Dear Dr Spence,
I was invited to speak to students at the University of Sydney at lunch-time on 11 March 2015 in a session chaired by Dr Gil Merom, one of your senior lecturers.
My subject was ethical dilemmas of military operations in relation to recent conflicts. I had intended to engage with students, present my practical experiences as a British military commander and stimulate a discussion.
Shortly after I had introduced my talk, covering the principles of necessity, proportionality and discrimination as they apply under the laws of armed conflict and giving examples from my experience in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, the event was disrupted by the forceful entry of a group of students.
They entered the room aggressively and noisily. They had a loud-speaker set at full volume into which one of the students was screaming abuse directed at me. The other students were chanting the same abusive words and some were waving banners and placards.
They were shouting: "Richard Kemp, you can't hide, you support genocide". This group was joined in their chants by a few in the audience who had apparently positioned themselves in the room previously in order to join in the planned protest.
The protesters imposed themselves between the audience and me. This, combined with the loudness of their screaming and shouting, made continuation of my lecture impossible until after they had left.
I observed the audience, and many of them, including some elderly visitors, were clearly intimidated by the aggression of these protesters. Several members of the audience appealed to the protesters to leave to allow the lecture to continue and these were met with even greater aggression including personal verbal abuse.
In some cases I saw the protestors deliberately and aggressively invade the personal space of members of the audience, including at least one elderly woman. University security officers who were already present in the room asked the protesters to leave. When they abusively refused to do so, the security officers attempted to physically move them out.
They resisted and pushed and shoved the security officers, impeding them from doing their jobs. It seemed to me that, in trying to eject the protesters, the security officers were acting out of concern for the safety of the audience members, as the intimidation by the protesters increased.
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, the Director of your Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, and Dr Nicholas Riemer, one of your senior lecturers, who were both apparently leading and encouraging the protesters, screamed at the security officers to desist.
This seemed to be a clear attempt to impose their own authority as faculty members, thereby hoping to intimidate the security officers into allowing the abusive demonstration to continue.
This article is a letter written to Sydney University Vice Chancellor Michael Spence by Colonel Richard Kemp whose speech at Sydney Uni was interrupted by protestors, including academics. The original can be accessed from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
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