Monday, 8 February 2016
Private Members' Business
Vietnam Veterans Day
I am very pleased to speak on this most important motion on Vietnam Veterans Day. I thought I would start by quoting a passage written by Private Jim Richmond, who was injured in the Battle of Long Tan:
I rolled over on my side hoping that the mud would dry out the wound and help to stop the bleeding. The artillery was still coming in and it was dark by now and I knew I'd get no help till morning at least. I kept hoping that the artillery wouldn't get me … I was worried about my mother, and I kept thinking if I died she would be up shit creek, so I prayed a lot and made a lot of promises, but I'm afraid I never really kept any of them after I got back home. It was the longest night I've ever known. The artillery was still coming in and I can remember thinking, "This one's going over, and this one's falling short, and this one's for you Jim." ... The other thing that was really worrying me was the thirst. I drank all my water and during the night I got painfully thirsty and reckoned if I could survive the Viet Cong troops and the artillery I'd probably finish up dying of thirst. I just lay there helpless and praying and trying to stay awake and wishing to hell it would get light soon.
Private Terry Burstall said:
We recovered the bodies of our friends who had been laughing living beings the day before. Nothing takes the supposed glory out of war more quickly than the sight of dead mutilated friends. Unfortunately it brings about a hardening of feeling toward your enemy that pushes normal human feelings of compassion to the back of the mind. It brings conflict down to a very personal level and gives you the licence to remain aloof from the suffering of others as long as your own little band is protected.
We lost over 500 Australians in the Vietnam conflict. What is shameful for this nation is the way we treated those service men and women when they returned from Vietnam. When we should have been holding them up as heroes, they were demonised by many people, by many segments of Australian society. That is to our eternal shame.
When you look at the long bow of history of the previous century, the battle in Vietnam was just one small conflict in the war against communism, a war that was eventually won. The domino theory was real at that time in history. If you go back to the early sixties, there was a real concern, a real debate, about what the best form of government organisation was. Was it the communist form of government or was it free markets, giving individual liberties? That debate was still a practical experiment. The Vietnam War was actually a holding pattern against communist advance. If you look at it like that, it was successful. During the late sixties and early seventies the nations that believed in free markets and freedom of the individual became stronger. They grew stronger economically, providing more resources and prosperous standards of living for their people.
When we entered the eighties, the contrast between governments that had gone down the track of communism and governments that had gone down the track of democracy and freedom became obvious through the lifestyles that one system was able to achieve against the other. Many of those nations that, if Vietnam had fallen quickly, would have turned over to communism and gone down that track adopted the policy of free markets and democracy. We have seen that that has made the world a more prosperous place. That has made all those nations that would have gone down the communist track more prosperous places. We have the Australian veterans and the South Vietnamese veterans who fought the battle against communism to thank for that.