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MAX HASTINGS Max Hastings, author of Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, speaks with TLP Editor Greg T Ross about his latest book, an absorbing and definitive look at the Western world’s most divisive conflict. it started? How did this media observation affect the protest movement? MH: The protest movement was enormously important, there’s no doubt about it. But by, let’s say ‘67, ‘68, the scale of these huge protests, and I was living in America that time so I saw it all myself, these huge demonstrations outside The Pentagon. They did convince, gradually, the American body politic that this was not a winnable war because they support of the American people wasn’t there. But as usual, the great lesson to me as a historian, all the books I have been writing over the last 40, 50 years, is that neither side ever has the monopoly of virtue. Where I think the kids made a mistake, the protestors in America, they were dead right that this was a disastrous war which was unwinnable and America had to get out, and Australia too, and the same goes for Australian protestors; but a lot of the kids went a step further, and they said if our side are the bad guys then the other side have gotta be the good guys. And so there they all are going around with T-shirts of Mao Tse-tung, one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century, of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. These are bad people who did terrible things. These are incredibly inhumane people. I think everybody got it wrong in their theory, but nobody comes out of it looking good. GTR: So, you are looking for a balancing of awareness on this? MH: Yeah, that’s exactly ... I mean I’m not a pacifist, I do believe it’s terribly important that if there is a cause, we should be prepared to fight for it. But, my gosh, having seen a few wars myself over my life and also written a lot of books about them that, I’m always struck ... There was a Norwegian resistance hero in The Second World War called Knut Hansen, and he wrote some words in 1948 in a memoir of his experiences, which sort of haunt me all the time when I’m writing my books. He said, “Although wars bring adventures that stir the heart, the true nature of war is composed of innumerable personal tragedies and sacrifices, wholly evil and not redeemed by glory”. Now, I think that’s a very important phrase, but one of the things that always gives me the creeps about the North Vietnamese; at least our side, we did care about the lawsuit. We were desperately distressed by the casualties. The other side, the sheer inhumanity, that they were always losing far more people than the Americans and the Australians and their allies, and yet, frankly, Ho Chi Minh and the revolutionaries they didn’t care. As far as they were concerned, these people were just pawns for the great cause, the revolution, and it’s the inhumanity that sticks in my throat as I write about them. GTR: Isn’t that the way that they won, Max? That they were willing to forego and not worry about human casualties? MH: Yeah, absolutely, they were ... None of this makes one say that the Americans did well there, because they didn’t; and it was a very dirty, nasty war. But my gosh, the willingness of Hanoi and the politburo to keep hurling tens of thousands of men into this struggle and suffering terrific losses, all in the course of this revolution. And Le Duan, who was the leader of ... Ho Chi Minh, he did have wit, he did have a degree of ... a lot of charm. A lot of people who have met Ho Chi Ming were always impressed. Le Duan was simply an ice cold revolutionary who didn’t give a goddamn for anything. GTR: He was a lot harder-edged. MH: Yeah. GTR: So that transformation we talk about, and this is quite incredible ... How did such a small country in the South East of

Asia, and as you note in the book, about the size of California, become such a focal point for not only observations of war, but social change? MH: It was a pretty weird business on the one hand that sensible people in Washington like George Ball kept making all the way through, was that what was crazy was the United States committed its entire prestige, the greatest power on earth, to winning this war in this tiny country; that really didn’t matter at all. Well of course, for the North Vietnamese, the struggle was the most important things going. By the way, one of the things that fascinates me, that I didn’t know myself until I started working on the book. We all thought, when the war was going on, that the Chinese and the Russians were a hundred percent behind Hanoi, they absolutely weren’t. Both of them intensely disliked the North Vietnamese and hated getting stuck with supporting them. They felt that as good Socialists, who were then competing for the leadership of the socialist world, both Moscow and Beijing, felt they had to back these people, but they hated doing it. There is a great line, which I quoted in the book, where Brezhnev when he was leading Russia, said to the Russian ambassador in Washington, he said “I have no desire to sink into the swamps of Vietnam.” He talks in the same sort of language the Americans

Australian travails: (Above) the struggle to move a casualty, which always demanded at least four men, and (below) crossing a padi with Huey gunships in support.

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THE LAST POST – 2019 ANZAC DAY EDITION  55  

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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