Country Party leader John McEwen defends the Vietnam War

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Title: Country Party leader John McEwen defends the Vietnam War
Date: 1970
Content creator: John McEwen
Keywords: government, international relations, letters (texts), military campaigns, military service, politics, alliances, allies, United States, Vietnam War
Record creator: Department of Trade and Industry, Central Office – Minister's Office
Reference: M58, 458

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Parliament House,
CANBERRA. A.C.T. 2600.

16th October, 1970.

Dear Mr. Chappell,

I have received your letter of 8th October, telling me you have been troubled by the Government's inconsistent attitude to conscripts in Vietnam.

As a senior Minister of the Government I want to reassure you that the Government's attitude on this issue is, and always has been, consistent.

As Leader of the Australian Country Party, I have made it clear in my public statements that Australia must ally herself with the United States.

With the Government's aim being to create an environment that fosters economic growth there is a serious and legitimate need to preserve our safety.

The prospects for our future growth are boundless but we are vulnerable. Geography has placed this wide, empty, richly endowed country close to turbulent, crowded areas less well endowed with the basic needs of life.

All history shows that no nation can stand alone and it is the Government's policy to stand with America, whose massive military strength protected Australia from invasion during the last war. If the danger of attack should ever come again there is only one country on earth with the power and the will to save us - and that is the United States.

Concerning your query about declarations of war, in Vietnam (and elsewhere) the position is that the communist operations in South Vietnam have been carried out mainly through the use of guerrilla warfare, involving the use of subversion externally inspired and supported by North Vietnam. The objective of Australian participation in this kind of warfare is a limited one, namely, to assist South Vietnam, which has sought our help, to secure its territorial integrity against this form of attack.

Our objective is not to destroy or overthrow the Government of North Vietnam or of any other country assisting North Vietnam, but simply to prevent North Vietnamese forces and revolutionary groups trained and armed by them from over-running South Vietnam and imposing a regime which the South Vietnamese do not want. Because of our limited objective, and because Australia is not on a regimented war footing, as it was in the Second World War, a formal declaration of war would be inappropriate.

In saying this, I might mention that, since the Second World War, Australian forces have been engaged in armed combat in defence of the independence and territorial integrity of a number of countries, without there having been a declaration of war by either side. This was the case in Korea, in Malaya during the Communist Emergency, and more recently in support of Malaysia against Indonesia during the period of "Confrontation". On that latter occasion, Australia even maintained diplomatic relations with the Indonesian Government while our forces were engaged in hostilities against its forces in Eastern Malaysia.

In a speech of 18th May, 1966, when he was the United States Secretary of Defence, Mr. McNamara said that "in the last eight years alone, there have been no less than 164 significant outbreaks of violence … 82 different governments have been directly involved. What is striking is that only 15 of these 164 significant resorts to violence have been military conflicts between two States and not a single one of the 164 conflicts has been a formally declared war.

Indeed there has not been a formal declaration of war – anywhere in the world – since World War II".

In covering the period 1958–1966, Mr. Namara [sic] was presumably thinking of conflicts such as the Lebanon crisis of 1958, the conflicts of Vietnam, Laos, Kashmir, Cyprus, Algeria and the Congo, the Indian/Chinese border conflict, Indonesian "Confrontation" of Malaysia, and so on.

Between 1945 and 1958, there were other such conflicts, none as Mr. McNamara noted, involving formal declarations of war. Countries involved included Palestine and later Israel; Egypt, Britain and France (over the Suez Canal); Indonesia and the Netherlands; Korea; Hungary and so on.

Other incidents of a warlike character have occurred since 1966, including those in the Middle East, Cambodia and Czechoslovakia. Again, none of these has been formally declared as war.

I appreciate your concern on these issues and because of your interest I enclose some recent statements I have made on them.

Yours sincerely,

[J McEwen signature]

Mr. Myles Chappell,
Rubyanna Road,
M.S. 108,