Tuesday, February 20, 2007

REDGUM: I Was Only 19

Back in the 1970’s Brian Medlin, Greg O’Hair and others in the Flinders University Philosophy Department created a course in Marxism-Leninism into which a number of anti-war and anti-imperialist activists enrolled.

One of the issues tackled by the course was the applicability of Chairman Mao’s theories on art to the situation in an advanced capitalist nation, albeit one itself oppressed by imperialism.

Out of this came the band Redgum.

The three originators of the band, John Schumann, Mick Atkinson and Verity Truman were all active in the anti-war movement.

I first new Mick when he was at Underdale High, where there was a group of students keen to find out what was happening at my school, where we had established a student underground movement and were bringing out leaflets on a regular basis.

Verity was a very good comrade, and identified with the CPA(M-L) and the Worker-Student Alliance.
Redgum's first album was "If You Don't Fight You Lose". The title was the fighting slogan of the Builders Laborers Federation, the most militant Australian union at the time, led by CPA(M-L) Vice-Chairman Norm Gallagher. The album cover art featured an Aussie battler taking an axe to a US base in the outback (see recent posts on US bases in Australia).
After several very successful albums, John was inspired by discussion with a Vietnam vet to write the song "I Was Only 19", a damning condemnation of the use by the imperialists of Australian youth as cannon fodder in Vietnam. (Access Redgum mp3's and lyrics here.)

It would have been easy to have written something sloganistic in the atmosphere that prevailed amongst anti-imperialists at that time; instead John wrote a piece that expressed the viewpoint of the boys who went off to war, and then suffered afterwards through their exposure to Agent Orange.

The song was a number 1 hit and prompted an enquiry into the effects of Agent Orange on Australian servicemen who had been in Vietnam.

From time to time some right-wing idiot will write to the capitalist press to remind us all that Vietnam vets were spat on by anti-war protesters when they came back from Vietnam.

Personally, I never heard of this happening, although it would be silly to deny that it may have happened on the odd occasion.

The fact remains, though, that the most eloquent plea for understanding the plight of the ordinary soldier came from the ranks of the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement.

Listen and reflect.

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