War as the pasture of bigots, and the solvent of principle

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Douglas Newton – author and historian

On Sunday November 22, a public forum on ‘WW1, the Case of Fr Jerger and Civil Liberties’ was held in Marrickville.

Co-hosted by Gallipoli Centenary Peace Campaign* and St Brigid’s Parish, the forum was addressed by three speakers: Dr Janice Garaty, Assoc Prof Douglas Newton and Dr Peter Manning.

In the context of the divisive WW1 conscription debates in Australia, Janice Garaty discussed how Fr Jerger was accused of allegedly expressing “disloyal sentiments” designed to discourage recruitment to the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during a sermon in Marrickville on September 26, 1916. Despite the lack of evidence for such a claim, Fr Jerger was eventually interned in February 1918 at the Holsworthy Military Camp and later deported in July 1920.

The central theme of Douglas Newton’s presentation was “war is the pasture of bigots, and the solvent of principle”. Newton noted a common dynamic in wartime politics, namely “the cry is raised ‘enemy at the gate’ and immediately the rabid ‘ultra-patriots’ begin to search for ‘the enemy within’ and demand their persecution, incarceration, and deportation”.

According to Newton, fear-mongering campaigns, in Australia today as in Australia during WW1, display “long-running but always despicable political trends: the search for political advantage by whipping up the politics of division.”

Newton concluded his presentation with the following observation on Australia’s War Precautions Act and associated Regulations: “Sadly, like so such emergency legislation, that of Australia’s during the Great War was open to abuse and became an instrument for political vindictiveness and the politics of exclusion – deployed then, and still, by little men seeking to milk political advantage from great world tragedies.

Peter Manning’s address was a continuation of the theme “war is the pasture of bigots, and the solvent of principle”. In today’s context, the war in question is the “war on terror”.
In reflecting on the Coalition’s “war on terror” and the recent passage of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 backed by the ALP, Manning argued that what happened to Fr Jerger in 1920 could happen again today.

For Manning, the lamentable lesson of Australia’s most recent binge in enacting “counter-terrorism” laws is this: “… that, with a quarter of Australia with double-passports and a third of Australia speaking a language other than English at home, we are ripe to see many more Fr Jergers filling our jails and being deported back “to where they came from”, whether they like it or not, and whether they die or not.”

A written version of Douglas Newton’s presentation can be read here. Photos and documents comprising the accompanying PowerPoint display can be viewed here.

* Marrickville Peace Group is a member of GCPC.

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