The Sunday Age’s grouchy international affairs reporter Tom Hyland has desperately attempted to cobble together what’s left of the reputation of disgraced and deposed former state government veterans’ heritage officer and former draft dodger, Garrie Hutchinson.
Hutchinson was forced to resign this week from his post after disquiet from Aussie diggers over the government employing a former propagandist for Australia’s enemies to promote the heritage of veterans.
HIS LITTLE MATE
VEXNEWS has learned that Hyland and Hutchinson are mates, mixing in the same social circles and having a number of good friends in common in lefty journalist circles. This was not disclosed in Hyland’s story today in the Sunday Age. The closest we got to an admission about this was the disclosure that Hutchinson “once” worked at The Age.
In his account he launches a scorching and snide attack on veteran Sasha Uzonov, a freelance journalist and military affairs expert published by Fairfax and News Limited.
A Vietnam Veteran who reacted to the smear article this morning told VEXNEWS “It’s funny how brave these blokes are – who wouldn’t fight a totalitarian regime – when it comes to shooting the messenger who wants to tell the truth about their hypocrisy.”
“Call me crazy, but draft dodgers shouldn’t be able to cash in on the sacrifice of those braver than them. Most of us think they’re scum, that’s the inconvenient truth. Only now do we feel able to talk about these things because your generation isn’t as easily sucked in by the far left’s lies and the emotion of that era. The wheel is finally turning on all this stuff.”
MUDDYING THE MURKY WATERS OF HYLAND’S CONFESSION OF BETRAYAL
The most curious aspect of Hyland’s coverage is his attempt to muddy the waters about one crucial fact. Hutchinson – while dodging the draft – showed “National Liberation Front” (Viet Cong) films in England.
It is this fact that disgusts many Vietnam veterans and that made Hutchinson’s appointment politically unviable.
Hyland asserts there’s a “cyber-jungle” of misunderstandings about this issue. There is in fact no confusion about whether Garrie Hutchinson at all. He insists that the author of a highly regarded book on the Vietnam quoted in Uzonov’s coverage, Andrew Landeryou’s blog and subsequent VEXNEWS and Herald Sun reporting didn’t interview the draft dodger Hutchinson.
He didn’t need to. The military historian Ham was directly referring to Hutchinson’s book “Not Going to Vietnam” and quoting directly from it. All the attempts to downplay it and create confusion about it don’t survive much scrutiny.
In Not Going to Vietnam, he wrote: “I remember Tet as a defeat (for the Vietcong), one of the most depressing events of 1968. I didn’t think the NLF (National Liberation Front) could win, and this was an important factor in my leaving Australia.”
Hutchinson went to England, where he spent weeks showing “NLF propaganda films”.
Let’s consider Hyland’s account in detail.
Tom Hyland August 17, 2008
Tousands (sic) of anti-Vietnam protesters engulf Melbourne Town Hall in June 1971
SOME wars, it seems, never end, even those fought long ago and far away.
Tomorrow is Vietnam Veterans Day, held on the anniversary of a battle fought in 1966 by 100 Australian soldiers at a place called Long Tan, South Vietnam. Eighteen Australians died. At least 245 enemy soldiers were killed.
The Australians won the battle, but lost the war. South Vietnam, the country they were sent to defend, no longer exists.
VEXNEWS: A victory partly contributed to by the ferocity of those who opposed American and Australian intervention there to oppose the murderous communist regime that took over Vietnam, killing over a million people directly and countless more indirectly.
Australia’s Vietnam War officially ended in 1972, but another war is still being fought. It’s a fight over remembrance, over ownership of tradition, over who served and who didn’t, over the limits of dissent, and who was right and who was wrong in a war that divided the nation.
VEXNEWS: What’s perfectly amazing is the arrogance of those like Tom Hyland and Garrie Hutchinson who think it’s perfectly compatible to be fanatically opposed to the Vietnam War, even to the point of promoting the enemy that was killing Australians, and then cash in from writing about the events. There is no fight over “ownership of tradition”. The tradition of sacrifice for the nation is owned by those willing to do the sacrificing. Those who avoided service – for whatever reason – simply do have less of a claim on Aussie military tradition than those who did. The fact that needs to be stated – by this author who even avoided the Scouts let alone the Armed Forces – shows just how disingenuous Hyland’s piece gets.
The latest nasty little skirmish in that other war involves Garrie Hutchinson, a state public servant whose work centred on military commemoration and heritage, honouring the dead and educating young people about distant wars fought long ago.
VEXNEWS: A laughably generous description that glosses over Hutchinson’s own admission that he exhibited propaganda films for the murderous communist regime that took over Vietnam that killed Australian troops.
The controversy shows that, for some, the battle lines are still entrenched, with wounds unhealed and grievances unresolved.
In this battle, pragmatic state politics intersected with the sometimes fractious and anguished politics of veterans’ groups. Conflicting memories have collided and old fights have been re-fought in a shadowy cyber-jungle of half-truths and misunderstanding.
At issue was whether Mr Hutchinson’s record â€” he opposed Australia’s role in Vietnam, resisted compulsory military service and, according to critics, supported Australia’s enemies â€” disqualified him from any official commemorative role.
VEXNEWS: But it’s not “according to critics”, it’s according to Garrie Hutchinson who clearly admitted promoting the Viet Cong cause in his book “Not Going To Vietnam”.
The opening round was fired by freelance journalist Sasha Uzunov, a man on a curious crusade.
On August 5, Uzunov sent to newsrooms and websites a “news story” headlined: “Vietnam veterans furious as govt employs draft dodger”.
Uzunov said he had been contacted by “angry” veterans after they learned Mr Hutchinson, “a notorious Vietnam war draft dodger and Vietcong supporter”, was working in the veterans unit of the Department of Planning and Community Development.
The item cited a paragraph in military historian Paul Ham’s book Vietnam – The Australian War, published last November, that said Mr Hutchinson regretted the defeat of Vietcong guerillas in the 1968 Tet Offensive, and that he avoided conscription by travelling to Britain, where he helped display propaganda films produced by the National Liberation Front (the Vietcong).
Uzunov’s item quoted an unidentified veteran saying Mr Hutchinson, who has written widely on pilgrimages to battlefields and war graves, was “making money from war tourism”. The item did not reveal that the reference in Ham’s book was a partial quote taken from a memoir published by Mr Hutchinson in 1999.
On the same day, a version of Uzunov’s story appeared on Melbourne blogger Andrew Landeryou’s site, illustrated by a white feather, a symbol of cowardice. The Landeryou piece included extracts from an interview Mr Hutchinson gave to the ABC’s Geraldine Doogue in 2006, in which he described himself as a “draft resister”.
Variations of the Uzunov/Landeryou stories then appeared in an online forum used by veterans, where Mr Hutchinson was called a traitor and a coward. These accounts made their way to official veterans’ groups, including the RSL.
VEXNEWS: Without wanting to be unnecessarily rude, he actually was a traitor. By his own account, he campaigned for Australia’s enemies at time of war.
Last Monday, six days after Uzunov sent his email, the Herald Sun reported that Mr Hutchinson’s government job â€” his official title was senior project officer, veterans’ heritage â€” had outraged veterans.
A State Government spokeswoman was quoted as saying Mr Hutchinson’s work in commemoration and military heritage was “exemplary”, that he had the Government’s “full support”, and that his views on Vietnam were well known.
VEXNEWS: They can be such fair weather friends in the Premier’s media unit. They soon dropped him like a hot spud.
The following day, the Herald Sun reported the “stand-off” over Mr Hutchinson had “intensified”. It asserted Mr Hutchinson had “fled Australia to avoid national service”, and that veterans were threatening to confront Premier John Brumby about the issue on Vietnam Veterans Day.
By now, the Government’s “full support” was wavering.
On Tuesday, Assistant Veterans Affairs Minister Tony Robinson met RSL state president David McLachlan, who warned that relations between the Government and veterans would be undermined if Mr Hutchinson remained in his job.
On Wednesday, in an attempt to avoid damage to the veterans’ unit, Mr Hutchinson asked to be moved to another position, a decision the Herald Sun reported under the headline “Draft dodger ducks out”.
Retired Major-General McLachlan, the RSL president, said the issue was not that Mr Hutchinson had opposed conscription and involvement in Vietnam.
“What we can not accept is the fact that when we had Australians in harm’s way, he went and moved in a positive way to support the enemy we were fighting. That’s the issue. We felt, and we still feel, that was an inappropriate act.”
He said Mr Hutchinson, in interviews with Ham and Doogue, “still continued to proffer that what he was doing was appropriate”.
VEXNEWS: Thus commences an utterly bizarre attempt to muddy the waters on Hutchinson’s self-admitted propagandising for the mass-murdering communist Vietnamese regime.
In fact, Mr Hutchinson was never interviewed by Ham (VEXNEWS: He quoted Hutchinson’s book), and the transcript of the Doogue interview shows he made no statement in support of the Vietcong. He did talk about a visit to Long Tan, where he met a retired Vietcong officer who was “very respectful” of his former Australian enemies.
VEXNEWS: Doogue’s interview has been quoted by Landeryou’s blog saying that he wasn’t a draft dodger, but a draft resister.
General McLachlan told The Sunday Age he had not read Mr Hutchinson’s books (VEXNEWS: Scandalous!), including his Pilgrimage: A Traveller’s Guide to Australia’s Battlefields, published in 2006, in which Mr Hutchinson wrote that “Australia came out of the (Vietnam) conflict with its military reputation enhanced”.
Nor was he aware that Mr Hutchinson wrote that, in opposing the war, it was still possible to support the men and women involved, and that: “I still regret that we did not make that point strongly enough.”
(VEXNEWS: Amazing isn’t it that Hyland just happened to have handy a book-marked and talking-pointed copy of the book by his bed-side table. Or perhaps more likely supposedly mute public servant Garrie Hutchinson might be attempting to protect his military historian writing brand from his past catching up with him.)
In any case, this did not amount to an apology, General McLachlan said.
“You’ve got to look at it in the eyes of someone who served in Vietnam. I served in Vietnam, I lost three of my dearest friends in Vietnam who were killed and I can never get over the fact that some people were working against us.”
He said Mr Hutchinson’s job included taking student winners of the Premier’s Spirit of Anzac awards on tours to Vietnam: “What would he be telling those children?” The government website shows Mr Hutchinson has never escorted students to Vietnam.
VEXNEWS: What he presumably wasn’t telling the school-kids was that Aussie veterans were spat out and treated dreadfully on their return from Vietnam, causing incredible pain after a horribly difficult conflict. The Left won the argument just as clearly as the communists won Vietnam. They succeeded in turning the idealistic and noble cause of defending freedom in Vietnam into imperialist villainy.
Mr Hutchinson, who in the past has written for The Age, declined to be quoted for this article, citing his continuing work as a public servant.
VEXNEWS: Hutchinson clearly actively contributed to this story, providing private briefings to his mate Hyland. His “public service” is clearly akin to the former Iraqi Information Minister who would provide laughably obvious propaganda for Saddam Hussein’s regime)
In the past 15 years, after making what he has described as a life-changing visit to Gallipoli, he has written five books on military history and pilgrimage.
VEXNEWS: Hutchinson says he regrets the fact that his campaigns against those fighting in Vietnam didn’t acknowledge the courage and effectiveness of the young Aussies involved. This regret hasn’t manifested itself in handing over the proceeds in terms of royalties that he’s milking out of writing about wars he didn’t fight in.
Last month, he played a key role in organising the installation of the Cobbers statue at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance, on the anniversary of the 1916 Battle of Fromelles, in which 5533 Australians were killed, wounded or captured. It was, wrote historian Ross McMullin, the worst 24 hours in Australian history.
VEXNEWS: A joint Federal-State government initiative, the Victorian government put up the money. Hutchinson was just a humble public servant a few pars before. When it suits though, he’s played a “key role” in what was a funding decision actually well above his pay-grade.
Mr McMullin, a friend of Mr Hutchinson, told The Sunday Age: “For many years Garrie Hutchinson has been genuine, active and effective in spreading awareness about Australia’s military heritage through his writing, photography and pilgrimages.
VEXNEWS: Which is not be discouraged really. But his attitude is well worth discouraging. It’s like the old bloke is stuck in a groove called 1968. Nothing he did was wrong. Campaigning for the cause of a vicious, blood-thirsty totalitarian communist regime? Just youthful indiscretion. Fleeing to England? Just travelling there, happened to pick up some Viet Cong propaganda films and a Soviet financed film projector. Draft dodging? We prefer “resisting”, sounds braver. The spin is intense enough to induce vomiting.
“No one was more influential than him in bringing the splendid sculpture Cobbers to the Shrine to commemorate the under-recognised Battle of Fromelles.
VEXNEWS: Possibly the Victorian and Australian taxpayers who paid for it might put up their hand for some credit too.
“In view of this outstanding contribution, it is lamentable that his frank and insightful 1999 memoir of what it was like to be a young person participating in the anti-war movement four decades ago should become the basis of an attempt to make him persona non grata in military heritage matters today.”
VEXNEWS: So this is a veiled concession – finally – that Hutchinson did admit to promoting the enemy’s cause when in England. Can’t imagine why that might tend to make him “persona non grata in military heritage matters”. In a world-view where every government is the moral equivalent of the other, I suppose Hutchinson could be entitled to be whatever he wants. Pol Pot a human rights advocate. Pauline Hanson an expert on racial tolerance. Tom Hyland lecturing others on fair and balanced journalism.
Did Mr Hutchinson flee Australia to avoid the draft? He left in 1969, but returned in 1970 and used the courts to resist registering for national service until 1972 when conscription was ended.
VEXNEWS: His own book concedes he left Australia to avoid the draft and to show enemy propaganda films.
Like General McLachlan, Vietnam Veterans Association state president Bob Elworthy says the issue is not whether Mr Hutchinson opposed conscription, but whether he supported the enemy.
“It took courage to be a conscientious objector, but we’re not just talking about objection,” he said. “What we’re talking about is talking up the enemy.”
Mr Elworthy said he wanted the Hutchinson issue to “go away, because it’s caused a lot of angst to people. I only speak on behalf of my members. I’ve got my own personal opinions,” he said.
He denied the controversy had exposed enduring divisions between those who served in Vietnam and those who didn’t, “unless the issue raises itself, like it did in the case of Garrie Hutchinson”.
So how did the issue raise itself? Mr Elworthy said: “It came to the attention of people through a fellow called Sasha Uzunov.”
VEXNEWS: How dare this young ingrate not respect the Flower Power’s great victory in the late 1960s.
Last Thursday, after Mr Hutchinson stepped aside from his position, Uzunov issued an email describing himself as a “fearless freelance photo-journalist” and boasting he had broken a story “that others seem to be too afraid to raise”.
VEXNEWS: The Age mentioned it eventually. After it was the biggest state political story of the day, reported on television news and Hutchinson had resigned in disgrace.
Uzunov, a former soldier who served in East Timor, describes himself as a military affairs expert. He complains he is not taken seriously by mainstream journalists who are jealous of his claimed expertise. His self-published stories include emails in which he demands that men who were of military age in the 1960s justify why they didn’t serve in the army.
VEXNEWS: To be fair, those cashing in on military cred were asked the same question Bill Clinton was asked when he was running to be President. Why didn’t you serve? It’s a perfectly legitimate question despite Hyland’s spin. Eddie McGuire doesn’t have to have played footy for Collingwood to be a sports commentator, that’s true. But if he’d played three hundred games, there’s no doubt he’d be held in higher regard, even if the journalism was exactly the same.
He says if you believe in the Anzac legend, you must serve in uniform.
VEXNEWS: Hyland appears to have just made that up. It’s obviously an absurd claim.
His email targets include Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, writer Les Carlyon and journalist Ray Martin. Some do not reply.
But in 2004, according to Uzunov, Martin did: “I found your fax offensive, but I’ll answer it. Being a patriot, eulogising the Anzac legend, etc, doesn’t require anyone to volunteer to fight a senseless, immoral war.”
VEXNEWS: Ray Martin has a view that defending the Vietnamese freedom from communist takeover was “senseless” and “immoral”. There’s no question that it was difficult. And that the mission failed. A communist police state governs Vietnam to this day. Its legacy is millions dead. Its legacy includes driving millions of refugees out of the country, people who took their chances with the sharks and pirates and treacherous seas rather than deal with certain death and misery in that imprisoned nation. They are the ones left out of this debate about Vietnam. Ask those who fled Vietnam whether defending their freedom and their country was “senseless” and “immoral” and whether Australia is somehow the moral equivalent of the Stalinist regime that rules Vietnam.
Perhaps you need to work at The Age like Tom Hyland to reach the level of sophistication required to forgive those who betray their country, to create doubt about someone’s guilt when they’ve already admitted the crime, to diminish the cause of freedom to the same level as a tawdry and blood-soaked police state and to devise clever arguments about why we should do nothing when the grim reaper of genocide or totalitarianism cuts a swathe through innocent people’s lives.
Tom Hyland would do well to remember the old saying, popular in his time, the next time he feels the need to blunder in and defend the Garrie Hutchinson. If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.