Paul Ham’s VIETNAM: THE AUSTRALIAN WAR

I have just finished reading Paul Ham’s fantastic account of the Vietnam War from an Australian perspective. Actually I should say “reading” because I listened to the audio book, unabridged on 25 discs. I didn’t read the book when it originally came out because my interest in military history is mainly the Second World War but after reading Karl Marlantes’ MATTERHORN I wanted to find out more about the war and in particular Australia’s involvement in it.

FUBAR was a term coined by American GIs in World War 2 and is the perfect summation for all aspects of The Vietnam War. From the reasons used by politicians for being there in the first place, the strategy (or lack there of) used to fight the war, through to the treatment of the soldiers when they returned home (both by the public, the government and the army). All complete and utter FUBAR. A minefield the Australian laid best sums this up. It a bewildering strategic decision a defensive minefield was laid by the Australians in their area of operations. 20,000 mines were laid, many local civilians and animals killed or wounded by them. The North Vietnamese Army ‘lifted’ 6,000 of these mines and used them against the Australian soldiers. From September 1968 to May 1970 more than 50% of Australian casualties we caused by mines, most lifted from their own minefield. FUBAR.

Paul Ham covers all aspects of the Australia war in Vietnam from the politics at home and abroad through to the changing attitudes at home during the course of Australia’s longest war. Historians have unfairly treated Australian servicemen and at times I think the book is a bit unbalanced the other way, but only slightly. Overall the book gave me a much clearer picture of this truly terrible war and the role Australia played in it. On the back of a recommendation by P.M.Newton (that was seconded by John Birmingham) the next book I read on Vietnam will be Michael Herr’s DISPATCHES.

It will also be interesting to see how the planned feature film of the Battle of Long Tan turns out. I think part of the reason Australia’s involvement in the war has been ignored or forgotten is that America has almost re-written the war through their own films (with no ever mention Australia’s involvement). A feature film done well will help to set the record straight.



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