Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : Politics Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

 

THE REAL COST OF WAR


As the graphic pictures of quivering US POWs and of the senseless killing of fleeing women and children confirm, there's nothing glamorous about real war. Far away from the dirt and the danger, the imposing US General Tommy Franks and the frail looking bureaucrat Donald Rumsfeld can exude bravado all they like. But no Hollywood studio and no amount of spin can camouflage the awfulness of war. Until the Vietnam War, no one seriously talked about the emotional horrors of war. Now the world is wiser to its consequences.

Watching one young US POW's eyes flicker in fear, I was reminded of the secrets of a group of POWs from working class Brunswick who were held in Stalag 18A during WW2. My maternal grandfather Edward Dorian was among them. After the war, Doctors in the psychiatric ward at Heidelberg's Repatriation Hospital pored over his fragile body and mind. But they refused to acknowledge that the hallucinations causing him to jump from his bed at night had their origins in war. How could they? To admit this would have been to destroy the myth that wars are heroic nation building sagas.

Not long before his death in 1964 at forty-nine years of age, Dorian had been described by a Doctor as having personality problems. Shock treatment was considered, but no one knows with any certainty whether it ever happened. There are no records at Veterans Affairs to suggest his best mate, Michael 'Peggy' Parlon, ever applied for a war pension. Parlon had shared the experiences of the prison camp, the failed escapes and the bombings of the camp by wayward American planes. On 12 May 1957 the 6.50 pm to the city cut Parlon to pieces on a stretch of track behind the Brunswick Baths.

Like Dorian, Parlon was an alcoholic. Most locals had little doubt as to how he came to overlook the stark cry of the train's whistle. Soon the story emerged that he'd actually crouched down on the track, pulled his coat above his head and waited for his troubled life to end. Only half an hour earlier he'd told an acquaintance he was depressed about his mother's death. She was to be buried the next day at St Ambrose's Church only two hundred metres from where the remnants of his body now lay. With his mother gone, Parlon was now free to escape the horrors that had beset him ever since his capture by the Germans on the Corinth Canal in Greece in April 1941.

A product of the Great Depression, Parlon was no lily white. Although he was forty-seven years of age when the train mowed him down, his police file gave no hint he'd mellowed. By 1956 his court appearances, mostly for fighting, numbered more than sixty. Yet in the POW camp he'd cared for his mates like a father or mother attends to their children, cutting their hair and maintaining their morale.

So why did a tough, some say ruthless, working class boy, fracture in the aftermath of war? And why haven't these real stories of war been told? The truth is that it's far easier to talk like George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks than to fix the bayonet like Parlon and those American soldiers. But as history shows, even the very brave can crumble in the face of death.

This is not to say there aren't just wars or that people aren't capable of heroism in the face of mortal danger. Simply, it should remind us that when the CNN cameras stop rolling and US Generals return to their barracks the suffering will be far from over. If hallucinations about US bombing missions over Austria could send Private Edward Dorian jumping from his bed in post war Brunswick, what will the current bombing do to the minds and souls of the people of Baghdad? And as the stories grow, courtesy of a world in which the internet and Al-Jazeera can say what Dorian and his mates could never confide, how much hatred will have been created?

No matter what the stay-at-home patriots say about opponents of the war, only the very foolish can believe the consequences won't be far reaching. If a just war against Nazisn could destroy so many Aussie souls, how can we think an unsanctioned war against an insignificant Arab state such as Iraq won't bring dire consequences? Beyond fermenting the conditions for terrorism against us, our Prime Minister has now created political divisions that threaten to dwarf those produced by the 1916/17 conscription campaigns of PM Billy Hughes.

Opposition to the war on Iraq doesn't have its origins in some simplistic pacifism. The reasons are diverse and complex. Too many people now understand how blunt an instrument war is for it to gain easy passage. Equally, too many people, ex-service persons included, understand the real reasons for war. The collective wisdom is that wars serve the interests of the powerful and that cowering women and children and young combatants are expendable. Hidden away from Tommy Franks and the Hollywood studio, and unable to ask a question, the bearers of this wisdom now have the numbers. Sadly, our much-vaunted democracies seem to care little for their opinion. But they do so at their peril.

Phil Cleary
Independent member of the Australian Parliament - 1992-96




 

 

 

 

 



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