Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 15. 1972
RSA Conference: Old Soldiers Who Won't Even Fade Away
RSA Conference: Old Soldiers Who Won't Even Fade Away
Michael Murphy a member of the Organisation to Halt Military Service sat in on the recent Annual Conference of the R.S.A. Here is his story.
The Town Hall, venue for the 56th Dominion Council of the New Zealand Returned Servicemens Association, is a formidable sight. The flags of various Nations line the stage. With them is the infamous 'stars and stripes'. T.V. camera lights in the gallery highlight the whole scene and give emphasis to the order of the day which is 'short back and sides with a little off the top'.
My hair seems to hang heavily as I am escorted to the observers desk and I am conscious of a number of distrustful looks as I thumb through the pages of the hundred-plus Annual Report. A hush comes over the delegates as the distinguished guests enter.
Sir Arthur Porritt begins the proceedings with a stirring and dramatic speech which says very little apart from congratulating the R.S.A. for their support of Cadet Schemes. Compulsory Military Training and the Regular Forces.
Jack Marshall starts up next and already am wishing I had'nt come. He brings greetings from the members of Cabinet "four teen of whom wear R.S.A. badges." The P.A. system is loud and his voice rings throughout the hall, falling on attentive ears: "We can best defend N.Z. by joining with others in our region to keep the peace and to contain aggressors behind the pen meter of tension which now divides the Communists and The Free World"..... "The cornerstone of our defence policy is the ANZUS Pact. I sometimes say to Americans I don't suppose it's much comfort for you to know that New Zealand will come to your aid if you are attacked, but I sleep much sounder in my bed because I know the United States will come to our aid if we are attacked".... "The decision of President Nixon to blockade North Vietnam and to start heavy bombing raids against military targets (Hospitals, Schools and Dykes are classed as military targets?) and communications in North Vietnam is a calculated risk." "It may be some months yet before decisive results are achieved but it has been worth it."..... "I make no apology for saying that the N.Z. Government supports the decisive action now being taken by the U.S."...... "Problems of defence are not solved by closing our eyes to them.".... "We can not defend our country by ourselves"..... "defence arrangements" "co-operation with our Allies" "contain aggressors"..... "insurgency" "communist forces"...... "massive invasions" "confrontation"...... "defend New Zealand"...... "uphold the national independence"...... And so on, [unclear: an] and so on.
The delegates are [unclear: nuuong], not in sleep, but in agreement, they know all about communists (they know so much about them that they don't let any into the R.S.A). They know all about defence "In surgency" "aggressors" and "massive invasions" are all familiar words. Mr Marshal is talking about WAR. They like Mr Marshall when he talks about WAR.
The R.S.A President Sir Hamilton Mitchell rises out of his cloud of pipe smoke, and looks over the delegates like an attentive shepherd looking over his flock You know he is going to talk about war, he always talks about war. The words spew out of the loud speakers flowing all over the hall..... "defence".... "collective security" "security".... "sacrifice".... "law".... "order" .... "national security" etc, etc. But then he stops talking about war and begins to talk about some of the things he likes and dislikes. He doesn't like the F.O.L ban "an unnecessary sacrifice". He doesn't like the permissive society it tends to run counter to the discipline needed for good defence. He doesn't like the way the law is being flouted" The peaceful citizen is being intimidated by threats of violence if he does not accede to the wishes of a minority. If he expresses a contrary view he is not safe in his own home or on the street, his playing fields are damaged and his womenfolk are molested." He doesn't like HART either "it is doing no good to either N.Z. or the coloured or black in South Africa." And most of all he doesn't like OHMS they are a "subversive element". But there are lots of things that Sir Hamilton does like. He's pretty keen on apartheid "In my opinion the broad principle of separate development being followed in South Africa will be for the ultimate benefit of the Bantu, the Coloured and the Indian" He agrees that the "petty restrictions are harmful", but is sure "there will be a change in the not too distant future". He is even keener on the Army though is a little disappointed in the way it is being run down, "...the defence vote should not be gradually whittled away in favour of the social services".
What I think he likes best though is being President of the R.S.A., that way he gets to bitch to hundreds of delegates each year on what he doesn't like.
Once the speeches are finished the conference settles down to some hard policy making. There is to be much bickering and disagreement in the next two days over such issues as whether the Dominion President should draw the National Service ballot, or not. In fact, this particular issue is to take up two hours of this afternoons session.
It is 11.30 a.m. by the time the standings orders and such like are adopted. Sir Hamilton declares it is time to adjourn for church A service is held at St. Paul's Cathedral followed by the good old march down to the Cenotaph to lay a few wreaths. Sometimes I think the R.S.A like marching as much as students.
The big issue in the afternoon is whether or not Sir Hamilton should draw the marble. It is decided that indeed he should, though some delegates are a little concerned the bad image it may present to the youth.
At 5.30pm, after a good days debating, they adjourn for the big conference 'piss[unclear: up] am disappointed to hear that I am not invited.
Next morning I am pleased to see all the familiar faces (looking a little worse for the nights activities) They are used to me by now and the only 'longhair' in the hall generates a lot of interest. I am asked a lot of questions and mostly the delegates are friendly. They ask things like how much I get paid (owing to the fact that OHMS is listed as a subversive organisation I think it better to mumble 'student newspaper') and are mystified when I reply 'nothing'. One bright soul suggests I am seeing democracy in action, I suggest I am seeing bureaucracy in action and we are just about to launch into a lively debate when good old Sir Hamilton announces that the conference has reconvened.
Democracy is a word that is to fly around a lot today. The New Plymouth R.S.A. start the ball rolling with a remit suggesting that the present compulsory subscription by all R.S.A. members to their newspaper 'Review' is not very democratic. I am inclined to agree but sympathize with the Editor he would have one hell of a job selling them any other way. The delegates seem to also realise the problem and vote in favour of compulsory subscription but are careful to first discount any suggestion that such a practice could be undemocratic. "We must have an official organ to diffuse information concerning the R.S.A."
The next major remit concerns eligibility of membership, it is a very interesting one. I always thought that the R.S.A. was only concerned with soldiers who have come back from wars, guarding their interests and providing security in old age. I therefore assumed that if we didn't have any more wars and all the old soldiers died, the R.S.A. would become redundant. But it appears that I was wrong. The last thing the R.S.A. wants to become is redundant. This presents a problem because to stay alive they need new young members, they can't just open their doors though because after all returned servicemen are returned servicemen. One suggestion is that they let in all National Servicemen, any person who has done three months C.M.T. This is quite a brainstorm, 2,600 new members each year. Think what it would do for the Review sales!
The only objection raised is that they haven't returned from anywhere except Waiouru and although it is in the wop-wops it could hardly be considered overseas service'. This doesn't present much of a problem for our delegates though because after all the Nato's should be able to pick up enough in three months to get by in most good 'war talks' and anyway they would learn quite a bit about Napalm, Fragment Bombs and such like from the Vietnam veterens who are always more than happy to talk about their experiences.
It is formally decided that the executive I will, as soon as possible, look into the possibility of allowing National Servicemen full membership. There can be little doubt of the decision after a spokesman for the executive says "this remit is the foundation of the future of the R.S.A. as a patriotic organisation with a membership from the Governor-General down".
Sir Hamilton takes his pipe out of his mouth long enough to announce that is is lunch time. Delegates saunter out in a blissful dream talking of cold ales and hot pies.
OHMS is at the door with a bundle of 'open letters to conference delegates'. These are well received probably because any reference to OHMS is well hidden at the bottom of the page. Old men head out into the Wellington winds clutching letters from their public enemy number one.
When they reconvene the plot is exposed. The letters are referred to in many obscene terms, bullshit, crap and such like. To my surprise a few people consider them "not to bad"
Sir Hamilton Mitchell takes the chair again I can't help comparing him with Judge Hoffman of T.V.'s 'Chicago Seven' fame. He has got the same authorative air of conviction (I support the system to the end no matter how corrupt - after all I live off it).
After the 'all New Zealand' democratic election of officers is over the Stokes Valley R.S.A. puts forward a remit to allow all U.S. war veterans membership. Again there is a considerable debate. The Christchurch delegate says "America is our closest any, they (the war veterans) should be taken under the wing of the R.S.A. in appreciation of the sacrifices they have made in W.W.1, W.W.2., Korea, and Vietnam." A delegate from Te Puke, and old man in an even older coat, says he has come all the way down to speak about this. "If we admit U.S. war veterans we will admit more William Calleys; murderers of women and children. Not returned soldiers' but killers' There is vocal dissent. As he sits down I see that he is shaking with emotion. I feel like jumping up and hugging him, not that I can agree with his rationalisation - this war is evil our war was not - but I can understand his feelings. He fought in a war that he was told was both necessary and just, he fought with as much honour and integrity as any man can be expected to show when he is set the task of killing fellow men, and at least in amongst all this crap about communist aggression, one man has stood up and spoken of Vietnam as it is.
The remit is lost. Not because the Americans are killers, but because U.S. veterans can not swear allegiance to the Queen.
It is decided that the R.S.A. must increase involvement in youth activities (thats what I call real subversion). The focal point of R.S.A. youth activities it seems is the sending of veterans children on trips to the great white continent of Australia and vice versa.
What I consider to be the most important [unclear: emit] of the whole conference and the only one that follows what should be the true policy of the R.S.A., the providing of more accommodation for veterans unable to care for themselves, is left to last. Sir Hamilton [unclear: Vlitchell] and any other R.S.A. bureaucrat or that matter, will maintain that the prime objective of their association is the care of returned servicemen. Over the last en years 38,000 returned servicemen have page 7 died. A large proportion of the R.S.A. members are in their seventies. And yet the Association only provides a total of 450 beds through out the country. How do they manage to care for them all? The system works like this: A man, without any one to care for him and too old to care for himself, applies for accommodation in a Vet's Home. The waiting list is so long that his application is delayed for a long period of time, during which, because he is unable to look after himself and because of loneliness his health deteriorates quickly. He is admitted to hospital and dies, the strain is taken of the Vet's Home. He doesn't need accommodation because he's DEAD.
The question that must be asked is IF he had been given the accommodation as soon as he asked for it would he have died so soon?
Sir Hamilton says that it is lack of funds that stops them building more homes. It is true that the R.S.A. runs on an annual deficit of around 7-10 thousand dollars (pegged back to $1,390 next year), but it is also true that they have investments in land and buildings totaling around $4 million. The assumption; The R.S.A. is run like any other business concern, on the principle of profit and loss. The remit asking for more accommodation is presented by the Auckland R.S.A. There is little time for debate as the conference is about to wind up. Sir Hamilton asks the Auckland delegate to withdraw his remit promising to look into the situation. Auckland reluctantly withdraw the remit. (That's what I call a clever chairman.)
To finish on the same note as we began, namely analysis of the problems of society as viewed from a person on the far right, the President of the New South Wales Returned Servicemens League, Mr C. Hines, is awed to address the conference.
The same old crap. "The use of drugs is a communist plot" as is the interest shown in sex. A Sydney University Student Union has published a book called 'The Sex Manual'. A grant of $800 was obtained. The cost of publication was $9,800, where (with sinister undertones) did the rest of the money come from?
The R.S.L. is calling a combined meeting of churches and up-standing bodies such as the Country Womens Association, to organise a petition aimed at combating things like a recent student newspaper story which featured obscene images (???) superimposed over a photo of the Sydney Cenotaph. 'The most beautiful Cenotaph in Australia" (It sound like Pat Bartlett has been trying out the new D.C.8's) This is happening throughout the Western World; a minority trying to crush our society.
The R.S.L. also supports C.M.T. but thinks that the ballot system should be abolished, one in all in so to speak. On a recent tour of a Army base near Waga Waga I saw Servicemen, who according to the officer of the day were longhair's in blue jeans, that sor, of thing, so disciplined after only ten weeks training that in parade, they did not even move to pick up their comrades who fainted in the hot sun. The R.S.L. has increased it's membership in recent years, (Vietnam was just what the doctor ordered) we are sure these young fellows will carry on the good tradition.........
In the five minute allotted to General Business a Roman Catholic Priest stands and asks if they can sing 'God defend New Zealand' as well as the statuary 'God Save The Queen'. Fairminded old Hamilton says he will consider it next year.
Hundreds of men with a war in common stand and sing as 'God save the Queen' in 'canned' form is played. - The 56th Annual Conference of the N.Z.R.S.A. has finished.
Two days of listening to an orgy of frustrated warmongers has been really heavy going. I feel tired and very sick. I am sick of hearing about wars; of hearing about old wars, and of hearing plans for new wars. WAR WAR and more WAR. I dream of peace. I dream of no more wars; no more soldiers; no more returned servicemen. And I dream of death. I dream of the natural death of the R.S.A. before her militaristic screams are heeded.