Our mission for this new millenium

Tom Uren

It was 87 years ago this Anzac Day that our gallant forces landed on Gallipoli. Although our Federation of States was created by becoming the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, many believe our European nation was born on the cliffs of Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Our nation was united by a collective spirit for our forces in their heroic and treacherous landing at Gallipoli.

We recently experienced a similar pride of unity when our military forces served with distinction in their peacekeeping role in East Timor, where they carried out a deep debt that we owed to the gallant Timorese for their unselfish sacrifices in support of our Australian forces in World War Two.

It is time that we looked back at the last century to the great loss Australia suffered by being involved in wars that were solely in the interest of the British Empire - the two most significant being the Boer War and World War One. I am not depreciating in any way, the great service and sacrifice our armed forces made in those conflicts, but I question the wisdom of Australia's political leadership in our involvement in a war so far away.

There are some journalists today who have not known or experienced the horror of war, but who crusade about the importance of Australia's involvement in the First World War. In France, in the battle of the Somme, at Fromelles and Pozieres, we lost thousands of our young people. The casualties in seven weeks on the western front were over 23,000, three times the number at Gallipoli.

I've never been to Gallipoli, but I've walked through the military cemeteries in France and Belgium; and it angers me that the British General, Lord Haigh, who butchered not only Australian Troops but also the British forces in those cruel years, is immortalised by a statue in Westminster. Sixty thousand of our young Australian men and women perished during active service in the First World War. Australia in that period had a population of only five million. Can you imagine what that huge loss of life meant to our nation?

We lost the cream of our young people. Apart from the heartbreak, our young nation had to combat the loss of skills and productivity - not to mention the enormous cost to federal revenue of pension payments - hospitalisation and medical costs to service our veterans, many of whom were gassed and broken for the rest of their lives.

Of all the wars of the twentieth century, it is my belief that World War Two was a just war in the interests of world freedom and liberty, particularly for the Australian people and their future.

I want to speak personally about some of my experiences in that conflict. I joined the Royal Australian Artillery in October 1939 and transferred to the AIF in 1941. My overseas service was in West Timor, where I was taken a Prisoner-of-War by the Japanese in February 1942. Later, as a POW, I served in Java, Singapore, on the Burma-Thai railway, back to Singapore, and then I spent the last years of the war in Japan. I was in Omula, about 80 kilometres as the crow flies from Nagasaki, and saw the discolouration of the sky when the atomic bomb exploded over that city on 9 August 1945.

During World War Two, 550,000 Australians saw active service, but no division or group of people suffered such casualities or sadistic treatment as the men and women of the 8th Division and its Corp troops. The 22,000 members of our force were spread out in the defence of the Malayian Peninsular, the Dutch East Indies (Indone