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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 148

Mr DANBY (12:00 AM) —I am very pleased to support the motion moved by the Prime Minister, seconded so eloquently by the Leader of the Opposition, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Events of the war in Europe have influenced my own life and political development, as well as the lives of many people whom I represent. With a Great-Uncle George, brother of my maternal grandmother, Vera Swan, who survived Changi, I recognise that it was the war in the Pacific that most directly affected the great majority of Australians. It was from Japan that the threat to mainland Australia came. It was Japanese planes that bombed Darwin and other Australian towns and it was the Japanese who captured the Australian 8th Division at Singapore, with all the attendant horrors described in the testimony of the veteran we have just heard about who spoke of his experiences.

The 60th anniversary is an opportunity to thank all the men and women of our Army, Navy and Air Force who saved this country from invasion, and it is an opportunity to thank the Australian workers who produced the weapons that enabled our armed forces to fight, particularly the aircraft produced at the General Motors plant in Fishermen’s Bend in my electorate. I think it was the first military aircraft plant that produced them. As the Deputy Speaker in the chamber, I also thank the farmers who fed not only our own forces but our allies.

We remember also the political leadership that steered Australia successfully through the great conflict. We are fortunate on this side of the House to remember that it was the Labor Party under John Curtin, Ben Chifley and Dr Evatt which had carriage of the war during those years, after the UAP government led by Robert Menzies had fallen. I note particularly one of my predecessors as the member for Melbourne Ports, the Rt Hon. Ted Holloway, who was Minister for Labor and National Services in the Curtin cabinet. Like Curtin, Holloway had been an anti-conscriptionist during World War I, but in the crisis of 1942 he accepted Curtin’s view that conscription was necessary and, as the minister, carried out the mobilisation of Australia’s manpower and womanpower, which enabled us to survive.

I would like to comment in particular on a group of Australians who meet regularly in my electorate, at the Caulfield-Elsternwick RSL, the heroes of the 39th Battalion. They are all Victorians whose deeds at Kokoda have quite rightly earned them the title of ‘the men who saved Australia’. This CMF battalion will be holding a function at the Caulfield RSL to honour the surviving members, at which Chris Masters, a journalist from Four Corners, will be showing his excellent documentary, and I hope he will speak.

I would like to thank the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs for providing the funding for this function under the Honouring Their Service program of her department. I often go to the reunions of these men and I have heard some of their stories. But I know one in particular, Mr Ben Sherr, who does not attend the reunions and has never gone to an RSL function. Like a lot of the blokes from the 39th Battalion, he was virtually press-ganged onto a ship in the week before he was taken up to Port Moresby. He has recounted to me how many of the fellows in the 39th Battalion who were sent straight up the track to fight the Japanese marines did not know how to load a rifle when they first got to Port Moresby.

I would like to turn to a somewhat broader consideration of the issues that were at stake in World War II. In particular, I want to reflect on a contribution by Dr David Day of La Trobe University which was published in the Australian on Monday and was entitled ‘The horrors and legacy of World War II’. Dr David is a well-regarded historian and I have read some of his books on Australia’s military and diplomatic history as well as his biographies of Curtin and Chifley. But this article unfortunately abandons history and enters the dangerous waters of political commentary. His message is that World War II was a futile struggle which Britain and, by extension, Australia should have stayed out of. He said World War II was ‘not so much about freedom as a war between empires’.

I have to say this would be just about the most morally bankrupt piece of commentary on World War II that I have ever seen, particularly coming from a professional historian. In effect, Dr Day says that the appeasers of the 1930s were right, that we should not have honoured our commitment to Poland in 1939, that we should have let Hitler overrun Europe and that we should have sat back and—as Enoch Powell suggested infamously some years ago—let Germany and the Soviet Union slug it out in a war of mutual annihilation, accepting Hitler’s offer not to molest the British Empire if we let him have his way in Europe. If we had done this, Day argues, the British and French empires would have been strong enough to deter Japan’s aggression against the United States and the European colonies in East Asia in 1941, and so there would have been no Pacific war and no threat to Australia. All too neat and simple.

In fact, this comfortable scenario is arrant nonsense. If Britain and France had not gone to war in 1939 Hitler would still have turned his arms westward after overrunning Poland. Dr Day seems to assume that Hitler was a man of reason who would have left us alone if we had left him alone, since it was in his interests to do so. This shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Hitler personality and of Nazism as a movement. Hitler’s ambition was, firstly, to conquer Europe and Russia to create ‘lebensraum’ for the German volk; secondly, to exterminate the Jews; and, thirdly, to rule the world as head of a German dominated European empire extending from the Atlantic to the Urals. Nazism’s racial aims were the central core of its war-fighting aims, not some unfortunate sidelight. Anyone who knows the European survivors of this conflict can tell you, Dr Day, if you meet them—speak to the Hungarians, for instance—that the cattle trains were rolling backwards and forwards until the last minute, when the Soviet forces actually got there to stop them. Completely contrary to the interests of the German Wehrmacht fighting at the time, the transport and the cattle trains were used against the interests of the military in Germany to pursue the mad racial aims of that empire.

There were two principal obstacles to the dream of world domination by the swastika. The first was the Soviet Union, which Hitler wrongly believed was a rotten state which could easily be conquered. The second was the English-speaking democracies—the British, the British Commonwealth countries and especially Australia, and the United States. While Britain remained undefeated, and particularly while its fleet was intact, Hitler could not achieve his aims even if he defeated the Soviet Union. Hitler wanted the oil of the Middle East and the resources of British and French Africa. To get these he needed to defeat Britain. If Britain had followed Dr Day’s prescription and done nothing in 1939, not only would it have incurred great moral disgrace but it would only have postponed the day of reckoning by a year or two. In fact, the whole world owes the British an incredible debt of gratitude for holding out by themselves for one year. We would not have been able to defeat the Germans and we would not have been able to defeat the Japanese if Britain had not done that, with the great Churchill as its head.

Dr Day claims that the efforts of the Allies were futile since they were unable to save Poland from Hitler and, after the war, Poland was incorporated into the Soviet empire. Perhaps Dr Day should get off his high academic perch and talk to some Poles before he makes such statements. Poland survived both the Nazis and the communists and is today a thriving democracy. Doesn’t Dr Day know that Hitler’s plan was to exterminate the Poles through slave labour, calling them ‘untermenschen’, and gradually to resettle the whole of Poland with German colonists? Despite the terrible suffering of the Poles during the war and many of the failures and betrayals of Allied policy towards Poland, they were saved from extermination—and it was the Allied victory that saved them.

Even more astonishingly, Dr Day argues that if Britain and its allies had not gone to war with Germany the Holocaust might not have happened. This is indeed an astonishing suggestion. I wonder if he has ever read Mein Kampf, left-wing historian Ian Kershaw’s excellent two-volume biography of Hitler or any other books. All academics, whether they be from the Left, Right or Centre, agree that this was the central war purpose of the Germans. It is very clear to anyone who has read books about Hitler and Himmler, for instance, that they always intended to exterminate the Jews of Europe. This was their purpose before the war. They used their total control of Europe to mask it. It was at the very core of their political program and at the root of their twisted personalities and politics. Of course they used the specific circumstances of war time to carry out their plans in the dark vortex of occupied Eastern Europe, but to suggest that more appeasement by Britain, Australia and the United States would have deterred them from their genocidal plan is pure fantasy. Dr Day seems to have no insight into the nature of evil.

Next Dr Day indulges in some of the most incredible moral relativism I have ever seen in retrospective commentary on World War II. He gives the Allied bombing of Dresden and the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as examples of the moral worthlessness of the Allied cause, to say in effect that we were no better than Hitler and no better than Tojo. Doesn’t he know—or perhaps he chooses to ignore—that the widespread view that the Dresden bombing was a kind of war crime is based on a 1962 book published by the liar, fraud, anti-Semite and Nazi sympathiser David Irving, whose figures and analysis of the bombing have been totally discredited by Richard J. Evans, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, in his recent, brilliant work The Bombing of Dresden in 1945: Falsification of Statistics? Twenty-five thousand dead is bad enough, Dr Day, without agreeing with Dr Goebbels’s decision to add a zero to the end. Perhaps Dr Day does not know—or perhaps he chooses to ignore—that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, terrible though they were, were the quickest way to end the Pacific war and also the least expensive in lives, not only Allied lives but also Japanese lives. The alternative was an Allied invasion of the Japanese homeland which would have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. In fact, the official American estimate was 1½ million. This is based on the experience of Okinawa, where 18,000 American combat deaths, 76,000 Japanese military deaths and 100,000 Japanese civilian deaths, many by suicide, indicated that this would happen.

Why has Dr Day chosen to engage in this extraordinary rewriting of history? The answer comes in the last two paragraphs, where he tells us:

... as the world is discovering in Iraq, even when armies flourish the banner of freedom they spread death and destruction on a wide scale.

Of course, it is all about Iraq, because Dr Day opposed the invasion of Iraq. People are entitled to oppose the invasion of Iraq and my party opposed the invasion of Iraq, but it does not follow that all previous wars have been futile and wrong. If you follow his logic, it follows that nothing can ever be achieved by standing up to tyranny and aggression and that appeasement is morally superior to resistance. This is a grotesque moral abdication as well as a gross distortion of history.

It is particularly striking that Dr Day writes this stuff in the month when both Germany and Japan are in the middle of election campaigns. Would Germany and Japan be the prosperous modern democracies they are today if the Allies had not stood up to Hitler and Tojo? When we remember the sacrifices of our servicemen and servicewomen on this anniversary, we should also acknowledge that they made a real and permanent difference to the world. They made it a better place, a freer place and a more democratic place. Our heroes are the Australians who turned the hinge of history at El Alamein, the blokes from the 2nd/24th and 2nd/48th who fought on what the Germans called Punkt 29 at El Alamein. Nearly all of the histories now agree that Montgomery would not have broken through if those Australians had not been there and broken through against what were known to be the hardest and toughest German fighters throughout all of the Second World War.

Just think if the 20 million dead that the Soviet Union incurred during the Second World War had not made their sacrifices and if the heroic Americans in three torpedo bomber squadrons had not given their lives to turn the hinge of history with their attack that sank the five Japanese carriers at Midway and changed the balance of power in the Pacific. All these people made their sacrifices for something. It was for a great moral cause, not the extension of empire. We should not be deceived or demoralised by the efforts of people like Dr Day who argue that it was all for nothing.