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History wars surround Kokoda campaign -

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(generated from captions) the new Kokoda debate, Well, before we look at sparked by a Perth acadamic and former Liberal staffer, it's worth noting that Stephen Barton's think-piece provoked an angry response today. The Labor leader Kim Beazley described it as an attempt to "take Kokoda out of the Australian legend". The RSL's national secretary said it was, "offensive to those who fought at Kokoda". And Rusty Priest,

Memorial Walkway Committee said the chairman of the Kokoda Track and sacrifice" Mr Barton "denigrated the memory

of the campaign's veterans. Well, that same Stephen Barton, of the history wars soon to become hardened veteran

joins us now in Perth. And in our Sydney studio, the author of 'Kokoda', we're joined by Paul Ham, on the New Guinea campaign. the most authorative book for being there. Thanks to both of you

Thanks to both of you for being

there. Thanks, Tony. Stephen Barton,

first to you, not surprisingly, I

suppose. You knew the sort of

hornet's nest you'd be stirring up

when your piece was published on

when your piece was published on the day before Anzac Day? I knew it

would be controversial but I'm

shocked at the level of response.

shocked at the level of response. I think some people have

misinterpreted it as if to say the

Kokoda campaign wasn't important

Kokoda campaign wasn't important and I'm denigrating what the AIF and

I'm denigrating what the AIF and the Chocos did there. It wasn't the

Chocos did there. It wasn't the bat that will saved Australia. That's

that will saved Australia. That's a hyperbole that isn't necessary when

we recognise their sacrifice and

what they did there. You're not

having an academic debate about the

battle of Waterloo or something

battle of Waterloo or something that happened in the American Civil War.

The problem you've got is there are

people still alive who watched

people still alive who watched their mates die and they genuinely

believed they were fighting to save

Australia and you're telling them

essentially they weren't? Well

you're going to get that with any

campaign. Hindsight is a wonderful

thing and we can sit here with the

benefit of 60 years and know that

benefit of 60 years and know that it wasn't the battle that saved

Australia but the suggestion that

you're putting forward is because

the people that fought there

the people that fought there thought it was the bat that will saved

Australia, do we continue to say it

was the battle that saved Australia?

Well I'm going to bring Paul Ham in

in a moment. I want to press you

in a moment. I want to press you on this. Here in black and white is

what you said, "Australian lives

were increasingly wasted in

strategically useless operations

against Japanese troops that could

have been left to wither on the

vine. " Now I don't suppose unless

you were there you'd realise how

hard it would be to leave those

troops to wither on the vine when

they were killing your mates?

What I'm referring to there is the

operations and campaigns after 1942

when a lot of the Japanese troops

when a lot of the Japanese troops in New Guinea could have been

New Guinea could have been by-passed or contained. So Australian troops

were engaged in offensive

were engaged in offensive operations against them which cost Australian

lives and there were arguments that

military high commands should have

left these guys or contained them

and that's something that the

political leadership in Australia

didn't really sort of articulate

didn't really sort of articulate and sort of advocate the interests of

Australian soldiers as well as they

might have. Alright, let me bring

might have. Alright, let me bring in Paul Ham, we've left you on the

sidelines for a while. What's your

view of the historical and the

strategic significance of the

strategic significance of the Kokoda campaign, and by that I just don't

mean the Kokoda Trail, but the

surrounding battles. ? The Japanese

had to be stopped somewhere and

certainly this was the gravest

crisis in Australia's military

history. You've got to remember

history. You've got to remember the situation at the time. The

situation at the time. The Japanese had locked up the Pacific. They'd

occupied China, at all way down the

Pa civilianic they'd occupied these

countries. Java had the largest

countries. Java had the largest qui teen in the world. They bombed

Darwin, Broome, Townsville, they'd

sent midget subs into Sydney

Harbour. You can imagine that

Curtin might have been concerned

about the strategic threat. Now

about the strategic threat. Now the strategic importance of Port

strategic importance of Port Morseby is very interesting. It was a

critical port. In the Pacific war

if you had the airfield you

commanded and air space obviously.

But that was what the Pacific war

was about, getting airfields. If

they had the airfield in Port

Morseby they commanded Northern

Australia, entire Queensland. They

would take charge of the seaways.

That would cut Australia off from

American supplies, American troops

and literally neutralise us. I

and literally neutralise us. I know that Japan did not intend to invade

Australia, but we didn't know that.

You've got to understand that

You've got to understand that Curtin didn't know what was going to

didn't know what was going to happen next, one of the basic lessons of

history. It's about perceiving

events as much as it is about

events. Curtin was doing

events. Curtin was doing ironically exactly what any good conservative

politician should be doing,

protecting the nation from the risk

of attack. And he did think there

was a threat as the situation at

was a threat as the situation at the time demonstrates. Stephen Barton,

he did think there was a threat.

Strategically it was critical.

Northern Australia would have been

in danger, the Torres Strait is not

very wide, we know thoo. Why would

you just allow Port Morseby to fall?

Look Tony, I don't think you would.

The point I'm making - Hang on, you

wanted - correct me if I'm wrong

here, but you wanted us to leave

here, but you wanted us to leave the AIF in the Middle East and or

Europe, didn't you? No,that's not

what I was saying, Tony. What I

what I was saying, Tony. What I was saying was that it was an important

campaign, but it wasn't the battle

that saved Australia. Australia

that saved Australia. Australia was engaged in a world war. What that

means is that events far beyond our

control and far beyond our borders

are ultimately going to secure our

future. Now let's take the

worst-case scenario, that say they

did a diversionary raid or they

occupied part of Queensland. Now

ultimately did that mean that

Australia would lose the war? Well

once the allies won in Europe and

the full light of the allies came

the full light of the allies came to bear on the Japanese, ultimately

bear on the Japanese, ultimately the Japanese would be defeated. So it

would have been a terrible situation, it would have been grim

and appalling but it ultimately

would have been a temporary

situation. We have to remember

situation. We have to remember that this was a world war and when we

talk about the battle that saved

Australia we're sort of putting

these parochial blinkers on and

seeing the centre of the war's

gravity in New beginy. We've got

gravity in New beginy. We've got to sort of step back from that and

recognise that it was a world war.

Curtin inherited a near defenceless

country, and you know, our troops

the AIF were in the Middle East, in

Greece, in Europe. We had very few

aircraft, very few pilots. They

were sent off to fight for Britain

in the empire training scheme. We

had fewer ships, they were in the

Mediterranean. We had very little.

We had very little actually. And

We had very little actually. And in that situation you would imagine

that you really have to get some

sort of defensive shield when the

Japanese are in such close

proximity. Now the interesting

thing about Menzies position is he

came around to understanding what

Curtin was trying to do and agreed

with him. I have a great letter

from Menzies to Curtin saying,

"Don't you think we should get our

troops up in North Queensland,

troops up in North Queensland, don't you think we should be doing this?

you think we should be doing this?" This was in 1941. You're saying

This was in 1941. You're saying that Menzies wanted to bring the troops

home from Europe and the Middle

East. He came around to that view.

We must sent them to the north,

We must sent them to the north, it's getting critical, Singapore has

fallen. Curtin responded, "It's

very reassuring to see your

very reassuring to see your attitude evolving in the direction of mine,

thank you very much. " Stephen

Barton, here is apparently a letter

from the greatest Liberal PM of all

time suggesting that he would have

done pretty much the same thing

done pretty much the same thing that John Curtin did? Tony, I've just

John Curtin did? Tony, I've just got to reiterate I'm not saying that

Kokoda or New Guinea wasn't

important or that defending the

north of Australia wasn't important.

I'm addressing this sort of idea

that this was the battle that saved

Australia. Certainly, actually we

do know in '42 that the Americans

were sort of sending troops towards

Australia and obviously defending

Australia was an important thing.

I'm just really trying to nut out

this concept that somehow because

Australians were fighting on

Australia's doorstep that this was

the most important battle of the

Second World War. But you are

Second World War. But you are trying to nut it out in the context of the

history wars, are you not? You've

clearly suggested a bunch of

left-leaning historians led by a

Manning Clark and followed

subsequently by Paul Keating have

created a sort of myth out of this

battle? Let me explain that, Tony.

I guess that the left and the ALP

have often been uncomfortable with

the tradition of the Australian

Imperial Force. They've often seen

the AIF as acting for British

imperial interests, sort of not in

Australia's interest and the beauty

of Kokoda is it's a military

campaign in which they can say that

it wasn't acting in British

it wasn't acting in British imperial interests. That it was we

interests. That it was we ourselves seemingly alone battling out

seemingly alone battling out against terrible odds as the hordes came

down from the north. So it's sort

of a military campaign - Aren't you

leaving General MacArthur and the

Americans out of the equation when

you make that equation? In what

sense? Well, weren't they involved

in the campaign? There were

Americans all through the New

Americans all through the New Guinea campaign. General MacArthur was in

Australia, Curtin had created a new

alliance with America. Well, I want

to address that, Tony. Curtin

hasn't created a new alliance with

America. What had happened was

America. What had happened was that Churchill and Roosevelt had gotten

together and divided the world into

strategic areas of responsibility

and Australia was in the United

States' area of responsibility. So

it wasn't Labor creating this

alliance. It was pretty much

alliance. It was pretty much Curtin told, "Well look, the Americans

told, "Well look, the Americans will be looking after sort of that area,

be looking after sort of that area," and in fact Curtin's famous speech

where he said that free of any

where he said that free of any pangs of kinship we look to the Americans,

the Americans regarded that as

the Americans regarded that as quite cowardly and they were apologetic

cowardly and they were apologetic to the British saying, "What's this

the British saying, "What's this guy saying?" We've got to address that

myth, too. OK, Paul Ham? Well, I

think it's a shame that this should

degenerate into party politics when

we should be thinking about the

troops' sacrifice. I will say this,

Curtin I believe was a great man

Curtin I believe was a great man and I'm not a fellow traveller with the

left-wing historians, I'm a

centrist. So many people see the

politician first and the human

politician first and the human being second. In writing my book I've

tried to see the human being first

and the politician second. What

and the politician second. What did he do to save this country, from

being cut off from America? He did

plead with the Americans for help.

It could be interpreted there was

something abject about that.

Certainly we needed help. We were

getting nothing from the British.

getting nothing from the British. I don't believe the British betrayed

us as some historians have argued.

I believe they were on their niece

fighting on several fronts.

Churchill said if we were invaded

Churchill said if we were invaded in force, he would send help. The

force, he would send help. The last thing he would do is expend

thing he would do is expend military forces to help someone else if

Britain itself was under attack.

Britain itself was under attack. If you transpose that to our situation,

of course we needed our Defence

Forces back here. Curtin had to

turn to America. I mean, he

turn to America. I mean, he started and process of the American

and process of the American alliance even though he didn't create it.

But by actually approaching

Roosevelt. He had great respect

Roosevelt. He had great respect for Curtin and Curtin had a mutual

curiousity. They became quite

friendly, even after the row over

the return of the troops where

Churchill unilaterally ordered a

ship of soldiers at sea to Rangoon

without talking to the Australian

Government. Now, you know, Curtin

was by himself. Most of the press,

most of his own diplomats in London,

a large portion of the people,

certainly many Conservative

politicians believe that our troops

should have stayed in the Middle

East or be diverted to Rangoon.

Extraordinary situation. I'm going

to go back to Stephen Barton and

draw a line under that and to

talking toot traps and about the

sacrifice. Stephen Barton, surely

there was a role for nationalism at

a time when let's say Australia was

not under direct threat of invasion,

possibly future threat of invasion.

But on top of that, you have to

remember that New Guinea itself was

part of Australian territory when

the Japanese invaded it? Mmm,

absolutely. And I'm not disputing

this and I am a bit wary of this

attempt that I'm playing this as a

party politics thing that a Liberal

PM would have been better than

Curtin. I think Curtin was a

fantastic PM, I think he was a good

man. I'm just critical of some of

the decisions that were made. And

of course there's obviously a role

for nationalism when you've got

Japanese troops in your territory.

Just the argument I'm making is

Just the argument I'm making is that by that stage the Japanese thrust

was running out of steam. You'd

was running out of steam. You'd had the battle of the Coral Sea. Their

supply lines were overextended and

the panic and fear that existed in

some military and political circles

doesn't always reflect well on who

we think we are as Australians

sometimes. And I think it's

important to sort of address these

things. Let's address what the

troops actually faced. You said

they were running out of steam. I

was pretty shocked Paul Ham by some

of the accounts of the brutality,

the hand to hand fighting, the

shocking brutality of some of these

battles. Particularly, Isurava.

Well, it was described by an

American historian as a knife fight

out of the stone age, Isurava and

out of the stone age, Isurava and at various lay places along the track.

There was a lot of hand to hand

fighting. There was a battle where

seven Australian battalions or

elements of severely depleted

battalions destroyed the Japanese

there. That was described by a

reputable man as the turning point

in the Pacific land war which is an

extraordinary comment to make. You

don't say something is a turning

point in military terms lightly.

point in military terms lightly. To come to your point, the battles

across the Kokoda drak were

according to the veterans I've

spoken to and the diaries I've read

were absolutely shockingly close

range, you know, to be struck by a

bullet at that proximity inflicted

appalling wound. Or a bayonet.

Let's just take the decisive days

Let's just take the decisive days of the battle at Isurava and in one of

those days a 24-year-old called

Bruce Kingsbury gets a VC. He so

inspires his mates that 10 men in

the second 14th battalion end up

becoming the most decorated in

military history? As far as I'm

aware the most decorated section in

military history which is an

incredible feat, that is one

Victoria Cross, three military

medals and several mentions in

dispatches. This section obviously

did some is extraordinary feats of

courage on the Kokoda Track.

courage on the Kokoda Track. You've got to remember that Kokoda really

sums up the Australian character.

There was the incredible

self-sacrifice and is heroism but

also cowardice and diversion,

monumental incompetence and

cock-ups. Some of the heroism is

unsung. There's a young chap from

Monto in Queensland. He was shot

Monto in Queensland. He was shot in a clearing in the middle of nowhere

and, you know, surrounded by jungle

and he was writhing there on the

ground and his mates started to

crawl towards him to get him back.

But the Japanese were there on the

other side weight for this to gun

down his rescuers. He saw this and

raised himself up and invited and

enemy fire and effectively thoo

enemy fire and effectively thoo died for his platoon, his mates. That's

a story which is buried in the

official history which I dug up for

my book and I think it's something

we should all be aware of. But

we should all be aware of. But also the figure of some of the

commanders, Pots Vacey, Paul Kulin.

These are men who should be rescued

from the oblivion to which I

from the oblivion to which I suppose some people have cast consigned

some people have cast consigned them by dismissing the importance of

Kokoda. It's clearly a - Can I

bring Stephen Barton in, we are

nearly running out of time. Can I

just make one point because you

just make one point because you take apart Paul Keating's observation

when he can be there " there can be

no deeper spiritual basis to the

meaning of Australian nation than

the blood spilled at this place,

the blood spilled at this place," given what we're being told here,

isn't there a lrg large element of

truth, isn't that the same sort of

thing that John Howard has been

saying at Gallipoli? Let me address

the previous point. The fact that

this campaign was dogfight brutal

this campaign was dogfight brutal is not in dispute and the fact the

soldiers were in appalling

conditions I don't think anyone

conditions I don't think anyone will argue against and the performance

argue against and the performance of men like Potts and RalphHonor is

amazing. They deserve to be heroes.

What Keating said while he was

there was moving, it's hard not to

be moved by that, but it's not

necessarily true. It's not the

battle that saved Australia. This

is not necessarily the place where

blood was spilled in defence of

Australian liberty. Australian

blood spilt for Australian liberty

has been spilt all around the world,

not just in this one place, not

not just in this one place, not just in New Guinea, buzz because it was

so close to our borders. That's

stretching a point. Blood was

stretched in defence of our liberty.