The Vietnam War, one of history’s most controversial yet most covered of events, is very interesting to study. Australians and South Koreans involved in the war are often overshadowed by the South Vietnamese and American involvement in the war, and is not acknowledged as much as it should
The Vietnam War, which lasted from 1959 to 1975 was the longest war Australia was ever involved in. Whilst South Vietnam, the United State of America and North Vietnam were the only nations involved that were truly acknowledged, dozens of countries saw involvement somehow in the war. Australia
and New Zealand, as well as South Korea, saw major involvement between 1962-1971. Thailand
had been covertly involved throughout all of the war, often assisting CIA raids into Cambodia and Laos. The Philippines late in the war was very impo rtant during the evacuations of South Vietnam and had provided refuge for many civilians displaced by North Vietnam’s invasion. Spain sent a small number of advisors into the war, and Canada sent medical teams and huge amounts of medical supplies to South Vietnam. The Kingdom of Laos (Democratic Laos) aided greatly to CIA operations in Laos against the North Vietnamese, Pathet Lao and Soviet Union. Also, on the Communist side of the war, many countries seeing involvement were not acknowledged. China had approximately 150000 troops stationed in North Vietnam at the war’s peak, as well as a naval fleet and a few squadrons of jet fighters. They had supplied the North Vietnamese heavily early in the war with small arms. Furthermore, they saw air combat with the United States and also invaded the South Vietnamese Paracel Islands in 1974, the last bit of involvement by the Chinese in the Vietnam War. The Soviet Union during the peak and very late in the war sent the majority of weapons to North Vietnam, including small arms, rocket launchers, tanks, planes and ships. The Pathet Lao (Communist Laos) conducted several small time raids on South Vietnam and provided a refuge for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, who occupied eastern Laos. Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge members were involved in fighting alongside the Viet Cong in Cambodia during the USA’s Cambodian Incursion and the evacuation of Cambodia, also known as Operation Eagle Pull.
Yet, it seems we only really acknowledge South Vietnamese, American, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong involvement in the war. Whilst these were the major belligerents of the war, there were many more seeing heavy involvement. Australia at its peak had a whole division stationed in South Vietnam, assisted by New Zealander battalions and Artillery batteries. South Korea had stationed over 3 battalions of troops in support of SEATO’s (South East Asia Treaty Organisation) operations, especially during the Tet Offensive. Thailand had a few thousand troops involved in the fighting in Cambodia and Laos. China had approximately 350000 troops in total seeing involvement in the war, far exceeding many nations in the war, except for the South Vietnamese and Americans, as well as aircraft and a naval fleet, many which were involved in the invasion of the Paracel Islands and defending North Vietnam from American bombing raids. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had stationed 3000 troops in North Vietnam, and had been controlling numerous Surface-to-Air Missile Batteries stationed around the North Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Haiphong, and were responsible for downing many United Statesand South Vietnamese Aircraft. So why do we never acknowledge these countries involvement in the war?
Perhaps it is the fact that the media coverage of the United States was the strongest at the time, and
their troops often operated very closely with South Vietnam, getting them media
attention. Also, South Vietnam was where the main fighting of the war occurred, and was the last country to see involvement in the war, fighting right until their surrender in 1975 when the war ended. The USA also, due to the fears of the Cold War, and the constant threat of nuclear warfare with world superpowers China and the Soviet Union, perhaps was a major reason for these nations not being acknowledged. Likewise, it wasn’t until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that these countries began acknowledging any involvement they had during the Vietnam War. Should the United States know about the USSR and Chinese involvement during the Cold War, the USSR in particular was fearful of a nuclear war with the United States. At the time the USA and USSR were the world’s most powerful countries, and total enemies. Even during World War 2, the only reason either country wasn’t at each other’s throat was the threat of all out war with the USA, as well as they had a mutual enemy. The United States never dared to destroy North Vietnam on their own turf, for the risk that China may feel threatened by American troops so close to her borders, and act aggressively, as they did with the Paracel Islands Invasion of 1974. China at the time had one of the largest military powers, which rivalled the strength of the Soviet Union at the time. Whilst militarily the tactic of not chasing down the North Vietnamese before they were in friendly borders and able to regroup was ineffective, politically it was the best option. The threat of nuclear war hung above the world should either side know about these nations involvement was a major driving factor during them attrition warfare that SEATO used during the Vietnam War.
However, this does not explain why it is seldom acknowledged the Australian, New Zealand and South Korean involvement in the war. South Korea achieved amazing battle reports during the war. In one of their battles they were involved in they achieved a kill:death ratio of 40:1, something that was never achieved by any other SEATO nation besides Australia in a single battle. Their average in the war was 25:1 compared to the United States with 9:1 or South Vietnam with 3:1. Australia’s average was 15:1 but in the battle of Binh Ba of 1969 achieved an amazing ratio of 107:1, losing only one Australian for over a hundred Viet Cong and North Vietnamese killed. Surely these skills should have been
recognized? However, again it appears to be a political reason. When Australia first became involved in the Vietnam War in 1962, the government told the Australian people that the call for intervention came from South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression to an innocent people, rather than from the United States where the call for intervention had came from. However, South Vietnam was doing so poorly in the war and was weak without SEATO support, so the nations of the world may have associated this poor result to be because of SEATO. This would explain the poor recognition of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand. However, many of the media coverage in the war came from the United States and thus may have been biased to the United States. In the media’s eyes, it was the United States doing all the work. They made it appear that the United States were winning the battles, with little recognition of other SEATO involvement. In the battle of Hue and Saigon for example, most media coverage never shows the South Vietnamese in these battles, it shows The United States fighting. Many of the journalists were based with United States units. South Korea, Australia and New Zealand had some media coverage, but it was no where near the scale of the United State’s media influence. Also, due to the nature of Thailand’s involvement in the war (it was often through illegal border raids of neutral countries) the media was permitted no coverage of Thailand of the war, thus making it appear they had nothing to do with the Vietnam War.
Because of this lack of coverage, it made SEATO seem left out in the war. And with the lack of coverage, brings about a lack of understanding and knowledge of the war. This carries through generations as younger generations were not there to know about the war, and must learn what they can from their elders. As their elders were shown nothing of the war, and not many were there to experience the war, they can’t say much. And with this, younger generations or any generation cannot educate the generations below. This results in a seemingly endless chain of lack of knowledge to teach the children who will pass this knowledge on. Many young people today do not know anything at all about the Vietnam War, and schools do not have any sources to teach from. This will make SEATO involvement in the Vietnam War forgotten about for many years to come. The only way to heal this void is that governments and people that were there to experience it acknowledge it. The governments of many of the SEATO nations and even the United States don’t want to acknowledge the war, as it was a war lost. The Vietnam War is the only war that the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea have lost to date. No one wants to acknowledge a defeat, and everyone wants to forget about it. But we don’t learn enough from the defeat, and this shame shouldn’t justify forgetting the veterans and nations involved in the Vietnam War. These people fought for the beliefs and ideals of freedom and democracy, yet it’s freedom and democracy that is completely forgetting the people that made our society the way it is today.
Often the veterans are seen as mass murderers, drug abusers and pillagers. Many associate all the veterans with war crimes that took place during the war. However, only 2 war crimes that occurred under SEATO can actually be properly documented. These are the My Lai Massacre in South Vietnam in which a USA company of troops massacred, raped and tortured anywhere between 347-700 civilians
suspected of housing Viet Cong guerrillas, and the execution by a South Vietnamese colonel of a North Vietnamese officer that was televised during the Battle of Hue. It should be noted also that these war crimes were conducted by South Vietnam and the United States of America, and not by any other member of SEATO, so why should the people of Australia see the Australians as such murderers and criminals?
The Vietnam War was the first war to be truly televised and documented. In war before, the people saw the soldiers as heroes and such. Indeed, when the British Empire declared war on Germany and Austria in 1914, the Australian people in Sydney even cheered and partied in the streets. However, by the time the Vietnam War began, people were seeing the true reality of war. They realised that war was nothing to glorify, nor should it be celebrated or be a good reason to occur. People saw that in war people are massacred, people are tortured, people are burned alive and more. The, “Average Joe,” began to truly see what was happening, “Over There.” Also, the fire was fanned by the fact that people were being forced under conscription to fight such a war. Australia indeed unlike other wars was the country’s first draft war in history, and it was also the only draft war. Like it or not, your country had called you to duty and you had to fight the war or suffer imprisonment for Treason. Indeed, in Australia many people burned their draft cards and tried to avoid imprisonment. Also, there
were times that by the lottery system (Australia chose draft dates by placing dates in a lottery barrel) that many politicians and many high income people in the countries involved with SEATO were allowed exception for the lottery and did not have to go and serve with the army. The famous anti-war song,
“Fortunate Son,” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (an American rock band famous for their anti-war songs) was inspired and based on the fact that people very high in society did not have to serve with the military. It should be noted that many people that were believed to protest against the war were actually protesting over the fact that they had to FIGHT in the war. In 1973 when the United States of America stopped drafting people to the military almost all the peace protests there had ceased, as had with Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
However serving with the military is not a bad thing. It’s the association of war and the military that made people not want to join. They believed that they would be helping criminals commit mass murder. In fact though, most people who are a part of the military never see combat service, even if they are based in active war zones. However many people want to glorify themselves. In the United States of America for example, many people that took part in the Vietnam War claimed to be in active service as Green Beret commandoes and Marine Force Recon strike teams, 2 very famous groups for their outstanding destructive performance during the Vietnam War. There have been far more people however claiming to be Green Berets and MFRs than there were in the military at the time (the numbers were very small in the military at the time). Most of these people have tried to glorify themselves to remove the internal shame of not seeing combat, and more than likely many of these people may have been sitting in an office in Saigon, refueling planes in an airbase or just taking photos for the military. Whilst in reality very few people see any combat at all most people believe that joining the military immediately means that you are going to see combat and have a death sentence.
One of the biggest downfall to SEATO’s involvement in the Vietnam War was that the government of all countries had allowed full media coverage of the involvement in the war. Because the media is viewed by so many people (most people these days have television, radios and internet) almost everyone could see what happens in a war. The result is that people see the true reality of a war and everything that happens inside it. Also as the media needs to satisfy the viewers and make them want to watch the TV show on the war, they will often have a bias on what they show in the war. This happened particularly during the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Shield and the Gaza War of 2009. For example, in the Gaza War of 2009, there was a well known event in which an incorrect coordinate was fired upon by an artillery gun firing White Phosphorous shells. With the incorrect coordinate the shell landed on and set fire to a school housing UN personnel and refugees, killing 40 people. Whilst this was a one time event and was caused by only 1 person’s mistake, the media SHOWED this as something all the Israelis in Gaza had been doing for years on end, and the entire world saw it, positioning the
viewers to agree with the media that Israel should not be fighting the Gaza Wars. Likewise in the Vietnam War when the media covered an execution during the Battle of Hue, the media with their full coverage was able to position the audience to think that all American soldiers in the war were war criminals and murderers, when in reality they weren’t and the execution had been done by the South Vietnamese and not the Americans in the war. The media also made it seem like that SEATO was losing the Vietnam War, and as SEATO includes Australia the public despised Australia’s involvement in the war. If the media was not allowed coverage of the Vietnam War, the world’s opinion on the war would have been far better off, and the people would have supported the war, and probably would not have complained about drafting or fighting in the war, and volunteers would be far more common.
We should always acknowledge the belligerents of the Vietnam War whether they were our enemies or not, whether they saw major involvement or merely sent a dozen or so men. We shouldn’t forget about worldwide involvement, particularly that of the Communist and ANZAC participation, which was very important during the Vietnam War; We should always be aware of the controversy and politics that were present during the time of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, some of which still continue in the Modern World of today. The media played a highly important part (particularly Television) in the public’s viewing on the Vietnam War. They were able to make the war appear unable to be won, pointless and that many involved were war criminals. This is highly true, and it should be noted that there are only 2 war crimes that can be properly documented, which is the My Lai Massacre and the execution of a Northern Vietnamese officer. This should not reflect on the Australian involvement in the war as Australia saw no involvement in either crime. They also made many mistakes such as making the Tet Offensive of 1968 and the Eastertide Offensive of 1972 appear as decisive North Vietnamese victories, when in reality the both were failures, one resulting in the decimation of Viet Cong strike abilities and the other resulted in over half of all NVA troops to be killed, captured or becoming missing in action. Much of the involvement in the Vietnam War were never acknowledged as some of it was illegal, and also due to the fears of a global and possibly nuclear war between the United States and the Chinese and Soviet Union. Also, many of the veterans will not acknowledge what they did for the shame of the fact that the war was loss, and many people saw them as a disgrace to Democracy and the world, indeed many veterans in 1ATF did not take part in ANZAC day ceromonies until the 1980s, due to the shame of losing the war. However, many also exaggerate what they did in the war to make them seem like legends and heroes, when in reality many did not see any combat throughout the entire war at all. Despite all this, there is no reason to not acknowledge such a controversial war that is hardly boring, and that more people should learn about the ‘Vietnam Conflict’ of 1959-1975.
By the way this is for my History Assignment, and I have always been actively spreading the true facts of the Vietnam War for quite some time, particularly that of Australia's involvement and the more unknown belligerents of the war.