The Vietnam War

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Neville Briggs
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The Vietnam War

Post by Neville Briggs » Wed Jun 15, 2011 5:02 pm

I registered for national service in 1967, but I didn't get selected in the ballot so I have little knowledge of the experience of servicemen in Vietnam.

What I am intending to mention here is the Vietnam War experience as it affected those in Australia who were not servicemen.

I suggest that the Vietnam War was a major turning point in the culture and dynamics of Australian Society for a number of reasons.

First. Conscription.
Australia had been polarised in 1915 when Billy Hughes ( ALP PM ) introduced compulsory military training or National Service. THis was defeated at two referendums and finished by 1929. There was a short period of National Service in the fifties which to my knowledge caused no drama.
National Service was introduced in Australia by Menzies in 1964. In 1965 the government introduced legislation to allow conscripts to serve overseas in combat.
The first oppostion was a group called Save our Sons and from that the opposition to National Service and the Vietnam War grew to a very large social event. Because of my job, I was present at many of the anti-conscription /anti-Vietnam War rallies. These demonstrations and mass rallies grew enormously into a public phenomenon, I think, never before experienced in Australia. They introduced into our society, a strident questioning of the government, which I think before that had been almost unthinkable. Gough Whitlam was elected to a large extent on the promise to abolish conscription and retreat from the Vietnam War.

Second. A growing growing distaste in the mind of the Australian people to engage in military adventures. The Vietnam War was extensively covered by TV reporting. The images of destruction and the horror of the sight of the casualties from a mechanised, technological war machine started to convince Australians that war was no longer an honourable course for our young men. This view was fed by the left wing socialist government and their supporters in the media, of the early 70s.

Third. The drug culture was introduced to Australia. During the Vietnam conflict thousands of American servicemen came to Sydney for R&R. They brought with them an influence of the American way of using recreational narcotics. Drug use was not new to Australia but the 60s and 70s brought an expansion of narcotic use, starting in Kings Cross near the Naval Base and spreading from there. Once again,because of my job, I was witness to the change that took place in our society as the use of illegal narcotics took hold more and more.

Fourth. The influx of refugees. The Vietnam War as I recall was the start of large numbers of people who came to Australia as refugees from war torn countries. Many of the Vietnamese I suspect were ethnic Chinese who, as the commercial class, fled the Communist regime that suceeded in Vietnam. This brought about the movement of Australian society to what is now called multi-culturalism.


So I think, apart from the experience of combat by Australian soldiers in Vietnam, that era changed Australia as a whole forever.
Public disorderly protests and contempt for the authorities became an accepted part of our culture. Those who dedicated their lives and made sacrifices to serve Australia were rebuffed as violators. Military service became to be regarded as uncivilised.
The disgraceful selfishness and lawlessnes of the drug culture now permeates all parts of our society like a cancer.
I think that I would be unchallenged in pointing to multiculturalism as a major shift in Australian culture since the 70s.
Last edited by Neville Briggs on Fri Jun 17, 2011 8:03 am, edited 4 times in total.
Neville
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

r.magnay
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Re: The Vietnam War

Post by r.magnay » Wed Jun 15, 2011 9:12 pm

I missed out on signing up by a couple of months Neville, but of course I remember most of what you write about......except I lived in the bush and we were not exposed to the drugs and protests first hand. I did work with a bloke who had just come home from over there, he is a twin so because of the ballot system they both went, fortunately they also both came home. Yes you are right, it certainly changed Australia forever I think.
Ross

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Zondrae
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Re: The Vietnam War

Post by Zondrae » Thu Jun 16, 2011 10:12 pm

G'day all,

Someone (I never have discovered who) sent in a registration form in my name. I had a letter from the draft board telling me I would be advised when to turn up for a medical. I guess my birthday must have come out in the ballot. I rang the department and told them I was female and knew nothing about registering. I didn't hear from them again. I still wonder who did it.
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Neville Briggs
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Re: The Vietnam War

Post by Neville Briggs » Fri Jun 17, 2011 8:04 am

You should have turned up for the medical Zondrae. That would have been interesting :lol:
Neville
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

warooa

Re: The Vietnam War

Post by warooa » Fri Jun 17, 2011 8:35 am

You make some very valid points, Neville. I'm way too young to have any first-hand memories, but as a student of history I beg the question - a change for the better? I can't help but hear a bit of a twang there that we were much better off without the social upheaval, the protests, and the questioning of authourity.

I understand totally that from a perspective of your proffesional position you see it as contempt for authority and even peace and stability, but I think that it was way overdue that we stood up and said we don't want our young people to be used as cannon fodder for someone elses cruel and ill-concieved war.

That is the most important point you make, that prior to this time questioning of authority was almost unthinkable.

Marty

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Re: The Vietnam War

Post by Vic Jefferies » Fri Jun 17, 2011 11:42 am

The Vietnam War and the events surrounding it certainly had a tremendous impact not only upon Australia but the whole world.
It was the era that signalled a complete change of the status quo and showed what determined people power could achieve. Unfortunately, all was not what it seemed in that a great many genuine people were manipulated by forces which had ulterior motives and saw the unrest in the general population as a long awaited opportunity to achieve their own political ends, which they did with gusto. That is not to say that those who genuinely opposed our involvement were wrong or that they shouldn't have voiced their opinions it is merely stating a fact. I remember seeing Vietnam's greatest general, General Giap interviewed after the war when he said, "We won the war in the sitting rooms of America!" A reference to the fact that the North Vietnamese fully understood and utilised the adverse publicity and the anti war movement's influence in America.
The Vietnam War, to use a cliche, was "different." There was no crystal clear objective; there was no immediate and real threat to our country; there was not unanimous support among the Australian population for the war; for the first time Australian national servicemen were sent overseas to fight;not all of our allies agreed with the war nor supported our efforts; for the first time we went to war without England; a great many people did not know or had ever previously heard of Vietnam; there were no clearly defined battlefields and most importantly perhaps the public got to see the reality of war on their tv sets while having dinner; much of the reporting was biased; our politicians were divided and returning servicemen were despised.
I believe that our involvement was the true beginning of the "Americanization" of Australia and the end of the old school "Britishness" that had pervaded much of our bureaucracy and government.
As one who served all I can say is that we who were there believed we were preventing the communist north from invading the free south and I will always remember the many ordinary South Vietnamese that I came to know as being grateful that we were there to help prevent the invasion of their country.
Just to correct a common error: most people believe it was Gough Whitlam who withdrew the Australian Forces when in fact it was his predecessor Prime Minister William McMahon who made that decision in August 1971.

Vic

Neville Briggs
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Re: The Vietnam War

Post by Neville Briggs » Fri Jun 17, 2011 5:36 pm

Thanks Ross

G'day Marty. I could go on too long about it Marty. I'll just say there is a difference between dissenting from Government policy and making public criticism, to an environment where any insult or demeaning jibe and even assaults and damage to property are freely engaged in by so-called protesters, which is what we have to-day..

I think everything you say is spot on Vic.
Last edited by Neville Briggs on Sat Jun 18, 2011 4:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Neville
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

Bob Pacey
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Re: The Vietnam War

Post by Bob Pacey » Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:38 pm

Missed the draft by one day so I have nothing to add.


Bob
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Vic Jefferies
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Re: The Vietnam War

Post by Vic Jefferies » Sat Jun 18, 2011 4:09 pm

Neville, the thing that really astounds me is the number of people who now occupy or have occupied senior positions at every level of government, the judiciary, the press, arts and education fields, etcetera who were, at the time of the Vietnam War protests, absolutely radical extremists. I don't mean just outspoken or vociferous I mean raving, rabid, ideologues who not only opposed the war (as was their right) but actively supported the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, denigrated and demeaned our returning servicemen and were opposed to our form of government.
If they had lived in North Vietnam at the time and voiced similar views in support of America or her allies they would have been summarily shot! We on the other hand not only forgive and forget but reward them!

Neville Briggs
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Re: The Vietnam War

Post by Neville Briggs » Sat Jun 18, 2011 5:08 pm

That's right Vic. One of the radical protesters was Frank Walker. he became the NSW Attorney General and retired as a Supreme Court Judge. He became famous or infamous depending on your view , being blamed for beginning a trend of softening the traditional intolerance for public disorderly behaviour.

It was quite astonishing for police officers to stand by while large crowds chanted Ho.. Ho ...Ho Chi Minh, Victory to the VietCong, while our troops were in combat with these people being lauded.
One of my mates was absolutely flabbergasted on the biggest " moratorium " day when thousands of people blocked the roads in Sydney and Melbourne in the main CBDs and all chanted loudly ..1,2,3,4, we dont want your f#*+ing war.
Last edited by Neville Briggs on Sat Jun 18, 2011 7:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Neville
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

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