How much did The Peacemaker influence opinions?
There is virtually no acknowledgement of The Peacemaker’s existence in historical accounts of the period. Jordens mentions the paper as being a vehicle of “religious objectors to conscription,” who were “the first to offer advice to those seeking exemption from the new scheme.” Hamel-Green quotes it as a source and acknowledges its role in the anti-Vietnam war movement. There is no reference to the paper in Pemberton’s substantial edited work, Vietnam Remembered, nor in Peter Edwards’ A Nation at War. Perhaps even more surprising is its complete absence from the draft resisters’ and objectors’ reminiscences that Greg Langley recorded in A Decade of Dissent. Yet contemporary sources and verbal collections tell a different story.
Yet anecdotal and documentary evidence indicates that The Peacemaker was an effective voice for peace during its 32 years in operation. Conceived as an alternative voice when Menzies announced conscription at the beginning of World War II, The Peacemaker made its opposition to military conscription clear from the beginning of the subsequent National Service schemes of 1950–59 and 1964–72. Arguably, The Peacemaker’s most useful function was to provide a forum for objectors’ views that were not published in mainstream media. There was no distinction made between pacifist objectors and non-compliers; the paper even gave a voice to non-compliers who were on the run from police. Non-compliers emphasized the importance to them having their views accepted, published and given the same validity as the pacifist objectors, who were prepared to work with the system by registering as conscientious objectors and appearing in court.
The Peacemaker published accurate information about the draftee’s legal obligations; what to do when an objector received a call up notice; how to apply for exemption and where to find help and support. It was the first paper to do so in both the 1950s and the 1960s Schemes. Each issue listed the names and addresses of Conscientious Objector Advisory Committees in the states and territories, details of forthcoming events, and reports of rallies and protest marches.
From mid-1965, The Peacemaker maintained a Register of Conscientious Objectors (and later Non-Compliers), listing every known dissident, results of applications and outcomes of court appearances. For some young men, The Peacemaker opened up a whole new world of activism, and, most importantly, showed them that they were not alone and not unique in holding views that, at that stage, were manifestly unpopular around Australia. Many of the letters that objectors and non-compliers wrote to Vivienne Abraham expressed their thanks for publishing their views. Some used The Peacemaker as an unofficial postal service for objectors who were on the run from the police. Thus its influence was widespread among the community of dissidents and their supporters.