Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Monday, 14 June 2021

Review: The Long Shadow


This book has been a long time coming.
 
It provides vindication for surviving Vietnam veterans, although a bit late for the 500 who didn't come back, and those who have died since.

It was commissioned by the Australian War Memorial under Brendan Nelson's sponsorship and offers a riposte to the Evatt Commission and its findings.

That Commission, which pitted volunteer Vietnam veterans against highly paid silks, came to a set of conclusions that treated veterans as disposable political collateral. That set of conclusions has been well and truly eviscerated by Yule's comprehensive and patient research.

 The health outcomes for Vietnam veterans post-conflict are stark.

Of the 60,000 troops who went to Vietnam, 74.7% are classified by the Department of Veterans Affairs as suffering from some form of service-related health impact. These include physical disability, health problems related to chemical exposure and varying degrees of psychological trauma. The 3,129 who were severely injured suffer the resulting long-term effects. Many more were subject to less severe but still debilitating injuries such as hearing loss, which affects around a third of all Vietnam Veterans today.

What made Vietnam different was that it was the first conflict that saw the widespread use of herbicides such as the defoliant Agent Orange. Exposure has been linked to cancers, fertility issues, and birth defects. An extensive 2005 study by the Department of Veteran Affairs found that male Vietnam veterans have an increased cancer rate overall, including significantly higher rates of Hodgkin’s disease – explicitly linked to herbicides – as well as prostate and various other cancers. 

A connection has also been established between service in Vietnam and higher rates of skin and lung cancer which can be put down to higher rates of sun exposure and smoking. 

The long-term impacts of non-combat chemicals such as DDT, now banned in Australia due to their potentially carcinogenic properties; and  the use of Dapsone as an anti-malarial drug, which has been linked to circulatory and digestive disorders are still not completely understood.

Also not yet well understood are the intergenerational impacts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but it seems that the consequences of this conflict may be felt by generations to come.

The Evatt Commission plagiarised huge slices of the evidence of chemical companies and used them on the floor of the Commission. Veteran witnesses at the time believed they were deliberately intimidated and completely disadvantaged by the legal representation.


Dr. Yule interviewed many veterans, and their voices can be heard through the pages of his book. His approach is compassionate, fearless, and meticulous. The extensive bibliography, notes, and indices are evidence of the work he put into his research and the deep understanding of veterans he developed in the course of this project.

It was gratifying to note the half dozen citations from my memoir. There's plenty out there, and Peter Yule has obviously read them all.

He contextualises the war in Vietnam across conflicts going back as far as the Romans, the Medieval wars, the Napoleonic era, and the American Civil War. He describes the impact of industrialised warfare on soldiers during the First World War, and the beginnings of the understandings of the effects of psychological trauma.

He outlines the institutionalisation of repatriation in Australia after the first World War and traces the development of policy and practice in the area. He compares and contrasts the Australian experience of war in Vietnam with other conflicts, and points out how factors such as exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and the lack of a front line were particularly impactful. The lack of a front line meant that there was no safe place, even for those behind the wire. For those outside the wire, there was simply no respite from deadly threat. Survival depended on hypervigilance. When living with this hypervigilance across a ten-week operation, it became an ingrained habit that persisted even when the threat was no longer a reality.

His description of the ten-plus years of relative silence post the Australian withdrawal in 1972, and the fall of Saigon in 1975 lead the reader into a very comprehensive treatment of the Agent Orange controversy and ultimately the Evatt Commission. Yule is especially critical of F.B. Smith's official history. Smith seems to have made up his mind that the veterans were simply in pursuit of financial benefit, and wrote his account with that notion as the only consideration. The fact that recent research, including a number of morbidity studies, have largely vindicated the claims of the veterans has exposed Smith's bias.


We are grateful to the War Memorial Council and to Dr. Brendan Nelson for this opportunity to correct this long-standing blight on the reputation of Phil Thompson and his team of campaigning Vietnam veterans and to correct the long-standing misinformation on the veterans’ case before the Agent Orange Royal Commission.

The title of the last chapter of Yule's book is War Without Purpose, War Without End.

He closes the book with a quote from veteran Graham Chandler -

I've nothing to hide. I'm proud of what I did. I'm proud of the mates I was with.

Most veterans would echo this, and it is this truth-telling about the war and its aftermath that is so important. 

Peter Yule has eloquently exposed the truth of the experience of Vietnam veterans during the last fifty years, and hopefully, this truth will be the last step to the final reconciliation of these men with the community that sent them to war, but initially rejected them when they came home.

Included in this review is the youtube video of the book's launch, which had to be conducted remotely because of the pandemic.


Buy the book, or search it out in the library, especially if you're a friend or family of a Vietnam veteran. It's a great read, and it may help you understand him better.




21 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Wow! I'd love to know where you heard that." Really can't recall, but the first place you showed up on my radar was on "Kev Gilletts sheet. I haven't read the book, trust me.

1735099 said...

I haven't read the book, trust me.

That's obvious.
Maybe you should ask ex-members of my rifle platoon about how I conducted myself in country. The idiots who abused me uphill and down dale on Kev's page wouldn't know me if they fell over me.
They just don't like my opinions, so they substitute abuse for argument.

Anonymous said...

You put so much out there, Bob. Photos, hobbies, family members etc. From all that information you might be surprised what someone who doesn't like you can glean.
You claim that "The idiots who abused me uphill and down dale on Kev's page wouldn't know me if they fell over me.
They just don't like my opinions, so they substitute abuse for argument."
Look deeply into what you said there, old mate and look into the mirror. That is hardly non-inflammatory language speaking about your detractors. If you seek like minded opinions from everyone (and some would say you get them) you should perhaps not publish your thoughts. If you publish your thoughts try to remain thoughtful and give the outward appearance of a cool head when others call BS. If you put it out there be prepared to prove detractors wrong. If you are unable to do so and still claim to be right, join a political party. You can always vote green so that you appear not to be voting Labor.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"I had two opportunities to avoid service in Vietnam.
The first was to put in a preference for Education Corps at the end of recruit training. I did that but was assigned to Infantry.
The second was to apply for a posting to a battalion due to return from Vietnam.
I did so and was posted to 7 RAR which was sent to Vietnam eight months after I joined."
The first cited opportunity to avoid Vietnam was a choice of preference for a corp and only available if there was a vacancy. If your known skills could have been utilised the Army would have done so. Infantry was the next corp where your skills or lack of them could be utilised. Seven was being formed up for the trip and it was known in June 69 that they were going. You got lucky. You should have used that other method to avoid going...you know, asking Ron if you could avoid accompanying your mates.

1735099 said...

You should have used that other method to avoid going...you know, asking Ron if you could avoid accompanying your mates.
Even if I had done that, and Grey had granted my request, I would have still ended up rejoining the battalion, as evidenced by the outcome of Stan Larsson's case. We've had this discussion before, and it's off-topic on this post, so go here -https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=4203110337754630589&postID=3462747515348254503

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Using the situation of Larsson is hardly relevant to your situation. Grey granted that request but a ministerial enquiry over-rode the decision. The enquiry was not a standard procedure but was initiated outside military channels, but you know that.

1735099 said...

Using the situation of Larsson is hardly relevant to your situation.
It's completely relevant, and you knew that when you wrote upthread - You should have used that other method to avoid going...you know, asking Ron if you could avoid accompanying your mates.
Grey granted that request but a ministerial enquiry over-rode the decision.
That was always the case when it came to Vietnam. The political imperatives always prevailed over the military requirements.

Anonymous said...

That was not the usual practice when the CO granted a reposting to another unit. I know two who were posted out and no family initiated ministerial enquiry took place. Neither were returned to the Battalion. That being the case your claim of a similar situation to Stan is untrue, unless a separate ministerial enquiry was started before you were granted the transfer. You didn't have the intestinal fortitude or perhaps the knowledge to ask for exclusion from the job you were given. You can't in all honestly claim that what occurred in Stan's posting situation was even likely to happen to you. Think of something else rather than "it would have been a waste of time because....", your situation was different.

1735099 said...

I know two who were posted out and no family initiated ministerial enquiry took place.
Probably because those families didn't write to an activist local (Labor) member who followed up. Read the relevant Hansard - http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1970/19700611_reps_27_hor68/#subdebate-26-0
Once the question was asked in parliament, the issue became political, and Peacock (then Army Minister) made an issue of it, any decision made at unit level was ripe for overturning.

1735099 said...

The relevant Hansard reference is difficult to find, so I'll record it here so you can understand the sequence of events. The person making representations is the Right Honourable Norm Foster, then member for Sturt and Stan's local Federal member.
Parliamentary Hansard - House of Representatives 11 June 1970 -
Mr FOSTER:Sturt -
I had intended in this grievance day debate to deal with a matter relating to cottages for the aged, but I am now awaiting confirmation of information I received earlier this morning. I realise that the time granted to me in this debate is extremely short. Therefore I want to raise in this House the matter of the late Private Larsson, who was unfortunately killed in Vietnam last Saturday. On behalf of the parents of this soldier I wrote to the Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock) early in January requesting that this soldier not be sent into active combat in Vietnam because of his extremely poor eyesight. The soldier, as the Minister informed me, was transferred from his then regiment, the 7th Battalion, into the 5th Battalion and he was in due course boarded. Finally I received from the Minister the following letter:

I refer again to your personal representations concerning Private S. G. Larsson and his proposed posting to Vietnam.

All members of the Army, whether regular soldiers or national servicemen have the same liability to serve overseas should the needs of the Army require it.

The member’s medical condition has been investigated by officers of my Department in Eastern Command and he was medically boarded on 3 February 1970 and was found to be fully fit for service everywhere. His eye condition is corrected by the wearing of spectacles, which are obtainable from any source, including Vietnam.

Private Larsson will be issued with 2 pairs of spectacles in accordance with normal Army practice. This is to ensure that if one pair of spectacles is damaged, a replacement pair is immediately available. Let me assure you that no soldier would be permitted to serve in an operational area if it was felt his medical condition would endanger either his own life or that of his colleagues.

Careful consideration has been given to Mr and Mrs Larsson’s request but I cannot accede to their wishes, even though I can readily understand their anxiety and, in fact, the anxiety of any parents whose son is required to serve in an operational area.

In earlier correspondence, I pointed out that Private Larsson was in need of glasses of a type requiring specially ground lenses which were not readily available. The fact that the Army, having its wilful way, directed this soldier back to the 7th Battalion, into Vietnam and into a combat zone would leave a very real thought forever with his next of kin, his parents and his brothers and sisters, that he probably died as a result of this poor vision. I understand he lost his life through a mine explosion in Vietnam.

It would be very interesting to know, and there should be some form of inquiry to establish, whether this did occur.

With the short time that is available to me, I also wish to read a letter which was directed to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and of which I received a copy. The letter is from the late soldier’s father and it says:


(I'll have to split the post as there are too many characters for one comment).

1735099 said...

Stan Larsson Senior's letter -
Thirty years ago, you and I were engaged actively in a conflict on an issue that was beyond doubt. We fought for freedom from individual oppression and tyranny, and I was proud to be an Australian.

A short while ago, I was informed that my son was killed in action in Vietnam.

In Vietnam there emerged a terrible armed struggle between the peoples of one race - father against son, brother against brother, each fighting desperately for principles I no longer understand, but it was a family struggle, which in the final event will only be resolved between the people of Vietnam.

Yet into this conflict, Mr Prime Minister, powerful neighbours intruded, and so you committed Australia. You felt that by armed force, your ideals might be thrust upon these people. Through your intrusion, you and your colleagues introduced into Australia, the very principles against which I was prepared, with others, to die if necessary.

This is your Australia, Mr Prime Minister, and I no longer have pride in being an Australian.

Into the conflagration that is Vietnam, you sent my son, a man whom you knew that without his glasses, could not see a hand held four feet away, or a car at 30 feet, and whom you told could see reasonably well with glasses. You advised him to keep them clean, yet in the torrid humidity of Vietnam, you could not tell him how.

He went, Mr Prime Minister, because you told him it was right and honorable.

Was it, Mr Prime Minister? Why? For whom?

A thousand questions flood my mind. How do I answer his young widow, or my children?

Did he die to further the political ambition of yourself or your colleagues? Or was it to allow you to ingratiate yourself upon the leaders of the most powerful, yet most hated and feared nation in the world today?

Do I answer them that it is the cowardice of men too proud to admit to a horrible tragic error?

Wherein lies the truth Mr Prime Minister, and how long must this carnage of Australian manhood continue How many more must die under the conditions you have chosen to impose. What is the truth? Why? For what?

In the depthless horror of sorrow and grief. I turn to my friends and ask, but none can tell me, none can answer, so I must turn to you.

Perhaps if in the interests of human justice, and of truth, the news media and journals of our day can find the courage to publish my letter to you, I may find truth, or perhaps, Mr Prime Minister, time may show that my son did not die in vain.


To clarify, the sequence of events was this -
1. In January 1970, Stan (or Stan's father) made representations to Norm Foster to have him reposted. Norm Foster wrote to Andrew Peacock, Army Minister.
2. Simultaneously, R.A. Grey posted Stan to 5 RAR. I'm not sure under what circumstances this occurred, but a reasonable assumption is that Stan (or his father) made representations at unit level, and the reposting was the consequence.
3. Because Norm Foster's initial representations were in the political arena, Andrew Peacock (the Minister for the Army) became involved.
4. Stan was "boarded" i.e. went before a medical board under ministerial instructions to make the political point that Nashos were not to be treated any differently from regs, under the NS Act.
5. The board made the decision that Stan was fit to serve and he was reposted to 7 RAR.
6. Stan was killed in a mine explosion on 6th June 1970.
7. Norm Foster read Stan's father's letter into to Hansard.
The depth of Stan's father's grief is apparent in his letter. He believed that Stan's death and the deaths of all Australians killed in Vietnam were a consequence of grubby domestic politics. Stan Larsson senior was a returned serviceman from WW2. So was my father and he had exactly the same opinion about our involvement in Vietnam as Stan's dad,
May Stan and his dad (and mine) rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the excerpt explaining Stan's situation and the obvious grief of his father.
It still does not indicate that the situation would have been the same as yours as you claim.
We will leave it there.

1735099 said...

It still does not indicate that the situation would have been the same as yours as you claim.
I did not have a medical condition that would have precluded me from operational service in a rifle platoon, so what would have been the point in talking to Grey? I simply did not believe that you could defeat Communism in Vietnam by killing Vietnamese. History has proved me correct.
You did not know me at the time and have no idea of what my motives were, so you are in no position to make judgments over 50 years later. If you read my book, you will find that I have been completely honest about my involvement all those years ago. It's a pity that history is often reconstructed by those who have invested their self-esteem in mythology.

Anonymous said...

"It's a pity that history is often reconstructed by those who have invested their self-esteem in mythology." Fortunately you are not speaking of me. It is also a pity that attempts to alter history are made by those who believe their perceptions are the only valid ones to exclusion of all others. Insults are a method used by "educated" lefties when they have no further rational information to offer to a conversation when doubt is cast on their beliefs. You merely prove that assumption, Bobby boy.

1735099 said...

their perceptions are the only valid ones to exclusion of all others
I'm not interested in perceptions.
I'm interested in facts, which is why I'm researching motives and options for National Servicemen. If I regarded my perceptions to be the only valid ones I'd hardly be asking others for theirs.
Insults are a method used by "educated" lefties
I avoid insults and labels.
The term "lefty" is used by people who label rather than analyze.
It's usually applied to those who question interference in foreign wars. By that definition, Stan Larsson's father and mine were "Lefties".
That is a completely absurd notion.
Scroll up and read what he wrote about interfering in conflict in other countries.
In 2021, the terms "Left" and "Right" have lost any real meaning.

Anonymous said...

Seeking perceptions, beliefs and facts that others are aware of does not mean that you give credibility to others, Bobby. You know that. That can be like selectively taking a poll or collecting stats with the aim already in mind. Very easily done and practised frequently.
Voting Labor/Green (your admission) makes you a lefty, creating your own label.
Your assertion that my use of the term "lefty" makes me one of a group who labels rather than analyses, makes you one of the group of people who label rather than analyse. My reference to "lefty" was about your method of employing insult in a conversation to avoid a relevant answer. Your inclusion of Mr. Larsson and your father as an example to prove your assertion is unwarranted and disrespectful to both men.
Left= socialist/communist, right= conservative, in the minds of the lay person.

1735099 said...

Seeking perceptions, beliefs and facts that others are aware of does not mean that you give credibility to others
Depends what you do with them.
If you're writing a supervised thesis and you misreport your findings, the research is not recognised by the institution.
Voting Labor/Green (your admission) makes you a lefty,
It makes me someone who votes Labor/Green. That is all. Your label is irrelevant.
Your inclusion of Mr. Larsson and your father as an example to prove your assertion is unwarranted and disrespectful to both men.
I made no "assertion. How is it disrespectful to report their opinion?
What would be "disrespectful" would be to dismiss it.
Their memory is honored by the truth, not careless mythology.

Anonymous said...

If you write a thesis and omit some of your findings the research it may well be recognised by the institution if the research falls in line with the ideals of said institution.
"It makes me someone who votes Labor/Green." Which means you are not a conservative or voter for the independants. That makes you a lefty (socialist/communist), and in your case a lefty that disagrees with Australia's involvement in certain wars. Disagreeing with wars and Australia's involvement is not restricted to lefties, Bobby, so you finger pointing is way off line.

1735099 said...

If you write a thesis and omit some of your findings the research it may well be recognised by the institution if the research falls in line with the ideals of said institution.
Now you're into conspiracies. My supervisor is an Iraq veteran and a Major in the ADF reserve. I strongly doubt he'd entertain any academic hanky panky.
That makes you a lefty (socialist/communist).
Better get your labels straight.
What's the difference between a socialist and a communist?
Paying war pensions to veterans is a socialist policy, by the way.
Is that element of "socialism" OK with you, or is it evil and disgraceful?
Or can you be a little bit "socialist"?
Maybe it's like being a little bit pregnant.

Anonymous said...

Service pensions and aged pensions are about the same in monetary terms so it matters not which one you get. War pensions as you refer to them no longer exist and have probably been replaced by the current system of remuneration for injury or death caused due to employment in the military, in the same way that private employers insure their workers. Of course the tax payers are the ones responsible for the remuneration of Government workers. It seems irrelevant to me which party was in Government in 1914. I have noticed that the policy has remained in force no matter who had the reins and who initiated things is no longer relevant unless you are a historian. Whitlam did however stuff up the war service home loans system.
I have not said that socialism is evil or disgraceful so that is good to hear you admit.
Have you noticed that socialists pray at the same alter as communists but take great steps to avoid mentioning that fact and often deny, deny, deny. Some even vote for one party to avoid being seen associated with the other merely on a difference of degree of Marxist belief. Karl is a name familiar to both I believe.

1735099 said...

Service pensions and aged pensions are about the same in monetary terms so it matters not which one you get.
They are both welfare programmes based on the notion that the state has the right to harness taxpayer dollars to benefit a segment of the population. That time-honoured practice is socialism in operation.
Have you noticed that socialists pray at the same alter (sic) as communists but take great steps to avoid mentioning that fact and often deny, deny, deny.
What altar?
What are they denying?
Some even vote for one party to avoid being seen associated with the other merely on a difference of degree of Marxist belief.
First up - we have the secret ballot in this country, so that statement is completely meaningless.
Secondly, there is no Australian Communist party to vote for, so you are making absolutely no sense at all.
And I'm wondering what any of this has to do with a 19th-century German philosopher.
Hegel has as much to do with this issue as Marx, which is absolutely nothing.

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