Melbourne, Australia – Bob Manz was 19 when he received military service in the Vietnam War in 1967 for service in the Australian Army.
“I was about to turn 20,” he told Al Jazeera. “It didn’t seem real to me – it never seemed real to me to fly bullets around Vietnam.”
In 1964, the Australian government undertook to send troops to Vietnam on behalf of the United States.
While on his way to the White House, then-Prime Minister Harold Holt said his nation would walk “with all of the LBJ (Lyndon B Johnson)” – even if it means joining young people like Bob in “national service”.
However, Bob – and many young people like him – would take a dramatic step toward becoming a pre-project; someone was required by law to enlist in the military, but would actively refuse to do so.
“When I became a blueprint, I wanted the Australian government to do everything I could to prevent me from getting involved in the war because of the unjust war I was waging on the ground,” he said.
Bobbie Oliver, a professor at the University of Western Australia, is currently researching and writing a book on dealing with disturbing consciences and drafts.
His research has revealed that between 1961 and 1972 more than 60,000 Australians served in the Vietnam War, a third of whom were soldiers.
Nearly half of the 521 Australians killed in the action were people enlisted in the military.
But there was also strong resistance under the command.
Oliver said the military was not popular because it was not secured with the consent of Parliament.
“When the national service returned in 1964, it quickly became clear that the option was to send Vietnamese soldiers,” he told Al Jazeera, noting that the anti-draft stance was also affected by the U.S. protest movement.
“There was no referendum. Both sides of parliament or nothing agreed. It had just been announced that this would happen. That is one of the reasons why there is so much opposition to this national service scheme. “
April 25 is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, when people from both countries remember the conflicts they have had with their troops, often in cooperation – when New Zealand also sent troops to Vietnam, but not soldiers.
But while the day highlights the sacrifice and personal commitment of those who went to war, little is acknowledged for the people who fought against these conflicts, often at great personal cost.
Oliver said those who refuse to serve will initially demand a conscientious objection, which is to go to court and demonstrate a strict adherence to pacifism, usually for religious reasons.
However, he said that “around 1967 and 1968, there were many more people who refused to comply.”
“Many did not put any obstacles in the way of Christian objects or religious reasons. Many opposed the Vietnam War specifically, which was an undeclared war,” he said.
For young people who would become resistant to resistance or conscientious objection to the drafts, it could be a harsh punishment for non-compliance with military service or for demonstrating complete pacifism – long prison sentences in military or civilian prisons.
Professor William “Bill” White was the first publicly known resistance, in 1966, when the courts denied the request for a conscientious objector.
After refusing to heed more calls, police dragged him out of the house and jailed him.
In 1969, the two-year imprisonment of soldier John Zarb also sparked large protests in Melbourne’s famous Pentridge prison, and the government eventually released him in 10 months.
Oliver said his research reveals “how they treated pretty horrible stories [in prison] – keeping bread and water, waking up every hour and night, they are told to stand up and give their name, level and number. “
These punishments — along with social and family exclusion and harassment — left psychological scars and some preconceived notions.
“People had experiences with former co-workers or later relatives who refused to talk to them,” Oliver said. “Some have told me that they have had disadvantages at work and have been denied promotions.”
After refusing to go to the medical examination, a magistrate sentenced Bob Manz to one week in prison and said he would give him a taste of prison if he no longer complied with his order.
After his release, Manz went to the grave after ignoring the last note to “call” and spent most of 1972 “keeping a step in front of the police”.
Fortunately, the election of Gough Whitlam, an anti-war Prime Minister that year brought an end to the war and the military.
It meant that Manz could reappear in public life.
“Whitlam won the election on Saturday and Wednesday, [the conscripts] they were out of jail, “he recalled.” And that was it. Normal life. I was free, I walked around. “
The Australian War Memorial, which oversees the nation’s military history, has displayed information about the anti-war opposition and the role of conscientious objectors in the Vietnam War.
Photographs, films, interviews and articles about the protest movement in the memory are also stored in the archive collection.
Bob Manz said more needs to be done to recognize the anti-Vietnam War stance, along with helping veterans, whether they be in the military or not.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced the Royal Committee on Suicide Veterans – Including those who have recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least 400 veterans of the Australian Defense Force have been killed by suicide since 2001, compared to 41 deaths in Afghanistan at the same time.
“Veterans have done a tremendous amount of injustice over the years,” Manz said. “They guarantee our understanding and support. And while we are at it, we should reaffirm the contributions of the anti-war movement.”
Before ANZAC Day, Bob – now 73 – tackled it as a preliminary project.
He has no regrets.
“I am still very proud of what I have done. I think it has to be done and I’m glad I did. “