The Torment of War

by Kim Edgar whilst completing Year 12

I lie in my bed unable to fall asleep, haunted by the distant past, thinking about things and in particular the Vietnam War that left the whole world in shock with the stark realisation that Communist forces had fought and won over concentrated forces from a variety of countries.  Although the war was almost 18 years ago I am wondering if my life would be any different.

I never really thought about the issue of the Vietnam War during my childhood and even through my teenage years as I had a somewhat protected existence, being protected from the harsh realities of racism by my adopted parents and friends.

I had, of course, experienced various forms of racism, but never really linked it directly to the war.  Since undertaking extensive research into the causes and effects of the Vietnam War from a History assignment, I opened my mind to accept information and new concepts and this has changed the way I think and most importantly, it has changed the way I feel.

For once in my life I have to face an emotional whirlpool that is linked to my original heritage, although it has not been brought upon by racism.  This emotional instability has also questioned my ideals and my idea of what a partriot is or means for me, as an adopted citizen who never really had the choice of receiving my citizenship, yet has never thought about the question of loyalty to my country … until now.

How can I be feeling such strange feelings after all this time.  To question my loyalty to Australia is to question my entire being and my participation in the cadet forces.  I have been taught various skills such as weapons training, field craft and other such tactics used in times of war during my various promotions courses, not realising that these types of tactics were used to kill people.

It has just been recently that I have begun to realise this after reading accounts of various ex-service personnel and other literary material on the Vietnam War.

Personally, I don’t blame anyone in particular, but I do blame the politics of the era.  The politics between various countries basically forced one another into the area.

Australia only became involved because of their trade ties with the US and they owed the US support in return for their support if Australia was attacked.  The reason for me becoming a person of indecision is because I no longer know where my loyalty lies.

The great fear of Communism expansionism and the “Domino Theory” also played a large part in the allied forces coming to the aid of the Southern Vietnamese, or the Army of the Repulic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces.  They were fighting what was described as spreading Communism, but which was in fact a group of people fighting for a reunified Vietnam under Communist rule.  Thus, a civil war was being fought by two main parties with  the same goal .. a reunified Vietnam, yet the only thing separating them was their political ideals and stance.  This was no different to the American Civil War, except that the US Civil War was not seen as the spreading of Communism and so no other countries were involved.

No matter what allied country any soldier came from, most saw the war as an adventure, yet it angers me to see that most, if not all “foreign” soldiers within the boundaries of Vietnam were of the belief that they were actually fighting for their country!  What they were doing was prolonging a war which was a vicious one to begin with, and to prolong the suffering of hte Vietnamese peasants and farmers who had been caught unawares and trapped between two main warring factions – Communist and Anti-Communist.  They saw the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC) as being “foreign” invaders from the North, whereas they were the actual “foreign” invaders.  They were scarred of an unjustified fear of Communism and were fighting a people who would never give up, no matter what the cost.

Because of all that has been said and done by the allied forces and in various films, particularly US made films, I am now torn –  believing that Communism isn’t all that bad, although my psychological barriers have been broken down and blown away into the depths of despair.  In theory, Communism is the ideal system of government where every person is equal in pay and social status, regardless of their profession.  For example, it is the Capitalist societies that have produced over educated populations and the competition has led some people to poverty.  The unemployment rates indicate this to be true enough.  Health care and welfare is relatively restricted to the wealthy and class distinctions are very evident in such societies.  A Communist society, in theory, treats every person as equal and provides every person with employment and the sick and old are looked after by the State.  Althought the State owns everything, people have shelter, food, and employment as compared to the high unemployment and homeless rates such as those in Capitalist societies.

Not only did the allied forces polong an already costly war, in terms of human sacrifice, they also killed many, many innocent civilians. 

This was not a conventional war where the enemy was dressed in a specific uniform and was of a certain age group.  The enemy in this war could come in any shape, form or size, regardless of age.  Weapons were put into the hands of little children who would be willing to use them without hesitation.

Many of the allied forces have exaggerated crimes committed by the VC and the NVA, yet they have tried to cover up the realities of their own brutality imposed upon the Vietnamese people.

One such incident that comes to mind is the “Pinkville Massacre” of March 1968, just off the coast of central Vietnam in a provincial town called My Lai.  This area was seen as a bitterly contested region and a group of young US soldiers, averaging in their 20s, in Charlie Company (Co.) landed by helicopter to attack the village.

Many of their friends had already been killed by booby traps or snipers and their growing anger made it very difficult for them to distinguish between the Viet Cong and civilians.  This, in no way excuses what happened next.

Because Head Quarters (HQ) said that My Lai was, or suspected as being, a major meeting point for the VC and an actual VC HQ, the occupants were to be “eliminated”.  During the next four hours over 400 innocent civilians lost their lives.  Because this was a suspected VC HQ the occupants were either VC or sympathetic to the VC cause as they hadn’t previously shown support to the allied forces.

In reality, they were probably just as afraid of the VC as they were of the allied forces.  This fear proved to be justified.  There was no opposition when the US troops landed, yet the people were systematically killed, raped, or both.

It’s not enough for the US troops to jut take innocent lives, but they even cut hands or tongues out just to make it a little more painful.  Basically they killed at random and did it any way that would be likely to make the victim suffer in pain.

Afterwards, the US public was informed that their troops had liberated a major VC HQ and it was seen as an American victory!  Later, after the facts had been revealed the Commanding Officer of Charlie Co. only got three days in jail.  Three days in jail was the price to pay for the murder of over 400 people!  His excuse being that he’d been acting under orders.  If this was the case, as it is in most similar cases, the people making the initial decisions should be tried for war crimes and dealt with appropriately.

My mother once told me that she’d been trying to find out who my birth parents were and I told her that she could if she wanted to, but I wasn’t really interested.  More to the point, I think I was afraid of what I’d find out, but after learning more about Vietnam I have become curious as to my own personal history, as well as the history of my country of birth.

I may even return to Vietnam when I get older and attempt to discover more about myself and my country, although I will have to wait in silence until such a time presents itself.  Whenever I hear anyone blaming me for a relative or a friend lost in the war or something like that I don’t really mind how they feel, but I do mind their ignorance.  If Australia hadn’t been involved in the war in the first place there would be no need for blame.

Anything that happens now will be determined by time and destiny.  Only time will tell …


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