“Tribute 08" was one of those extraordinary occasions when all elements of the regime come together in a common cause - in this case by “honoring” the New Zealand government’s Vietnam war veterans. One dissenting voice was that of Chris Trotter who argued bravely, and forcefully, on Radio New Zealand National that the Vietnam war was unjustified and that the veterans should be held morally accountable for their role in the conflict. The media as a whole, however, chose to play its part by trumpeting the “bravery” and “sacrifice” and “service to country” of the Vietnam veterans, without giving any evidence of such bravery, sacrifice, or patriotism. It would be hard to do so, given that the veterans own published war reminiscences show many, though not all, were unashamed racists who “killed defenceless men in cold blood” (Private Colin P Sisson).
As a matter of course one would expect the major political parties, the television networks, editorial writers and columnists to adopt the big lie of “courage, sacrifice, and devotion to country” but it was disappointing to see the Green Party tacitly adopting the same line for reasons of pure electoral expediency. And it was particularly disappointing to see John Roughan (whose articles normally stand head and shoulders above the vitriolic nonsense of fellow NZ Herald columnists like Garth George and Fran O’Sullivan) producing a craven and disingenuous “mea culpa” over his own youthful opposition to the war.
Roughan resorted to the regime’s usual toolkit of selective reporting (to ostensibly demonstrate the “Vietnamese” point of view, he simply quotes an officer in the Vietnamese military regime who had fled to New Zealand when the American forces were finally ousted) and a clutch of non-sequiturs. By implication, Roughan resurrects the old argument that the “sheer awfulness of the Soviet Union” (“nothing worked and no one was allowed to say so”) justified saturation bombing of an entire nation in South East Asia. And he comes up with the new argument that the post war flight of thousands of Vietnamese to the west provides some kind of post facto justification. In fact, the post war flood of emigrants was made up of at least four strands - those who sought to escape the economic legacy of the war (destroyed infrastructure, a polluted landscape, heavily mined fields, the burden of hundreds of thousands of war casualties), those who had supported the ousted military regime, those who had criminal aspirations not easily satisfied in the new Vietnam (and who went on to become the major source of heroin supplies in Australia’s major cities), and those who because of an individualist moral temperament did not fit easily into the bureaucratic regime established by the Viet Cong. All of this was a natural, and predictable, outcome of the war. None of it provides post-facto justification for the US-Anzac invasion.
To understand the real reasons for the war, it is only necessary to know the history of Vietnam, which Roughan, and the regime’s media as a whole, carefully choose to ignore. For the first half of the twentieth century, Vietnam had been colonised by France. The Vietnamese attempted to assert their independence in 1945, but were opposed by France, Britain, and the United States. After a nine year war, partial independence was achieved. But being a former western colony ranks next to the presence of oil as a risk factor for invasion by “the international community” (Afghanistan was a former British colony; Iraq was exposed to both the major risk factors, as is Myanmar) and the western powers were simply not prepared to let go of Vietnam. They chose to virtually destroy the country rather than allow it to attain full and unequivocal independence.
Roughan’s presumptuous “confessions” on behalf of the anti-war movement (“How immature we were!... Vietnam made fools of us all”) are contrived and false. Opposition to, and condemnation of the Vietnam war was the only honorable and decent course to take at the time, as it is today. What Roughan is doing now, along with his colleagues in the regime’s media apparatus, is to develop an apology for the whole concept of imperialist invasion, occupation, and war, and to perpetrate the idea that historical evidence and moral principles have no part to play in the decision of whether to go to war. “Bravery”, “sacrifice” and “service to country” (which on analysis reveals itself to be nothing more than service to the regime) are to be the only standards by which the media judge the justice or otherwise of a war.
The NZ government’s apology to its war veterans has nothing to do with truth or reconciliation. It is not even principally directed at the veterans themselves. The regime is more interested in sending a message to its military forces that in future or current imperial wars, such as the war against Afghanistan, they will receive the protection of the state regardless of their complicity in torture, “extraordinary rendition”, or the massacre of innocents. The sub-text of the NZ government “apology” is that the military forces of the state will not be held morally or legally accountable for their actions. (If in any doubt that New Zealand forces have a case to answer over their conduct in Vietnam, read the statements by seven New Zealand war veterans below). This apology is the NZ government’s way of saying “Morality does not matter. All that matters is your loyalty to our regime”.
Chris Trotter had the courage to declare that no one, not even New Zealanders,
should be permitted to kill, maim and destroy without some form of personal
moral accountability. He may find that there is a price to
pay for such a bold and forthright statement of the obvious, but as a voice
of truth in the wilderness of lies created about Tribute 08, he deserves
to be honored.
New Zealand’s Vietnam War “heroes” in their own words:
Extracts from The Vietnam Scrapbook: The Second Anzac Adventure
by Mike Subritzky with foreword by the Right Hon J B Bolger.
"Joe Hoani .. found a VC who might still be alive ... fired and emptied
the magazine into him... I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable by
what I saw as questionable morality ... we were now able to kill defenceless
men in cold blood...we inspected the dead ... some were wearing civilian
clothes .. we had inflicted many casualties upon them"
Pvt Colin P Sisson
"the two gooks were blown into next week like a couple of shattered
rag dolls..Both gooks had the shit blown out of them ... one of them was
wearing a watch ..I got the kills so the watch was mine.."
D.R Victor 2
"We cadets did not like being paraded for an Asiatic, all sucked in
our breath (it came over as hissing) as the President inspected the parade
Captain Christopher W Brown.
"the gook cleared the bamboo clump and we opened up ... the gook went
down.. the first round had spun the gook .. it was a young woman of about
twenty five ... not a weapon in sight, a fuckin' civilian... and
it had blown all her entrails all over her pants .."
Private G, Victor Company
" I'd just killed my first gook, I was elated...the one I'd shot.. the
gook I'd shot was a woman.. dead woman, a child's leg and two axes,
fuck me!.- I got the first recorded kill for New Zealand in the Vietnam
war and it had to be a woman..."
J.B Victor 1
"kill a commie for Christ... anyone who ***** a Vietnamese is too lazy to masturbate ..."
"We had a lightning tour around Singa's in a cab with my mate Dinga..
showing us how to slap the gook taxi driver round the ears to get him to
drive faster ..."
Pete and Mac, ANZAC reinforcements
"Then the Gooks closed the bar and we all went "Ape Shit", throwing
chairs, smashing tables, and kicking the shit out of the walls..."
Shorty Barrett, 161 Battery