Anti-war veterans speak out

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In 1918, on 11 November at 11.00 am, the guns of the Western Front fell silent. The

first global war ended after millions had perished. On November 11, 2008 the Freedom

Socialist Party marked the 90th anniversary with an anti-war forum. This date, when

we remember those killed, is associated more with the war-worshipping Returned and

Services League (RSL) than with socialists. But as Alison Thorne, in chairing the forum,

argued: “We must not allow this commemoration to be owned by conservatives. Tonight

we remember the dead and discuss how to build a movement to end all imperialist wars.”

Anti-war veterans speak out: from left to right,
Peter Hannaford, Keith Kaulfuss, and Chip Henriss.
Photo by Peter Murray

Keith Kaulfuss served in the Royal Australian Signal Corps from 1961 to 1967. In

acknowledging the local Kulin Nation and noting the lack of a treaty, he said that

Australia is a country still at war with its Indigenous nations. Like most young people

who signed up in the ’60s, Keith joined because he couldn’t get an apprenticeship.

Coming from an immigrant background and a strict upbringing, he found that “joining

the army also opened up the experience of the wider world.”

Chip Henriss, from the anti-war veterans group, Stand Fast, served as an army major in

East Timor in the late ’90s. He then left the force and began organising with the Timor

Sea Justice Campaign to stop Australia’s plundering of the fledgling nation’s oil. Chip

described how he navigated through “a huge range of mixed messages” to become a

socialist. He found that “the military is a reflection of society. There is bastardisation,

there is homophobia, and if you are different, you get picked on. But there are leftwing

people in the army, too.” Said Chip, Stand Fast “is challenging the idea that an anti-war

activist is in one box and former military personnel are in another.”

Peter Hannaford joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1964 to escape an apprenticeship he

hated. He described his world view at the time as “extremely limited,” adding, “I had no

idea when I joined that [Prime Minister] Menzies had already committed some Australian

military to the Vietnam War.” Vietnam is where he was sent.

All panellists shared ideas about how to prevent war. Keith called for building a mass

anti-war movement to “keep the politicians honest and accountable” and to “challenge

the media glorification of imperialist war and force the blinkers off.” Chip advocated

using the media: “Our challenge as activists is to get our voice out of Rupert Murdoch’s

profit-driven mouth.” Peter stressed the importance of understanding the causes of war,

which he put down to “private ownership and empire building.” He described how war

has been used as “a tool for perpetuating the capitalist system and promoting economic

growth.” He called for a “mobilisation of workers, students and those serving in the

military” to run society, based on socialist feminist principles.

The gathering explored how the military uses nationalism to pit workers against each

another. In World War I, thousands were killed in a single day, sacrificed in profit’s

insatiable and bloodthirsty quest for new markets. Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Russian

Revolution, famously summed it up: “a bayonet is a tool with a worker at both ends.”

Tragically, most socialists backed their own bourgeois governments.

Lenin led a small group of anti-war Marxists, known as the Zimmerwald Left, in

exposing this betrayal and calling for an internationalist socialist struggle against the war.

Marxists, then and now, have consistently argued the need to turn an imperialist war into

a class war: “Fight the bosses here, not the bosses’ war.”

Forum participants discussed how the Russian working class did exactly this. The

revolution started on International Women’s Day, when striking women workers took to

the streets of Petrograd and successfully appealed to soldiers to join them.

Resistance in the military manifests in many ways — organising against poor food,

pay and equipment, standing up to bullying and discrimination or calling for rank-and-
file troops to elect their own commanders. In certain historical periods — such as the

Vietnam War — it has taken on an anti-capitalist character.

Heeding the stories of these war veterans and lessons from history, the Remembrance

Day forum came to the conclusion that anti-war activists and the ranks of the military are

not naturally on opposing sides. We are working people, striving for a world that is safe

and free for humanity, not for profit. By joining together, we can make it so.

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