Existential fear about catastrophic climate change among young people is both real and justified. A generation ago we worried about nuclear catastrophe. In the 1980s, what we feared even more than being vaporised in a nuclear strike was dying a slow, painful, miserable and lonely death from the radiation poisoning fall-out.
That threat is returning as a result of the frantic military escalation that the Australian government is engaged in.
Worse, we are seeing a convergence of threats posed by nuclear war and the climate crisis.
The reason for this is obvious. We can’t possibly mobilise the human and material resources needed to confront the climate crisis — the real threat to our security right now — while at the same time gearing up for a new Cold War, let alone a hot war with China.
We have to choose: it’s one or the other.
The terrifying thing is that our government has chosen to gear up for war. The drum beat in the corporate media tells us not just to prepare for war with China, but to expect it.
This has been accompanied by an incessant propaganda campaign demonising China — presenting it as an aggressor while the United States continues to encircle its Eastern flank with more bases and missiles.
Are the US and its allies actually trying to provoke a war with China? Whatever criticisms we may have of the Chinese government, there is nothing it has done to seek war with Australia.
Mixed with the mainstream narrative about the need to prepare for conflict is the notion that if China and the US go to war, then we have to choose a side: we have to choose between Chinese hegemony or US hegemony and that, whatever its faults, we should throw our lot in with the US.
That is bankrupt logic, but it is one the anti-war movement needs to confront if it is to grow.
We need to say “No”: Australia can, in fact, have an independent foreign policy based on peace and justice in the world. And it must. We owe it to ourselves, future generations and the rest of the world.
Take the example of Vietnam, a country that in living memory has been invaded by both China and the US. It is calling for de-escalation. Unlike Australia’s politicians, the Vietnamese really know what war is.
Our job is to forge a new peace movement.
Fortunately some of the activists from the previous waves of activity in the 1980s are still active, making it easier for us to tap into their legacy and experience. That gives us something to build upon.
In building this movement we have to go on our own offensive and demonstrate to Australians that we are the ones fighting for their security and that AUKUS is a threat.
There is no question that we still have a long way to go to establish this and overcome the war mongers.
Furthermore, we also have to help progressive-minded people overcome the demoralisation that flowed from the fact that the AUKUS partners went ahead with the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, despite the biggest protests this country has ever seen.
That reinforced a mistaken belief that there is nothing we can do and that protests, even big ones, “don’t work”.
We have to look at the lessons of the successful social movements, the ones that changed history. In every instance they were sustained mass movements. They deployed diverse tactics, of course, from mass protests to sit-ins, to cultural expressions.
They took time to build and reach the intensity required to overcome resistance. That’s what it will take to knock off AUKUS.
So our challenge is to build such a movement, and the job starts now. We can’t offer anyone a guarantee of success. But the twin threats of runaway global warming and nuclear conflict are too horrific for us to do otherwise.
All of us have a contribution to make. It’s time to get active.
[Sam Wainwright is a national co-convenor of Socialist Alliance. The article is based on a speech he gave on behalf of Stop AUKUS WA to the Boorloo/Perth 2023 Hiroshima Day vigil.]