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Entitlement and responsibility: a personal odyssey

By Russell Grenning - posted Thursday, 28 December 2017

As one of the baby boomer generation, I was bought up on a non-stop political diet of strong, even hysterical, anti-communism. My parents were avid supporters of Prime Minister Menzies and the Liberals and it was a miracle really that I didn't spend most of the 1950s and early 1960s shivering with fear in my bed, wondering if there were any Reds under it.

Certainly, I was made aware very early on of the dire threat of the downward thrust of communism. The unspoken but clear implication was that hordes of Asiatic pagan commies were poised – like the Japanese before them during World War 11 – to rape and pillage, to defile our womenfolk and to enslave decent white Christians.

Only Mr (later Sir Robert) Menzies, the USA and what was left of the rapidly dwindling British Empire stood between us and them.


Predictably, I became a keen Young Liberal and, of course, passionately endorsed and defended our valiant stand with our noble allies in South Vietnam against The Red Menace. Then came 1969 and I turned 20.

The Government had already introduced conscription and, when you turned 20, your birth date marble went into a big barrel which was rotated and if your birth date marble popped out, then it was into the Army and, very possibly, to Vietnam. The Government even televised this ghastly lottery which was not made even vaguely appealing for apprehensive 20 year old boys by having a comely young lass in a bikini as the barrel girl.

And, yes, fate decided that my marble would drop and for quite some time I contemplated two years in the Army plus another three in the Reserve and I had pause to reflect upon our involvement in Vietnam. My father, a Returned Man, considered it would make a man of me (just what that meant was left undescribed but it sounded ominous) while my mother was understandably concerned about the possible fate of her first born.

I could hardly claim that I was a conscientious objector given my earnest Young Liberal history or any sort of moral objection since, until the day of the lottery, I believed our involvement in South Vietnam was the high moral ground.

What I did know was that I had not been born to become a target – literally – for some crazed commie fanatic in black pyjamas. I also reviewed my opinion of the South Vietnamese Government and came to the very reasonable conclusion that it was nothing but a corrupt, ramshackle, self-serving bunch of thugs and crooks. Certainly not even worth fighting for let alone dying for.

Very possibly, there is a word for this and, again very possibly, the word is cowardice. However, I banished that thought and decided that my objection to the war – well, my objection to becoming part of the front-line in it – was rational, enlightened, progressive and idealistic and certainly not the least bit selfish.


Then, joy of joys, I failed the medical and was drummed out even before I was drummed in. My father was given to dark mutterings about the general state of young people today while my mother could hardly conceal her delight at the news that I was medically unfit which was strange given that in earlier years if I had the slightest cough or sniffle I was whisked off to Dr Browne for a full battery of tests.

The following year – 1970 – I turned 21 and was allowed to vote which I did in the half-Senate election that year. And yes, I had sufficiently recovered my patriotism to vote for the Coalition team. No hypocrisy here at all – I had come to realise that despite my temporary misgivings the year before, I had to help defend the nation against the Dead Hand of Socialism which Opposition Leader Whitlam and his cronies threatened.

It was around this time that I came to regard old people – some even older than my parents which meant really, really old – as a general drain on the community and pretty much useless. While I stopped short of advocating compulsory euthanasia for anybody over 60 or so, I didn't think it was my responsibility once I entered the work force to pay for geriatric indulgences like medicines, care and accommodation. I resented – not necessarily privately – these old farts living off my hard-earned dollars.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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