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.

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...