Terrified children run away from the massive US bombing of the outskirts of Trang Bang.
|Sergeant Billy Hacking|
Sergeant Billy Hacking, died an accidental death in Vietnam 1963. He was a member of the Australian Army Training Team and had served in the Korean War. The People Speak Australian History Channel 2012.
Anonymous: statement issued by US Army, referring to Ben Tre in Vietnam; in New York Times 8 February1968
Graffito, Vietnam War, 1970
Ed Murrow, American television journalist on the Vietnam War 1970, in Walter Bryan The
Michael Herr’s Khe Sanh published in Tom Wolfe’s New Journalism.
Ed Clark, US Ambassador to Australia 1965-68 from the film Allies.
Marshall Green, US ambassador to Australia 1973-75 from the film Allies.
Brian Day, in John Pilger’s A Secret Country and the Last Dream.
Graham Greene’s The Quite American
Dr Brian Day from Toowoomba's The Chronicle 28th April 2006
Brian Day was Michael Tognolini’s training instructor at the Australian Army’s major training camp, Kapooka, near Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Brian told me that the army had kept Michael in Darwin until he turned 19. Once he was that age he was old enough to go into combat. He was the sent to Vietnam and killed in his first week there. The Armoured Personnel Carrier hit a land mine. It was actually an Australian land mine that the Vietnamese had stolen from an Australian mine field. Brian had heard of his death and shortly afterwards, he received a letter from him. It was a brief note saying he was in Vietnam and how the army had kept in Darwin until his nineteenth birthday.
John: How far do you think Australia has to go in actually coming to grips with Vietnam and the war in Indochina?
Brian: Jesus! I don't really think that sections of Australian society, political, military and otherwise will ever admit Vietnam was a mistake. They just won't. There is too many people who still believe in the so called ANZAC tradition. Now I have a great belief in certain parts of the ANZAC tradition because the ANZAC tradition was a very hard won honour. For example if you look at our casualties in World War One where the ANZAC tradition was formed and if you look at Australia and New Zealand, they suffered the highest casualties of any nations in World War One, per percentage of those put in the field and the ANZAC tradition after World War One. Although a lot of people have tried to put it down; the facts of battle, the things that occurred in battle, the amounts of times the Australians actually did heroic things in battle is well documented and can't be taken away. Where other armies lost places, the Australians took them back and that happened on a couple of occasions. So, the ANZAC tradition was there and the ANZAC tradition should always remain. What I don't like about it is that people tend to use the ANZAC tradition as a form of propaganda to brainwash people into believing that war is good.
See for example, I just could not believe and found it very difficult in the end to believe that the Australian Army had been used for political and military gain in South East Asia. I always thought the Australian Army would be used for good things. I just didn't believe that our government would have used the Australian Army as a cheap mercenary outfit to run around the world killing people to make politicians happy or more powerful and this security of Australia. That the Vietnamese could ever come down and invade us, you know, the Domino Theory. That was all crap. But people actually used the ANZAC tradition in conjunction with these theories to convince people like myself and thousands of others that by going to Vietnam we were serving our country and we weren't. We were serving the politicians. We were serving the Americans and we were there basically doing in Vietnam what the Japanese did in Asia and what the Germans did in Europe. We invaded a foreign country to stop those people from having the government they wanted, whether we agree with it or not, surely the first thing is democracy. By going there we were actually killing democracy. We weren't helping people to become democratic.
John: There was one documentary that was sponsored by Veteran Affairs and the Returned Services League.
And they're also some racist overtones in that too. Australia can be a very racist society and I remember people saying, "Oh they are all the same and they're all tarred with the same brush." And they see a Vietnamese, a Laotian or a Cambodian or Chinese or Japanese or Korean and they wouldn't know the difference. They would not have a slick where they come from.
John: What were some of the things you thought about when you got back from Vietnam; about the whole involvement?
Brian: Yes, because Australia basically served under the American military leadership althoug h we had our areas. All the American leadership did was expand on what the French did and it had not been Successful with the French. And all the Americans were doing were pouring in kids. Having served with the American army which I did for a year in Vietnam, with Special Forces who were the American regular army, the professional army and their standards were quite good. They were quite high and very professional but around me of course were the rest of the American Army that were smoking dope and having Afro haircuts, wearing peace beads, Black Hand Gangs. People were going out and not fighting and sitting around for two or three days eating their rations and sending back grid references which were not true. An army in decay and that's exactly what it was. By the time I was there in 1971-72 the American was an army was in decay and the American Air Force too. Whereas when I was there in 1967, I served for a brief period of six weeks. The American Army was very professional in 1967, their discipline was high and the difference between 1967 and 1971 was remarkable. It was a different army. It had just completely collapsed. The best portrayal of the American army I have ever seen in Vietnam was the movie Platoon. That showed how the American Army was. How the American Army had disintegrated and decayed into this mad rampant gang warfare type organization. It was actually hopeless.
So their cousins and uncles and brothers, friends and neighbours and who they knew and trusted became commanders. For example Big Miền, he changed all the generals, Khánh changed all the generals, Kỳ changed all the generals, Thiệu changed all the generals and all these corps commanders, people commanding different sections of Vietnam would be changed. You get new four star generals come in. Now all the four star generals would then bring in all the people they wanted under their command so they change half of the two star generals, who in turn would change half of the one star generals who in turn would change half the colonels. Although, that didn't really matter. Majors and captains just do what they're told. So you had this complete change in leadership and the soldiers down the bottom know those at the top were not there because they were good soldiers or good generals or good colonels or anything else. They were there because the politicians in Saigon had put them there.
"The Northern Defence Strategy" or something or other. The Bamboo Curtain because you had the Iron Curtain that suited Russia. They were industrial nation so China had the Bamboo Curtain because they had more bamboo than Russia. There was this enormous propaganda which was enormous. You had the propaganda of the Korean War of Chinese Communist forces and North Korean forces and the American film units that were in there as part of the American/United Nations war effort and they used to be showed at the cinema. I'd go to the movies every Saturday; no TV in those days, the Korean War period. You go to the movies and there would be news footage. You see all these documentary type reporting, very slanted of course and we were winning. How we were teaching them a lesson. How our soldiers were far superior. How our gallantry and heroics of our men in the field was winning the war. How the enemy was running away. How they were badly trained and badly equipped and couldn't shoot; were bad soldiers and the ANZACs were killing them left, right and centre.
Most of the generals were put there because their family had position and friends of the original Diem or they came from prominent Catholic families. Quite a lot of the officers were young officers whose families had moved from the North who were Catholics. Because you've got to remember about two million moved to the South.
John: Can you explain the whole setting up of the state from the Vietnamese community in France.
So, it's a lost cause. The RSL made a bad mistake.
Dr Brian Day passed away on 24 June 2015.
This interview with Dr Brian Day is my book A History Man’s Past & Other People’s Stories: A Shared Memoir. Part One: Other People’s Wars and it and my other books can be bought both as paperbacks and e-books from Author’s Page, just click on the link here.
A History Man’s Past & Other People’s Stories: A Shared Memoir. Part One: Other People’s Wars is a shared history in many ways. It’s where part of my story reflects the people I’ve interviewed with my media work over thirty years.
My interview with retired Australian SAS Warrant Officer Dr Brian Day, who served with the US Special Forces in Vietnam and Cambodia. He was also a founding member of the Australian Vietnam Veterans Association. I interviewed him in 1992 on Anzac, Racism, and the Madness of the Vietnam War.
My interview with Stan Goff, a retired US Army Special Forces Master Sergeant and Vietnam Veteran who served in the US Army up until Haiti in 1996. He became involved in Military Families Against War that was formed when George W.Bush invaded Iraq in 2003.
My question to Veteran Journalist, Writer and Filmmaker John Pilger, at a public meeting in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains about history being memory in 2008.
My question to Activist, Academic, Writer and Linguist Noam Chomsky, and coverage of his Sydney Press Conference, when he visited Australia in 1995, campaigning for an independent East Timor, then under the murderous Indonesian Occupation.
A shared history in another way too, I argue here that Australia’s Frontier Wars against our Indigenous Peoples should be recognised in the Australian War Memorial.
I also argue against former prime minister Tony Abbott’s $90 million dollar John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux, France and highlight the $400 million spent on the Centenary of Australia’s involvement in World War One as a major act of hypocrisy, when one in ten of our nation’s homeless are War Veterans.
This book is also an attempt to answer that big question, why has Australia been at War so much in so many places normally as junior partner to Britain or the United States?
John Tognolini 16 September 2015
About the front cover photo
The picture is of the grave of the boy I'm named after, note that word boy, not man John/Jack Tognolini, Military Medal, Killed in Action on 25th April 1918 at the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in France, in World War One. The army had his age as 24 years old. As he was born in 1900 he was either 16 or 17.