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“…THIS WAS, OVERWHELMINGLY, A VIETNAMESE TRAGEDY THAT AT LEAST TWO MILLION VIETNAMESE DIED…” were using, but he felt stuck with it; and we didn’t understand any of this when it was going on. GTR: Is this to do with the fact that Vietnam was highly ... correct me if I’m wrong, and you know more about this than me ... Vietnam was a very independent nation and in fact was one of the only few nations that would not know-tow to China in the early days? MH: Absolutely. They are very tough people, the Vietnamese, and there aren’t many jokes about it but a wonderful man, who I interviewed for my book, who’d been a prisoner in the jungle, of the Viet Cong for seven years. And he knew Vietnam, and knew the Vietnamese, and he said one of the few funny things that happened to him, in the whole ghastly seven years, in a bamboo cage was one day when he was dragged out and he was asked why America was in Vietnam; and he said it was 10 percent for the Vietnamese and 90% to try and check out the expansion of Communist China. And he said his interrogator then said “In that case, why do you not then go an fight them in China. We do not like the Chinese either.” GTR: Very well said Max. Is it true, from memory as a child, the Chinese tanks actually ran over North Vietnamese troops I think ... ‘69, ‘70, or somewhere around that period? MH: That was very rough stuff. They got themselves into a war with each other, a border war, very soon after Vietnam ended. But to me, one of the things that was amazing, and it still goes on to this day. We all have these incredibly elaborate intelligence machines and stupendous resources engaged in trying to collect intelligence all over the world. I forget how many billions the Americans are spending on intelligence at the moment; and yet our understanding of other countries is still unbelievably poor. The whole history of the Vietnam war, this goes for Cambridge’s perception as well as Washington’s perception, was based on all sorts of complete misunderstandings of politics of South East Asia. And it’s the same now, and you see it in Iraq and Syria. We still, really, are incredibly bad at trying to figure out; and unless you understand what’s going on out there, then you’re wasting your time sending soldiers. And in fact, to me, I’ve said in the last chapter of the book. That to me, one of the great lessons is that absolutely no point, you can win all the fights you like, and Australian troops, as you know I’ve said this in the book ... In my mind Australians and New Zealanders, in my mind, we undoubtedly the best soldiers on the ground. But none of it mattered a dime, unless you had some political and cultural and social engagement with these people. And really, most of the Vietnamese out there, it was just like Martians confronting earth for them. I’m not quite sure, which way round, who were the Martians, but there was absolutely zero meeting of minds. GTR: Yes, absolutely, and you bring to point that fact about Australian and New Zealand troops being highly judged by Vietnamese. I know that, I have heard that from veterans that they, and I think it’s similar to what happened in the Second World War, the Japanese said they feared the Australian soldiers because they fought like them. And I think the Vietnamese said the same thing about the Australians and New Zealanders. What about America’s role there? Was there a failure to let go, do you think, due to ego? MH: Oh sure. But it’s always the same. It’s still the same in Afghanistan and Iraq. Once a great power is committed, its governments find it incredibly difficult to admit to its own people that they’ve lost. And one of the stories that made the greatest impression on me, the last round of The White House tapes of Nixon and Kissinger from ‘72, were only released a couple of years ago; and all these transcripts of their conversations about Vietnam. And all the way through, what is amazing about all

56  THE LAST POST – 2019 ANZAC DAY EDITION

Why so many foreigners fell in love with Vietnamese women: (clockwise from left) Duong Van Mai in her days as a RAND researcher; Nguyen Thi Chinh, who became film star Kieu Chinh; Vietcong doctor Dang Thuy Tram.

their conversations in The Oval Office; they were never talking 26/07/2018 17:30 about what’s good for the Vietnamese people. All they were talking about was what was gonna work for them politically. There was a great moment just before the ‘72 elections, when Nixon was up against George McGovern, the Democratic candidate; and Kissinger comes back from secret negotiations with the communists in Paris; and he rushes into the White House and into Nixon’s office and he says “Mr. President ... “ and I won’t of course try to do the Kissinger voice, “We have got the best deal you can ever conceivably imagine” and he didn’t then say that he was gonna save countless lives, it’s gonna be great for the people of Vietnam. He said “This will absolutely totally secure the government.” So all the way through, this thinking about, this is what, I’m afraid, nations do; that once you’re in these things it’s all about what you can sell to your own people. GTR: And it had been the same with France in the beginning of thisMH: Yeah, the French were very low after their terrible experiences in World War 2, and their governments were terrified that they thought that without an empire, France was nothing. So, for five years, sorry longer than that, nine years, they fought on in Indochina to try and preserve the glory of the French Empire. And of course, it was all complete nonsense. GTR: Growing up, I was born in ‘56 so we were 12, 13 when Vietnam war was at its maximum, but it would be screening on the television every night. It became almost a reality program, if you look at to in the realms of today. It was like a war movie but it was real. It was compelling viewing. MH: Yeah, I was there, I was working for BBC television and we were trying to film a lot of this stuff; and it was… At one stage in the ‘60s, it was very spooky because they found, the American networks suddenly discovered, people back home in the United States were seeing their loved ones killed live on screen. And after that even the American networks changed policies so that they didn’t show combat, live actuality. Honestly, can you think of anything worse than to see your husband or your son die live on camera. I mean, it’s absolutely terrifying. But yeah, it was the first television war and it was an extraordinary business. GTR: How did it affect you?

Vietnam 3rd plates AUS.indd 17

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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