Tuesday, April 12, 2011

No forgiving cruel Viet Cong

THE proposal that Australian Diggers should march alongside former members of the Viet Cong calls to mind Cassandra's famous request for a handkerchief, an aspidistra, a quiet corner and the old heave-ho. But in fact it is more serious than that.

The Viet Cong were not an honourable enemy worthy of the honours of war. I do not know of a single Australian taken prisoner by them who they allowed to live, though I know of several Australian civilian journalists, at least, who were murdered in cold blood by them.

No one knows if any Australian servicemen tried to surrender to them, but if so they did not live to tell about it. The American fliers captured in North Vietnam after their aircraft were shot down were routinely tortured at the "Hanoi Hilton". Again no one knows how many of these were simply murdered.

Similarly, the Viet Minh's earlier treatment of French prisoners captured after the fall of Dien Bien Phu resulted in death-rates very similar to those in the World War II Japanese slave-camps.
None of these facts are seriously disputed by anyone. Not all enemies are the same, and while it is true that some former enemies may meet again in friendship, it is by no means a universal rule. To have former Australian Diggers march with the former Viet Cong would be taken as an admission that the Viet Cong were morally on the right side.

In fact, the Viet Cong were not fighting for an honourable cause, or for "national liberation". The so-called National Liberation Front was a sham. The North Vietnamese and their catspaws in the south were invading a country that did not want them or their rule, as witnessed by the hundreds of thousands of refugees who escaped or drowned trying to escape by boat after the north's victory in 1975.
Many thousands who escaped from the Viet Cong and succeeding communist slavery live in Australia and such a parade would be a gross insult to them as well as to Australian servicemen.

The Australian and allied servicemen who fought and suffered in Vietnam did so in a noble and by no means wholly unsuccessful cause.

They bought the fragile nations of Southeast Asia time to strengthen their economies and democratic institutions so as to turn the region into one of the modern world's great success stories: nothing to be ashamed of.

The North Vietnamese forces established a brutal police state in the south. Even today, more than a generation after the war ended, there is almost no political or religious freedom or institutional freedom of expression there. It remains one of the least free countries in the world.

To claim the Viet Cong were "tough, determined and disciplined" as though this confers some moral virtue upon them does not in fact make them an honourable or worthy enemy.

Exactly the same claim could be made about the Nazis or the Japanese White Tigers, who they also resembled in such matters as the treatment of prisoners.
To have Australian troops march with them now would not be a gracious gesture of reconciliation but an insult of the most dishonourable kind to the 50,000 Australians who fought in Vietnam and the 500 who died there, telling them and their families that in effect their sacrifice was worthless, or even on the wrong side.
One wonders if those responsible for this proposal are aware of the true implications of what they are suggesting?

By Hal G. P. Colebatch author, poet, lecturer, journalist, editor and lawyer.

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