Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Book Review - "The Minefield" by Greg Lockhart


Today’s book review is The Minefield by Greg Lockhart.

Essentially, it’s the story of the barrier minefield laid under the direction of Brigadier Stuart Graham in 1967 in Phuoc Tuy Province in Vietnam.

These mines were dug up by the Viet Cong, and used against Australian and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) soldiers, resulting in hundreds of casualties between 1967 and 1971. I served in 7RAR in 1970, and the narrative has strong interest for me as a result. It’s as well I didn’t know the history back then, or my experience may have been riddled with more anxiety than it was in actuality. The events don’t lead to confidence in the commanders at the time. In this case, ignorance, if not bliss, was a blessing.

The book is well researched and contains many statistical tables which provide an insight into the dimensions of the problem which confronted the soldiers and commanders post 1967, once the VC began to move the mines in earnest. The laying of the barrier field was a very good example of a novel solution to a problem which was well and truly let down in the execution.

Lockhart makes many attempts to get into Brigadier Graham’s mind, but is not entirely successful. In fact, I’d suggest that these attempts become repetitious, and tend to obstruct the narrative somewhat. He makes good use of Vietnamese accounts, and perhaps a little more of this content, and a little less of an analysis of Graham’s motives may have improved the flow of the narrative.

Nevertheless, it’s a strong account and probably would have held my attention even without my personal interest in the story. It’s also a very good argument against the use of anti-personnel mines.

The real story, however, is the disconnect between the military mind and the political reality in relation to the inhabitants of Phuoc Tuy province at the time. This disconnect seems to continue today, in terms of recent experience in counter-insurgency conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lockhart describes this disconnect well, and provides an historical context for the assumed wisdom of the day. It also reveals that the Australian government back then had only a vague idea of the realities of the war on the ground.

Funny that – as an infantry soldier at the time, I formed much the same opinion!

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