'What kind of democracy is this?': Conscientious objectors to the National Service Schemes
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Involvement in overseas wars has impacted deeply upon Australian ideas of heroism and ‘nation’. Apart from Australian service personnel serving in wars from World War I to the ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, Australian concepts of ‘nationhood’ are entwined with military service and sacrifice. Not surprisingly, Australia has often been depicted as a nation eager to go to war, especially on behalf of ‘a powerful ally’ such as Britain or the United States of America. Despite this changing after Australia’s involvement in the war in Vietnam became unpopular, conscientious objectors still suffered social stigma and hardship as well as long periods in prison. Using interviews and court records, my chapter examines individual cases in the resistance to compulsory military training schemes in the 1950s and ‘60s and active service in the Vietnam War (1965-72), and explores how, even when the war was no longer popular, resisters were often cast as ‘the other’, the aberrant, the self-interested who felt no duty to their country. It also examines whether those resisters had any appreciable influence upon more recent anti-war protestors. Does the widespread public and political support of Australian troop involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan indicate that the extent of opposition during the Vietnam War period was an aberration? Will anti-war protest be consigned to the footnotes of Australian history?
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