Why Were Australian Vietnam Veterans Treated Shamefully?



Whereas I knew that Australia had despatched troops to Vietnam, I had no concept that their returning fight veterans have been handled as shamefully as they have been right here within the U.S. (Intel, “Australia Set to Commemorate Battle’s Finish,” April 2022). What was it that made this such a common response after we ought to have been happy with them? Was this an unbiased motion on the a part of civilian Australians or was it discovered from American media? Additionally, have been the Vietnam fight veterans who returned to England handled in the identical shameful method?     

Shelby Morrison – Orlando, Florida 

Thanks to your questions, and to your curiosity in studying extra in regards to the experiences of Australian Vietnam veterans.  

A complete of 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam, and confronted most of the similar challenges skilled by American servicemen upon returning residence. Given the nationwide and cultural variations between Australia and the US, veterans’ experiences assorted between the 2 nations, and societal opposition to the Vietnam Battle expressed itself in several methods. Nonetheless, the Vietnam Battle turned more and more unpopular over time in each international locations, and servicemen reported being shunned and mistreated by others after they returned residence.  

Opposition to the Vietnam Battle shaped in Australia for a number of key causes. From the conflict’s outset, sentiments existed amongst some quarters of the general public that the nation was being dragged into an American battle opposite to its personal nationwide pursuits. These emotions elevated within the public sphere over time because the conflict continued. 

One other issue was the introduction of the draft. In 1964, a conscription “lottery” scheme was put into motion, by which 20-year-old Australian males have been chosen by way of the choice of numbered marbles. Upon being chosen, every man was required to serve two years full time within the Australian Military, plus an extra three and a half years part-time. The draft was unpopular and drew opposition from members of the general public. 

Tv performed a key function in shaping public perceptions of the conflict. As in the US, many Australians have been alarmed by grisly pictures and scenes of struggling and destruction they witnessed in tv information stories. The 12 months 1968 marked a turning level in public attitudes towards the battle. The Tet Offensive elevated opposition to the draft.  

“Horrific scenes on tv screens … sapped public assist additional,” in response to Neil Sharkey, curator of Australia’s Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.  

Many individuals have been additionally deeply shaken by the atrocities dedicated in the course of the My Lai Bloodbath. In response to the Nationwide Museum of Australia, “the Australian public started to assume that if American troopers have been doing this kind of factor then probably their Australian comrades have been doing the identical.”  

Rising public outrage on the conflict, and protection of protests in American cities, impressed Australians to collect in protest rallies often known as “moratoriums.” 

“An Australian anti-war motion gathered momentum, and by 1970-71, a whole lot of 1000’s of individuals have been attending Moratorium [protest] marches throughout Australia …. Troopers returning to Australia met a hostile reception,” wrote Sharkey. 

Over time, Australian veterans have reported being insulted and subjected to discriminatory therapy after returning residence from Vietnam. 

Rejected by fellow troopers, ignored by the federal government

Vietnam veterans additionally endured a very painful type of ostracism — mistreatment by different army veterans. This manifested itself in exclusion from social golf equipment for veterans generally often known as RSL (Returned and Providers League of Australia) golf equipment. As a nation, Australia had developed a definite sense of pleasure in its troops’ achievements in World Wars I and II. But some World Battle II veterans handled their countrymen who fought in Vietnam with disdain, adopting the perspective that Australian troops in Vietnam have been merely a sideshow to the American army and that it was “not an actual conflict.”

“We have been ostracized by not solely the civilians but additionally the RSL and all people else,” mentioned Peter Secure, who served in Vietnam within the ninth Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in an interview with Australia’s ABC information. “In response to the RSL, that wasn’t a conflict zone, it was simply police motion…it took some time for them to return to grips with it and [it to] be acknowledged as a conflict.” 

Moreover, the potential publicity of Australian veterans to Agent Orange and chemical defoliants in Vietnam was a hotly contested situation. Initially, the Australian authorities flatly denied that any veterans had been uncovered to chemical defoliants. In response, Australian veterans fought fiercely for recognition and ultimately have been in a position to declare compensation for diseases ensuing from herbicides and pesticides.

The Australian authorities has lately stepped up its efforts to honor the service of Vietnam veterans.   

Regardless of the similarities of their postwar experiences, Australian and American veterans had distinctly completely different experiences within the area. For instance, not like American servicemen, Australian troopers weren’t impacted by social tensions associated to the Civil Rights motion. Drug use was not a widespread downside amongst Australian conscripts, though alcohol abuse turned a serious situation within the conflict’s later phases.  

Q: Have been the Vietnam fight veterans who returned to the UK handled in the identical method?    

The UK’s army involvement within the Vietnam Battle was extraordinarily restricted. As in Australia, some members of the British public have been involved that turning into concerned within the conflict was in opposition to nationwide pursuits and wished to keep away from their management “being a mere satellite tv for pc of the U.S.,” as American diplomat David Ok.E. Bruce put it in 1965. Formally, British involvement in Vietnam ceased in January 1946, after the British army helped to revive French colonial rule within the aftermath of World Battle II.  

Nonetheless, British intelligence advisers are mentioned to have supplied help to U.S. and Australian troops in Vietnam within the type of covert operations. Due to this fact, Britain did present support within the battle whereas avoiding media scrutiny and excessive ranges of public opposition. 

It must also be famous that, regardless of the comparative lack of troops on the bottom, some British troopers voluntarily joined the struggle in Vietnam after transferring to the US or to different international locations supporting the conflict effort. Bob Rose of Birmingham, England, served within the French Overseas Legion and ultimately the South Vietnamese Military alongside the U.S. army. Moreover, the U.S. soldier whose picture turned well-known on the quilt of Hal Moore’s ebook “We Have been Troopers As soon as … And Younger,” was truly British. Rick Rescorla, a local of Cornwall, served within the British Military earlier than transferring to the U.S. and joined the U.S. Military to struggle in Vietnam. Rescorla remained within the U.S. after the conflict and went on to guide individuals to security on the World Commerce Middle in the course of the 9/11 terrorist assaults, saving an estimated 2,687 lives and sacrificing his personal within the course of.  

Other than the US and Australia, one other nation whose Vietnam veterans skilled widespread mistreatment upon returning residence was New Zealand. 

“Loads of veterans who got here residence have been simply suggested to get out of uniform and disappear,” in response to Claire Corridor, author, historian and archivist for New Zealand’s Ministry for Tradition and Heritage.  

The nation skilled heated antiwar demonstrations, with a police inspector in Auckland being pushed off a cliff by protesters. New Zealand’s authorities issued a proper apology to Vietnam veterans for mistreatment in 2008.  

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