by the Soviet Unions approach to communism (i. e. Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Hungary), and who were in opposition to Stalinism.
The new left, as was mentioned is a movement of radical students protesting against the war. One of the more notable achievements of the new left is the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), which was the central force behind many of the demonstrations, and debates over the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. The left was on a large scale one of the most influential factors in the experience of the movement.
Curthoys very much indicates this when she refers to the many teach-ins organized by the students to create debate, and public sentiment against the government in order to achieve their demands of primarily getting the troops out of Vietnam, and secondly, eradicating conscription. In under a month, the student organization increased student and public participation from 3000 people to over 20,000 which led to new committees being formed, expanding the anti-war sentiment nationally, and then internationally.
The VDC (Vietnam Day Committee) which consisted of radical pacifists, students, leftist politics, and any other forms of the public (which also rose later on in Australia), and was born out of these teach-ins The VDC was used to organize protest movements attracting crowds of over 100,000 people in over 80 cities. Similarly, Australia experienced a new form of the left wing, which had a different approach to its American counterpart, but nevertheless, extremely similar.
Anne Curthoys has a strong experience of the Australian new left which she claims was a significant force in university and intellectual circles (similar to America). However, a central difference in the left in Australia was the presence of many communists in particular, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), which, in America had been abolished. Although the Communist party had been in decline, it did have influence on the experience of the left wings engagement in the anti-war movement.
An example of this would be the Eureka Youth League which was a movement of the communist party of Australia, who opposed racism, called for recognition of China internationally (which Whitlam did for the first time), supported the right of all countries to political self-determination free from military intervention esp. Vietnam, and wrote a protest petition declaring their opposition to Australian military interference in Asias internal affairs, and deploring the sending of Australian troops to fight in Asia.
Notice the subtle use of very formal language used by an Australian movement rather than a more demanding statement as seen in America). This movement, although minute to other left wing actions, did arise many supporters. Furthermore, the left has also set up such organizations as SOS (save our sons) a movement consisting of mothers protesting about having their children forced to go away to war where they may be killed.
These are just some of the main political ideologies which would vary ones experience of the movement there were plenty of others in both nations i. e. the hippie movement in America which took a make love not war; stance, but the shift in ideologies did vary the experience. With this said, the experiences generated by political ideologies did not vary any more than on a national level. In Australia the main focus of protest was on the validity of conscription, whereas in America, it had been more accepted as they had been conscripting soldiers since 1948.
Conscription in America was terminated in 1947, and reinstated a year later), so the American movement focused on American participation in the war in general, and the soldiers just being over there. However, with Australia, the government hadnt used conscription since 1959, and thus the society was not used to it, but more importantly, there had been a strong opposition to conscription in the past, thus justifying it in a war which was at any rate unpopular, was extremely difficult for the coalition government who were unable to sustain widespread, and long term support for Australian participation in the war.
This just made the anti-war demonstrations more intense, as the anti-sentiment towards conscription in Australia was just as passionate as many radical demonstrations in the United States. However, regardless of this the Anti-war protest was more justified in Australia, than it was in America, because in the United States, the threat of invasion of American soil by the communists was non-existent, whereas in Australia due to the domino theory, there was a much greater fear even paranoia of penetration into Australia through the Asian region.
This had been a fear embedded in the Australian psyche for a long time, and the fears associated with communist expansionism, along with the take-over of China only heightened this paranoia. As has been discussed, the general experience of the anti-war movement differed very much in relation to the political ideology one was associated with, but more importantly, the nation one was in, because, the societies history, and psyche had major influences on their attitudes to the war.