Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Gerard Rewrites History

Pic courtesy Lurching into Decrepitude

The Oz (the fart of the nation) published this piece by Gerard Henderson on August 20th.

As usual, Murdoch's broadsheet (which operates consistently at a loss), is smearing the ABC and SBS. You have to pay to comment on the Oz, so I'm using this platform to expose some of the comprehensive rewriting of history that is a feature of News Limited reporting of the Vietnam era.

Read Gerard's piece, and then reflect on this, gentle reader. Gerard's contributions are in italics -

Rather than debunking myths, Gerard’s piece creates a few of its own.

“All Australian men and women who served in Vietnam arrived in that nation at ports or on airfields controlled by the anti-communist government in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City). There was no invasion.”

Depends what you mean by “invasion”, Gerard. When I arrived in Vietnam I disembarked from HMAS Sydney aboard a landing craft. Nobody was shooting at us, but to any dispassionate observer the activity would have looked very much like an invasion.

When I went out on operations with my infantry unit, we moved through country that was not controlled by the South Vietnamese government. That was why we were armed, patrolled without noise, and put out sentries at night. We behaved exactly like an invading army.

“The conflict between communist North Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam was concluded in April 1975 when the North Vietnamese Army, with assistance of the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, who supported the Hanoi regime, conquered Saigon.”

To call North Vietnamese “Communist” and South Vietnam “Non - Communist” is a gross over-simplification. Vietnam was essentially a war of national liberation, a point made by our current Governor-General (who served in Vietnam as a platoon commander) when he was interviewed by the ABC on 19 March 2012. From the interview with Peter Cosgrove –

EPSTEIN: Does that mean that you think the war was fought tactically wrong or the perception that the perceived communist threat required an Australian response in Vietnam, was that perception incorrect?

COSGROVE: I don’t think the political environment inside South Vietnam was conducive to an enduring democratic state. I think the people in Vietnam across the board, ultimately seemed to prefer self-determination rather than the presence of a large number of foreign troops.

Obviously, Gerard has a different view of the history than someone who participated in it, and has an experience of the military reality.

“The star performer in the Ratcliffe package was Bowden. He complained that he could not get all his reports from Vietnam run on the public broadcaster at the time and provided the following explanation: “At that stage the (ABC) news executives were mostly old newspaper men, a lot of Catholics, and they saw the war as a holy crusade.”

What Bowden reports is accurate. Gerard has obviously forgotten B A Santamaria. Without the influence of the Movement, and the Catholic Right in the DLP, it is debatable whether the Coalition would have stayed in power long enough to send conscripts to a war in a foreign country in peacetime. Tell me, Gerard, when in our history has this been done before or since?

As for ” few, if any, supporters of Australia’s Vietnam commitment regarded it as a “holy crusade" Gerard was obviously not attending Sunday mass in a conservative diocese and listening to sermons about the evils of Communism as I was back then before I was called up.

“This focus on the Vietnam protest movement overlooks the fact most Australians supported the commitment.”

Again, a complete over simplification. There were two issues. One was sending troops to Vietnam, the other was conscription. Support for the commitment was initially strong, but began to wane during and after the Moratorium marches which took place in 1970, the year I was in Vietnam.

Support for conscription was never strong, and when the two issues became conflated, it became apparent very quickly, that community support for the troops was no longer there. That was an untenable situation, and Vietnam veterans suffered as much when they came home as they did in theatre. The government in power at the time bears as much responsibility for this situation as the anti war protestors. They conscripted us and sent us – not the protestors.

“As Edwards acknowledges, the US-led Vietnam commitment delayed a communist victory by 10 years — much to the benefit of nations such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. This was also to Australia’s advantage.”

There is another way of looking at this. The continued support of a series of corrupt “governments” in South Vietnam may have simple prolonged the agony, and contributed to the millions of civilian casualties.

History is sacred, Gerard, especially to those who lived it.

Don't rewrite it.  

Monday, 22 August 2016

Long Tan 50 Years On

Last goodbye: Private Douglas Salveron’s family farewelling him with the first intake of conscripts. The bus in the background took the conscripts to their training destinations. Pic courtesy Catholic Leader

No doubt, gentle reader, you've been assailed in the media about the 50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan.

It has been a gift to them, and to the tour companies escorting groups around the site, although this went pear-shaped for some of the returning diggers with the Vietnamese government's reaction.

As usual the diggers get the rough end of the pineapple. It was forever thus.

Harry Smith's remarks on the debacle are worth repeating -

"I was told over three weeks ago that Long Tan was not to be mentioned. The enemy were badly defeated and suffered a lot of casualties and we were not to highlight Long Tan," he said.
And -
"The way it's turned out is that Long Tan has been advertised on tickets and advertised on brochures and various things, which is what the Hanoi government said not to happen. It's happened and therefore they've pulled the blind down."
"If the Japanese wanted a memorial in Darwin for the pilots that they lost in the bombing of Darwin and they sent 3000 people to that monument we'd be up in arms too."
It was, after all, a commemoration, not a fairground sideshow charging admission.

I have been to the Long Tan site twice. First time was as a rifleman in 5 platoon B Coy 7 RAR in April 1970 when we harboured up there prior to a company move into our AO for our second operation. 

We walked in during the night along a dry creek bed rather than being choppered in to preserve the element of surprise. It worked,as we had our first contact a few days later, but not before we lost one digger who died of heat exhaustion as a result of the physical stress of the brutal secure insertion..

The second time was with my two adult sons in 2006. We were travelling with a party of 8RAR veterans. We didn't hold any kind of ceremony, but stood silently for a minute or two.

It's amazing to see what crawls out from under a rock to exploit such events. Michael Smith News is a clear example. Unfortunately, once again, the old adage "soldiers are collateral" looms large.

Perhaps a more fitting tribute to the fallen at Long Tan is contained in Yesterday's Catholic Leader. It's more fitting, because it honours the diggers, and those who mourn their loss.

One of those who died was Frank Topp, from Helidon, down the range from here. I wnt to school with him at Downlands college, where he was an occasional protector for me. I was very small for my age, 1000 kilometres from home, and in those days (the early 1960s) there were no anti-bullying programmes.

Frank was a fairly large lad, and stood up for me.

I had no idea he had been killed at Long Tan until I came across his grave at Helidon Catholic cemetery in 2003. I was deputising for our Regional Director at the funeral service of a Teacher Aide's son who was killed in a motor accident, and noticed the characteristic ADF headstone.

Frank was killed in the first few minutes of the battle. He had been marched into 6 RAR  from Reo company the day before the battle. He would not have had time to get to know the men he died with.

From the Leader -

 Every year Brisbane woman Frankie O’Leary carries a flag of honour for her brother in the Anzac Day parade.

The full-sized Australian flag was presented to her family with the name of her brother Private Douglas J. Salveron, 6 RAR, embossed on it, recognising his role in the Battle of Long Tan 50 years ago, on August 18.
Douglas Salveron was 20 when he was conscripted into the army, and 21 when he died in jungle battle in Vietnam.
“He was a forward scout. That means you’re the first person going forward,” Ms O’Leary, who was a year older than her brother, said. “He was killed early in the battle. 
“They found the boys all lying in a line on a little raised mound with their rifles still in their hands.”
Ms O’Leary said that when soldiers came to recover the bodies, there was a gunshot because one of the boys still holding his rifle had his finger firmly on the trigger.
“It was terribly sad,” Ms O’Leary, who received the news by telegram while living in Townsville, said.
“I was pregnant at the time. And I thought I don’t want to have a son because he will be called up to go to war.

Lest we forget.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Some Fascinating History

I’m going through some documents collected from my mother’s personal effects.
The pace of life has slowed a bit, gentle reader and I have time now for this kind of thing.
Mum died in 2001, and this material has been stored away for years.
I’m only now getting around to going through it, and have turned up something very interesting.

My dad served in New Guinea in World War Two. Stashed away in a folder I found the documents above.
They are scans of a newspaper issued to Australians and Americans serving in Papua New Guinea between 1942 and 1945.

Dad was obviously aware of the significance of this particular issue of Guinea Gold, and brought it home with him, and my mum preserved it.

Click on the images to make them (almost) readable.

I should probably send them to the AWM.

Dad died exactly twenty-seven years ago today.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Reflections on Political Correctness

This term gets a great deal of use.

It’s usually directed at individuals making statements about controversial issues, and these statements are more often than not directed at aspects of human behaviour driven by fear, apathy, or plain ignorance.

It’s very easy to apply the “politically correct” label to any opinion that is inconvenient, or that doesn’t accord with the values and beliefs of the person using the term as abuse.

I’ll give you an example, dear reader.

I’m a member of a closed group on Facebook inhabited by past or serving members of a military unit. Generally, opinions expressed are remarkably consistent, but they are often different from mine.

The same goes with a number of well-patronised blogs whose themes relate to conservative politics.

Should I venture an opinion which differs from the mainstream, two things invariably occur.

First, my bona fides are questioned, usually asserting that I am using someone else’s regimental number. After all, how could I dare to express such opinions unless I was some kind of agent provocateur?

The fact that my identity is very easily checked seems to cut no ice at all.
The other frequent result is that I am accused of being brainwashed at university.

This is pretty bizarre, given that I spent ten years of my life all up at various universities. Obviously the brainwashing must have been very effective, because the other fifty-nine years I’ve been around seem to count for nothing.

It’s boringly predictable, but I continue to be entertained by this same predictability.

I wish I could back a horse or two as reliable.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Media Failure

Statement from Australian National Imams Council
Statement from Shahjahan Kahn (Toowoomba Muslim Community)

No doubt everyone who isn't living under a rock has heard about the killing of a Catholic Priest in France last week.

I would, however, be surprised if any of my readers has heard of either (or both) of the two documents posted above. I only came across them because they were inserts in our Sunday parish newsletter.

If you don't want to take my word for the fact that the ANIC statement has been ignored, just do a Google news search on "ANIC condemns killing of priest".

What you'll find is that the statement gets a mention in passing under the headline -"France church attack: Malcolm Turnbull says new anti-terror measures necessary".

The local rag hasn't mentioned Kahn's statement.

We hear over and over again about the alleged failure of leadership in the Muslim community when it comes to condemning atrocities committed by lunatics in the name of Islam.

When this condemnation does occur (and it always does) there is never any publicity. It does, of course not sell newspapers, attract clicks, or feed the narrative.

No wonder Muslims believe that the media has it in for them. Based on the evidence, it would be difficult for them to come to any other conclusion.  

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Apollo Eleven - a Baggy Arse's Perspective.

I photographed this particular Caribou at Luscombe Field, Nui Dat in 1970.

20th July was the 47th anniversary of the first moon landing.

On that day, Neil Armstrong stepped out of Apollo 11’s lunar module on to the surface of the moon in the Sea of Tranquillity and uttered those famous words.

Most of us, on the day, think back to where we were and what we were doing at that moment.
I was in the Putty mountains on exercise with 7 RAR, preparing for tropical warfare in freezing sleet.
The exercise finished on the evening before the day of the landing, and we were allowed to put our hootchies (2 man tents) up to provide shelter overnight.

This was not allowed when we on a tactical exercise, and we had been sleeping in the open on groundsheets. It was bloody cold.

It was so cold in fact, that the digger sharing my hootchie and I had the bright idea of hanging a blanket up across the front of our tent in an attempt to keep the howling westerlies out. They’re experiencing much the same weather down South as I write this. 

It did help in providing a little cover from the lazy wind, but when we struck the tent next morning, the blanket eerily stayed in place. It had frozen solid, as it had sleeted during the night.

A RAAF Caribou was to take us out that morning, but the crosswind was approaching a strength which would render the take-off from the small dirt strip unsafe. It was whilst we were waiting for the aircraft that we were told of the moon landing, when the news was broadcast on the battalion net.

From memory, it did not raise much excitement with us. When you’re frozen to the bone, it’s difficult to get excited about news events, no matter how significant.

The aircraft landed, we got on board, and we lined up for take-off. From where I sat, with my back to the fuselage, I could see the pilots struggling to keep the aircraft on the strip as the wind caught the Caribou’s enormous tail.

We were the last flight out that day, as the wind freshened, and all aircraft were grounded until it abated.

The fact that we were last flight out was in hindsight at the time much more significant to us than the moon landing.

It meant that the platoon sergeant, who was scheduled on the next flight, didn’t arrive at Holsworthy barracks until the next day.

We had 24 hours of bliss as there was no one there to harangue us to perform useless tasks in the interests of being seen to be busy.

That’s what I remember most about the moon landing.  

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