Chapter 27 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

The Vietnam Protest


THE VIETNAM MORATORIUM CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE has 'black banned' ALP Victorian MHR Gordon Bryant. He is debarred from addressing meetings sponsored by the VMC. In taking this action, the VMC has discredited itself far more effectively than the Gorton Government, for all its attempts, has succeeded in doing.

For some time ALP parliamentarians, including Mr Bryant, have suspected, indeed been convinced, that an influential section of the VMC leadership was more interested in a Communist-NLF victory in South-East Asia than in peace in that region. But in their eagerness to secure peace they closed their eyes to this disturbing fact, probably in the hope that their convictions were wrong and that they should give their associates the benefit of the doubt and the credit for good intentions. But the action taken against Bryant has confirmed the correctness of this viewpoint.

Bryant is an old-fashioned radical. He has not succumbed to the modern habit of applying dual standards, observing one standard if he is protesting against the action of a country operating a system of parliamentary democracy, and another standard if the action is performed by a country which belongs to the Communist world or by a group that is supported from within the Communist world.

Bryant, an ex-soldier who served with the Australian Forces in World War II, is an ardent pacifist. He thought that the leaders of the VMC also believed in peace.

Even on Wednesday (the day before the VMC issued its 'black ban') he could not resist supporting the cause of the VMC because, apparently, he still forlornly hoped that they stood for peace for all men, not just selected men. 'People like myself are associated with moratoria ... (because) we want wars to stop and people to stop killing each other,' Bryant told the House of Representatives. 'It is not a question of being left, right, or centre.'

Bryant was on the side of the (leftwing) angels when he was fulminating about the inquiry of Australian troops being involved in South Vietnam, where he views the conflict as being a civil war. He was applauded during this period as a great, enlightened, and liberal Australian.

Then Bryant went to South-East Asia with a parliamentary delegation. He admits that he went there with preconceived notions -- that in common with many of his fellow Australians he had accepted uncritically the leftwing propaganda line that the replacement of Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia was a military coup, that the United States and South Vietnam were unjustifiably invading Cambodia and that the North Vietnamese presence in the country was merely an understandable reaction to this U.S.-South Vietnamese aggression.

A big, cheerful, irrepressible man, Bryant claims that in Cambodia he merely used his eyes and asked questions continuously. He summed up his findings in the House of Representatives in this way:

'Cambodia was a completely innocent bystander and not involved (in the North-South Vietnamese conflict) at all. In 1954 the North Vietnamese signed an undertaking to respect the boundaries of Cambodia. In the past two or three years Prince Sihanouk became increasingly disturbed about the pressure of North Vietnamese troops on the Cambodian border. There was nothing much he could do about it ... I, for one, did not get the whole straight until I turned up in Phnom Penh. On March 18, the National Assembly of Cambodia removed its confidence, as it was put in a motion, from Prince Sihanouk. They replaced him with Chen Heng, the chairman of the National Assembly ... A few days later Cambodia started negotiations with the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front. Negotiations were broken off after a couple of days and the North Vietnamese commenced military operations. It was not until five weeks later that the Americans entered Cambodia.'

The leaders of the VMC, of which his ALP colleague, Dr J. F. Cairns, is the chairman, took action.

They debarred him from speaking at VMC-sponsored meetings. Apparently you can speak against aggression only in selected areas of the world. If you speak against aggression in non-selected areas you are out. Bryant was left like a shag on the rock as far as Dr Cairns and Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam were concerned. Dr Cairns said, 'I would not myself have supported or initiated any action against Gordon Bryant, but I think the VMC has the right to do so.'

Asked if the ALP would reconsider its support for the VMC in view of the VMC's attitude on Bryant, Mr Whitlam took refuge in 'No comment'.

Fellow peace supporter Barry Cohen, new ALP MHR for Robertson, showed like Bryant that he was not a 'double standards' man. Describing the VMC's action as 'undemocratic', Cohen announced that he was dissociating himself from VMC activities while the ban on Bryant remained.

The VMC not only discredited itself more ably than its opponents have ever succeeded in doing, it provided a case history of the 'dual standards' in operation.

This chapter originally appeared as an article in "The Bulletin", 12 September 1970, p. 21.

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