Reflections on the Vietnam War: Fifty Years on

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Date(s) - 01/08/2012
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Japanese Studies Centre Auditorium, Building 54 (next to the bus loop), Monash University, Clayton Campus


Monash Asia Seminars – CSEAS Seminar Series

Bruce Davies (School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, Monash University)

Bruce Davies will talk about his newly published work ‘Vietnam: The Complete Story of the Australian War‘ (Allen & Unwin 2012)

The story of Vietnam began well before the war that seared the country into Australian consciousness. In Vietnam: The Complete Story of the Australian War, the narrative first sets out the region’s origins-its civilisation, wars, colonial domination, a search for freedom and its subsequent loss. These events and preoccupations form the backstory of the people living in the region that we now identify on a map as Vietnam. The history of Vietnam also speaks to an Australian anxiety, that of a very small population on an extremely large island continent, far away from the centre of an Empire to which it was firmly committed. Australian fears were compounded by the rise of Japan and the War in the Pacific followed by a new conundrum: the post-colonial independence of the peoples of Southeast Asia, the mercurial influence of Ho Chi Minh and the possible rise of monolithic communism prosecuted by China and the USSR. The book leads readers inevitably to the 1960s war and Australia’s commitment of forces to counter the perceived communist aggression threatening Southeast Asia’s security and economic stability. Subsequent chapters document the challenges Australians faced in this war, not only against a dogged and determined enemy, but also the difficulties faced by the allies to cooperate in their quest to establish a united counterinsurgency infrastructure.

While Australian sentiment and political and diplomatic decision makers were willing to deploy forces to the defence of South Vietnam as part of an allied contribution, Australian commanders soon expressed a strong desire to fight as an independent command. This wish to be a distinct force was bolstered by a belief that Australians were tactically superior to the American and South Vietnamese forces. However, an examination of Australian, American and Vietnamese archival sources and the reinterpretation of previous accounts give rise to questions about that perception. In addition to political and diplomatic manoeuvrings, reports on operational performance are discussed in detail in this book-and some of the conclusions are challenging. Newly available documents and publications from the former enemy now provide a better understanding of their strategies and motivations. It would be a mistake on behalf of readers to reject all of this information as propaganda. In particular, recently found detail about some of the major battles fought against the Australians provides a strong insight into the enemy’s tactical thinking, and it was not all as the intelligence agencies reported.

Vietnam: The Complete Story of the Australian War offers valuable new insights on the historiography of why Australia went to war in South Vietnam and the difficulties of fighting the battles of the war. Some of the information in this book can overlay current operations in Afghanistan, and may even provide a prescient view of the probable end to commitments there. Readers might also find relevance in this book that matches observations by distinguished author Susan Jacoby on ‘why history matters’ as western leaders attempt to steer a course of cooperation with but containment of an expanding Chinese military into the region once dubbed by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower as being the ‘falling dominoes’.

Bruce Davies saw operational service with 1 RAR, an Australian Infantry Battalion and then twice with AATTV as an advisor with the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam infantry in I Corps and the Mike Force in Pleiku. He was mentioned in Despatches in 1970 and received a Commendation for Distinguished Service in Viet Nam in the End of War List. Mr Davies has several foreign awards for valour and service in Vietnam. In 1977, Mr Davies was appointed a Member of the British Empire for his military service. His two earlier books are The Men Who Persevered (Allen & Unwin, 2005) and The Battle at Ngok Tavak (Allen & Unwin/Texas Tech University, 2009). He is currently a PhD candidate in the Monash Faculty of Arts, researching the Australian force in Vietnam.