On Vietnam War Protests

The veterans of the Vietnam Conflict (that name itself is the subject of controversy) are now old men, but the terrible toll that war took on their generation still affects them today. Vietnam was the first war in modern times in which the average age of the soldiers fighting in the war was teenage–only 19 years old. Most of us are aware of the protests against the war that rocked the nation during the 60s and 70s.

As troop deployment to Vietnam increased over the 1960s, people began to question the motives of the government as to what the purpose of the conflict actually was. As we know, the government first sent military advisors to assist the South Vietnam government in the defense of their nation against what was seen as communist aggression by North Vietnam. That advisory role soon turned to outright deployment of active duty troops to the southeast Asian nation.

Wall-to-wall television coverage of the war brought the fighting into the living rooms of middle class society all across the nation; they could see for themselves the violence and the horrible depiction of the war, they could see for themselves how the fighting affected not only their own sons (and daughters, too) but also the lives of the people of both North and South Vietnam. Soon, soldiers began returning home in body bags and coffins, and families started to wonder if the fighting was worth it in the end.

Protests began to appear, first in some major cities (especially as the national military draft began taking young men out of their lives and into the armed forces), and they spread to even smaller towns and rural areas. Oh, certainly, there were voices that called for a continuation of the fight against communism, but, soon, these voices were drowned out by the protestors. And those who marched against the war came from all backgrounds, too. Older people, children, even mothers with sons in the war took to the streets to voice their opposition to the government policy of war. There were even veterans of the war itself who joined those protesting against the war.

It was a time of protests. Women, minorities, and other oppressed groups were also advocating for change in public policies. The war, however, the war provoked the most outrage and the most venom against the government. Those marches proved to be the biggest protest in the nation’s history. And they led directly to the end of the nation’s involvement in the conflict.

Yet, despite these protests, from 1962 to 1972 Australia sent over 60,000 troops to Vietnam. Almost 600 Aussies never returned alive.

On the Father of His Country

We all are familiar with the story. Every school child should be able to recite it. The patriots, led by one daring and experienced man, win a great victory over the colonial power and create an independent nation from a loose confederation of former colonies.

We even have a title for the type of man who leads such a successful military rebellion against the colonial master: The Father of His Country. Such a man as this should be lauded, shouldn’t he? Shouldn’t he have mandated federal holidays, celebrated for generations for his amazing contribution to the founding of the nation?

Fighting against the much better trained and much better equipped colonial power, this man used his cunning and small-group tactical experience to fight a guerilla war against the slower, larger colonial forces. It was the smaller victories, he always said, that would slowly chip away at the edifice of the entrenched European power until final victory was achieved. The result? Independence. Freedom. Peace. Prosperity. All the things new nations wish for themselves.

And, after the great victory over the European power was achieved, all that was left was for the will of the people to have this man elected as the first President of the new nation. He was the logical choice, obviously, because not only of his military victories but also because of his charisma, his way of commanding a room when he entered it. No one else in the new nation, it was said, could bring the disparate parts of the country together like he could, either. No one else had his stature, his beloved reputation. Yet, despite the acclaim, he characteristically insisted that he not ever become an emperor or a president for life. That was not his style. The people, he insisted, the nation–those were his priorities.

Yet, the new nation had its enemies. The old power base from the European colonial country still lingered in some pockets of the new nation. Internally, over 1/3 of the population did not like the idea of a new country led by this former military leader. Talks of civil war and rebellion filled the land. Yet, he held his loyal countrymen together by and large. They loved him, especially those who had served with him in the great Revolutionary War.

On top of this, he was a learned man. He had received the finest education possible as a young man, and he spoke several languages. He was also a poet, and he wrote extensively about basic human rights. “There is nothing more precious,” he once said, “than independence and liberty.” At his large but simple home, he enjoyed gardening and taking care of such animals as the fish in his pond, which he fed regularly. When, after a long career of public service, he passed away of heart failure at age 79, he was mourned by hundreds of thousands of his countrymen as, again, the Father of His Country.

Busts, statues, plaques, and monuments have been erected to him in the many years since his death. Streets and universities, schools, and even religious sites bear his name today. Even a city in the new nation was christened in his name:

Ho Chi Minh City.