Nothing To Celebrate

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PHUOC TUY PROVINCE, VIETNAM, 18 AUGUST 1966. For a period of 48 hours, around one hundred soldiers from D-Company, Royal Australian Regiment, risked annihilation at the hands of a much larger force of Vietnamese guerrillas. Had it not been for the deadly artillery shells dropped upon the Vietnamese positions by Australian and New Zealand gunners, and the crucial air support supplied by the Royal Australian, and the United States’, air forces, the first serious engagement involving Australian and New Zealand forces in the Vietnam War could have ended in disaster. As it was, the 18 Australian soldiers killed in and around the Long Tan rubber plantation on 18 August 1966 only served to deepen the domestic divide between supporters and opponents of Australian participation in the Vietnam conflict.

Quite why the New Zealand Government has decided to “celebrate” the Battle of Long Tan which (the participation of Kiwi artillerymen notwithstanding) was an overwhelmingly Australian engagement, remains something of a mystery. Perhaps it’s because Long Tan represents one of the few examples of Australian and New Zealand soldiers engaging the People’s Army of Vietnam (also known as the Viet-Cong) more-or-less independently. As such, it makes it easier to represent the Vietnam War as just another of the many conflicts in which New Zealanders have fought, and its veterans as essentially no different from the participants in all our other wars.

Except, of course, that the Vietnam War was very far from being ‘just another’ war. It was the largest and the most destructive of a series of military conflicts waged to prevent the “spread of communism” in South East Asia.

That the people of Vietnam were fighting for their national independence every bit as much as they were fighting for communism cut little ice in Washington, Canberra and Wellington. The nations of the so-called “Free World” were convinced that the slightest sign of weakness in the face of national liberation struggles backed by the Soviet Union and/or the People’s Republic of China would only result in more and more of the world’s newly independent nations denying their markets to capitalist exploitation. To prevent that from happening the United States was willing to hurl at the unfortunate Vietnamese people all the non-nuclear weaponry it possessed. Millions were killed.

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Vietnam was an unjust, ideologically-driven war of aggression against a nation of peasant rice-farmers, and the revulsion it created – especially among the young – gave rise to an international anti-war movement of extraordinary intensity. In attempting to defeat the Vietnamese, the US armed forces committed appalling atrocities and the US Government revealed to the world America’s ugliest features. Eventually, the American people, along with the people of Australia and New Zealand, refused to back the war. With the withdrawal of American military support, the US puppet government of “South Vietnam” collapsed. By 1975 Vietnam had, at enormous cost, finally freed itself from the clutches of western imperialism.

New Zealand’s participation in the Vietnam War, no matter how marginal, represented a shameful capitulation to American pressure. It was an immoral war which we should never have joined, and the idea of “celebrating” its fiftieth anniversary should be repugnant to all thinking New Zealanders. Those who participated in the fighting for reasons of “adventure”, or on account of the “big money” offered, were a far cry from the conscript soldiers of the First and Second World Wars. Their participation in the conflict did, however, leave many of them physically and psychologically scarred. For that they deserve our pity, but not our respect. The cause they were fighting for was not a good one. It should be remembered only as a lesson in the perils of participating in imperialist aggression.

42 COMMENTS

  1. Glorification of war is an important weapon in the propagandists’ arsenal. I’m sure John and the gang have got a plan to remilitarise the thinking of New Zealanders, in preparation for the next round of military conflict the so-called ‘free world’ cannot possibly win, the eighth (or is it the eighteenth? it’s so hard to keep track) attempt to take down Russia and steal its resources.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkxWudy8SfE

    • Glorification of war is an important weapon in the propagandists’ arsenal.

      Exactly what I was thinking. National seem to be trying to soften us up to accept being in another US led war.

  2. Chris, The Battle of Long Tan means a great deal to me and my wife. Her father (and my father in law) served int eh Battle of Long Tan and Maj. Morrie Stanley (RNZA)was decorated for his actions under fire including calling in the guns on his own position as it was about to be over run. His actions saved many lives. My father in law was the forward observer who was almost over run himself until evacuated to go back tot eh Battery position. They sat and slept on those guns in pouring monsoon rains and the Aussie credit the 161 battery with saving their lives by the constant barrage maintain by the Kiwi gunners.

    Sure youy can argue about the morality of the war, but when has nay war been moral, but please don’t disrespect the efforts of the soldiers who were doing their jobs. Take it out on politicians by all means but not the soldiers. As for your comment on teh big money offered to serve, well with repect that is just bullshit. How about talking with some of the remaining soldiers…about the anti-malria pills that didn’t work, the constant soakings in Agent Orange and the actual horrors of the war rather than talk blithely to the socialist talking points about the war.

    I’m proud of the service of my great grandfather at Gallipoli and my FIL in Vietnam. My FIL doesn’t want pity, and he sure deserves respect for the sacrifice of his service.

    • How about talking with some of the remaining soldiers…about the anti-malria pills that didn’t work, the constant soakings in Agent Orange and the actual horrors of the war rather than talk blithely to the socialist talking points about the war.

      The points you make there are the socialist talking points.

      Along with the fact that it was a war that shouldn’t have happened. If anything we should have been supporting the Vietnamese independence and, yes, even their communism. After all – it was their choice to make and not ours. I’m pretty sure that you’ll find such choice is protected in the UN Charter signed by the founding members of the UN which included the US, Australia and NZ. It’s a pity that we’ve never actually supported that clause though.

    • Cam, no one is denying the sacrifice made by your ancestors and family members. Doesn’t mean we have to glorify war, tho, does it?

      WE have family members who served in Korea. WHile we respect their endeavours, we condemn the waste of lives lost, on both sides.

    • “he sure deserves respect for the sacrifice of his service.” I don’t believe he does. Perhaps one could have sympathy for him, being conned into joining the US in this wicked war.
      But I just wonder who the sacrifice was made for. None of the rest of us that’s for sure.

    • Personal feelings and blind loyalties do not justify invasion and murder in any way. There are many victims and they should be recognised as such.

      The legacy of blind denial is never justification.

      Personal motives do play a part.

    • There is no morality in imperialist wars. A BBC article (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27243803) quotes historian Julian Jackson who wrote that a senior French diplomat remembered US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles offering the French Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault, in April 1954, two atomic bombs for use in Vietnam. Where the French failed in Indochina the US thought it could triumph. Jesus said “forgive them father for they know not what they do”. Forgiveness is beautiful but responsibility for one’s actions and the committing of aggressive actions in foreign countries that have done you no harm is heinous. People who choose to serve in the military must know that the armed services serve at the behest of politicians. These are the same politicians who were happy to poison Vietnam with Agent Orange. There was a time when so-called ‘Defence’ Ministries were more honestly known as War Ministries. In no way was New Zealand defending itself by committing acts of war in a foreign country. Everyone has the duty to consider the moral implications of waging war in other people’s homelands and whether it could be justified. There was an abundance of evidence available at the time to show the war was a monstrous crime. Those who chose to ignore the evidence and follow the politicians must shoulder their share of the responsibility. The best way to do that would be to say, never again, and work to oppose future wars of aggression.

  3. It was all about keeping the drugs flowing out of SE Asia. Kissinger’s dirty war. Nothing for NZ to celebrate but to remember those who obeyed orders. The people of Vietnam are now being lifted up out of the poverty and despair deliberately created by corporate US warmongers. It’s been along time coming but their currency is about to be revalued upwards and their GDP is better than forecasted. NZ will shrug off the US Inc dog collar and once we breath fresh air and learn what a democracy really is, we’ll do very well too. Not long now for that new day to dawn. Peace, Love and Joy to All.

  4. NZ can hang its head in shame that we sent our young men to further USA aggression and defeat the UN proposal for reunification of Vietnam after the French colonials beat and orderly retreat.

    The people of Indo China had suffered under the French for many decades , then Japanese adventurism followed by USA and puppet “allies” occupying ruthlessly exploiting, killing, bombing, dropping defoliant, napalm, and not satisfied with that the USA then illegally moved in to Loas and Cambodia.

    The sheer quantity of explosives used represented the worst unleash of destruction ever on such a small land space.

    The valiant resistance of the Vietnamese people is legendary. But ij NZ still we get the US Propaganda our Govt has adopted.

    Holyoake was wrong and committed a crime, Kirk was outspoken and successfully tore Holyoke’s diatribe justification to shred in a Vietnam War debate at Victoria university. The papers did not report this aspect of the debate.

    It was not a Vietnam war it was an American war on Vietnam.

    Jack Shallcrass and other Academics lectured in NZ to counter the rotten propaganda fed to NZder through the press.

  5. Well said Chris. Right down to the last sentence – full 100% agreement.
    It is sad that the soldiers who went were not aware of the political duplicity that put them on the morally wrong side, and also sad that they got blamed for that lack of awareness later on. But they were keen to push their own military careers by the best possible avenue at the time.

    Just how well-educated should soldiers be? I should think that really well-educated soldiers would quite often have disobeyed their commanders in the past. Well-educated Wehrmacht and SS soldiers could well have disobeyed orders and so made the Nüremberg Trials much smaller in scope..

    But we rely on our government to be a well-educated commander, and our government that allowed our volunteer troops to go and further their careers in Vietnam made a ghastly, horrible, criminal mistake.

    I wonder how our engagement in Iraq will be seen in future years.

  6. “…the People’s Army of Vietnam (also known as the Viet-Cong)…”

    A small correction: the People’s Army of Vietnam, or PAVN, was the term used for the Regular North Vietnamese Army to which the National Liberation Front with it’s own armed wing the People’s Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam (PLAF), was attached. It was these latter two organisations that made up the Viet Cong.

    Effectively, The Viet Cong were the guerilla force within South Vietnam that was fighting to overthrow the US backed regime, while the PAVN were officially not involved – although whole regiments of PAVN troops frequently took part in the fighting in South Vietnam.

  7. Two points, and a quotation:

    1 ‘Celebrate’ is a loaded word, with associations, certainly these days, with partying and fireworks, etc. If you use a blander word like ‘mark’, it becomes less one-sided. What I have heard from Radio NZ is so far much more balanced.

    2, a question that I should have asked much earlier. I moved to NZ in 1979, from the UK which did not take part; how was this non-participation viewed in NZ, by proponents and opponents of the war?

    In a song many years ago Auckland songwriter Dick Coker wrote
    “If I had the wings of a B52 I’d defoliate Holioake’s garden”, in that short line referencing traditional folk song, coining a brilliant internal rhyme, and creating a powerful metaphor for political opposition.

  8. The people that glorify war are almost always those who never had to pick up a gun and march in the front line.
    Ask the people who did that how glorious it all was.

  9. I don’t doubt that the soldiers who went to Vietnam were volunteers, although it’s hard to imagine a member of the military not putting their hand up to go if asked. But New Zealand is in a very different category to Australia and the US who sent conscripts. Those guys had virtually no meaningful choice.

    It is interesting to hear the media talk on the subject, today. tThey seem to have no idea of just how much of a watershed the Vietnamese adventure became, nor any idea of why we can commemorate but never celebrate our participation. They also seem surprised that Vietnam decided against green-lighting the celebration of Long Tan. Bizarre. (Remember, it turned out that even Kiwi Keith was far from in favour of the war at the time and conspired to send as few people as he could get away with). It was also said to be exposure to New Zealand’s intense opposition to the war that caused Robert McNamara to resign as Secretary of Defense.

  10. I can understand the Vietnamese not wanting the presence of ex-Kiwi soldiers on their ground, celebrating or commemorating the war.

    Would we be so welcoming if the North Koreans wanted to celebrate or commemorate the Korean War in our country? I don’t think so, not for one minute.

    • The “Korean War” was another chapter in the West’s criminal history that NZ has been a willing party at the political level.

      We still get N Korea demonised regularly. The South was captured and occupied by US and “Allies”.

      Korean people want to unify and put behind them the foreign insurgence.

      Korea has paid a very heavy price for Western warfare on its people.

      Who is next. after Syria.

      • No one. US Inc and their corporate war machine is being dismantled. Mass arrests and trials are scheduled and will take place hopefully before Sept 2017! Fingers crossed.

      • The origins of the Korean war cannot be simply attributed to the US aggression or propaganda – Soviet and Chinese influence was very significant and not innocent. North Korea had some legitmacy when it was formed – but much less so under the tyrants Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun. The latter is not much better than John Key.

        • Korea was invaded and turned into a virtual slave camp by the Japanese.

          When the Japanese were defeated in 1945 the Koreans thought they had regained their independence and set up a government. The problem was, that Korean government was far too socialist for corporate America to tolerate (as happened in Italy and Greece), so US troops were hurriedly sent there (none there during WW2, of course) from occupied Japan and the legitimate Korean government was overturned, with the bloodshed we have come to associate with American regime changes.

          The Korean people were not impressed with the US puppet government and revolted: there ensued a vicious air war -all the usual stuff of millions of civilians being bombed- plus a ground war supported by US airpower that resulted in a stalemate after the Americans and their allies had killed several million Koreans.

          Can you wonder that North Korea is wary of the US and that many South Koreans want the US out of their country?

          The US won’t leave, of course, because South Korea serves as ‘an unsinkable aircraft carrier’ and base for missiles aimed at Russia and China.

          • Korean War was engineered by Khazarian Mafia and Rothschilds since that time used N.Korea to manufacture Methamphetamine. Many of these factories are now reportedly being closed down while the Khazarian Mafia and Rothschilds are also being taken down. Wars are nearly always about money/drugs except Iraq/Afghanistan and Syria which are also about “alien” technology (described as artifacts) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdsJdSnSHNA

  11. Reading this all I can say is you may have your work cut out for you defending your hero Hillary Clinton in future years. Quite the irony that you should bring up Syria.

  12. Entirely missing from the ATL story is – exactly how will these ‘celebrations’ be marked? And by who?

    Are we, the entire nation of Kiwis, here and there, every age and inclination, all expected to lay down our pies at 12:15PM and stand silently?

    Or will it be the military, with a few photo-oppers from Drone Central (aka Parliament) having a quiet ceremony by the flagpole with canned music, because it’s too expensive to keep a real band any more?

    I like that Chris has touched on the matter of the political sector’s willingness to emulate the big kids in the family of friends. I’d also like to know who in that cosy den is speaking against such a marking of times past.

    And thanks to Cam Slater who recognises that military members are different from the rest of us – in good ways – even when those above them are venal and rotten to the core.

  13. Despite what some might think, it IS possible to simultaneously condemn war for its stupidity and pointlessness, BUT also to admire the people who served in it, soldiers, nurses, stretcher bearers, signallers, message runners, etc.
    The courage and bravery of these people is not the issue, the issues are why these people were put in this situation and why those who put them there take credit for all that these people sacrificed.

    • I would like to add that ignorance is no excuse for invasion and wholesale murder. Plunder, money and regime change are usually involved along the way.

      We need to hold our leaders to account and also those who glorify war and mislead the public about the truth.

      NZ blithely accepts lies and war propaganda most days on the news.
      Sound clips from US studios accompany dire warnings about the enemy when the enemy is mostly from within.

  14. “Give me a cause that stays noble, once you start hacking off limbs in its name” Peter Shaffer, of Amadeus and Royal Hunt of the Sun fame. “It’s a nightmare game played by brutes to give themselves a reason.”

  15. There is no morality in imperialist wars. A BBC article (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27243803) quotes historian Julian Jackson who wrote that a senior French diplomat remembered US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles offering the French Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault, in April 1954, two atomic bombs for use in Vietnam. Where the French failed in Indochina the US thought it could triumph. Jesus said “forgive them father for they know not what they do”. Forgiveness is beautiful but responsibility for one’s actions and the committing of aggressive actions in foreign countries that have done you no harm is heinous. People who choose to serve in the military must know that the armed services serve at the behest of politicians. These are the same politicians who were happy to poison Vietnam with Agent Orange. There was a time when so-called ‘Defence’ Ministries were more honestly known as War Ministries. In no way was New Zealand defending itself by committing acts of war in a foreign country. Everyone has the duty to consider the moral implications of waging war in other people’s homelands and whether it could be justified. There was an abundance of evidence available at the time to show the war was a monstrous crime. Those who chose to ignore the evidence and follow the politicians must shoulder their share of the responsibility. The best way to do that would be to say, never again, and work to oppose future wars of aggression.

    • The NZ public was massaged by a media campaign of propaganda and lies to prepare NZ for its upcoming role as an criminal aggressor.

      The US also contemplated using a nuke in Vietnam. Senator were calling for it in debates. Sick, Sick, Sick!

      Ho Chi Min stands up there alongside Mandela.

  16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5uamDMoW4o

    Twenty-two years of mental tears
    Cries a suicidal Vietnam vet
    Who fought a losing war on a foreign shore
    To find his country didn’t want him back

    Their bullets took his best friend in Saigon
    Our lawyers took his wife and kids, no regrets
    In a time I don’t remember, in a war he can’t forget
    He cried “Forgive me for what I’ve done there
    Cause I never meant the things I did”

    And give me something to believe in if there’s a Lord above
    And give me something to believe in Oh, Lord arise

    My best friend died a lonely man
    In some Palm Springs hotel room
    I got the call last Christmas Eve
    And they told me the news

    I tried all night not to break down and cry
    As the tears rolled down my face
    I felt so cold and empty
    Like a lost soul out of place
    And the mirror mirror on the wall sees my smile it fades again

    You take the high road and I’ll take the low road

    Sometimes I wish to God I didn’t know now
    The things I didn’t know then
    And give me something to believe in

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