18. Aug, 2021

Viet Nam Veterans Day 2021 - Reflections

Today, in Australia, it is Viet Nam Veteran’s Day. It was originally designated Long Tan Day to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan on the 18th of August 1966. I am not a great supporter of this change of name; moreover I detest the term ‘veteran’. I see no reason why servicemen and women, who served in Viet Nam, or anywhere else for that matter, should merit a separate day. I consider Anzac Day sufficient enough national commemoration.  

I consider that my service in Viet Nam was despoiled and stained by the political machinations preceding, surrounding and subsequent to, the 30th of April 1975. On that day the communist armies of the north and their guerrilla proxy, the Viet Cong, entered and captured the southern capital, Saigon. The television images of a communist tank smashing through the gates of the presidential palace and American helicopters effecting the humiliating and panicked rooftop evacuation of the US Embassy are etched in my mind irrevocably.

Intellectually I well understand and appreciate the broader geopolitical reasons behind Australia’s involvement in what, historically, I still consider to be an extension of la guerre d'Indochine. It was, in my view, an inevitable war, a product of its time and circumstances. I make no apologies for my personal involvement.

My visceral feelings are naturally not so nuanced. They were shaped by the actual reality of the pathetic flotillas of human misery escaping the enemy we promised to protect them from. Suffused with a mélange of deep melancholy, compassion and guilt for those we abandoned, bitterness and anger defined my feelings.

Today, as we enter into Viet Nam Veterans Day 2021, our television screens are filled with images of the victorious Taliban entering Kabul, of panicked airport chaos and pathetic streams of people in a collective vein of terror rushing to escape the enemy we promised to protect them from.

Today my thoughts are with the innocents of Afghanistan who just wanted to get on with their lives; they will also be for those Afghani naivetés who, for the past twenty years, believed our promises: my empathy will be with those returned and those wounded Australian servicemen and women who believed that through their service they were making a difference and, as I attend my local cenotaph this morning, my prayers will be devoted to those that gave their lives in their service in Afghanistan together with the hundreds that have committed suicide consequent to their service.

Finally, my intellect and my viscera coalesce in unreserved contempt for our leaders that let this happen, again. I like to think that there is a special place in Hell reserved for them.     

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