Personal Stories: Opposition to Contemporary Society

Some eligible men for military service under the 1964 National Service Act (NSA) were mainly opposed to it because they conscription and the conduct of the Vietnam War to be symptoms of all that was wrong with contemporary Australian society. This was offensive to their conscience. The grounds on which these beliefs were based were diverse and included anarchism, deficiencies of capitalism and militarism.

Graham Victor Jensen of Sydney was a theological student at Wesley College Sydney University and as such would have been automatically exempted upon registration under the NSA.[38] Graham refused to register in July 1968 because he believed the Act to be immoral.  He informed Minister Bury of his non-compliance. He was a Christian pacifist and he stated that the law was immoral as is anything which mandates that a man must fight and possibly kill another. This is against the will of God. On 29 January 1969 Graham was convicted and fined with the prospect of 25 days imprisonment if he failed to pay the fine. He decided not to pay the fine. He was arrested on 30 July 1969 and taken to Long Bay Jail to serve 25 days.  On ANZAC Day 1969 Graham sat down on the road in front of the ANZAC Day march opposite the Sydney Town Hall. He was arrested and subsequently fined for obstructing traffic and offensive behaviour. He issued a statement at the end of the court hearing. It was a criticism of ANZAC Day and what he claimed it stood for. He stated that, As a theology student I am committed to serving my God, my country and my world. Our celebration of Anzac Day is I believe an element of the decay which will bring about the ultimate destruction of our country. His criticism extended to government policy and an imbalance between defence spending and overseas aid. Naturally he was opposed to the Vietnam War and stated that, I am concerned that we celebrate Anzac Day and forget what our soldiers believed they were dying for – peace; we talk about our fight for peace and yet we are not willing to give it to the Vietnamese.[39]

On 6 May 1970 Graham was again convicted under the NSA for refusing to attend a medical examination for which he was fined. He was also imprisoned for seven days because of his refusal to give an assurance he would obey a future medical examination notice. Graham remained an activist and non-complier.  He visited Saigon during 1970 and was a speaker at a public meeting at the Blacktown Civic Centre on the topic of Conscription and the Vietnam War. Despite all of this the government was reluctant to convict and imprison him, This was the case for many others because of the embarrassment it generated for the government. He and others were free from prosecution after the election of the Whitlam Labour Government in December 1972 and its suspension of the NSA.[40]

Michael Eric Hamel-Green was a post-graduate political science student at Melbourne University. He registered for military service in January 1965 and then deferred call-up to continue his tertiary studies. He publicly burnt his registration card on 3 July 1969. He was required to attend a medical examination on 6 August 1969 but he refused. He was summonsed and convicted  on15 September 1969 for this offence. He was fined and imprisoned for seven days. He was called-up on 21 October 1969 and he refused to comply with the notice. Whilst waiting for the expected summons, conviction and jailing for the statutory sentence (originally two years, amended in May 1968 to 18 months) he travelled to Saigon South Vietnam. He did not seek permission from the government as was required under the NSA. Michael was part of an International Mission organised by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. On 11 July 1970 members of the mission together with members of the press and about one thousand local students sought to deliver a petition to Ambassador Bunker at the United States Embassy. They had barely walked two blocks when the police tear-gassed them. The mission members left on 13 July 1969 but only after three American journalists and three-hundred students all who had been arrested were released.[41]

Michael justified his non-compliance of the NSA in a statement published in The Peacemaker Newspaper.[42] It was titled Not with my life you don’t. He began with a strong criticism of the horrors of the Vietnam War and Australia’s participation which was done in his name and life of all conscripts. He viewed conscription and Australia’s involvement in Vietnam as symptoms of what was wrong with Australian society. He stated, The system we live under is depriving us more and more say in our own lives. Conscription is only one symptom of this. There are plenty of others. He then mentioned an unjust arbitration system, censorship of the press and publications and the dehumanization of the education system. He continued the statement, Everywhere in factories, shops, offices, school and universities there is a denial of any real say in the conditions under which one lives and works. In the final analysis almost everyone discovers themselves deferring servilely to someone higher on the ladder-and losing their self-respect in the process. He concluded his statement with the words of its title, Well, not with our lives you don’t. Hundreds of young people in Australia are saying to the representatives of illegitimate authority: you will not terrorise us by the threat of two year’s gaol or the prospect of police clubbing. We won’t let our lives be used for your obscene activities in Vietnam-or for those right here in Australia. We will nether become the soldiers nor the clerks of repression.[43]

Michael Christopher Matteson was a teacher from Newtown a suburb of Sydney. He refused to register for military service in January 1967. He was an American citizen and was liable to its draft. During December 1967 he informed Minister Bury he would not comply with the NSA. On 9 December 1968 he was convicted and fined for remaining unregistered. On 5 May 1969 Michael was arrested at his home and taken to the State Penitentiary to serve twenty-nine days for non-payment of the fine for failing to register. Michael stated that, Today I will be taken to Long Bay gaol to serve 29 days in lieu of my fine for refusing to register for National Service in January 1969…As I believe that conscription is wrong I felt I should not register for it; to do so would be to participate in a law I think is wrong. I believe I should not conform to laws I think are wrong…I feel conscription is wrong because I am an Anarchist- that is I believe that a man must always do what he feels is right regardless of whether this is approved by the State. Michael then sought to counter a common charge that an anarchist society could never work. He claimed that, I think an Anarchist  society is practical in that it will work. If people want it to; stateless societies have persisted for centuries…an anarchist society will last as long as people want it to. Michael then made an argument which was rarely made by those opposed to conscription. He conceded that conscription was neither undemocratic not illegal. However, he stated that even if ninety per cent of the Australian community wanted conscription he would still oppose it. His reason was, If conscription is both legal and democratic, it is still nothing more than legal or democratic slavery…I am free to the extent that I can follow my own conscience –when I do so, I am acting as a free man-to be 22 and in gaol is what it means to be free in Australia today. Michael refused to undertake a medical examination. He was convicted on 13 October 1970 and fined. He was jailed for seven days for refusing to enter into a recognizance to attend a future medical examination. He refused to enter a plea and informed the court in a statement to it that he was an anarchist and he therefore regarded all laws as undesirable and the NSA in particular. Michael went into hiding but escaped capture by the authorities after being freed by some Sydney University students on 24 April 1971 after Michael had appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s programme called ‘This Day Tonight’. He was sentenced to two months jail during November 1972 but was released from Long Bay Jail with six others by the newly elected Labour government of Gough Whitlam during December 1972.[44]