Don Tate, Vietnam Veteran and author of The War Within, has made explosive claims that his unit was ordered to dispose of the bodies of enemy soldiers killed during Australia’s most controversial war by blowing them up.
This debate has split the Vietnam veteran community. The purpose here is not to agree or disagree with Tate’s book or to pick sides but to find common ground between the two warring factions, who both have a democratic right to present their case and evidence.
No doubt there will be those who view the Vietnam War as immoral. But the cold hard reality is that no war in history has ever been nice and/or neat. Nasty things happened during World War I, II, Korea and so on.
Overall, Australia’s military had an impeccable record in Vietnam. There was no US-style My Lai massacre of innocent Vietnamese. Hypothetically speaking, it is one thing to blow up the bodies of dead enemy and another to kill innocent villagers.
There are those in the media who have a romantic notion of Gallipoli - a military operation during World War I that was a failure but which established Australia’s Anzac Legend - but who have condemned Vietnam.
We are also forgetting the Viet Cong communist massacre of innocent Vietnamese civilians during the battle of Hue in 1968 at the time of the Tet Offensive. And that many thousands of Vietnamese fled by boat to Australia post 1975, after the communist takeover.
Earlier this year, I remember sitting down to watch the evening news and saw a touching scene of the most recent Victoria Cross winner, Trooper Mark Donaldson, of the elite SASR meeting with World War II recipient Edward “Ted” Kenna, who has now sadly passed away.
It was one generation of brave Anzacs passing on the torch to another. It reminded me of a famous drawing of an old War I digger handing over the mantle to a World War II digger.
It got me to think: who is the person who decides which war is “good” and which war is “bad” and should or should not be part of the Anzac legend? Donaldson, serving in Afghanistan, was the first to win the Victoria Cross in 40 years since the last winner, Keith Payne earned his in Vietnam.
To call Vietnam immoral would be insulting to Australian Vietnam veterans and the 501 who died there. It would be a slap in the face for Long Tan heroes Dave Sabben and Bob Buick; it would be insulting to Coral/Balmoral hero Neil Weekes and Operation Ivanhoe hero Gary McKay, who is a famous author in his own right. Moreover, it would denigrate Keith Payne, Victoria Cross winner for bravery in that war.
It would also be a kick in the guts for Tate, who was wounded in action in Vietnam. It would be offensive to the thousands of Vietnamese who now make Australia home after escaping communist tyranny.
Ray Martin, born 1944, the hugely popular Channel 9 personality and reporter, built a rapport with the Veteran community and even offered to use his then program, Midday with Ray Martin, to champion a Welcome Home March in 1987 for Vietnam Vets.
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