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December 15th 2017 print

Hal G.P. Colebatch

Keating’s Distorted, Disgraceful ‘History’

When hostilities erupted in September, 1939, the Labor Party attacked the war effort on all fronts, from unionised wharves to the floor of parliament. If Paul Keating wishes to find a villain, he should drop his scurrilous assault on Sir Robert Menzies and look instead at his own party

menzies veeIt is unfortunate that a man who has held the office of Prime Minister like Paul Keating does not exhibit a greater acquaintance with history and the truth in his wild and insulting attack on Sir Robert Menzies. Menzies was by any reckoning Australia’s greatest Prime Minister and a brave and resolute leader in the darkest days of World War II, when the British Empire stood alone against Nazism.

As I made clear in my book Australia’s Secret War (Quadrant Books, order it here), the Labor Party at the outbreak of  war attacked the war effort in every way. It opposed conscription even for home defence, let alone sending troops overseas, and opposed the compiling of a war-book organising Australia’s assets. Labor front-bencher Eddie Ward called Australian servicemen “four bob a day murderers” and encouraged strikes in vital defence industries.

Two days after the outbreak of World War II the Australian Labor Party Executive passed a resolution, endorsed unanimously by Caucus, which was evidently intended to bring Hitler and the Panzer divisions smashing into Poland smartly to heel without the necessity of further exertion. It began: “The Australian Labor Party affirms its traditional horror of war and its belief that international disputes should be settled by negotiation.”

Unfortunately, any heart-searching or second thoughts which this ringing declaration caused at Fuhrer Headquarters or the Oberkommando Wehrmacht seems to have so far escaped the attention of historians.

Labour and union strikes during the war in coal-mines, the waterfront, ship-building and repairs and in other vital industries would cost the hideously ironic figure of 6,000,000 working days directly lost from the war-effort, with days indirectly lost through flow-on stops to production a multiple of that. One example of the effect on Australia’s wartime production was that it sometimes took longer to build a corvette in Australia than an aircraft-carrier in America.

Keating calls Menzies cowardly and defeatist

Here is the actual record of what Menzies said at the most crucial moments in this dark period. It shows a virtually Churchillian determination to fight on, no matter what.

On October 3, 1939, with the rapid defeat of Poland, Menzies said:

“There could be no greater error than to think that because Poland lies defeated and dismembered, the cause of this war is finished … on the contrary, the war is only just beginning … we are now hearing that the war may bring Bolshevism to Europe … It is an extremely subtle piece of propaganda, and like all such propaganda, has just enough truth in it to make it appear palatable if it is not scrutinised closely …”

The Nazi invasions of Denmark and Norway shocked the world. Prime Minister Menzies said on April 10, 1940:

“As far as Australia is concerned, this grim … savagery will harden our determination to see this war through and to drive the evil spirit out of Germany.”

When the great German offensive through Belgium and France began, Menzies made a renewed call to arms on May 10, 1940:

“We are facing the greatest danger in our history. We must give our last ounce to the cause … If Britain herself were defeated, or even substantially weakened, our day as an independent nation might well be a brief one …”

On June 18, 1940, when France surrendered, a stunning blow to the alllies climaxing an unbroken series of German victories, Menzies said:

“This is not the end of the war. On the contrary, it is the beginning of its bitterest and most crucial phase. So long as Great Britain is unconquered the world can be saved, and that Britain can or will be conquered is unthinkable. We must take up our courage and work like tigers because the fate of humanity now rests with us …”

 Such is Keating’s version of “defeatism.”

During heavy air-raids on London, with hundreds killed every night, Menzies, this “vacuous dandy” and “coward”, as Keating charmingly calls him, remained in the city, working to lift morale with his speeches and to remind Britain it was not alone. No other Australian Prime Minister (and certainly not Mr Keating) has come under enemy fire while in office.

And John Curtin, the ALP leader whose patriotism Keating tries to contrast with the “defeatist” Menzies, and who left 1,500 men with the meagre air-defence of 10 Wirraway trainers to be uselessly slaughtered by the Japanese at Rabaul?

Well, as late as June 24, 1941, John Curtin would state in Parliament that: “The Labor Party has no objection whatever to the Germans practising Nazism in Germany.”

While this statement — to be fair to Curtin, naive rather than deliberately wicked — was made shortly before the Wannsee conference put the Holocaust on an industrial production-line basis. Jews and others in Germany were known to have been systematically persecuted and murdered there since the day the Nazis took power, and civil liberties of every kind to have been crushed.

One can imagine how Australian historians would have endlessly pilloried Menzies had he ever made such a statement, and what Keating would have made of it if only it had not come from the Labor side of politics. As it is, the legion of leftist and Labor historians have buried it.

Finally, Keating’s claim that Menzies neglected defence preparations against Japan is also simply false. Australia, despite the obstruction of countless strikes, had a strong home defence force by the time Japan entered World War II, and Japan appears to have never seriously contemplated invasion.

Sir Percy Joske, a distinguished judge and politician, has said in Sir Robert Menzies, 1894-1978 (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1978):

“The fact is that the war effort of the Menzies Government had been magnificent. Great judgement had been shown both in the organization of the armed forces and the civilian effort … The forces, raised from nothing, and in the face of tremendous opposition from opponents in Parliament and in the trade unions, had achieved great and glorious successes … Five months before October, 1941, when he became Prime Minister, Curtin, the Labor leader, said: ‘[I claim that the war has been prosecuted to the maximum of Australia’s capacity’.”

Comments [44]

  1. Doubting Thomas says:

    It has always amazed me how anyone can take seriously anything Paul Keating has to say about anything beyond the very narrow area of his demonstrated achievement as Treasurer in the Hawke government. I came from a similar suburban Irish-Catholic working-class background as Keating (we even shared some of the same De La Salle school-teachers), and I am familiar with his bullying type which abounded at the guttersnipe end of that milieu then and still. Keating had few if any notable achievements as Prime Minister compared with the people he likes to denigrate. As some wise person once said, a roast from a mug such as he is high praise indeed.

    • Jody says:

      Keating was and remains a hate bag. I remember his less than edifying monikers for his opponents; “unrepresentative swill”, “a dog returning to its own vomit”. Language of the gutter from a man who had to claw and fight his way out of the weatherboard wonderland of Blacktown into the Labor firmament (not much of an elevation, I grant you). Forget Keating.

    • PT says:

      Quite right Doubter. Whilst he wasn’t as great a Treasurer as he was made out to be, Keating the PM was a pale shadow of Keating the Treasurer, but 10 times as arrogant and nasty. He was prepared to destroy his own government to force Hawke out for 12 month in the top job he assumed was his by right, in part because he thought it was his only shot at it, and when he won the election to his total surprise (mostly due to a lopsided vote in NSW) extreme hubris cemented itself. It was always there, and growing ever stronger, but he thought he was some sort of god.

  2. Salome says:

    Keating’s attempts at being an ‘intellectual’ or a ‘historian’ lost me some years ago when he said we should not be grateful to the USA for helping us out of WWII, but should save our gratitude for the citizens of the Soviet Union, who lost far more lives than the Americans did. Well, it’s true, the Russians (etc), lost an awful lot of lives in that war and fought hard for victory on their particular front. But, our more proximate threat was from the Japanese, with whom the Russians didn’t have anything to do (having lost a war against them in 1903 . . .), and the Americans were most useful (when not sinking our ships with friendly fire) in helping contain and ultimately defeating them. Meanwhile, in Stalingrad, the Russians were repelling an invader. I am pretty sure that, during the siege, indeed, during the Germans’ entire Eastern Front campaign, not a single Russian thought he or she was doing it for the sake of Australia, or anywhere else. So Keating gets history wrong now? Not surprised. Odious man.

  3. en passant says:

    Three points:
    1. Salome, the Russians defeated the Japanese 6th Army in the ‘Nomohan Incident’ in 1939 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_Khalkhin_Gol). Also, the Russians attacked the Japanese in 1945 to grab as much territory as they could after the defeat of Germany.

    2. Salome, what are you referring to when you say ‘when not sinking our ships with friendly fire)’?

    3. In 1978 when I lived in Townsville, one old fellow there loudly proclaimed to me that he served time for sabotaging military equipment on the wharves that was bound for PNG. When Germany attacked Russia he said he offered to help the war effort, but this was rejected. As a good unionist he was re-employed on the wharves when released – and declared to me that he resumed his sabotage until the end of the war. He had retired by the time of Australia’s commitment to Vietnam, but hated all military. I have his name somewhere, but cannot find it and my inadequate research skills have failed to turn up his conviction (though that may have been suppressed at the time).

    Note that the RAN had to take over and load the civilian contracted supply ship the Jeparit as the unionists on the wharves would not load or sail it. This was one reason why the NVA thought that they could attack the 1ATF at Nui Dat as the defences were weak and incomplete due to a lack of defence supplies. This resulted in the iconic battle of Long Tan on 18th August 1966.

    • Salome says:

      My fault–I went out on a limb on details I should’ve left alone and got wrong. Some years ago someone (I don’t remember who it was) wrote a book about the battle of the Coral Sea, to the effect that one of our ships couldn’t have been sunk by any torpedo but an American one. Maybe it was a rogue book (perhaps, since the author was interviewed on Our ABC). And as to the Russians and the Japanese, I’m not surprised that they were seeking to grab territory, including the territory they’d lost early in the century. Shouldn’t have ventured there. But, while en passant and others seem to be delighting in tearing my historical ignorance apart, I don’t detect a word in favour of Keating’s thesis that the Russian lives lost in defending their own territory in WWII are something that Australia should be grateful for, over those of the Americans. And, ignorant though I am, I know about the unionists who refused to load the supply ships. My Dad told me about it long before Hal Colebatch wrote his book. Dad was one of the soldiers who had to make do until supplies arrived.

      • Doubting Thomas says:

        Salome, perhaps you are referring to Bruce Loxton’s (and Chris Coulthard-Clark’s) book “The Shame of Savo – Anatomy of Naval Disaster” about the sinking of HMAS Canberra in Savo Sound.

      • Keith Kennelly says:

        Salome

        You join great company here.
        We all make mistakes too.
        What makes you similar to most of us is that you admit your mistake.
        That is greatly respected in here.

  4. Ian MacDougall says:

    Salome:
    ep says:

    Note that the RAN had to take over and load the civilian contracted supply ship the Jeparit as the unionists on the wharves would not load or sail it.

    I wonder what ep’s attitude to them would have been if he had learned that Japanese stevedores in Japan, say some time after Pearl Harbour, had done the then inconceivable, and refused to load munitions and supplies for the Japanese forces heading into SE Asia, and ultimately for Australia.
    They would likely have helped prevent a huge amount of Japanese military bloodshed, apart from the Chinese, Filipino, Burmese, Vietnamese, American, British, Australian bloodshed etc. And etc again, including of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    They would have been heroes certainly in my eyes, and I would not be surprised if ep did not hold them in the highest esteem as well, as a result of gaining that knowledge.
    But then again, life is full of surprises, and nothing is inconceivable, especially where the thought of ep is concerned.

    • en passant says:

      Jody,
      Is this just robust debate from that MacBot Troll or an ad hom (which you accuse me of).

      Ian,
      You raise a pointless hypothetical about Japanese wharfies (who were often slave labour) which I will seriously answer as soon as you tell us all, O, Guru:
      1. What is the ideal concentration of CO2 that you seek? and
      2. What is the ideal average global temperature – and why?

      Please answer before your subscription expires and we nevaaaa hear from you again. However, I am willing to bet that is a lie too. I will pay you $60 if you do not renew your subscription as per your written ‘threat’.

      QoL Editor: I will also donate $60 to QoL if Ian MacBot does not renew. Of course, if he then tries later the $60 I donate is forfeited by QoL as we must all once again suffer this intolerable bore.

  5. Doubting Thomas says:

    John 11:35.

  6. David Archibald says:

    Why was Menzies dumped as Prime Minister? Apparently it was because he chose poorly with respect to the RAAF’s fighter aircraft. Curtin had far more faults though – and he never visited a military installation during the war, apart from some RAAF pilots at an airbase in the UK to which he was dragged kicking and screaming. That is why there are no photographs of Curtin visiting any bases during the war. He had no interest.

    • PT says:

      Menzies was dumped for 3 main reasons. First and foremost, Country Party leader Earle Page despised him. That’s why he lead a minority government on the outbreak of the War, as the CP withdrew from the Coalition. Second, he, even with the CP lost the majority in the 1940 election. It was a hung Parliament and he relied on two independents to stay PM. Which comes to the third reason. He was, or was represented as being intellectually arrogant and unpopular with the public. The specific issue that removed him was merely the justification. Also not serving in WWI hurt him politically.

  7. Biggles says:

    Keating’s knowledge of history is epitomised by his statement that the Australian Constitution was written by the British Foreign Office!

    • Jody says:

      Venality and a cain-like envy were both hallmarks of JP Keating. His Amani suits and Empire clocks were just a thin veneer which made him appear civilized. He talked the talk but that isn’t/wasn’t enough to convince more people than the ‘useful idiots’. Tearing down history when he screams if anybody wants to tear down physical structures. Such a hypocrite.

      • Salome says:

        Jody–not to forget his Mahler-loving (very fond of Mahler myself, but I’ve heard of, and like the music of lots of other composers as well).

        • Jody says:

          Well, he should have stuck with music!! By the way, what he said about Mahler was a load of garbage. Once again, he pretended to be an expert; instead he read the liner notes on CDs, at best. The rest he made up himself, trying to seem erudite. You see these kinds of people on the INTERNET all the time!! And it’s fitting that a windbag like Keating would admire the gas-bag symphonies of Mahler rather than the granitic, form-adhering, concise and staggeringly beautiful symphonies of Johannes Brahms.

      • LBLoveday says:

        Keating’s arrogance and ignorance was epitomised at Patrick Keating’s wedding when he ordered the Ferrari wedding cars park in a no-parking zone so as to be close-by and picked up the $900 fines. The no-parking was a safety issue, not an matter of whether the fines were trivial or bankruptcy threatening.
        He is of a horrible nature by every measure I regard as relevant.

    • Ian MacDougall says:

      Biggles:
      My understanding is that legally the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia is an Act of the British Parliament: the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900. The UK herself does not have a constitution, just a set of conventions and time-honoured ways of going about the business of government.
      None the less, our Constitution is world class, arguably better in many ways than the American one, and has served us well.

      • Doubting Thomas says:

        Half right. Our Constitution is an Act of the British Parliament. The Brits don’t have a “written” Constitution in the sense of those of the USA and Australia, but it does have a Constitution. The entire body of British law forms its constitution. It’s equally arguable – depending on your point of view – that the US Constitution is superior to ours. Right about now, we certainly could use their First Amendment.

        • Ian MacDougall says:

          The entire body of British law forms its constitution.

          DT, that is certainly one way of looking at it. But it’s a bit like saying that the entire Palace of Westminster is its own foundation stone.
          It is also arguable, and IMHO the departure point for an interesting historical investigation, that the Australian Constitution is superior to the American one, which preceded it by about 124 years. The Head of State in Australia is not an elected politician. Neither is any judge of any court at any level in the Australian system. That is a big plus.
          The American President is effectively an elected 18th C monarch, but with far far more power. So having got rid of His Majesty King George III, the Americans have finished up with His Majesty Donald Duck: I mean HM Donald Trump.

          • Doubting Thomas says:

            I’m not sure that the US President has all that much constitutional power, but as Obama – for one, and iirc, FDR before him – clearly demonstrated – there is an enormous potential for the unconstitutional abuse of power, particularly when there is a docile, uncritical and thoroughly partisan media and an impotent Congress.

            I agree with you that our Constitution is vastly superior in that our Head of State and our judges are not elected politicians. To me, this is the compelling argument against the past and, afaik, the current proposed republican movement. The situation extant is that it is possible for the overwhelming majority of Australians to dislike the Monarchy while still holding a great deal of admiration for the current Monarch. Similarly, as we have done with most if not all Governors-General since Federation, we can accept our G-Gs as appointed by the Prime Minister du jour regardless of their antecedents confident that they will act strictly constitutionally during their term.

            Any such confidence would immediately evaporate if, as an apparently large majority of republicns prefer, the G-G were to be elected. Such an individual would, of necessity, be a political animal, and is almost guaranteed to be detested by half the population, as is the US Preident in these parlous times.

            As for the Donald, I console myself that he is not Hillary Clinton, just as Malcolm Turnbull is not Bill Shorten. Small mercies, but the best of horrible choices.

  8. Aftermath says:

    Salome should be cautious in commenting on the role of the Russians in the fight against Japan without better knowledge of the situation. After being on office only since April 1945, Truman was fully occupied in discussions at the Potsdam Conference 17 July to 2 August 1945. One of the many issues concerned Russian-Chinese negotiations and the defeat of Japan. Russia wanted to take “war trophies” of Japanese properties and materiel, similar to what they had done in Germany. Russia was already planning to occupy parts of Japan, and keep the territories occupied after the war had been concluded. Recall that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Russia declared war on Japan on 9 August 1945, following the Russian promise to enter the war against Japan 3 months after the end of the war in Germany. This also gave time for Russia to shift resources to the East. In fact Russia had already crossed the frontiers of Manchuria with three attacks from the west and east involving 1.5 million troops. This massive brutal campaign lasted for a month after dropping of bomb.
    Try: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Manchuria
    Max Hastings, “Nemesis”, chapter 20
    Harry Truman, “Year of decisions”, chapters XXI and XXII.

    • en passant says:

      Aftermath,
      You are right about Russia. Salome’s erroneous (or deficient) historical knowledge is not surprising as it is no different from that of 99% of the world population. Fortunately QoL has one all-knowing blogger …

      Russia is still occupying parts of Japan as they continue to hold some islands to the north (so their submarines and fleet could have ice-free access to the North Pacific during the Cold War). They have yet to return them.

      • Salome says:

        O.K., O.K. I’ve admitted I was wrong above. So I’m as bad a historian as Keating, it would seem. I’m very sorry. I’ll save my subscription and shut up. I seem to be taken to task here for lots of things I never mentioned.

        • Ian MacDougall says:

          It’s all trivia, Salome. Stay with it: you are a breath of fresh air around this site.
          Based on his overall performance, Keating obviously concluded early on in his political career that the way to get on was to have principle: the principle being always side with power. That meant the side in power in the ALP, ie the odious NSW Right (who duly gave us Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi, Nick Di Girolamo, Ian Macdonald, & Co) and likewise in the Federal Parliament, and the wider world of international relations. There he finished up extolling the dubious virtues and making a personal friend of the Indonesian dictator and war criminal General Suharto: the butcher of East Timor, who the author Nigel Crawthorne included in his book on the 100 worst tyrants in all of human history.
          A spiv is by definition, one who dresses high and talks low. So as for the Armani, Versace or whatever livery: Keating made that spiv Arthur Daley (of Minder fame) look like something right out of the genuine top drawer. He is definitely in the Upper layer of the Australian Spivocracy himself, if not right at the top. I cannot think of an equal.

          https://www.amazon.com/Tyrants-Historys-Most-Despots-Dictators/dp/0572030258
          http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/job-offer-after-wine-gift-20140418-36wg1.html

          • Ian MacDougall says:

            Ian MacDougall
            Your comment is awaiting moderation.
            December 17, 2017 at 11:03 pm
            It’s all trivia, Salome. Stay with it: you are a breath of fresh air around this site.
            Based on his overall performance, Keating obviously concluded early on in his political career that the way to get on was to have principle: the principle being always side with power. That meant the side in power in the ALP, ie the odious NSW Right (who duly gave us Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi, Nick Di Girolamo, Ian Macdonald, & Co) and likewise in the Federal Parliament, and the wider world of international relations. There he finished up extolling the dubious virtues and making a personal friend of the Indonesian dictator and war criminal General Suharto: the butcher of East Timor, who the author Nigel Crawthorne included in his book on the 100 worst tyrants in all of human history.
            A spiv is by definition, one who dresses high and talks low. So as for the Armani, Versace or whatever livery: Keating made that spiv Arthur Daley (of Minder fame) look like something right out of the genuine top drawer. He is definitely in the Upper layer of the Australian Spivocracy himself, if not right at the top. I cannot think of an equal.

          • Ian MacDougall says:

            http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/job-offer-after-wine-gift-20140418-36wg1.html

            Messy, I know. But the only way out of the ‘awaiting moderation’ hole.

        • Doubting Thomas says:

          Please don’t shut up, Salome.

        • Keith Kennelly says:

          No don’t shut up Salome.
          Most of us admire you have the courage to accept your mistake.

          It is so rare a trait these days.

          Cheers Keith

        • Wayne Cooper says:

          No worries, Salome. BTW, Emperor Hirohito was prepared to enter into a treaty of surrender following the example set by his grandfather who had similarly entered into such a treaty in 1895. Given that 10 years later (in 1905) Japan was once again a military power, he was aware that it was not fatal for a country to surrender, nor was it always dishonourable. Without that historical family precedent, it is likely that the military and political classes would have continued to fight the war, even against Stalin’s forces.

        • en passant says:

          Salome,
          You made an error of fact (as we all do, except Ian MacDougall who knows everything {except how much CO2 we need in the atmosphere and the average global temperature he seeks]).

          Fortunately, he has PROMISED not to renew his subscription (and I accept him at his solemn word), so we need more rational bloggers and debate, so please continue.

          There are 38 comments so far. Ian has 9 (24%) so we have a lot of new bloggers needed.

  9. Aftermath says:

    Congratulations to Salome for acknowledging that she made some errors in her original post. She also made some good points originally and in the subsequent ones, so I would encourage her to keep contributing to these QOL comments. Salome, if your comments are thoughtful you may have occasions to inspire the rest of us to refine our thinking. You will soon work out which commentators are knowledgeable and helpful, and which ones have such a blinkered view of reality that honest and serious debate cannot proceed.

  10. Keith Kennelly says:

    Salome,

    ‘And it’s fitting that a windbag like Keating would admire the gas-bag symphonies of Mahler rather than the granitic, form-adhering, concise and staggeringly beautiful symphonies of Johannes Brahms.’

    It is also fitting you should ignore the comments, such as this, that may offend.

    You said you enjoyed Mahler, I think it marvoulous you have an appreciation of music for the sake of music.

    Merry Christmas.

  11. Keith Kennelly says:

    Jody

    Nobody owns Mahler around here but you definitely own all the nsults.