Moratoriums and Opposition - public dissent
An anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Victoria Square, Adelaide, 1971. [National Library of Australia pic-vn4268191]
In the early years of Australian involvement in Vietnam, opposition, even to the policy of sending conscripts to a war zone, was limited. The National Service Scheme did attract opponents as soon as it was introduced, but it was only when the government increased the size of Australia’s commitment to the war in Vietnam in May 1966, making the use of conscripts necessary, that significant public opposition arose.
National service’s early opponents included the Parliamentary Opposition, religious groups, trade unionists, academics, and young men affected by the scheme. From within this disparate anti-conscription movement groups began to form and organise, some becoming prominent and forming branches across Australia. Among them: Youth Campaign Against Conscription (YCAC) formed in late 1964 and closely aligned to the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and Save Our Sons (SOS) founded in Sydney in 1965 shortly after the government announced an increase of troops to Vietnam.
The announcement gave the protest movement some momentum, but it built slowly as anti-war groups began working together and learning lessons from similar groups in the United States. By 1969 those who opposed the war had increased in number and become sufficiently well organised to coordinate Australia-wide mass protests, known as the moratorium marches of 1970–71. Involvement in anti-war activities politicised many previously disinterested Australians. Opposition to the war was a radicalising experience for some people such as the middle-class women, members of Save Our Sons, who were arrested during peaceful protests outside national service induction centres.
[‘WITHDRAW ALL FORCES NOW Moratorium June 30’ from the Riley and Ephemera Collection ‘Vietnam War. Moratorium, NSW’ poster collection]
Despite the eventual strength and widespread nature of the anti-war movement, its effectiveness in Australia is open to question. The Australian Government had followed the United States lead in Vietnam since the early 1960s and continued to do so until the last Australian troops were withdrawn in 1972. When the United States began removing its troops from Vietnam, Australia followed suit, irrespective of the well-attended protests of 1970 and 1971.