Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tet Offensive: 40 years on

It’s forty years since the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. Three images persist. The US Embassy in Saigon during its capture, the devastation of the Ancient Imperial Capital at Hue and the summary execution of a VC by the National police chief.

It was a political disaster for Lyndon Johnson and his allies such as Australia. Not
a great beginning for John Gorton’s government. The US military has always claimed that it was a crushing defeat for the communists. It was certainly the beginning of the end for the Indochina war but not before Richard Nixon spread the carnage to Cambodia and Laos.

Nixon was the beneficiary of LBJ’s political self-destruction and Robert Kennedy’s assassination in his campaign to win the presidency and end the war. I clearly remember watching Johnson’s “I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President” speech. It was a moment of optimism that did not last long. Australian troops, including conscripts, would continue to fight and die for another four years. 50,000 Americans would die before their ignominious defeat in 1975. Countless millions of Vietnamese, both military and civilians, perished.

I was not conscripted but others of my age started their compulsory military service in 1968. The war changed all our lives. At Monash University, home of the most radical anti-war activists, thousands would spend their lunchtimes listening to the infamous Albert Langer and others debate Australia’s participation. Draft resisters began to openly defy the government, burning their conscription papers and taunting the Federal police and government to come and find them.

It brought the moratorium movement that would transform local politics and help to change the government as well.

For more about the year I turned 21, reached voting age and watched the world turn upside down, visit Remembering '68 an online Facebook history group.

You can contribute by adding photos, by writing on the wall, by posting items such as videos or web links or by starting or joining discussions.

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1 comment:

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