David Finkel, author of Thanks for Your Service and The Good Soldiers sat down with Malcolm Fraser, former prime minister of Australia and author of Dangerous Allies. Journalist David Marr chaired the event and lost no time in asking the big questions, starting with one to Fraser: did he regrets any past decisions?
Fraser said he wished that some events had proceeded differently. The Vietnam war, for example, was performed under a total misunderstanding and if the government had known what the CIA knew at the time, Vietnam would never have been invaded.
Fraser said, various departments were aware of information that was withheld or ignored by the government at that time. Apparently the CIA knew before there were any combat troops even in Vietnam that it was a war that couldn’t be won.
Finkel responded with the same remorseful strains. He said that from the very first day of engagement in war, there is a constant recalibration of the war machine. He said that in his experience most people involved with war grew more mournful and regretful the longer they were involved with it.
When discussing Fraser’s book Finkel noted, “People who are running wars are always writing books with titles like, In retrospect.” Finkel was compelled to ask if Fraser he was haunted by memories of that time, like the front liners in Finkel’s novel.
Fraser blinked a few times and was silent.
Marr asked Fraser if he felt like there was a need for the people responsible for declaring the war to feel apologetic. Fraser responded that he had never been asked that before.
Marr asked Fraser if he regretted the way he came to power, referring to 11 November 1975 when Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Labor government. Fraser said he wished it could have been done nicely and easily.
Quick as a flash, Marr responded, “Like an election.”
The audience laughed and I mused at the 84-year-old man sitting hunched on the stage, a living piece of Australia’s history. I have grown up hearing his name. I held more respect for him than to laugh. Besides, Fraser came up with a very valid point: It was very, very different then.
During his political career, Fraser may have made some erroneous decisions. But he is also responsible for initiating the Kakadu and Great Barrier Reef National Parks. Fraser did what he thought was best for the country at the time.
Fraser’s book gives his opinion on current global politics and advances some advice for Australia’s current leaders. He warned multiple times through the conversation about Australia’s intense involvement with America.
He believes the current global situation that threatens Australia is in the region of the Pacific. The weakening relations between Japan and China, and America’s agreements with Japan may drag Australia into a war that we did not ask for.
“If those elephants start brawling, I don’t want Australia to get in the way,” said Fraser.
RP Stoval is a creative writing student at Southern Cross University.