Asia Pacific Report 47
Why We Fought in Vietnam

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    Asia Pacific Report Number 47, 19th September 2002.
    Two Unpublished Letters to the Editor:
    This letter was written by APR Editor, Frank Mount. It was sent to The Age in Melbourne, and is a slightly edited and expanded version of the original. We thought many of our readers would find them of interest and especially our growing number of student readers around the region.
    To the Editor, The Age, 31 August, 2002
    Re Major General (Ret) Alan Stretton's statement (Letters, 30/8) that the Vietnam involvement "achieved nothing except the loss of more than 500 Australians, 58,000 thousand Americans and more than a million military and civilian Vietnamese." This follows a similar comment by the current Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, that Australia should not have gone to Vietnam.
    Both generals are seriously mistaken. This war was just one part of a three way regional conflict between the USSR, China and the US and its Free World allies for control of Southeast Asia and in particular the Indonesian waterways running between the Indian and Pacific Oceans which carry nearly all of the trade and oil between Europe, the Middle East and East Asia and most of Australia's trade. At the time of the commitment to Vietnam in 1962-64, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was threatening to take over Indonesia, Soekarno was trying to undermine Malaysia, and there were wars being fought against communist revolutionary guerrilla movements in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines as well as Laos and Cambodia.
    While we ultimately lost the war in Vietnam and the rest of Indo China for a variety of reasons having to do primarily with US military and bureaucratic incompetence and 'fatigue' and the fact that America's primary focus was on Europe and not Asia, we won the much greater battle for Southeast Asia. The Vietnam War gave us ten years or so in which to defeat the PKI, finish the Malayan Emergency, negotiate the Five Power Defence Arrangements (5PDA), build ASEAN and develop liberal democratic movements throughout the region.
    Vietnam VeteransEvery single Vietnam veteran whether from Australia, America, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea or wherever, can stand up and say: "I contributed significantly to bringing peace, freedom and prosperity in varying degrees to Southeast Asia and parts of East Asia. I helped to create the conditions for ASEAN, APEC and the development of liberal democratic parties in countries like Thailand and Indonesia. And had we won in Vietnam, that country by now could have become another Taiwan or South Korea, while Indonesia may not have felt the need to invade East Timor in order to prevent a pro-Soviet Fretilin taking power."
    All of this raises the question as to what Stretton, who is a former Australian army chief of staff in Vietnam, and Cosgrove thought they were fighting for in Vietnam. One suspects that their answers might be among the reasons we lost the war.
    Today, Australian soldiers are being asked to play a role in a new war against another revolutionary guerrilla movement, al-Qa'ida, which involves a small minority of Muslims motivated by another totalitarian ideology called wahhabism. It is to be hoped that they are better strategically informed than their predecessors were in Vietnam.
      Frank Mount.
    Frank Mount covered the Vietnam War for ten years between 1965 and 1975 as a correspondent writing at various times for a string of newspapers and magazines in Europe, the UK, the US, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. In addition to that, he was the secretary general of The Pacific Institute between 1967 and 1976, in which capacity he played a significant role in building a liberal, social democratic political party throughout South Vietnam which it was hoped would come to power after the war was won. At one time or another he visited branches of the party in nearly every province of the country.
    PWHCE NOTE: If you have an interest in Vietnam and the Vietnam War, you may be interested to read David Bennett's Obituary of Nguyen Van Thieu, last President of free Vietnam, or the text of the PWHCE paper given by Vietnamese human rights campaigner Quynh Dao, Two Sides to Every Story: Perspectives on the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.

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