November 2nd 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Murray-Darling Basin Plan based on debunked science

CANBERRA OBSERVED What does it take to knock down GetUp?

TECHNOLOGY Beijing's push to dominate world supply of electronics components

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Hong Kong protestors speak candidly to NCC, as Xi threat calls Tiananmen to mind

LIFE ISSUES Of foetuses and fallacies

LIFE ISSUES To hold the hand ... an answer to euthanasia

LIFE ISSUES Melbourne and Brisbane on the march

QUEENSLAND AFA/NCC forum addresses euthanasia legislation

THE ENVIRONMENT Fresh visit to the Great Barrier Reef in its death throes

COLD WAR HISTORY Was the Vietnam War worth fighting?

HUMOUR England United, and all that ... but with Hume?

MUSIC Usage and abusage: Words what got rhythm

CINEMA AND CULTURE The mirror of villainy

BOOK REVIEW Eclectic example of genre of decline

BOOK REVIEW Brief battle a model for combined arms


RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ABC survey finds majority agree there is unfair discrimination against religious Australians

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Was the Vietnam War worth fighting?

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, November 2, 2019

The recent release of the Australian movie, Danger Close, about the Battle of Long Tan, has brought the Vietnam War back into our awareness. In the Battle of Long Tan, a Company of Australian troops defeated a vastly superior force composed of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars and Viet Cong troops. The aim of the NVA leadership was to overrun the Australian taskforce headquarters, inflicting a catastrophic defeat that would force Australia out of the war.

The Australian force was composed of regular troops and National Servicemen, many of whom were hardly out of their teens. Lex McAulay, a former intelligence officer, describes the battle in his book, The Battle of Long Tan: The Legend of ANZAC Upheld (Hutchinson, 1986).

The victory, it is clear, was a near-run thing. The gunners, whom infantry often call uncomplimentary names such as “drop-shorts”, were for once on target and the armoured personnel carriers (APCs) arrived in the nick of time. Their .50-calibre machineguns may have made the difference.

In all, it was a great victory in a war with not much to cheer about, although at the time it made little impact on public sentiment, which was turning against the war. We have to ask – was the war worth fighting?

Global struggle

We must see the war in a geopolitical context, in the struggle between the Western allies and communism. Vietnam is like the hinge on which the Southeast Asian landmass swings. The much-derided “domino theory” was correct – the whole of Indochina, comprising Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, fell to communism.

The First Vietnamese War ended after Dien Bien Phu fell and the French were expelled from Indochina; the Second Vietnamese War, which the Vietnamese call the American War, ended when Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) fell and the last Americans were expelled from Vietnam.

The line that the left pushed – that the North Vietnamese were nationalists and never communists – has proved to be totally false. The Vietnamese communist regime is one of the most repressive in Asia. Occasionally a Quixotic anti- communist Vietnamese will return to his homeland hoping to overthrow the regime, but he is soon detected and thrown into prison.

Was it a civil conflict?

The other line was that the war was a civil war. This has a little more credence, but not much. The atheistic Northern regime was anathema to people in the South, who were mostly Catholics or Buddhists. As far as being a “foreign invasion”, throughout most of the war the troops in the field were members of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), in other words, the South. American troops were engaged, but for most of the war they were involved in activities like logistics, air support and other “behind the scenes” support roles.

American combat troops fought bravely but, after they were withdrawn, the job for ARVN troops was that much harder. The final days of the ARVN are described in Frank Snepp’s revelatory book, Decent Interval (Random House, 1977). In the end, following the Case-Church Amendment (1973), the U.S. ceased direct combat involvement in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

In terms of Cold War politics, the fall of Saigon was a grievous defeat for the United States and its allies. The U.S. army was in tatters and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. The U.S. did away with the detested Draft and introduced an All-Volunteer Army (AVA).

In Australia, the introduction of conscription divided the nation. The use of conscript troops has never been popular in Australia. In World War II, the “chocos” (chocolate soldiers) who were in theory only to be used for defence of the Australian homeland, ended up being deployed to the Pacific.

Australia has sustained continuous overseas deployments for over 20 years. It is an arduous job but, by most standards, our soldiers are well paid and have good conditions. Perhaps we would not have needed to conscript young men in the 1970s if we had paid our soldiers better then.

Was our part defensible?

Why did we go into Vietnam? Was it our war? In retrospect, we have to say that we fought a necessary war, even though it was a cruel war. Wars are rarely pleasant, but this war was profligate in lives and treasure. The North Vietnamese government traded their people’s lives for territory.

The NVA and the Viet Cong had different roles. The NVA was a regular army while the Viet Cong were essentially a militia using guerilla tactics. The North Vietnamese were supplied by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), although that alliance did not last long. Mao said the PRC and Vietnam were like “lips and teeth”.

Within a few years of the end of the war, PRC paramount leader Deng Xiaoping sent in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to northern Vietnam to “teach the Vietnamese a lesson”. The PLA did not fare well and it was the battle-hardened NVA that taught the PLA a lesson.

Indochina is now a communist zone. The Communist Party is entrenched in Hanoi. Cambodia is reverting to a dictatorship. Laos is also ruled by a dictatorial regime but is showing signs of progress. As far as Vietnam is concerned, the northern elites rule the country from Hanoi. Saigon is, as it always has been, the commercial capital of Vietnam.

May prosperity follow peace

The best thing to be said about Vietnam is that for the first time in many years it is not fighting a war. Most of the population is under 30. They have the chance of living to maturity, unlike previous generations. The Americans are returning, as allies not enemies. Prosperity may be just around the corner.

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