VIETNAM: by Dr C.T. Bui OAMNews Weekly
Remembering the battle of Long Tan
, September 10, 2005
The Australian Army's action in the Battle of Long Tan almost 40 years ago inflicted a major defeat on the communist Vietcong, writes Dr C.T. Bui.On August 18, 1966, in a rubber plantation at Long Tan, Phuoc Tuy province in South Vietnam, Australian soldiers who were engaged in a fierce battle inflicted a major defeat on the communist Vietcong.
For three hours, amid the mud and pouring rain, 100 inexperienced young Australian soldiers fought for their lives, holding off a force at least 10 or 20 times their number. In a rubber plantation which provided little cover and in a blinding storm, they fought bravely and killed or wounded at least one-third of their enemies.
For the people of South Vietnam, the Australian Army's action was heroic as it was helping South Vietnam to preserve freedom and democracy; but for Australians, the participation of their army in the war was one of the most divisive issues in their country's history.Belated acknowledgement
Although all Australian forces were withdrawn from Vietnam by 1973, it was not until 14 years later that their role was properly acknowledged by the Australian Government. On October 3, 1987, the then Prime Minister Mr Bob Hawke offered a message of congratulation for veterans attending the Australian Vietnam Forces National Reunion and Welcome Home Parade in Sydney. He wrote:
"To our Vietnam veterans, and to all who participate in the Commemorative Reunion, I should like to say personally, and on behalf of all Australians, that we share a sense of pride, gratitude and respect for you and your fallen comrades. You have honoured us with your deeds and with your sacrifices."
On this year's Vietnam Veterans' Day, 39 years after the Battle of Long Tan, veterans of the Vietnam War are less misunderstood, but not the war itself.
Some people still believe that the Vietnam War was a civil war and had nothing to do with Australia; that American devised its famous domino theory to justify sending troops to Vietnam; that communist North Vietnam was fighting only to defend itself ...
The worst thing is, one can find these falsehoods in academic textbooks currently being used in schools across several states of Australia. These common misconceptions are certainly not what we want to bequeath to future generations.
The claim that the domino theory was an American concoction can easily be refuted simply by consulting the Communist Party of Vietnam's own website which insists that Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh "deemed it his task to spread communist doctrine in Asia in general and in Indochina in particular".
That America was heavily involved in the Vietnam War is something everybody knows about, but this tells only half the story. How many people also know about the Soviet Union and China's involvement in Vietnam?
In July 1965, China agreed to provide the communist Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam with $200 million for "national defence and economic supplies". From 1949 to 1970, total aid is estimated to have amounted to $20 billion.
In October 1966, a Soviet bloc conference in Moscow promised $1 billion in military and financial aid to North Vietnam.
The aid also came in the form of military advisors and approximately 300,000 troops from China and war-plane pilots from North Korea.
Anti-war leaflet quotations can be found in many Australian high school textbooks; they often read in parts like anti-war propaganda.
Atrocities discussed in most textbooks highlight mainly America's, but downplay or ignore the communists'.
The photographs of 300 My Lai victims massacred by the Americans in 1968 are prominently displayed in some textbooks, but hardly any information is provided about the 4,000 Hue victims massacred by the communists a few weeks earlier in the Tet offensive.
The clear implication is that only the Americans recklessly killed civilians.
Following Hanoi's final victory in 1975, the communist régime's postwar policies, such as new economic zones, police-state terror and concentration camps, drove millions of people from their homeland and hundreds of thousands to their deaths.
The régime vengefully destroyed South Vietnam's military cemeteries, confiscated homes and church property, and decreed that all land belonged to the Communist Party.
The régime also outlawed all unions, newspapers and churches. Today, while opening the door to foreign investors and tourists, Hanoi still keeps it closed to foreign journalists, and still denies all reports about its consistent violation of the most basic human rights.Massacres
This is why so few outsiders have ever learned about last Easter's massacre of possibly hundreds of Central Highland protesters, or Vietnam's hundreds of political prisoners or any of the other frequent instances of communist oppression in Vietnam.
It is fitting that we should commemorate the sacrifices of Australians who served in Vietnam.
But we can scarcely do justice to their memory if, by unwittingly swallowing half-truths and popular misconceptions, we fail to gain a balanced understanding of the Vietnam War.
More importantly, we should ensure our children's textbooks are free of war-time deceptions and propaganda.
- Dr C.T. Bui, OAM MD, is a former federal president of the Vietnamese Community in Australia.