US-Australia alliance: an axis of evil

When the visit of US President Barack Obama was announced last month, an official White House statement said he “is looking forward to commemorating the 70th anniversary of Australia-US relations”. Far from being a cause of celebration, the anniversary represents 70 years of cooperation in attacks, invasions and occupations in the pursuit of economic dominance and profit for a handful of obscenely rich people in both countries — a 70-year axis of evil pitting working people from Australia and the US against working people resisting imperialist exploitation.

This alliance for profit-driven slaughter is as strong today as it has ever been. In response to the announcement of Obama’s planned visit, Kevin Rudd told ABC News on February 2: “We have a whole truckload of areas of military cooperation and to work out where we go in the future together.” When Rudd visited the US in March last year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared: “America doesn’t have a better friend in the world than Australia. A friend through good times and hard times.” It is, in fact, a “friendship” saturated in the blood of the victims of their joint war efforts.

British Empire wanes

On January 8, 1940, the governments of the United States and Australia announced the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. Australia was already officially at war, having immediately followed Britain’s declaration of war on September 3, 1939. At this time the Australian capitalist ruling class still saw its interests tied firmly to the British Empire and its global trade and military strength. However, Britain could not defend the Australian capitalist ruler’s interests from the rapidly advancing Japanese imperial forces. When the Japanese army moved into Australia’s New Guinea colony, Canberra turned decisively toward reliance on an alliance with Washington to protect Australian corporate interests in Asia and the Pacific. The US capitalist rulers needed a willing strategic and logistic base for its war drive against its Japanese imperialist rival.

The inability of European colonial powers ravaged by war to hold onto their colonies at the end of World War II opened the door for an upsurge of national liberation struggles, particularly in Asia. The example of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the influence of the USSR meant that many of these struggles took on socialist aspirations. The close relationship between US and Australian imperialist ruling classes was forged in their common struggle to crush the worker-peasant anti-imperialist revolutions throughout Asia.

Robert Menzies (Australian PM in 1940 and then again from 1949 to 1963) was a virulent anti-communist who espoused the theory of “forward defence”, which he described: “We either commit ourselves with great friends and allies or we do not. If we do not, then we must attend to our own defence … If there is a war of our own existence it should be carried out as far from our soil as possible.” By “a war of our own existence”, Menzies meant a war for the existence of Australian imperialist capitalism. “Forward defence” was used to justify the wars for defence of US and Australian corporate profits that underlies the US-Australian alliance.

Military intervention in Malaya

Britain and Australia used their militaries to advance the interests of their own ruling classes, whenever possible in alliance with Washington. In 1950, Australia sent Royal Australian Air Force transport planes and bombers to help British colonialism fight the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the refounding of the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army, the guerrilla force that had been the principal resistance in Malaya against the Japanese occupation. The Malayan “emergency” was the term used by the British colonial government for the war against the MNLA because the British owners of rubber plantations and tin mines in Malaya demanded use of the term “emergency” rather than war so that their losses would be covered by insurers. The MNLA called it the “Anti-British National Liberation War”. The combined use of massacres, heavy bombing, paid spies, the forced relocation of some 500,000 rural Malays into concentration camps and, most critically, the playing off of different ethnic groups against each other allowed the British and Australian forces to eventually defeat the MNLA. This took until 1960, and from 1955 to 1960 Australia sent thousands of troops to fight against the MNLA.

Korean War

In August 1945, with Japan defeated, Korea’s workers and peasants rose in revolution. Grassroots “people’s committees” mushroomed and took sweeping control of industry and the land. On September 6, independence fighters and representatives of the people’s committees proclaimed a Korean People’s Republic in Seoul on the basis of a 27-point program. The key points related to land redistribution, nationalisation of major industries, rent control, an eight-hour work day and a guaranteed minimum wage.

Washington and Moscow had agreed during the war to jointly oversee Korea’s “decolonisation” on either side of a “temporary” border at the 38th parallel. The US immediately set up a counter-revolutionary government, the US Military Government in Korea (USMGIK), which began the brutal suppression of the working people’s committees. The USMGIK banned strikes and ordered the people’s committees to disband. The director of the US Department of Transportation described the US military’s role as strikebreakers: “We were out to break that thing up and we didn’t have time to worry too much if a few innocent people got hurt. We set up concentration camps outside of town and held strikers there when the jails got too full. It was war.”

The USMGIK oversaw sham elections in the south in 1948, creating a still-existing partition of Korea. Despite the brutal repression, workers in the south continued resisting and large uprisings kept occurring. Finally, after a long debate among the Communists in the north, they decided to help liberate the workers and peasants of the south and sent their army across the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950. The unpopular Republic of Korea regime in the south began to rapidly collapse, with masses of ROK Army soldiers deserting en masse to Communist-led Korean People’s Army. By September, the US-ROK forces held only 10% of Korean territory.

On September 15, 1950, the US and its imperialist allies, including Australia, began a massive offensive against the KPA forces, pouring in reinforcements from occupation bases in Japan under cover of a heavy naval artillery and aerial bombardment. After retaking the south, the imperialist forces overran the north, but were then driven back to the 38th parallel by a combined Chinese-KPA counter-offensive. Over the next two years, the areas controlled by the two sides would remain virtually the same. In July 1953 an armistice was signed. Four million Koreans had died, two-thirds of them civilians. US carpet bombing destroyed 75% of North Korea’s cities and villages. China lost at least 114,000 soldiers, and the US lost 36,934. Of the 17,000 Australians who fought in the Korean War; 339 died and 1200 were wounded.

The US-Australian war on Vietnam

Most people have some idea of the history of the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. Less well known is the part US imperialism played in actually starting the war. After the Viet Minh resistance fighters defeated France, they were forced into an international agreement in 1954 that partitioned Vietnam pending national elections (under international supervision) to be held by 1956. Like Korea, the agreement created two governments separated by a temporary demarcation line (known as the demilitarised zone) against the wishes of the Vietnamese people. The “international community” (i.e. the US and its imperialist allies) forced a partition and were not interested in elections because they would not allow the whole of Vietnam to be communist. US President Dwight Eisenhower later wrote, “80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh”.

Washington backed a brutal puppet regime in South Vietnam, hailing sham elections as “democracy” and supplying military aid and trainers. When US officials realised that its South Vietnamese puppet regime could not survive against the popular uprising being waged by the workers and peasants, it mobilised and drafted the young men of its own working class (and lost nearly 60,000 of them) to show the whole Third World the price in lives they would pay if they challenged US domination. Australia’s rulers willingly joined in the war and also introduced conscription. More than 50,000 Australians fought against Vietnamese self-determination, of whom 520 died and around 2400 were wounded. More than 4 million civilians died in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the war, and more than 1 million Vietnamese died fighting for their freedom.

While the US and its allies used similar tactics to those the British used in Malaya, they were defeated and driven out of Vietnam by a population convinced of revolution and by mass anti-war movements in the US and in allied countries like Australia. The anti-war movement cut through government and corporate propaganda and revealed the truth that working people in the US and Australia had more in common with the Vietnamese workers and peasants fighting for independence than they did with the fat cats of industry who were pushing the war.

Indonesia and East Timor

The policies of nationalising foreign-owned business and supporting strong unions pushed by Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno from 1945 to 1965 did not suit the interests of Australian and US big business. The Australian and US government’s supported the right-wing military coup of General Suharto in 1965. They continued to support Suharto’s military dictatorship right up until its demise in 1998. In the course of establishing this dictatorship, between 500,000 and 2 million Indonesians were slaughtered by the military and right-wing militias. Hundreds of thousands of people were detained and many of them were tortured.

Canberra knew in advance of the October 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Memos, cables and letters sent and received by Australia’s foreign department between 1974 and 1976 confirmed that PM Gough Whitlam’s Labor government gave tacit approval to Suharto for annexation of the former Portuguese colony. In March 1975, the US ambassador to Indonesia, David Newsom, recommended a “policy of silence” on the Suharto regimes plans to invade East Timor. On October 8, 1975, a member of the US National Security Council, Philip Habib, told an NSC meeting: “It looks like the Indonesians have begun the attack on Timor”. US secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s response to Habib was, “I’m assuming you’re really going to keep your mouth shut on this subject”. Australia and the US both provided weapons and training to the Indonesian military during its invasion and occupation of East Timor.

Global war

In the last decade, we have seen the US-led invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, actively assisted by Australia. These wars, supposedly against “Islamic terrorism”, are really being waged against Third World countries that won’t make themselves “free and open” to super-exploitation by US or allied capitalists. Socialists in southern Yemen are labelled al Qaeda by the US to justify attacking them. Trade unionists resisting exploitation, whether in Iraq or Colombia, are labelled terrorists. The revolutionary socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela are accused by the US of sponsoring “terrorists”, while Washington actively supports groups committed to carrying out terrorist attacks in both countries. Australian politicians parrot US politicians, saying that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are for “democracy” despite majority opposition to the wars in the countries occupied and the countries occupying, and almost everywhere else in the world. Today the imperialist politicians use the same tricks as they did last century: sham elections, indiscriminate bombing, puppet regimes, political assassinations, widespread detention and torture.

These wars and the US-Australian alliance are only for the benefit of the capitalist ruling classes in both countries — the same bosses who will risk workers’ safety to make more money, the same bosses who let people die waiting for medical treatment because they can’t pay up front. The capitalist ruling class does not have any regard for the lives of workers when there are profits to be made, whether or not the workers wave the same national flag as the capitalists. Working people in Australia and the US are duped into fighting and supporting (or staying silent about) these wars through the nationalist illusion that workers’ interests are the same as their capitalist bosses simply because they live in the same country and speak the same language.

In an October 11, 2009, TVNZ interview, Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, stated: “I think Australia ... in the last 10 years, has ascended to one of the closest one or two allies on the planet, so very hard to think of any issues in which the United States and Australia are not coordinating on, whether it’s Indonesia, whether it’s Afghanistan, whether it’s Iraq, and so generally speaking there is a desire to work as closely as possible with Australia, because of what it does, what it has done and will continue to do with the United States.” What the Australian nation-state has done and continues to do with the US rulers is to inflict death and destruction on working people in order to protect the global system of capitalist exploitation and oppression. Their alliance is an axis of evil that needs to be fought against and ended.

[Hamish Chitts is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and one of the founders of Stand Fast — a group of veterans and military service people against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For information about Stand Fast visit the Stand Fast website or phone 0401 586 923.]