“The effects of just one month spent in a Viet Cong prison camp show on 23-year-old Le Van Than, who had defected from the Communist forces and joined the Government side, was recaptured by the Viet Cong and deliberately starved”, 1966. Photo by Ken Howser
Local Villagers Surround Lieutenant John Lucaci and a Vietnamese Monk
Local villagers surround Lieutenant John Lucaci, 1st Australian Reinforcement Unit and a Vietnamese monk. 1968. AFTERMATH OF THE WAR: The conflict in Vietnam ended up engulfing neighbouring Cambodia and Laos. United States and South Vietnamese forces sought to block the flow of soldiers and equipment through these countries into South Vietnam, invading Cambodia and Laos in 1970. In 1975 communist forces prevailed in all three countries causing millions to try and flee the new regimes. Cambodia sunk into the nightmare of Khmer Rouge rule. Declaring ‘Year Zero’ and proclaiming an austere agrarian socialist revolution, the Khmer Rouge drove the population into the countryside, murdering anyone considered an intellectual, wiping out most of the Buddhist priesthood and ultimately provoking Vietnam into invading in 1979. Enormous refugee camps were set up along the Thai border as hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled the country with tales of brutality and horror. The camps were overcrowded and sometimes violent and people lived in them for years waiting for resettlement. Two million people sought to escape South Vietnam after the communist victory. Often taking to small, overcrowded boats they sailed into the South China Sea. Some made it as far as northern Australia, others spent years in refugee camps before finally being admitted to third countries. Many never made it that far, in unseaworthy vessels they succumbed to storms or drowned in calm seas when leaky boats sank beneath them. Pirates regularly attacked the slow, defenceless ships, raping the women, taking whatever valuables were on board and often murdering the refugees. The exodus from Indochina had an impact on the countries in which the refugees eventually settled. Over ten years from 1976, 94,000 refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam settled in Australia. About 2,000 arrived by boat. Accepting tens of thousands of Asian refugees was a large leap for a country that not long before had upheld the White Australia Policy. Not since the migration of large numbers of Chinese during the nineteenth century goldrushes had there been a large influx of Asians into Australia. As a percentage of the population, Indochinese refugees were not a large group, but they were new and they were visible. Small areas of the country, such as Sydney’s Cabramatta, were dramatically changed by their presence. About 155,000 Vietnamese-born Australians live in Australia today. After the war Vietnam was a country in ruins; physical infrastructure on both sides of the North/South divide had been destroyed. From 1957, the year after elections meant to unify the country failed to take place, until 1972, when the South was left to continue the war without the support of foreign ground troops, some 3.5 million people died in Vietnam, 60,000 were American, 521 were Australian. In Australia support for the war waned as it went on. Many of those who opposed involvement in Vietnam joined the political left, contributing to the election of a Labor Government in 1972. The Vietnam era was a time of social upheaval in Australia, but other western countries, such as France, that had no involvement in this war in Vietnam also experienced rebellion and internal conflict. In Australia’s case, the war galvanised the protest movement, giving disparate groups an organising principle. Those who sought social change across a range of issues unrelated to the war found common cause in opposing Vietnam and national service. In the United States failure in Vietnam led to isolationism and a reluctance to become involved in overseas disputes. This was to some degree echoed in Australia. Even contributions to distant peacekeeping operations, in the Sinai for example, led to suggestions that Australia was becoming involved in another Vietnam. Vietnam has become a byword for military quagmire, used in regard to Iraq today, it is a shadow that hangs over military endeavour overseas. No one wants another Vietnam.
U.S. Army soldiers Bob Lund, Billy Pepper, and Smitty with Vietnamese children. October 1965. Photo by Bob Lund, 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery Regiment. Photo by Bob Lund, 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery Regiment, RVN 1965.
Soldier poses with two local Vietnamese girls. There was a heavy social stigma attached to Vietnam Veterans when they returned. A characterization, that in hindsight, is wildly unjust. That treatment also made it more difficult for returning soldiers to integrate back into civilian life. "Be Careful ladies.....I'm known in my country as a 'Baby Killer.'" Photo and quote by Paul Plante — with Paul Plante.
They called us "Baby Killers." James Peeler with his little friend he protected. Photo by Mariano Guzman who served as one of D-Troop's "Blues" while serving with D-Troop, 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. 1969-1970. courtesy of Mike Gustin.
Major Gordon Brown AATTV of Victoria and Vietnamese Women Stand Before Rotting Clothing Found in Mass Grave
Major Gordon Brown, AATTV (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam) of Victoria, and Vietnamese women stand before rotting clothing found in a mass grave near Nam Hoa. The remains of more than 200 victims of the Viet Cong during the 1968 Tet Offensive were found in the grave. October 1969. Vietnam Veteran comments: "I was instructed to visit Nam Hoa District village to ascertain whether it was a fact that the remains of some of the victims of the Tet massacre in 1968 had been found. I cannot, in words, describe the scene that confronted me when I arrived at that place. Approximately a thousand bodies had been retrieved and placed in Nam Hoa Village… In front of the shrine was a large open space where skeletons were laid on plastic for identification. It was a devastating sight."