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–– INTERVIEW ––

Greg T Ross: I’ve read your book and I’m very impressed with the whole layout of the historical aspect of the Vietnam war. Max, welcome to the Last Post. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy is an outstanding book and a look at an historical part of modern history. What led you to putting this down in a book? Max Hastings: Well, Vietnam made a terrific impression on me when I was a young correspondent for the BBC there on and off between 1970 and ‘75, when I came out of Saigon in the final evacuation from the US embassy in ‘75. For a long time in many ways, it was such a depressing story in that I didn’t feel I wanted to write about it but, I’m fifty years on and it kept nagging away at me. Partly, while the things that always stuck in my mind is that most of the books about it were written by Americans, and they tend to write about Americans and it always used to be that one always got to remember that this was, overwhelmingly, a Vietnamese tragedy that at least two million Vietnamese died, about forty for every American and not to mention Australians. I felt that aspect, and what I tried to in researching the book was to really major on interviewing Vietnamese, reading Vietnamese memoirs from both sides. The other thing too is that most of the books behave as if it was only our sides, so to speak, that made all the mistakes; but I’m afraid I’ve always believed that neither side deserved to win the war. We know that the Americans screwed up big time in South East Asia. But, the North Vietnamese, the communists; these were very, very unpleasant people. This is sometimes forgotten. If you read some of the books you’d think Ho Chi Minh was just Mr. Nice Guy or Uncle Ho. A view that was, frankly rather silly, demonstrated in the ‘60s made after him; he was a ruthless revolutionary. But the Viet Cong, when they moved into a village, they not just once, but systematically, they’d bury village chiefs and government sympathizers alive in front of the rest the village, to make the point it wasn’t just a question of opposing the revolution meaning death, you died in a horrible way. So we all hear about the My Lai massacre, we all hear about the terrible things that were done by, what I will call, our side. What you don’t hear so much about the fact that large parts of North Vietnam starved to death, certainly starved and in some cases starved to death, in the ‘50s and ‘60s as a result of the policies of their government. So it’s a question, not, of presenting the Americans

and their allies as the sort of the good guys of this struggle, but just trying to be a bit more even-handed in the way we look at it. GTR: I noted that, reading your book, and I think quite excellent in its appraisal; is this just the outcome of warfare? I guess there was a point to make there in regards to the appraisal of the atrocities committed by the western powers in Vietnam, but also the lack of awareness of what had been happening on the other side due to the western press, I guess, because of our democratic openness? MH: Well, in a way one of the things that I think kept a bit of moral high ground for America and its allies, notably including of Australia and New Zealand, was that this very openness, which did cost them in that, even while we were all working up those correspondents. But yes, the American spokesman and the South Vietnamese spokesman, they’d lie and lie. But if we wanted to go see for ourselves they would always give us a helicopter, give us a plane to go and see; whereas

54  THE LAST POST – 2019 ANZAC DAY EDITION

of course in the North ... And we’d tell the story and the whole of media covering Vietnam, we’d tell the bit of the story that we could see; and one did see South Vietnamese and the Americans do terrible things; but we did not, because we couldn’t get at it, talk about what was going on, on the other side. And up in North Vietnam, where dreadful things were going on that nobody got to see it, except Jane Fonda and her friends, because that’s the way they played it. I think one thing’s that depressing is, I’m afraid, the Communist Policy, which people like President Putin sustain to this day in Russia, of a silence, of just not letting anyone see the bad things. It’s amazing how naïve we all are; that if we don’t see the pictures of bad things, we tend to not realize they’ve happened. GTR: True in so many aspects, Max. And I think you make a note of this in the book where this lack of focus on things that have been done on the opposition, as we’ll say, side. How did it affect the protest movement in America mainly, that’s where

Profile for The Last Post Magazine

The Last Post Magazine Anzac Day 2019  

In 2019 TLP editor Greg T Ross visited Japan under the Japan-Australia Grassroots Exchange Programme. To commemorate the visit and the prog...

The Last Post Magazine Anzac Day 2019  

In 2019 TLP editor Greg T Ross visited Japan under the Japan-Australia Grassroots Exchange Programme. To commemorate the visit and the prog...

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