Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Could this possibly be one of the best speeches ever?

This is a speech by John Gorton, delivered April 1946 when as a veteran he addressed a welcome home celebration for returned servicemen in his home town in Victoria. Bob Davey was a local man who was killed. What a shame it isn't better known. The message is eternal.

There has been a good deal of confusion of thought as to why we went to war, and as to what we can reasonably expect as the result of our military victory. We did not go to war to make a new and better world as the result of the exercise of brute military force. We can only expect to achieve the kind of world we want by the use of brains and effort during peace. We fought only to preserve, for ourselves and our children, that conception of political freedom and justice which was being attacked by a tyrannous power. We succeeded in that defence. Yet, I have heard not only civilians but returned soldiers say that because the world is not better, but worse, therefore the war was fought in vain. That is was a futile thing without reason or result, and that all the suffering which was entailed was wasted.
It was not wasted. We retained a system of government in which we, the people, choose our governors, dismiss them when we wish, and have a voice in our own destiny. We retained a conception of justice in which the humblest one amongst us has equal rights before the law with the head of the state. We believed that those principles were worth defending, not because in themselves they provided all that could be desired for human happiness, but because we believed that we could only advance to a full and satisfying life for all if we retained the freedom on which to build.
But it is now, in the peace, that we must make our advances. I believe that the returned serviceman wishes us to secure for all men that economic freedom which we have never had, and to which all who are willing to work are surely entitled. We must remove from the minds of men the fear of poverty as the result of illness, or accident, or old age. We must turn our schools into institutions which will produce young men and women avid for further education and increased knowledge. We must raise the material standard of living so that all children can grow up with sufficient space and light and proper nourishment; so that women may be freed from domestic drudgery; and so that those scientific inventions which are conducive to a more gracious life may be brought within the means of all. We must raise the spiritual standard of living so that we may get a spirit of service to the community and so that we may live together without hate, even though we may differ on the best road to reach our objectives. And we must do all this without losing that political freedom which has cost us so dearly, and without which these tasks cannot be accomplished.
Outside Australia peace has set us tasks as hard. All around us we see a world living in the gloom of half-peace, in the immediate agony of starvation and disease, and in the shadow of a future atomic world, whether we like it or not. And what affects the world will affect us. We must do our utmost to alleviate the immediate suffering, and we must take our place in the world, not as a self-sufficient, sealed-off unit, but as a member of a family, the members of which are dependent the one upon the other. We must do this. For no person of susceptibility, no soldier who has seen his comrades killed, no Christian, above all no mother with growing children can stand idly by and see the chance which we have once more won, once more wasted.
That is why I demand of you, in the name of the dead and the returned, that you do not consider this war as a task finished; that you not regard this celebration as the last chapter in the book. Look on it rather as half-time! A joyful occasion certainly, but only a break in the continuous task. For tomorrow we must carry on again, and the tasks which lie in front of us are immense and urgent as never before.
What can we do? Individually, it may not be much. But we can at least all think on the problems which are in front of us and be ready to act on our thoughts if the opportunity arises. We can try to reason out how we may best take our place in the family of nations, and how we may best provide a full and satisfactory life for all our citizens. We can practice tolerance and understanding. And we can be ready always to defend against attacks, either from within or without, the political freedom, the measure of freedom which we already have.
It will be hard. Without the spur and urgency of a war, it will mean a constant effort from all of us. But I am going to call on your imaginations. I want you to forget it is I who am standing here. And I want you to see instead Bob Davey. And behind I want you to see an army; regiment on regiment of young men, dead. They say to you, burning in tanks and aeroplanes, drowning in submarines, shattered and broken by high explosive shells, we gave the last full measure of devotion. We have bought your freedom with our lives. So take this freedom. Guard it as we have guarded it, use it as we can no longer use it, and with it as a foundation, build. Build a world in which meanness and poverty, tyranny and hate, have no existence. If you see and hear these men behind me – do not fail them.

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