Laying a wreath of truth on Remembrance Day

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  "If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields."
~ Lt. John McCrea

Contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence provides Independent Australia's Remembrance Day tribute to Australia's fallen – or forgotten – heroes.

On this Remembrance Day, Independent Australia is in the seventh month of a supportive campaign for increased pensions and death benefits for past and serving defence force personnel, widows and heirs.

It will surprise many Australians to know that as far as such things are concerned, for decades successive Australian Governments have treated our armed forces with contempt.

The abject hypocrisy of the Prime Minister and other politicians, solemnly lowering their voices – as well as the Australian flag – as they mourn, yet another, killing or act of treachery in Afghanistan, makes some of our Diggers sick with disgust.

In the 140 days of the campaign, I cannot recall a single day without a comment being left on the Diggers versus Gillard story. Those comments are nudging 1,000 and have become a meeting and conversation cyber-room — as well as a public media space for Diggers, family members and supporters.

It has become an important historical document of retiree activism with our own Poet Laureate, Brigadier (Ret’d) George Mansford AO.

Tribute must be paid to our courageous Managing Editor David Donovan. From the onset he backed my story and this campaign for social justice and equity that I shamelessly support.

The campaign has been fuelled by the Diggers (Land, Sea and Air Forces) themselves. They have demolished the nonsensically vapid excuses made by the Gillard Government and the wobbly political scaffolding that props it up.

The Government continues to promulgate lies in feeble excuses for paying Diggers and widows paltry pensions.

Never was this more evident than in June when the Labor Party's malevolence towards battling Diggers resulted in it killing off the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment Bill.

The casting 'No' vote was actually sealed with a crimson kiss of betrayal by none other than she who had portrayed herself as 'the Digger's friend' — Senator Kate Lundy, the Tokyo Rose of the Labor Party, in this instance. Maybe that should read the Tokyo Bottlebrush.

In the course of thousands of networking emails trafficking between us in the campaign, the meaning and the meaninglessness of war has become palpable. Tens of thousands of our defence force retirees are doing it tough and are infected with serious physical and mental ill-health issues and an ageing process aided and abetted by the injuries of war and their own country's neglect and indifference.

They are constantly humiliated and forced to justify their existence and injuries. How dare this Government and bureaucrats subject our elderly to such abuse.

They are made to feel as if they are bludgers, weaning on the public purse. Our defence force personnel have been used and abused. They have been trashed by our governments.

Their life journeys are a litany of horror stories, among them instances of inept recordkeeping, false records and records being completely wiped, AWOL or deliberately misplaced.

War has differing impact on different people. On Remembrance Day we should do well to remember the burgeoning toll of civilians as well as military forces.

Our earth has been ruthlessly fertilised with the blood and bones of the war dead of both killer and the killed.

For some the war never ends. How could it. War is for Life. We human beings become emotionally ringbarked by our life and death experiences. Some of us live with them better than others.

In our democracy, those of us who would rather get our hands dirty tending garden beds than mass graves, remain mostly agreeable to paying other human beings to defend us and do any killing on our behalf.

And in our name, but at times against our will, our governments despatch these human beings to wars that are sometimes contrived and unwinnable, for reasons of financial expediency and political fellatio.

The spectre of the War in Vietnam hovers like a mist of Agent Orange over Afghanistan. There are similarities in more ways than one on both sides of the 15th Parallel North.

I marched against the war in Vietnam. I did not march against our soldiers. I marched against the Government(s).

Some of us were guilty of treating the returned soldiers despicably. So many of them were just kids.

I feel that for the most part, those scars have healed to the extent that whilst the majority of Australians didn't want to go to war in Iraq and certainly want Australia to extricate from the hopeless war in Afghanistan, we are mindful and respectful not to take it out on our returned soldiers. We've grown up. We pick our battles with the bullies not the bullied.

But the way that Vietnam Veterans continue to be treated by our Government(s) is repugnant and a violation of their human rights. They are being punished for serving their country. Why? Is it because the Government just can't cope with any public expunging relating to the filthy reputation of the Vietnam War and their even filthier mistreatment of our returned soldiers?

Is this why successive Governments are in denial about some of the uglier aspects of the Vietnam

War and the impact it had on our men?

When the Greek Aeschylus wrote yonks ago that in war, truth is the first casualty, he hit onto something. We get that.

It's not just about lies being told by 'the other side'.  It's about being lied to by 'our own side'.

Few things cause greater anger and disgust amongst Diggers than someone fabricating their war history, their medals or war exploits. Ask Don Tate. Not that he did any of that.

Nonetheless, he was accused of being a liar. Of making up atrocities committed by Australian troops that he witnessed. The unit that he said he was in didn't exist, according to official records.

What a wanker. What a trouble-maker. Trying to besmirch the reputation of his mates. So not on. Sullying Australia's reputation. He was subjected to hate and ridicule. Spurned and shunned. A lesser outcast among outcasts.

As if Australians would tie the corpses of captured VietCong to the back of an Army vehicle and drag them along the ground until their heads fell off. So what if one of them was a female doctor.

She was the enemy. All's fair in love and whore. Let sleeping VietCong dogs lie. The Red Mist and all of that.

When you read Don Tate's finely crafted first person memento mori of his experience in Vietnam and what happened to him upon his return to this country, you will realise that his real enemy was his Government and its civil servants.

It will open your eyes to the blistering truth that both corruption and collusion exist side by side in Governments, the public service and institutions and what's more, is passed down through the decades, masquerading as the eternal flame we light to celebrate our war dead.

Not only was Don Tate the man who never was. The men he served with were also men who never were. Moreover, their unit never was.

Don Tate held on to his truth. His war. His version of events. For years, gathering evidence, badgering Canberra and the Central Army Record Office and finding witnesses and supporters.

His fight for Justice, transparency and public accountability deserves recognition. In pursuing his own fight, he has also secured victory for those unable to do so — and those who are long dead. At least their families will know that Don and his mates were telling the truth.

Our Government did break faith with those who died. But those who died did not sleep and called out to Don Tate during the years. And he did heed their call.

Independent Australia will be proudly featuring Don Tate's epic and memorable essay about his experiences this weekend as our flagship Remembrance tribute — when we lay a wreath of truth upon the memory of both the living and the dead.

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