The Vietnam War was the war that the Government and general public say Australian Soldiers should never have been fighting in. The civil war between North and South Vietnam which lasted from 1962-1972 was the battle of communism. Australian soldiers entered the Vietnam War with the intention of stopping Communism from coming to Australia, our country. The fear of this economic, political and social system was the main reason for Australia’s willingness to be part of the war.Australia’s ties with the US also impacted on the decision of going to war, as we wanted to continue to have a good relationship with America and wanted to follow through with ANZUS treaty.
Conscription was a big issue for Australia going into the war. 20,000 soldiers had no other choice to go to the war, based on their birthdates being picked out of a barrel. 30,000 Australians enlisted to fight for their country, this created impact as there were many different opinions in regards to the war. The conditions of the Vietnam War made fighting even harder because of the dense jungle and tropical climate.Although Australia’s casualties were low compared to Vietnam and the US, many suffered psychological and physical impacts after returning home.
The return of the servicemen was not a welcoming experience and many felt as if they weren’t accepted. The idea that Australia should not have been in the war continued to be criticised many years after the soldiers were home. The ideology of Australian Soldiers going to war at the beginning was very different to when soldiers returned home. Approximately 70% of Australia’s general public were all pro conscription and also the government believed that we should be fighting.The willingness of Australian soldiers was due to the fact of the ‘Domino Theory’ and continuing to back our allies.
The Domino Theory was the idea of communism coming to Australia. It was evident that if Australia did not fight against communism like other countries, we too would fall to the system like our neighbouring countries. Australia also wanted to remain allied with America because they were such a strong relation to have; America was a great support system with all their resources. Australia was part of the anzus treaty, which meant we had signed an official document to state that Australia would help America when needed.Although Australia was willing to go to war and had many volunteering for National Service, this still was not enough to send to Vietnam.
In 1964 conscription was introduced by the Menzies government, in order to build a stronger army. The National Service Scheme meant that Australia’s army was strong enough to participate in the war. The scheme was known as the ‘Birthday Ballot’, this meant that all people aged 20 years and over had their birth dates put into a ballot and if their date was picked they would be sent to serve for our country.Those who were selected for national service were required to serve for two years full-time in the regular army, and three years part-time in the army reserve.
Fines and prosecution was high for men who met the age requirements but still did not partake in the Birthday Ballot. Getting out of conscription was also a very hard task. Young men were granted exemption on the grounds of conscientious objection only if they could prove their objection to war was based on religious beliefs. Other exemptions given were to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the medically unfit, and theology students.After the soldiers had been sent to Vietnam, back home there were political issues as to whether we should be fighting in the ‘civil war’. The issue of conscription provoked debate within Australian communities, with university students and other members of the community taking part in large anti-conscription and anti-Vietnam war demonstrations.
Not only were there problems back home but also overseas. With 20,000 Aussie troops conscripted into the Vietnam War and 30,000 volunteers, the soldiers went to fight in harsh conditions in order to save their country.The Vietnam War was best known for its dense jungles and extreme climates. If you were to serve in Vietnam, this would mean fighting in the opposition’s territory in conditions you have never experienced before. Fighting in the opposition’s home land was an advantage to them as they knew the jungle inside and out.
Luckily Australia undertook very serious training to ensure they were ready for whatever was thrown at them. Unfortunately you cannot control weather conditions, which is what led to the hardest task of fighting the Vietnam War.Alternating between an unpleasantly hot dry season and a wet season during which the humidity could reach 100%. The dry season meant operating through constant haze of dust that penetrated their clothing, permeated their pores and worked its way into their eyes and ears causing conjunctivitis and ear infections. In the wet season this would make it harder to travel by foot, their clothing would rub and also vehicles would get bogged. The Australians had to fight the army called the Viet Cong.
The Viet Cong are referred to as the guerrilla fighters. They would dig tunnels where they would live for months and years on end.The guerrilla fighters also would create booby traps to stop us Australians. This was a strong army which knew the jungle very well and used everyday village people to cover themselves. The Viet Cong were pro-communist fighting in the south of Vietnam.
Not all Australian men were fighting, some were engineers. The engineers carried out the responsibilities of constructing roads, water supply, civil aid projects that could include building schools and maintaining roads. Luckily helicopters were available for the soldiers to get their food and other supplies.Drinking and drugs became a way of life for them to survive the horrors of the war and try and forget. Troops of the war had to deal with the mental side of the fight; watching people die and facing the terrible threat that the war could take your life.
Upon returning home, views of Australia being part of the war had changed. The Vietnam War was the first war to be televised; this meant that families back home could have an insight into what war was really like. Unfortunately the American actions were the only thing being shown on TV’s back home. Australia and America both had very different approaches to the War.In Australia the public were seeing America doing immoral things which led them to think Australia was doing it to. By the war being televised this created great havoc back down under as people started to turn against the soldiers.
In 1972 all troops were bought home, due to a change in government. Once soldiers were home they were shown no respect, they were ignored. Most of the men returned home from Vietnam in the dead of the night, hidden from the public. Some veterans recall being abused as baby killers, rapists and murderers on their return.Veterans who had lost friends in combat, who had seen death and who had killed, which was majority of the soldiers, were appalled at the way in which the government had responded when in fact they sent the Australian soldiers over to fight the war. It wasn’t until 1987 when soldiers were recognised with a welcome home parade.
This parade was big deal to most veterans, this became evident when one claimed ‘We met mates again, we were welcomed by the Australian people, and we no longer had to feel almost unclean about what we had done and where we had been’.