Australia in the Vietnam War Era Task: Explain the impact of the Vietnam War in Australian Society. INTRODUCTION Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War impacted society in a variety of ways. Today we still deal with repercussions related directly to the Vietnam War. The War took place between 1959 and 1975, and Australia was directly involved between August 1962- June 1973. It was the longest war Australia was ever involved in and probably the most controversial. Our main purpose in the war was to fight communism as part of a treaty to stop the growth of communism within Asia and Europe.
This report discusses the fundamental impacts of Australia’s involvement in Vietnam and the impact it had on Australian society including attitudes towards Asia and communism, division and dissent within Australian society and the effects of the war on Australia’s War veterans. ATTITUDES TOWARDS ASIA AND COMMUNISM Attitudes towards both Asia and communism were different for every individual. However, the majority of Australians were against communism. They liked their way of government and their lifestyles and they wanted to stay the way they were, as a democracy.
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They where keen to eliminate communism in Asian countries. They saw having such close connections with Asia geographically as a threat and that by not fighting communism; they were allowing it to play out in their backyards. The main theory was that if we didn’t fight communism, the domino theory would play out and Australia would be at risk from communist attacks. With the initial support of the Australian community, the Australian government approved the decision of South Vietnam to defend itself against communist insurgency and infiltration and added support in the form of an 800 man army.
Australia felt the need to protect its legacy as a free country. However, Australia’s attitudes began to change as the war was seen like no war had been seen before, it entered the living rooms of Australian citizens, with horrifying images making people question their judgment and whether our involvement in the war was really worth it. A good example of the attitudes towards communism is the image of ‘The Red Menace'(refer to page 4) which is a perfect example of communist propaganda, as there was a big fear of communism spreading to Australia.
The Vietnam War was a final product of 15 years worth of debate over foreign policy, and Australia had already showed its urgency to fight communism by going to Korea. The image was an advertisement aimed at gaining support for the coming war in Vietnam. The picture depicts communism as “the red menace” making it clear who the enemy was. The phrase caught on and fighting communism was often referred to as ‘the red menace’. News paper articles can be seen in the background with headings about communism; this showed people just how much communism affects the world and how if nothing is done it would soon begin to affect them.
It was backed by the Menzies government and was aimed at appealing to the Australian public. The poster does its best to illuminate the threat of communism. DIVISION AND DISSENT WITHIN AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY The decision to send troops to Vietnam by the Menzies government caused much division within in Australian society. A first the majority of people supported were for the introduction of troops in Vietnam, but then numbers started to slowly decline. The press, with the exception of ‘The Australian’ supported the Liberal Government’s decision to send troops to Vietnam.
However, it wasn’t the usual pre-war situation, newspaper articles, although not doubting the decision, suggested that Australia had been forced into the war and that it was an ‘inevitable outcome. ‘ It was suggested that given a strong fear of the domino effect, Australia had no option but to supply South Vietnam with troops. The press did give a fair analysis of Labours opinion on the situation and said that Labour’s response to the announcement was a well thought out speech, but also criticised saying that labour could not supply any alternate option.
The source supplied (see page5) is a copy of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates in the House of Representatives on the 29th of April 195, vol. 45. The Prime Minister Robert Menzies, in announcing his decision to supply troops to Vietnam and said that “it is our judgement that the decision to commit a battalion in South Vietnam represents the most useful additional contribution which we can make to the defence of the region at this time. The take over of South Vietnam would be a direct military threat to Australia and all the countries of South and South- East Asia.
It must be seen as part of a thrust by communist China between India and Pacific oceans. ” The opposition leader Arthur Calwell, disagreed to this statement and says that “We do not think it will help the fight against communism. ” The labour party, although divided, mostly believed that going to fight in Vietnam would harm the fight in the long run and that it would only deepen the suffering of the Vietnamese. Overall, for various groups, religions and governments the options were different. The Catholic Church was for the war as they saw the South Vietnamese Government as a Catholic democracy.
The majority of the Christian church was against the war as they thought they should be peace makers, but they were some what divided. The trade unionist thought the government was only sending troops in the hope that America would pump more money into our economy. Many universities started the first of the anti- war protests, although many were only opposed to the war when conscription started. Overall, the wider community was for the war, but it was the view of many that the war didn’t concern them. As you can see by entering troops in Vietnam Australian started a war within itself.
The government debate impacted Australian society by tearing apart usually functioning groups. EFFECTS OF THE WAR ON AUSTRALIA’S WAR VETERANS The Vietnam War was easily one of the worst wars ever fought by Australian military troops. In many ways it wasn’t the actual war that affected soldiers so badly; it was the attitudes of Australia citizens and governments towards the men and women involved in fighting the war. Not only were obvious physical and mental disorders ignored in veterans, they were treated as though they were responsible for the war and blamed for its outcome.
Having fought in the war Australian veterans returned and didn’t receive the proper home-coming welcome which past Australian veterans had received. Many of the veterans developed severe medical problems as a result of a direct exposure to a hazardous chemical most commonly referred to as Agent Orange, but were denied medical assistance. A Vietnam Veterans health study concluded that those who fought in the war had a death rate 7% higher than the general male population, with the majority of death occurring from heart disease, cancer or suicide. The after-math of the war was a different experience for every solider.
Many of the Vietnam veterans developed post traumatic stress disorder and after being denied the right to march in the ANZAC day parades many suffered serious mental health problems and feelings of loss as they wanted to be allowed to participate in the proud Australian tradition. For my source I watched an interview with Australian War Veteran’s Tony ‘Bomber’ Bower-Miles and Roy Chamberlain on Australian story, ABCTV, Monday, 24th of March, 2008(see page 6) . The interview, tells of the serious effects returning home from an unfinished war had on the men and as a result they were both institutionalised.
About half way through the interview Dr John Gibson (psychiatrist) makes the statement: “Many Vietnam veterans have said to me that the most traumatising aspect of their experiences was the homecoming; and instead of coming back to a sense of reintegration and support they were met with a sense of alienation and rejection. ” To come home to such scrutiny and resentment after having fought such a violent war would have been enough to tip even the strongest solider over the edge. It is a very strong statement considering the hardship of Australian soldiers while in Vietnam, but shows their obvious need for psychological help.
Many of the Veterans became violent and either drug or alcohol addicted in attempts to block out the anger against them and the memories of what they’d seen. Tony Bower-Miles recalls a specific incident that tipped him over the edge: “I came home in the middle of my tour for R&R. I was sitting in the Town Hall Hotel in Sydney and there was all this noise outside and I walked outside and there’s all these clowns on the back of a truck, you know, the moratorium bit with bloody dolls bloody doused in bloody red paint and all this crap.
I was angry all right, and I’m thinking to myself, “What the f**k am I doing here? ” And I really wanted to be back in Vietnam. I was worried about me mates. I jokingly say, “I went to a party when I come home from Vietnam. ” But that only ended about five years ago, you know what I mean? It was one rollercoaster of being drunk. I was an extremely heavy drinker during the rest of my time in the army sort of thing and it just, you know, got to the stage where I realised I was killing myself, and put my hand up.
And that’s the hardest thing to do, you know what I mean, to accept the fact that you have got a problem. ” Tony came to the realisation of his problem; many didn’t and died as a result or in bad cases killed themselves because they were unable to cope. Overall, the un-victorious return of Australian soldiers was indicative of the less than sympathetic reactions from the majority of Australian citizens. Many veterans felt that Australia blamed them and not the government for the war. The Vietnam War affected Australian society like none before it.
No one really understood the hardship faced by Australian soldiers and no one really tried. Because the soldiers had been picked based on their birth dates, many felt that they lost two years of their lives, while other more fortunate men went on with their lives. Australian society was ashamed that Australia was un-victorious in the war. The impact in Australian families was negative. Many women and children received back a shadow of the man who let them and many soldiers became both physically and mentally abusive towards their familles.