Issue #1571 31 October 2012
October is CPA history month
Silencing the voices of peace
Australian army Gallipoli hero Captain Hugo Throssell VC gave a speech on July 19, 1919 that brought the pro-war establishment down on his head. Former head of Australian troops in Afghanistan General John Cantwell recently said in an interview that the “Afghan cause is not worth dying for”, bringing a torrent of abuse from the bourgeois media.
Captain Hugo Throssell VC.
The comparison between Cantwell’s treatment and that meted out to Hugo Throssell reveals how consistently the ruling class tries to silence the voices of peace.
Right wing commentator Gerard Henderson has called for John Cantwell to keep silent, suggesting that his views are useless because he is sick. Cantwell does indeed suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has faced many crises with depression arising from his war service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, he is clearly not delusional. He has spoken with force and clarity about his war experiences and his views should be treated with respect.
July 19, 1919 was the day to celebrate the signing of the peace treaty with Germany. All around the Empire there were celebrations.
General John Cantwell.
The Mayor of Northam (WA) had organised for Northam’s most famous son, war hero and Captain Hugo Throssell, to lead the parade and to speak at the celebration.
At the time of the speech returned soldiers were finding it hard to get jobs and those who had jobs were appalled by the working conditions and were making their way into militant unions.
Socialism was being widely discussed and the Russian Revolution had begun, influencing many workers. The ruling class was feeling threatened. The Queensland Worker of the time headlined the front page story: Hugo Throssell VC, Declares Himself a Socialist: A “Bomb” at a Peace Gathering.
The newspaper wrote:
“There was probably no more astounded gathering in any part of the Commonwealth than the mob of patriotic Tories who had gathered together in Northam (WA) on Peace Day, ‘to celebrate’ when Hugo Throssell, VC – scion of one of West Australia’s ‘very best’ families – declares himself to be an out and out Socialist”.
What Hugo Throssell said in part was:
“The war has made me a Socialist. It has made me think and inquire what are the causes of wars. And my thinking and reading have led me to the conclusion that we shall never be free of wars under a system of production for profit, with its consequent over-production, periodic crimes, unemployment and the struggle for markets... .
“I want to work for peace because I know and have seen the horror of war. If only the people who say they want peace would do the logical things to bring it about, there would be no wars... .
“While it is possible for unscrupulous men, profiteers, and manufacturers of war materials to profit by war, we will always have wars.
“If we do not want war, we must change the system of production for profit, and organise not for the benefit of a few people but of the community as a whole.
“The subject is too big a one to deal with in a few words tonight. But I wanted to say that the only real way to celebrate peace is to do the things which will make for peace. Think, talk to people who are opposing the system of production for profit, study books on the subject and test what you read by the facts of everyday life.
“Don’t bother about what the daily newspapers or the people interested in maintaining the system of production for profit may say. You’ve heard what they’ve got to say all your lives. Go to the other side! Get their point of view. Then do what is necessary to make your convictions realities, and work for the conditions which will make it impossible for any to make fortunes out of war... .
“You will not find this way of working for peace a popular one. You’ll find it most unpopular, because all our institutions have grown up under the wing of this system of production for profit. But if we want peace, if we want to do the things which will make for a permanent peace, we must do away with the system of production for profit, and reorganise our life in common on the lines of production for use and for the well-being of the community as a whole.”
The speech caused an uproar with an outraged conservative establishment appalled that a public hero could express such views. Throssell, who like Cantwell suffered deep depression, was subjected to abuse, ridicule and contempt.
Unlike other war heroes he received no official recognition.
It was not until August 28, 1999 that a modest cream brick memorial to him was unveiled in Northam by the Governor of WA, Michael Jeffrey, himself an ex-SAS officer.
Jeffrey admitted at the time that “it is probable that the rejection of the values of his peer group was the reason that no memorial existed before to Throssell.”
Hugo Throssell spoke for the more than 50 percent of Australians who rejected conscription in WWI. Cantwell speaks for the 80 percent of Australians who want Australian troops home from the Afghan war now.
Those who go to war at capitalism’s demand in 1919 or 2012 but return to speak out for peace are met with all the establishment’s efforts to silence them.
Next article – Culture & Life – Social Democrats in France, Fascists in Latvia
Back to index page