Every year on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, Australians show their respect for those who have served this country in war and peace-keeping operations: the survivors and the dead. Christopher J. Ward explains why we should also find a way to remember those who also served their country, quietly and generally with honour in the Cold War.
We are now in the fourth year of the new millennium. In the new century we still remember the dead of the two World Wars and other arenas of conflict. ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day come and go with regularity and we are still commemorating the anniversaries of significant events of war – Korea being the latest.
We remember with sadness those who made the ultimate sacrifice and celebrate with pride those who march past. I’ve stood and watched as they pass – soldiers, sailors, airmen, the women’s services, nurses and children of the deceased, proudly bearing the medals of their loved ones.
The marchers include those who have not been under fire but logistic and support personnel who are behind those in the field, and rightly so.
The ranks are not as straight as in their heyday and, as the years advance, numbers are thinned by age, incapacity and death. However, heads are held high with pride and the returned do their best to keep in step with the many bands.
Those most traditionally honoured are from the Boer War and the two World Wars – the war to end all wars and the fight against the malevolence of Nazism – honourable wars.
Thanks to politicians of various stripe, the place in history of those who served in forgotten or unpopular wars are now assured, from Korea, the Malayan emergency, confrontation with Indonesia and finally, at long last, Vietnam. In a real way, both dead and living, they have all come home from the Boer War to the Gulf and East Timor deployments.
The misty-eyed reaction of crowds who attend remembrance services, stand to applaud or watch marches in cities and towns across the nation, show that we are as one in respect for the fallen and the returned. And around the country in small towns wreaths appear on memorials and churches bearing the names of the “glorious dead”.
I regularly ask myself about men and women who have served their country with equal dedication but are not mentioned and do not appear among the ranks of the marchers, unless they have a military background – those for whom there are no memorials, marches or public recognition.
I refer to those who served during the period of the Cold War in Australia’s security and intelligence services. And now, in 2004, we are seeing from both the US and former Soviet sides, the Cold War described as World War III and the horrific prediction that the war on terror will be WW IV.
True, World War III was more of a war of ideas and ideology and thus, for the main combatants, a “cold war” fought with guile, mind-games and for the most part, little violence. The war was hot in Arabia, Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, where proxies were widely used.
Both the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) have their veterans.
It is true that very few have died as a result of enemy action. Old age, suicide and ill-health, particularly stress, are the main killers. Yet we are in danger of forgetting the meaning and seriousness of the Cold War.
In a recent TV program, former KGB Major-General Oleg Kalugin said, quoting the ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu: “The objective is to win the war without fighting.” Kalugin himself regards the Cold War as the Third World War and “We [the Soviets] lost it.”
And so, the security and intelligence services on both sides, East and West, were engaged in a silent struggle, not always without the odd incident of violence, to achieve that aim. Wars became hot only when fought by proxy, in Africa, Latin America and Afghanistan.
Ask yourself this: Is it really 15 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the odious régime that propped it up? And only 12 years since the disintegration of the Soviet Union?
Do we forget so easily that for just over half a century our defence has rested on resisting communism ideologically and in some cases militarily, if only as a minor ally of the Western powers? Have we forgotten how lucky we are that the Cold War never became hot, although at times, such as the Cuban crisis and at times during the Vietnam War, that appeared likely?
Of course, key elites in our society scoff at mention of the Cold War. Some, including the overrated Australian author Philip Knightley, argue that it was merely a game – an argument beneath contempt.
Others regard it as one of those “other people’s wars” in which Australia had no need to become involved, such as Vietnam.
All the while, the chattering classes and their sneering accomplices excoriated our security and intelligence services at every turn. They highlighted the nightmare of episodes gone awry – the Hilton bombing, the Combe/Ivanov affair and the ASIS hotel exercise.
The successes aren’t mentioned because they can’t be publicised. Death could be the result if some were, even now.
Politicians are ambiguous about security and intelligence services, or were, arguably until 9/11, when suddenly minds were clarified. It is a disgrace that one Attorney-General of the country effectively emasculated ASIO for two years and a later incumbent of that office could never refrain from sneering about “cold warriors”.
Anyone who has serious doubts about the lethal intent of the Soviet system need only look into the opened Moscow archives. These provide ample testimony about the truth of state-inspired terror and extermination at home and plans for foreign domination.
Even Mikhail Gorbachev, a seemingly decent man, cannot deny that the aphorism “the evil empire” was well deserved. Defectors from the Soviet armed forces and intelligence services have confirmed that their military policy was based on a nuclear first strike and a tank dash to the Channel ports: a latter day blitzkrieg modelled on that of the German Wehrmacht in World War II.
The astonishing thing is that we have people in this country that believed implicitly that the former Soviet Union was an errant child of socialism with pure motives. Many felt it was a regime with which they could deal reasonably and in good faith. By a supreme act of cognitive dissonance they have managed to rationalise the mass murder of millions.
Recent material from Moscow archives indicates the total of Soviet citizens murdered by their own government to be conservatively estimated at 60 million. The Chinese are estimated to have eliminated, by famine or more direct means, over 100 million of their citizens.
In some cases in Australia, individuals have cooperated with agents of the Soviet Union, its allies and their intelligence services, putting loyalty to that cause ahead of that to this country. That was the reason for the establishment of ASIO and ASIS.
As historical documents show, this country was perceived to have a problem with security during and after World War II. Labor in government had no option but to set up a security service and attempt to identify Soviet agents.
Soviet spy rings
From the start, elements within the ALP opposed the establishment and activities of ASIO. It is part of Labor folklore that the Petrov defection was engineered to return the Menzies Government to power in 1954. The ensuing Royal Commission into Espionage scarcely helped douse the fire of opposition and the release of the VENONA papers that conclusively prove the existence of Soviet spy rings in Australia, merely historical aberrations.
Over the years, ASIO has had many detractors and very few supporters, at least in public.
Such luminaries as Phillip Adams – who writes for The Australian – at one stage, March 1993, enjoined his readers to identify and expose ASIO agents. Their “crime” was to serve this country but as a self-confessed “old comm” that would probably justify the Adams viewpoint.
Others of the same ilk conducted surveillance against ASIO officers and threatened them and their families. The Campaign Against Political Police (CAPP) was set up by left-wing ALP members and unionists in the 1970s to expose and abolish the “political police.” The latter term is but a myth – ASIO has no executive powers, they reside with the Australian Federal Police.
For those of us who served during those days, surveillance and harassment were part of the job. I endured it and evaded it for the most part by travelling through back lanes of the city. Adhesive in car locks, daubing of walls were annoying, it’s true, but nothing like a knock on the door at 2:00am, as happened in communist countries.
The worst activities against us were the phone calls and threats to wives and children, at all hours of day and night. If the person who caught the healthy blast of a whistle from my wife at 3:00am is reading this, tough luck!
Winners write history, it is said: not in this country. In the United States and Britain, spies and agents of communist powers are hunted down and brought before the courts: there is no Statute of Limitations.
The same situation does not hold here – the spies and spy-catchers are an embarrassment. It appears that materials from KGB archives, related to the Australian scene, have been suppressed. If released, they could deal severe, possibly mortal blows to our security and intelligence. Yet the chances of Soviet agents being exposed and jailed are non-existent: treason will be seen to have prospered but the organisations will be heaped with further scorn.
Intelligence officers live in the shadows. They lead the double lives of a professional schizophrenic and many, if not most, have hidden the details of their work from spouses and friends. Lies are stock in trade when no natural cover is available.
How many people have been duped by those who reticently explain that the Attorney-General’s or Defence Department employs them? The figures for divorce and suicide of Australian intelligence officers compare with those overseas. A career serving the country does not always provide anything more than a fleeting intrinsic satisfaction – certainly the financial rewards are marginal.
In 1999, the Prime Minister celebrated ASIO’s 50th anniversary with selected serving and former senior officers: very nice recognition for the few. Others who have served a certain number of years have received a commemorative medallion and Certificate of Appreciation – the honest, time-servers, rogues and traitors alike.
Next year, we will again celebrate ANZAC and Remembrance Days. Spare a thought for those who also served – the men and women of Australia’s security and intelligence services. Many will be among the crowds, with glistening eyes.
No marching for them; no recognition.
After the march, no drinks with old colleagues; we just turn and slip away. ‘Twas ever thus.
The memories of us and our contribution to the security of Australia will surely float away and be extinguished like a cigarette end in the rain-drenched gutter of history.