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Saying Sorry, Howard Style

by canberra boy Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 10:42:05 AM EST

Two Vietnam War era Iroquois helicopters have been disturbing my peace this weekend, flying low over Australia's national capital multiple times on multiple days as part of the interminable celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.

Long Tan was so important a battle in Australia's Vietnam engagement that the anniversary has been adopted as Vietnam Veterans' Remembrance Day in Australia.  The question of recognition for Vietnam Veterans is as sensitive in Australia as it is in the US, and there has been lingering resentment about the downgrading of bravery awards to soldiers who fought at Long Tan.

This prompted Prime Minister Howard to offer a national apology on Thursday to the soldiers who were "poorly treated" on their return from Vietnam.

Some Australians are celebrating another anniversary this weekend.  


It's also 40 years since the walk off by Aboriginal workers and their families from Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory.  This symbolic and courageous action taken by Gurindji, Mudbura and Warlpiri families against the oppressive practices of a company owned by Lord Vestey was a major rallying point and contributed to winning equal pay for Indigenous workers in the pastoral industry, national recognition of Aboriginal land rights, and eventual return of the Wave Hill land to Gurindji ownership.

John Howard was all over the Long Tan anniversary celebrations like a rash.  A reception for veterans was held at Parliament House. A memorial service was held at the Vietnam Memorial on Anzac Avenue.  And those damn Iroquois kept flying back and forth in formation about 100 metres over the suburbs.

John Howard was nowhere to be seen in relation to the Wave Hill commemoration.

As Opposition Leader in 1987, John Howard made an issue of growing Asian immigration to Australia.  Since assuming office as Prime Minister in 1996, he has refused to say sorry for the decades-long policy of enforced separation of Aboriginal children from their families (known as the stolen generation) on grounds that it was not he or current generations of Australians who were responsible.  And besides, the argument went, he could not say sorry because it might admit legal liability by the Government.  

If Howard is not a racist himself, then he has certainly played very carefully to cultivate the support of the racist element in the Australian community.  Now we see the flimsy excuse of `legal liability' being discredited by Howard himself as he says `sorry' to 50,000 Vietnam veterans.  It's completely clear that John Howard will only ever say sorry to you if you are white and fit his scheme of promoting militarism and the `good' bits of Australian history.

Cross-posted at musings of a bureaucrat and Booman Tribune.

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Given it's the middle of my night, I can't stay to respond immediately to comments.  Back later!
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 10:43:24 AM EST
thanks for this. I knew of the Wave Hill celebration, but it's a shame that cheap politics of the George allen variety plague your politics as well.

I was talking to an Aussie freind recently who suggested that JH was regarded as an embarrassment who, like blair & bush, had seriously outstayed their welcome. Any sign of electoral push-back ?

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 01:33:22 PM EST
Wasn't Howard recently re-elected?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 02:59:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So was Blair, doesn't mean we can't change our minds.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 04:00:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Howard was re-elected for a 3-year term in October 2004.  He's just recently announced that he will stand again at the election we presume will be late next year.  He has been PM for ten and a half years, and there is little sign that his own party, the pathetic Labor Opposition, or the Australian electorate, are going to do anything to stop him.  I think he will make a serious attempt to become the longest-serving Australian PM, and that record is eighteen and a half years.  A depressing prospect.
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 05:38:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Informative article, thanks...and good to see you back, CB!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 04:45:29 AM EST
Busy job, busy partner, busy children... hard to keep up with the internets recently!

I'll be interested to see what Jerome has to say about his Australian experiences...

by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 09:42:57 AM EST
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