The Moratorium as the Catalyst of World Wide Cultural Change (edited)




 

THE MORATORIUM AS THE CATALYST OF WORLD WIDE  CULTURAL CHANGE

Fred Cole

In the centuries to come, the permanent Moratorium may not only be reflected by a new indelible meaning to the word recorded in both dictionaries and normal use in English, and perhaps other languages too, but be recognised in the study of history, not only as a focal point of world-wide attention, but as a turning point in the development of mankind. Now if this is startling, I remind you that the crucial factor in the dramatic and sometimes destructive transformation which takes place in catalytic action, is certainly not the catalyst itself but simply the conditions which must be completely correct before the otherwise all-important agent wh ich we term 'catalyst', can make its effect. So let's now examine both the general social condition pertaining at the time of the Moratorium and how some specific aspects arose :

where were we

where are we

where will we be?

Opposition to war is nothing new, the classic example being in the Aristophanes play Lysistrata where the girls gang up and withdraw 'conjugal rights'. The main difference between now and then is communication and the consequent ability to muster and mobilise the opposition. The telephone was vital here and overseas in producing small-scale instant 'demos' in immediate response to new developments. Mass meetings (except at University) took two or three months of hard work backstage. However much, in Australia at least, Vietnam War news was suppressed by the mono-poly presses, the great new world wide factor was

television. For the first time in history people of the Western World had access in ninety per centll of their homes to the instant news of demonstrations. Add this to the major factor of speedy battlefront reporting, not the whole truth, but an historic first

of war horrors constantly shown to whole families within their own homes. This was the vital background which produced the receptivity amongst a cross section of so many countries and enabled Moratorium propaganda to be successfully carried

in to schools and on to the streets. School involvement here in Australia, apart from being patchy, cannot be compared with that of school participation in France's abortive May 1968 revolution . Nevertheless, a lot of publicity was achieved both amongst pupils and through the general press from such incidents as Sydney Church of England Grammar School caning pupils for wearing Moratorum badges, and Tbrox Park Public School withdrawing books from the school library which revealed some of the facts about the Vietnam war. Such publicity, added to the facts I have already mentioned, further enhanced general social awareness of the nature of war throughout the whole community, focusing wide attention on both general wrongness of war and specific issues too : even if war were right, the Vietnam War was wrong; even if the Vietnam War were right, Australian participation was wrong ; even if Australian involvement were right, conscription was not. Even ignoring those issues, both American atrocities and Australian use of torture were horrifyingly wrong, even supposing they were not in aid of an ally (South Vietnam) which was and is a fascist dictatorship. This increased social awareness also extended to looking with newly opened eyes, not only at the evils of other nation states, but some of our own internal as well as external activities ; brutality by the Australian Army committed against Australian troops within Australia, police brutality condoned tby New South Wales' Premier Askin. Those who doubted The claims made by the New South Wales' Council for Civil Liberties that members of the police force removed their identification numbers, will hopefully have second thoughts now that it is proved beyond doubt that police in Western Australia go further and wear false numbers. What was so new with the Moratorium? Youth has always rebelled to some degree. Certainly in the French Revolution, the women joined in too to 'man' the barricades, as they did again in France in May 1968. Thus, the presence of young girls joining in protest was nothing new. More surprising was the spread of ages represented, parents with infants, mature matrons, ex-service men and women and '1914–1918 diggers' as well as youth, even clerics and liberals. Auckland, Sydney, New York. Can anyone imagine during, say, 1944 the nazi flag being openly paraded in the streets? Unsheathed bayonets and a veritable army could surely not have sufficed to protect such an inconceivable demonstration from the populace. For the first time in history (and simultaneously in all three non-totalitarian 'free world' participants), in countries openly at war. (albeit undeclared), and without overt censorship, for the first time there was massive unarmed open opposition to a major war. This was coupled with a lesser direct support for the alleged 'enemy'. By the time governments awoke to the actual size of opposition at home, it was too late to suppress it without undue force and a bloodbath. But of course in modern  democratic countries bloodbaths are only permitted abroad never at home. With the Moratorium era satisfactorily concluded, except for a couple of minor points such as our consciences* and the current plight of the Vietnamese themselves, we should look at both the residual effect on ourselves, and the origins. Was the Moratorium merely a general rebellion crystallising on a common cause which just happened to be a convenient focal point, a double catalytic effect with the Moratorium itself ultimately triggering other events?

'The entire scheme of metropolitan societies begins to be called into question', and with quite remarkable effects. We are in a new era where Authority is concerned that the public should have at least some say in our rapidly changing society. No doubt it is mainly so concerned because people are discovering that some degree of power does lie elsewhere than just in the ballot box and the barrel of a gun. Green Bans by the Builders Labourers Federation have not only changed building 'development' plans in Sydney, but in 1974 the exhibition to show new planning proposals for Woolloomooloo development was re-exhibited with special models as soon as complaints were raised that local residents failed to understand what may have been clear to planners but not to laymen. In Sydney again, the Leichhardt Municipal Council has itself led residents in protest against

Expressway plans currently in hand by the Department of Main Roads. At long last, opposition is coming not merely from those about to lose their homes, but from people who use cars themselves and are realising that cities are strangling themselves with cars. Resident Action Groups are not working in isolation. There has been a surprising degree of involvemen t amongst school children who have formed their own groups not only to campaign against pollution, but to systematically collect information to support their aims and claims. The foment of widespread dissatisfaction with our society has been a general background which has enabled sweeping changes to take place in attitudes in such an entrenched bureaucracy as the New South Wales Department of Education, without tirades of abuse attacking them for fundamental improvements creeping through the education system. It has taken the best part of a century for some of Madame Montessori's ideas of freedom to percolate into infants' schools on any scale. How long is it going to take us to free ourselves from these repressions, not only in High Schools

too, but in all areas of our lives? Positive steps have now been taken in New South Wales to involve parents in the running of schools with parents and local residents to be appointed or elected to the governing School Boards. § Although school kids

are excluded both from direct voting and election, they may, however, be co-opted. It is still incredible that this scheme could come out of the New South Wa le s Public Service—there may be yet be hope. Another event since the Moratoriums has been the development of the Light, Powder and Construction Works: 'LIGHT upon the problems of our time, POWDER with which to confront establish e d values and institutions and CONSTRUCTION of possible alternatives. In early 1972, Trade Action Pty Ltd, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Community Aid Abroad, initiated a wide-ranging investigation into the problems of the so-called 'Third World'. This project was aimed at delineating the nature and incidence of mass poverty, defining the meaning of  development' and establishing the causes of poverty and 'under-development'. Emphasis was given to the significance of

economic and other relationships connecting rich and poor countries. It was further specified that some recommendations for action should follow from the research. The resulting paper asserts that the wealth of the rich and the poverty of the poor are but two sides of a single coin : that the rich countries presently intervene in the Third World in ways which inhibit any improvement in the living standards of the majority of its inhabitants and that the motives behind this intervention arise directly from the sort

of 'development' being pursued by the rich countries. This argument leads to the inevitable conclusion that the most legitimate and effective 'action' which citizens of rich countries can take to assist the peoples of the Third World, is to try to change the

goals, values and institutions of their own society—to change its perception of its own development.The paper was presented to the National Executive of CAA together with a proposal that CAA should establish an autonomous agency, with the aim of

ma kin g a contribution to a movement for the total transformation of Australian society. This proposal was subsequently approved by CAA, and the new agency began operations as The Light. Powder and Construction Works on July I, 1973.*

A major event arising from the activities surrounding the Vietnam Moratorium Campaigns wa s the founding of the Australia Party. This important arrival on the political scene has increased its percentage of votes at each election up until the national elections of 1974 when it failed to maintain its previous growth. Dated the 21st October 1966, a letter was published as a full page advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald and inspired the formation of the Liberal Reform Group, later to become known as the Australia Party. The letter attacking involvement in Vietnam was styled: An Open Letter to the President of the U.S.A. and was signed by Gordon Barton, leader of the Australia Party until 1974. The Alternative Pink Pages was another result of the Moratorium. It came out of a Sydney group called Aernative Community Telephone (ACT) who set themselves up as an  information service on all possible radical alternatives, and manned a telephone. Meetings were held and ideas passed around. Alternative Pink Pages was collated by Stephen Wall and Philomena Horan and most of the information came out of the ACT files. It is a really valuable book of resources. In terms of the mass society, and particularly youth, probably the most powerful manifestation of the anti-Vietnam feeling and the search for peace both internally and externally, has been the Pop songs, and the cult of Pop singers. I do not claim ma ss impact but just one more vital influence in the current mesh of dissent. I'll close with some of the words of these songs.

 

Don McLean's The Grave 

'His comrades were slaughtered They can't let me die here He 's gone'.

Moody Blues Why do we never get an answer?

'Why do we never get an answer when we're knocking at the door,

To the thousand million questions about hate and death and war,

Cause when we stop and look around us, there is nothing that we need,

In a world of persecution that is burning in the street.

Why do we never get an answer when we're knocking at the door,

Because the truth is hard to swallow, That's what the wall of love is for.'

'How is it we are here. Them's mighty fine machines

Digging in the ground, stealing rare minerals to bury it again.'

 

Ca t Stevens : Charges IV

'And we'll all know it's better

Yesterday has past

Now all start the living

For the one that's going to last.'

Cat Stevens Tuesday Dead

'I can't tell you what to do

Like everybody else

I'm searching through

What I've heard

Who a where do you go when you don't

Want no-one to know.'

Cat Stevens Peace Train

'Everyone jump upon the peace train

Go bring your good friends too . .

Everyone jump upon the peace train.' 

Everybody We Shall Overcome

'We shall overcome some day

Oh, deep in my heart,

I do believe

We shall overcome some day.'

The Light, Powder and Construction Works Manifesto, February 1973 (350, Victoria Street, North Melbourne, 3051).

Al ter nati ve Pink Pages, P.O. Box 8, Surrey Hills, 2010.


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