[Editor: This article by Prime Minister John Curtin was published in The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 27 December 1941. It was written during the Second World War (1939-1945), almost three weeks after Japan entered the war against the Allies, with its attacks on Pearl Harbour, Hong Kong, and several other places, on 7 December 1941.]
The task ahead
By John Curtin
That reddish veil which o’er the face
Of night-hag East is drawn …
Flames new disaster for the race?
Or can it be the Dawn?
So wrote Bernard O’Dowd. I see 1942 as a year in which we shall know the answer.
I would, however, that we provide the answer. We can and we will. Therefore I see 1942 as a year of immense change in Australian life.
The Australian Government’s policy has been grounded on two facts. One is that the war with Japan is not a phase of the struggle with the Axis powers, but is a new war.
The second is that Australia must go on to a war footing.
Those two facts involve two lines of action — one in the direction of external policy as to our dealings with Britain, the United States, Russia, the Netherlands East Indies and China in the higher direction of the war in the Pacific.
The second is the reshaping, in fact the revolutionising, of the Australian way of life until a war footing is attained quickly, efficiently, and without question.
As the Australian Government enters 1942, it has behind it a record of realism in respect of foreign affairs. I point to the forthright declaration in respect of Finland, Hungary, and Rumania, which was followed with little delay by a declaration of war against those countries by the Democracies.
We felt that there could be no half-measures in our dealings with the Soviet when that nation was being assailed by the three countries mentioned.
Similarly, we put forward that a reciprocal agreement between Russia and Britain should be negotiated to meet an event of aggression by Japan. Our suggestion was then regarded, wrongly as time has proved, as premature.
Now, with equal realism, we take the view that while the determination of military policy is the Soviet’s business, we should be able to look forward with reason to aid from Russia against Japan.
We look for a solid and impregnable barrier of the democracies against the three Axis powers, and we refuse to accept the dictum that the Pacific struggle must be treated as a subordinate segment of the general conflict. By that it is not meant that any one of the other theatres of war is of less importance than the Pacific, but that Australia asks for a concerted plan evoking the greatest strength at the Democracies’ disposal, determined upon hurling Japan back.
The Australian Government therefore regards the Pacific struggle as primarily one in which the United States and Australia must have the fullest say in the direction of the Democracies’ fighting plan.
Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.
We know the problems that the United Kingdom faces. We know the constant threat of invasion. We know the dangers of dispersal of strength. But we know too that Australia can go, and Britain can still hold on.
We are therefore determined that Australia shall not go, and we shall exert all our energies toward the shaping of a plan, with the United States as its keystone, which will give to our country some confidence of being able to hold out until the tide of battle swings against the enemy.
Summed up, Australian external policy will be shaped toward obtaining Russian aid, and working out, with the United States, as the major factor, a plan of Pacific strategy, along with British, Chinese and Dutch forces.
Australian internal policy has undergone striking changes in the past few weeks. These, and those that will inevitably come before 1942 is far advanced, have been prompted by several reasons.
In the first place the Commonwealth Government found it exceedingly difficult to bring the Australian people to a realisation of what, after two years of war, our position had become. Even the entry of Japan, bringing a direct threat in our own waters, was met with a subconscious view that the Americans would deal with the short-sighted, under-fed and fanatical Japanese.
The announcement that no further appeals would be made to the Australian people, and the decisions that followed, were motivated by psychological factors. They had an arresting effect. They awakened in the somewhat lackadaisical Australian mind the attitude that was imperative if we were to save ourselves, to enter an all-in effort in the only possible manner.
That experiment in psychology was eminently successful, and we commence 1942 with a better realisation, by a greater number of Australians, of what the war means than in the whole preceding two years.
The decisions were prompted by other reasons, all related to the necessity of getting on to a war footing, and the results so far achieved have been most heartening, especially in respect of production and conservation of stocks.
I make it clear that the experiment undertaken was never intended as one to awaken Australian patriotism or sense of duty. Those qualities have been ever-present; but the response to leadership and direction had never been requested of the people, and desirable talents and untapped resources had lain dormant.
Our task for 1942 is stern. The Government is under no illusions as to “something cropping up” in the future.
The nadir of our fortunes in this struggle, as compared with 1914-1918, has yet to be reached.
Let there be no mistake about that. The position Australia faces internally far exceeds in potential and sweeping dangers anything that confronted us in 1914-1918.
The year 1942 will impose supreme tests. These range from resistance to invasion to deprivation of more and more amenities, not only the amenities of peacetime but those enjoyed in time of war.
Australians must realise that to place the nation on a war footing every citizen must place himself, his private and business affairs, his entire mode of living, on a war footing. The civilian way of life cannot be any less rigorous, can contribute no less than that which the fighting men have to follow.
I demand that Australians everywhere realise that Australia is now inside the fighting lines.
Australian governmental policy will be directed strictly on those lines. We have to regard our country and its 7,000,000 people as though we were a nation and a people with the enemy hammering at our frontier.
Australians must be perpetually on guard; on guard against the possibility, at any hour without warning, of raid or invasion; on guard against spending money, or doing anything that cannot be justified; on guard against hampering by disputation or idle, irresponsible chatter, the decisions of the Government taken for the welfare of all.
All Australia is the stake in this war. All Australia must stand together to hold that stake. We face a powerful, ably led and unbelievably courageous foe.
We must watch the enemy accordingly. We shall watch him accordingly.
The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), 27 December 1941, p. 10
Also published in various other newspapers, including:
The Sunday Sun and Guardian (Sydney, NSW), 28 December 1941, p. 5 (entitled “Australia looks to U.S.A. — Curtin”)
Truth (Brisbane, Qld.), 28 December 1941, p. 13 (entitled “Prime Minister’s Message: Inside story of new war diplomacy”)
Truth (Sydney, NSW), 28 December 1941, p. 14 (entitled “Inspiring new year message: Curtin’s appeal for task ahead”)
The Canberra Times (Canberra, ACT), 29 December 1941, p. 1 (entitled “Battle for the Pacific comes first: Mr. Curtin’s declaration: U.S.A. and Australia must have full say”)
The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld.), 29 December 1941, p. 5 (entitled “Democracies must stand firm: Prime Minister states Australia’s case”)
The Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW), 29 December 1941, pp. 1, 5 (entitled “Curtin predicts big changes next year”)
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 29 December 1941, p. 7 (entitled ““Australia looks to America”: Mr. Curtin’s Message: New plan for Pacific strategy”)
a) This article has been seen as a defining moment in Australian foreign affairs, with the country openly switching its defence reliance from Great Britain to the USA, as noted in John Curtin’s famous sentence: “Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.”
b) John Curtin’s article was written during the Second World War (1939-1945), almost three weeks after Japan entered the war against the Allies, on 7 December 1941, with attacks on several locations. Although, from the viewpoint of Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), the attacks occurred on the morning of 8 December 1941.
Military author George Hermon Gill (1895-1973) has laid out the sequence of the initial Japanese attacks, giving the times according to AEST (on 8 December 1941), as being directed against: Kota Bharu (3.05 a.m.) in Malaya; Pearl Harbour (4.25 a.m.) in Honolulu (Hawaii); the Philippines (8 a.m.); Guam (8.27 a.m.); Hong Kong (10 a.m.); and Wake Island (10 a.m.), thus giving an idea of the co-ordination of the attacks.
See: 1) “South-West Pacific Area” (chapter 14), in: G. Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy: 1942-1945 (Australia in the war of 1939-1945; series 2, Navy; vol. 1), Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957, p. 485
2) “Battle of Kota Bharu”, Wikipedia
3) “Attack on Pearl Harbor”, Wikipedia
c) The sentences in bold text were in bold text in the original article.
d) The article included a text box (in the top-right of the article), with the following text (in bold in the original):
The year that begins next Thursday will be the most critical in the history of Australia.
Here the Prime Minister (Mr Curtin) in a special message, tells the Australian people of the job that is to be done in 1942.
1914-1918 = a reference to World War One (1914-1918), also known as the Great War, or the First World War
arresting = attention-causing, eye-catching, gripping, striking, regarding something or someone which grabs one’s attention (something which is so striking that, when seen, it arrests, or stops, one in one’s tracks)
Axis powers = the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939-1945); the major Axis countries were Germany, Italy, and Japan; other Axis countries included Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Rumania, Slovakia, and Thailand
See: 1) “Axis powers: World War II coalition”, Encyclopaedia Britannica
2) “Axis powers”, Wikipedia
Bernard O’Dowd = Bernard Patrick O’Dowd (1866-1953), a poet, teacher, and parliamentary draughtsman; he was born in Beaufort (Victoria) in 1866, and died in Fitzroy (Victoria) in 1953
See: 1) “Bernard O’Dowd”, The Institute of Australian Culture
2) Chris Wallace-Crabbe, “O’Dowd, Bernard Patrick (1866–1953)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
3) “Bernard O’Dowd”, Wikipedia
Commonwealth Government = the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, i.e. the federal government of Australia
Democracies = the Allied countries during the Second World War (1939-1945); the major Allied countries were France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom (Great Britain), and the United States of America; other Allied countries included Australia, Canada, China, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, and Yugoslavia
See: 1) “Allied powers: international alliance”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Allies of World War II”, Wikipedia
dictum = a short statement, declaration, maxim, or saying, which gives advice or expresses a general truth, principle, or rule for behaviour (e.g. “Don’t get mad, get even”, “Pride cometh before a fall”, “You are what you eat”; for doctors, “First, do no harm”); a wise saying; an authoritative (or formal) assertion, opinion, pronouncement, or statement
keystone = a wedge-shaped stone which is placed at the central/top position of an arch (being a key, or important, stone for holding the arch stones in place); an important, key, integral, or necessary, element, part, or piece, of a design, plan, policy, organisation, structure, or system; an element upon which other elements depend or rely upon (used in a similar manner as “cornerstone”)
lackadaisical = idle, lazy, lethargic, listless, unenthusiastic, uninterested; showing no determination, enthusiasm, interest, mental energy, strength of purpose, vigour, or vitality
nadir = the lowest or deepest level or point; the lowest, most unsuccessful or worst point in a situation; the point of least achievement, least hope, or least value in a situation; the point of greatest adversity, greatest despair, greatest depression, or greatest loss in a situation
night-hag = (also spelt: night hag) a mythical supernatural creature, demon, or hag (a term sometimes interchangeable with “witch”), with the power of being able to cause sleep paralysis; also known as a “mare” (hence the term “nightmare”)
See: 1) “Night hag”, Wikipedia
2) “Hag”, Wikipedia
o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)
Soviet = the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), also known as Soviet Russia, the Soviet Union, Communist Russia, or CCCP (the abbreviation of the country’s name in Russian); a citizen of the USSR; of or relating to the USSR; a workers’ council; a revolutionary council (especially in Russia, prior to the Russian Revolution in 1917); an elected council (at local, regional, republic, and country levels) in the USSR
See: “Soviet Union”, Wikipedia
stake = something of value or importance; the money or valuables used for a bet, a contest, a game, or for gambling (such as in a betting card game); to bet, gamble, or risk something of worth (e.g. “I’ll stake my life on it”); a prize, a reward (can also refer to: an interest, investment, or share in a business, enterprise, or entity)