Personal Stories: Pacifism

Some eligible men for military service under the 1964 National Service Act (NSA) were pacifists who believed all war was immoral. Whilst they could have applied for exemption from military service as conscientious objectors they chose not to do so. Instead they believed their conscience demanded non-compliance with it.

Martin Tuck was from Gordon in New South Wales and he informed Minister Snedden on 30 January 1970 that he could not in all conscience comply with the NSA. Consequently, he did not register for National Service. His beliefs were grounded in pacifism held by the Society of Friends (Quakers) of which he was a member. He informed the Minister that a motivation for his action was to encourage other twenty-year olds to live according to their principles even if this clashes with authority. He told the Minister that, I firmly believe that pacifism, rather than being an alternative to militarism, has become the only course which can ensure the continued existence and improvement of our world. He believed that, Australia must abandon its military alliances and adopt a policy of active friendship and aid to all nations, particularly our neighbours of Asia. Martin further stated that, People still ask the question: What would you do if Australia were invaded? I feel that neither I or any other pacifist could be sure how he or she would react in those circumstances, but I should hope that I should not resort to violence, and that I would participate in non-violent resistance. He then turned to comment on the Vietnam War. He stated that, Vietnam serves as an example of the futility and horror of modern warfare since it is now clear that the destruction of life and property has far outweighed any excuse America and Australia initially had for entering the conflict. Martin as a pacifist and member of an Historic Peace Church was very likely to have been granted full exemption as a conscientious objector should he had made such an application.  However, in his letter to the minister he explained why he did not do so.  He said, To my mind registering as a Conscientious Objector…is failing to confront the issue. Although I hold conscientious beliefs… to say nobody should be forced to obey this Act and yet obey it myself, I feel would be hypocritical…My non-compliance affects only myself and my course of action must therefore be dictated by my conscience.[18]

Anthony Bernard (Tony) Dalton was a third year Architecture student at RMIT in Melbourne. He lived in the suburb of Moorabbin. He refused to register under the NSA in July 1968 and informed Minister Bury in August 1968 of his refusal. He was convicted and fined on 19 December 1968 in the Court of Petty Sessions for his failure to register. Tony refused to pay the fine and to undertake the required medical examination. He was convicted and imprisoned for seven days. He explained why as a pacifist he chose to be a conscientious non-complier in a letter published in The Peacemaker  Newspaper.[19] He stated, I have failed to register because I conscientiously believe that to engage in war is morally wrong, and that the National service Act is a part of the means of carrying on war…War is an instrument for those whose aim it is to gain power and wealth, and those who fight war must necessarily surrender their conscience to those in power. This I will not do. Tony continued with his explanation and observed that, I realise that I have a right to put my beliefs before the courts and  apply for registration as a conscientious objector. However, in doing this I would be acknowledging that the Government has a right to conscript others to destroy and kill. They do not have this right, therefore I cannot comply in any way with the National Service Act…Remember that Wars will cease when men refuse to fight. On 21 October 1969 he refused to comply with his call-up notice. His expectation was that he would be summonsed, convicted and imprisoned for the mandatory two years.  This did not occur and on 4 July 1970 Tony was part of a fact-finding mission organised by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation who flew to Saigon. Other Australians in the delegation were Graham Jensen, Michael Hamel-Green and Lynn Arnold. Upon their arrival they had barely walked two blocks with about one thousand local University students when they were tear-gassed. Three American reporters and about thirty University students were arrested. Eventually they were released and the delegation returned to Australia to publish their results.[20]

Mac Irwin Gudgeon was a second year Arts and Law student at Sydney University. He lived at Glebe a suburb of Sydney. Mac did not register for the January 1969 intake and informed Minister Bury of the reasons for not doing so. He subsequently refused to attend the required medical examination. He prepared a statement on 12 March 1969 which was published in The Peacemaker Newspaper.[21] At that time he was an executive member of the South Coast Citizens Against Conscription and was also Convenor of the School of Non-Violence in New South Wales. His statement read in part, I believe that the National service Act which compels young men to be conscripted to kill their fellow human beings, often against their will, is a law that is not for the protection and welfare of humanity as a whole…I am a pacifist. Therefore I am against violence and warfare…Conscription is an integral part of war and now possibly the suicide of mankind. Mac observed  that as a pacifist he could apply for exemption from military service as a conscientious objector. However, he believed that by registering under the NSA, and then making application he was recognizing the right of the Government to conscript. He believed the only alternative for him, by which his integrity and liberty could be honoured, was by non-compliance. He acknowledged he was breaking the law. Mac concluded his statement with reference to men of conscience who were being imprisoned by the government. He said, Finally I would like to state my horror and my disapproval at the gaoling of young men in Australia because their beliefs are strong enough not to allow them to conscripted to learn to kill. We usually associate political prisoners with the communist countries, not with democratic Australia. John Zarb is now in prison for two years. He did not break the law. He registered for National Service. But, because he only objected to the Vietnam War, and although the magistrate said he felt Zarb had a genuine conscientious belief, our laws put him in gaol for two years. His final observation was, Every person must decide for himself his beliefs about war and  conscription. I have given mine above. If my crime is that I refuse to kill by order, I plead guilty and will face my punishment.[22] He was never imprisoned for his non-compliance.