Vietnam, old antipathies drive father and son apart again


Dear Dad

Reverence and respect for the morality of the Military and the integrity of the Government had been an integral part of our upbringing.

Despite the turmoil at home, we were proud of your service during the Second World War, the traditions of Anzac Day and respect for your service during World War 11 were never questioned.

My new friends in Canberra were brought up in a similar culture, several of them came from Military families, most had fathers who had also served in WW11.

Vietnam caused us all to re think our belief in Government, our faith in the USA and indeed the morality of this war being waged to our North.

People were being conscripted in a lottery to fight in a Civil conflict between a country divided by the end of colonialism.

The war was portrayed and promoted by the Government and your RSL as a battle against the creeping insurgency of Communism. This was supposedly the reason why the Americans were there and we trailed on their coat tails as part of our ANZUS Treaty obligations.

It was traitorous to oppose our involvement, objectors to conscription and the war were criminalized, vilified and shamed.

Slowly, I realized this war was not our war; the atrocities, the blanket bombings and the interminable cost and length of the conflict made me question many of the things that had been part of my upbringing.

My whole belief system was in question; the “rightness” of the Military, Government and the Church no longer seemed so sacrosanct.

It must have been mid 1972 when the RSL held a major conference in Canberra. You were a delegate at this conference, marked by huge protest gatherings and several arrests.

At one stage during this protest your eyes and mine locked on each other, we were again a family divided.

We met later that afternoon and were supposedly going to have dinner, but it developed into a slanging match on the front steps of the house in Yarralumla where I was living, and did not move on from there.

“You are no son of mine!” were the last words I was to hear from you for almost 12 months.

The opposition to Vietnam was building and within 12 months, we would be out of this dirty war. The footnote to this, was; that your RSL did not fully recognize many of the returned soldiers because they had been conscripts and the wounds would linger longer than the war itself.

Vietnam was not a victory and the RSL loved victories!

We had been father and son, we had been enemies, we had almost been friends, and now; the rancor of our positions had driven us apart again.

A son searching for identity in many areas of his life was again locked in conflict with a father intractably locked in a need for control.

I wish it had been different, I needed a father.





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