Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Truth and Reconciliation


During the long drive home from four days in Canberra, I've had time, gentle reader, to reflect. 

I found what I'd been looking for in the AWM research centre on the first day, so had time to spend visiting the Vietnam display, and the rest of the memorial. It is a sobering experience.

Chatting with one of the very helpful staff, a bloke about my vintage with some service up his sleeve, we agreed on many things, including the wasted sacrifice of so many young Australians in that bitter and most divisive conflict.

This got me thinking, on the two day drive, about that residual bitterness, and what can be done now, fifty years down the track, to heal it.

We can look at conflict, resolution, and truth and reconciliation, for a way forward. Along with reconciliation comes acknowledgement of the truth. There are a few undisputed truths about our commitment of troops to Vietnam in the mid sixties.

They include the following.

The rationale for enlarging the size of the Australian army at the time grew more from fear of nationalistic Indonesian expansionism than it did from the threat of Communism, expressed through the Domino theory. Once the Indonesian threat had evaporated it was a relatively straightforward step to transfer the perception of a threat from the north to the Indochinese theatre. Vietnam was the first and only conflict in our military history when Australians were conscripted to fight in peacetime on foreign soil in an undeclared war, and when there was no direct existential threat to the Australian mainland.

The military deployment was successfully pursued as a political strategy first by Menzies, and subsequently by successive Coalition Prime Ministers from Holt to McMahon. Gorton's heart was never in it, perhaps as a consequence of his own wartime experience, and he was the leader who announced the beginning of our withdrawal. By the time McMahon was on the scene, the Australian people were well and truly divided. Support for our commitment was lukewarm, and opposition, as expressed most clearly by the Moratorium marches, was strengthening.

The withdrawal began, after Gorton's announcement, on same the day (22nd April 1970) when my sub-unit had its most noteworthy contact with a bunker system, resulting in one KIA and two WIA. One soldier had already died from heat exhaustion one day prior to this incident.

Thus began the process, first of selling this withdrawal as a noble strategy to the Australian electorate, and then ignoring the whole Vietnam episode as unfortunate history after the election of the Labor government in 1972, and the fall of Saigon in 1975.

The casualties of this whitewashing of history, in which both sides of politics were complicit, were those who had served, some willingly, and some otherwise, during the period of the Australian commitment. Vietnam veterans were relegated to the back pages of history as political collateral. This relegation has  for years, been the source of bitterness, and will remain so, without meaningful intervention, until the last of these veterans are gone.

This is despite the Welcome Home march in 1987, and the acceptance by the broader ex-service community of Vietnam veterans as worthy of the ANZAC legend. It is worth remembering that the Welcome Home march was an outcome of a determination of the veterans themselves to be acknowledged, and not an initiative that came from our political leadership.

There remains a need for our political leaders who made the decision to involve us in that conflict and its sad aftermath to reconcile with the diminishing cohort of veterans of that conflict.

Two sources of bitterness remain. The first relates to those who believed, at the time, in the cause, and were abused when they returned. The second group constitutes men, mostly conscripts, who went along with call up, as that was the law of the land at the time, but were also abused on RTA by those who opposed the war.

The New Zealanders, as they often do, have offered us a precedent. Their Crown apology was offered in May 2008, and it is worth remembering that all Kiwis who served in Vietnam were volunteers. John Howard offered a form of apology in 2006, but it scarcely raised a ripple in national media, and was restricted to concerns about treatment of veterans after the war. The opposition at the time had a letter from Graham Edwards read into Hansard, which was a fitting gesture, but neither side of politics has ever issued a full blown and unequivocal apology.

Such an apology needs to have two strands to meaningfully address two grievances. 

The first refers to the treatment of returning soldiers by those who opposed the commitment, and should be made by the leader of the Labor party, whether in opposition or government, as Labor's opposition to deployment was misinterpreted by many of its supporters as rejection of the soldiers involved, irrespective of whether they were volunteers or conscripts.

The second apology should be made by the leader of the Coalition parties responsible for the decision to deploy, and should be directed towards all veterans, whether volunteers or conscripts, as both suffered the consequences, and continue to do so.


For these and their families, it is not too late.

Comments closed.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

" One soldier had already died from heat exhaustion one day prior to this incident."
Why include this in you post 1735099? Are you trying to point out that 2 or 3 days on the grog and the subsequent dehydration can lead to dire consequences, if during hot weather and without time to hydrate, you go for a hike through the jungle with sixty pound of gear on your back? You are in a position to confirm or deny that, when at first the condition of the soldier was noted that a medical evacuation was knocked back by the man keen on sharp machetes. A second request later on although granted was to no avail. Any truth in that very strong rumour?

Anonymous said...

I just spent 30 seconds on the AWM web site and found it totally contradicted your "it wasn't communism" meme.
Obviously you were only looking for something to support your theory and ignored all other facts.
John Grey

Anonymous said...

What is you idea of a full blown and unequivocal apology and whose fault is it that the media didn't get on board with Howard's statement? Must be his fault.

1735099 said...

Any truth in that very strong rumour?
No idea.
The episode is recorded in the radio log which can be accessed here -https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1374476
Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

1735099 said...

I just spent 30 seconds on the AWM web site and found it totally contradicted your "it wasn't communism" meme.
You might want to spend longer than 30 seconds, and check more than one website, before coming to any conclusions.

1735099 said...

What is you idea of a full blown and unequivocal apology and whose fault is it that the media didn't get on board with Howard's statement? Must be his fault.

I'm open to suggestions.

Anonymous said...

"check more than one website"
Good grief blogger, you are such a hypocritical writer.
On the one hand you proclaim the usefulness of the AWM (you drove many hours just to get there) and imply its integrity - yet criticise it when I use it.
Get your facts straight first and then try to argue that "communism wasn't to blame".
We all know it was and your alternative reality doesn't exist. Are you on a retainer from the CCP?
John Grey.

1735099 said...

Get your facts straight first and then try to argue that "communism wasn't to blame".
To blame for what?
For the series of wars that the Vietnamese fought against the Japanese, the French, the Americans (with our help), or the Chinese?
Perhaps for them, national independence was a higher priority than their political
system.
The AWM is a great institution, but it is a repository of military archive, not political opinion.

Anonymous said...

OK blogger, tell me that Vietnam wasn't a battleground in the Cold War, when the United States and the communist Soviet Union grappled for world domination.
The previous civil wars were wars of independence. The Americans and Australia got into Vietnam to stop communism.
I know you are very sympathetic to communism but that shouldn't cloud your analysis.
John Grey

Anonymous said...

"but it is a repository of military archive, not political opinion".
Stating the cause of the Vietnam war is not an opinion - it is a fact. A fact you ignore in your blind obsession to denigrate the involvement of America and Australia.
The AWM is not, as you mistakenly said, JUST a repository of military archive. It's own web site says "Its mission is leading remembrance and understanding of Australia’s wartime experience."
Understanding = knowing why our country went to war.
Your conscription sure fried your brain.
John Grey (as in John Grey Gorton who was responsible for Australia leaving Vietnam)

Anonymous said...

You often boast about the Government benefits you received after Vietnam
I assume you don't consider those financial windfalls a form of apology.
That's sad.
John Grey.

Anonymous said...

The blogger's reluctance to accept the truth that communism was the cause of the Vietnam war boils down to his self described "subversive" activities. He constantly tries to spread the pro-communist line in order to subvert Australian history.
Unfortunately for many, he had years as a teacher to spread the same lies to the most impressionable.
John Grey

1735099 said...

The blogger's reluctance to accept the truth that communism was the cause of the Vietnam war
Which "Vietnam War"?
There were four, according to the Vietnamese: the Japanese War, the French War, the American War, and the Chinese War. It's their country, so their perspective is probably the most accurate.

1735099 said...

I assume you don't consider those financial windfalls a form of apology.
They are not a "form of apology", just as repatriation benefits for returned soldiers for all the wars in which Australians were involved are not a form of apology.
That's sad.
The sad part is the wasted lives of the 500 who were killed, and the damaged lives of the thousands of survivors who were maimed and traumatized. They who survived were betrayed when they were sent to war, and betrayed when they came home.
That's why two apologies are necessary.
One for the cohort who believed in what they were doing, and were abused when they got home.
The second for those who did not believe in the cause, were forced under pain of legal penalty to participate, but were also abused when they got home.

1735099 said...

Stating the cause of the Vietnam war is not an opinion - it is a fact.
It is an opinion. You could also claim, assuming your logic, that opposition to Communism was the cause of the war. It takes two to tango, and the Vietnamese were fighting on their own soil over what form of government they wanted. What business was that of anyone except the Vietnamese, and how did it justify the presence (at its peak) of 549,500 US troops in 1968?
As a proud Australian, how would you react to an incursion of half a million foreign troops in this country attempting to force a particular form of government in Canberra?

Anonymous said...

"As a proud Australian, how would you react to an incursion of half a million foreign troops in this country attempting to force a particular form of government in Canberra?"
I'd conscript every man jack in the country.
Except you, with your record of running away from your own values and the front line.
John Grey.

1735099 said...

I'd conscript every man jack in the country.
Would be unnecessary here if we were invaded, just as it was in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, the conscripts were fighting for Saigon, but the VC were mostly volunteers.
Their fathers had fought the French, and they were simply following family tradition.

Anonymous said...

"Would be unnecessary here if we were invaded"
Your Chinese overlords have already invaded Australia through property purchase, business destruction, and immigration. You just haven't noticed - you are speaking about an invasion technique that is so last century.
John Grey

Anonymous said...

"What business was that of anyone "
You answered your own question by mentioning the Domino Theory.
As Eisenhower said, losing Vietnam to the communists could lead to “loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following.” Even Japan was at risk.
America and Australia entered the Vietnam war to stop the spread of communism.
Your support of communism leads to many blind spots in your opinions.
John Grey.

Anonymous said...

Calling for an apology from communist sympathisers and their fellow travellers on the left (like the blogger) is always going to fail.
John Grey

1735099 said...

Calling for an apology from communist sympathisers and their fellow travellers on the left (like the blogger) is always going to fail.
You have a strange idea of what constitutes a "Communist sympathiser".
Apparently it can be applied as a term of abuse to anyone who expresses an opinion which is at variance to yours.
Using your definition, the voters of Australia who put Whitlam into office in 1972 were "Communist sympathisers".
You inhabit some kind of alternative universe.

1735099 said...

You answered your own question by mentioning the Domino Theory.
A theory which has been thoroughly discredited post April 1975.

Anonymous said...

The Domino Theory has not been discredited.
Quite the opposite.
The commitment to stopping communism was noted by the communists and they stopped their expansion via warfare. They realised other means were required.
John Grey.

1735099 said...

The Domino Theory has not been discredited.
It has - https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/domino-theory
The domino theory was a Cold War policy that suggested a communist government in one nation would quickly lead to communist takeovers in neighboring states, each falling like a perfectly aligned row of dominos. In Southeast Asia, the U.S. government used the now-discredited domino theory to justify its involvement in the Vietnam War and its support for a non-communist dictator in South Vietnam. In fact, the American failure to prevent a communist victory in Vietnam had much less of an impact than had been assumed by proponents of the domino theory. With the exception of Laos and Cambodia, communism failed to spread throughout Southeast Asia.

Anonymous said...

"communism failed to spread throughout Southeast Asia", "With the exception of Laos and Cambodia." So it did spread, after your failed efforts in Vietnam. They just got smarter...buying up and party line influence still amounts to ideological and political takeover. JG is correct. Instead of dominoes end on end they are set up long edge on long edge.

1735099 said...

"communism failed to spread throughout Southeast Asia", "With the exception of Laos and Cambodia." So it did spread,
You could at a pinch argue that Laos is Communist, in that it has aligned with nominally Communist Vietnam and signed a 1979 agreement disassociating its policies from those of China.
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy - officially a parliamentary representative democracy, but is effectively a one-party state as opposition parties are not tolerated. It is not "Communist" and hasn't been for decades.

Anonymous said...

Good heavens blogger your logic is reprehensible.
We are talking about the spread of communism 50 years ago and you try to refute that argument by telling us what Cambodia is today?
Try telling us that communism didn't spread to Kampuchea from North Vietnam.
Try telling us that the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-78) wasn't communist.

Even that haven of leftist thought, Wikipedia, talks extensively about communism spreading through the region. As I said, like dominoes falling.
John Grey

1735099 said...

We are talking about the spread of communism 50 years ago and you try to refute that argument by telling us what Cambodia is today?
Unlike yourself, I live in the present.
In case you didn't get the memo, the cold war finished a long time ago.

1735099 said...

And the dominos didn't fall😊

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