Saturday, 23 June 2012

Fighting to the Finish

Time for a book review. I haven’t done one for yonks.

The book is Fighting to the Finish by Ashley Elkins and Ian McNeill. McNeill died in 1998, and his co-author completed the work, although McNeill had already been honoured with the Templer medal for To Long Tan.

It’s not the sort of book you’d read for entertainment, but if you’re after a defining account of the ground war for the Australians from 1968 until 1975, this is the best you’ll get. If you want to restrict your reading about Vietnam to two books, this one, and Paul Ham’s Vietnam, the Australian War would cover it.,

It’s structured generally as a chronology, but there are subheadings that deal in detail with aspects of the conflict – most of them fascinating diversions into detail.

Despite being written as a military history, it’s not so technical that it ever becomes dense. Perhaps my personal involvement contributed but I found it riveting, and I read it in about three days. Given it’s about 1000 pages, that’s noteworthy.

It pulls no punches, particularly in its descriptions of the conflict between the then government and the military. The overall impression is of political decisions being made with absolutely no consideration for the interests of the military, and no heed taken of their concerns.

This was obviously the case both in terms of how we were involved in the first place, but some of the shenanigans that went on around the Australian withdrawal are breathtaking.

In fact, the government of the day indulged in shenanigans both on the way into Vietnam, and on the way out again -

Some quotes –

On 29 April 1965, when Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced his government's
decision to commit the first battalion of Australian combat troops to South Vietnam,
he said this was in response to a request from the South Vietnamese Government.
Questioning of this basis for the commitment had begun well before the war ended.
June 1971, the New York Times published leaked extracts from a secret US Defense
Department study of American involvement in Indochina that became known as the
Pentagon Papers. Australian newspapers picked up the story, focusing on evidence
the reports that suggested the supposed request from South Vietnam in 1965 was
‘manufactured' and that the Menzies government had deceived the Australian people. (p689)

So we went in on a lie.

And on the withdrawal -

On 18 August, Prime Minister McMahon announced his government's decision
withdraw the task force from Vietnam." Hanoi's plans to overrun the Republic
Vietnam had been 'frustrated', McMahon assured parliament, and 'changing and
improving circumstances' now allowed 'all remaining Australian combat forces' to
return to Australia. The enemy threat remained in Phuoc Tuy, he conceded, and
'some setbacks may yet occur'; but the enemy had 'largely lost the initiative' and
South Vietnamese 'territorial forces should be able to handle the likely contingencies'.
Most Australian combat troops would be home by Christmas; stores and equipment
would follow early in 1972. 'In compensation, the government pledged A$25 million
military and civil aid to South Vietnam over the next three years. There were also
plans to retain some military training and advisory elements, such as instructors in
Jungle Warfare Training Centre.
This was contrary to the army's advice against leaving an Australian residual force,
which could not be adequately protected and might become a prime target for the
enemy. In an echo of the army's initial 'one out, all out' policy, Major General Graham,
Deputy CGS, had earlier signalled Dunstan in Saigon: 'It will be in best interests of
army to make a clean break'.  
(p 603)

And we went out on a lie - but the enemy had 'largely lost the initiative' and
South Vietnamese 'territorial forces should be able to handle the likely contingencies' - was BS and the government knew it, but the tide of public opinion had turned against the commitment, and the Coalition was covering its backside.

And the way it was done was against the advice of the military.

There’s also a lot of interesting background about the tensions between the American military hierarchy and our own. Generally, various task force commanders were continually at odds with the Americans on how the war should be fought.

Fortunately for the sixty thousand or so Australians involved, our commanders usually prevailed.
That's me standing on the far right  - looking pissed off as usual.

So I’d recommend it. Having said that, you have to shell out $100 to buy it. Maybe it’s one of those books best borrowed from a library.

I had to buy it of course – I appear in two pictures – both taken by that genius of photography, Denis Gibbons.

I'm to the right of Gibbo, right hand under chin. That's my rifle to the left with the sheep counter taped to the stock. An hour later, Charlie Tilmouth (standing third from right with M60 rounds around his neck) was seriously wounded and medivaced - later RTA.

Anyway, that’s my excuse for buying it.

It's available on-line from the AWM.

Update -  I've just noticed an error in the caption to the bottom pic. It should read "5 platoon, B company" not "5 platoon, D company".

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Pollies Promises

We’ve heard plenty about the alleged lying of our current Prime Minister.

In fact, she’s been vilified to the point where it’s been brought to the attention of the media authority.

Fair enough. She did promise there wouldn’t been a price on carbon imposed by her government. The fact that her crystal ball had a software glitch, leaving her unable to forecast the wash-up in the reps is somehow ignored.

The other inconveniently ignored fact is that you’d presume that Green voters combined with Labor voters at the time of the election would have largely supported a price on carbon, and these two cohorts with the independents united to put her in power.

It's called democracy, I believe.

The Raving Right has never been much good at dealing with more than one fact at a time, so I guess their collective inability to understand these complexities is unsurprising.

Perhaps they will be able to follow something a little less complex.

I refer to promises made by the current LNP government in Queensland. I live here, so feel qualified to comment.

Prior to the election, Newman made many promises. Let’s look at just two of them.

The first deals with vehicle registrations. I’ll quote –

A CanDo LNP Government will save families $15-20 a year by freezing family car registration fees for the first term of an LNP government.

Wow – now that’s a great promise. Trouble is, if you look at the paperwork I received yesterday and compare it with last years’ rego (under that heinous Labor government) you’ll find that instead of saving $15 - $20 as promised, I’ll actually be paying $3 more.  Now that's not a lot - but unless in my dotage I've lost all mathematical ability, "more" is not "less". It's certainly not the $20 less promised.

Last years' bill under Labor.

This years' under the LNP. Freeze? What freeze?

Surely there must be some kind of mistake. I know – I’ll subtract $20 from the fee and send the balance. If they complain, I’ll just ask them to go and talk to Campbell.

He promised after all. It looks like CanDo’s freeze has melted already.

Then there’s the issue of public servants.

Here’s another promise

An LNP Government will also commit to no forced redundancies.
Restructuring will be managed through natural attrition, career advancement and training opportunities.
We will always find a job within the public sector for hardworking public servants to contribute to a better Queensland. That's why an LNP Government will protect and revitalise front line service roles in conjunction with unions and manage the overall growth in the entire public service.

This from yesterday’s FOTN* -

But Mr Newman, who campaigned ahead of the March 24 election on a platform of no forced redundancies in the public service, refused to confirm that full-time staff faced the axe.

It gets confusing. Who should you believe? CanDo before the election or CanDo after the election?

I’m offering a free calendar to the reader submitting the best short and sharp description of Newman’s election promises. Something from the same genre as “Juliar” would do nicely.

I've bookmarked the LNP's promises page. Actually I'm surprised it's still there. A screen shot is probably a good idea.

* The Australian - The Fart of the Nation.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Time to Move On

In September last year, a local opinionista* was found to have contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

OK – big deal. A reasonable person would assume that this opinionista would have learned something by the experience, and moved on.

After all, there are hundreds of journalists publishing every day in this country, and they seem to manage, without too much trouble, to stay on the right side of the RDA.

They seem able, most of the time, to get the basic facts straight. This was not the case in the offending articles.

This opinionista might have perhaps considered the mature and responsible behaviour of issuing a personal apology (whether compelled to do so or otherwise), and making it clear to those maligned that a mistake was made. Displaying a little humility and regret would also have been becoming.

In this case, however, we’re not dealing with “reasonable”. Instead, we’ve seen behaviour which would be par for the course in kindergartens across the country. I say kindergartens advisedly. By the time most kids are into pre-school, they’ve outgrown tantrums.

This person has posted ad nauseum about what he calls “free speech” since Bromberg’s judgement.

In fact the rate of posts about this topic (free speech) has risen exponentially since the Finkelstein Report in this country and the Leveson Inquiry in the UK. These posts are written as if the experience of being found in breach of the RDA somehow endows an expertise not available to those who are responsible enough to print accurate and honest reports.

Perhaps we should look to the serial rapists of the world to advise us on the issue of sexual violence?

If it wasn’t so disgraceful it would have a funny side. A sense of humour, however, is not a virtue displayed by this person. This virtue, of course, is rarely seen in those who take themselves so seriously as to be easily offended if any personal criticism is made. This is probably not an ideal characteristic in someone who makes a living out of packaging hate and vilification, and retailing it as opinion.

The thing about heat and kitchen comes to mind. And whilst we’re into cliché, there’s that other one about pot and kettle.

This brings me to a few examples of hypocrisy that (through the magic of the screen shot) I’ve preserved, dear reader, for your edification.

This first one relates to the recently-published “Am I Black Enough For You” by Anita Heiss, one of the defendants in the September 2011 case. The opinionista was waxing lyrical about Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s music.

The actual text of my post, broken by the link, is “Is Gurrumul black enough for you, Andrew?”
I thought that given his previous views on what he regards as “real” aborigines, he’d care to comment on Gurrumul’s authenticity. He’d had lots to say on the topic in the past.

Not on your Nelly – my comment was wiped. Now was it fear of further litigation? Hard to see how – all he had to say was “yes”.

Maybe the link was the problem. How embarrassing it would be if someone actually bought it and read it. Visions of book-burning emerge…..

Then there was this -

Perhaps this one was a bit strong. “Bloody disgrace” might cause offence to those of delicate disposition. But we’re talking here about someone who will use all sorts of name-calling and snide references to vilify, so I thought he’d be OK with it.

Perhaps I’m just a bit too direct.

And this -

Now this time my comment was directed towards another commentator (“Big Ted”). Big Ted is regularly abused by the bleating bigots who inhabit this blog in the same way as beetles thrive in cow dung, so obviously agreeing with him might get these same bigots offside.

That is obviously an unacceptable risk.

Nothing is sacred here – not even religion. See what happened when I posted a fairly harmless remark about Cardinal George Pell -


After all, Pell came down on our local Bishop like a ton of bricks. His crime? He said something that the Vatican disagreed with.

You can't tell me that the Herald Sun was worried about litigation from George Pell.

Now what was our mate saying about free speech?

* A more accurate description than "columnist" or "journalist".

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...