'Surely God weeps,' an Australian soldier wrote in despair of the conflict in Vietnam. But no God intervened to shorten the years of carnage and devastation in this most controversial of wars. Yet the Australian forces applied tactics that were very different from the Americans'. Guided by their commanders' experience of jungle combat, Australian troops operated with stealth and restraint in pursuing a 'better war'.
Drawing on hundreds of accounts by soldiers, politicians and the Vietnamese people, Ham reconstructs for the first time the full history of Australia's longest military campaign.
An indomitable people:
The Vietnamese were baptised in blood. Their victory against the Sung heralded the arrival of an era of almost perpetual bloodletting. Three times they were attacked by and three times defeated the Mongol army of Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis) during the thirteenth century, in the most savage battles of Vietnam’s pre-modern era.
A French colony:
The French occupation of Vietnam began with an invasion in 1858, ostensibly to punish the Vietnamese for their persecution of indigenous Catholics... It ended with the annihilation of the French Army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The intervening ninety-four years were a bloody catalogue of French crimes against the Vietnamese people. Let us dispense at once with the colonial theories of ‘assimilation’ and ‘association’. Let us draw aside the veil of sweet-smelling nostalgia for French Indochina, look beyond the colonial charm and failed dreams of France’s mission civilatrice and their doughty pioneers, and consider the reality of French imperialism and how it planted the seeds of the American War. The French used brute force to create a little France in Indochina.
Australia's Apocalypse Now?
Earlier that year, 1965, the Australian officer Barry Petersen had reached the height of his temporal powers: honorary chief of a Rhade tribe, commander of a 1,200-strong Montagnard guerrilla force... He led a private army of more than a thousand mountain warriors, including forty-four Rhade eight-man sections, sixteen teams of M’nong tribesmen, several twenty-four-man training cadres and a communications section of sixteen men, all of whom worshipped their young Australian leader...
Petersen ran this vast operation with a bottomless revolving fund of five million piastres (about A$50,000), courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency. At the time he was aged 29. He became one of the stranger legends of the Vietnam War: an Australian version of Colonel Kurtz, the star of our very own Apocalypse Now — except that Petersen was not mad. He had methods...
The anti-war movement:
A generational solipsism marked the young adults of the 1960s. Economic prosperity freed them to dream, yet many loathed the very system that delivered this freedom. Never had youthful exuberance enjoyed so much luxury, so much time and money, buoyed by the prosperity of the market economy they affected to despise.
They drank heavily of that most potent elixir of youth: wilful ignorance; and, in the end, a great many Western youths performed a free public relations exercise on behalf of a string of communist dictators, in Moscow, Peking and Hanoi.
Their slogans of equality, peace and love lent a spurious substance to this nihilistic dream, this Age of Aquarius. The forces of revolution and reaction were on a collision course. And bit by bit, like a great ship turning at sea, Australia’s support for the war gradually shifted direction. Like hundreds of little tugboats, the political misjudgements, draft resisters, death notices and protesters nudged Australian and American minds on a new bearing. To sustain the metaphor, this great movement wrenched Western society from its settled anchorage.
Dining with the CIA before the Tet Offensive:
In July 1967, seven months before Tet, Major Peter Young, Australia’s assistant military attaché, proposed for discussion at a dinner party in Saigon the topic ‘that we are losing the war’. A chat about the unthinkable, then, in the company of some of the finer minds in the intelligence community: Colonel Ted Serong, now indisputably one of the most powerful CIA operatives in Vietnam; Major Jack Fitzgerald, a gifted analyst with US military intelligence; Denis Warner, the Australian journalist and probable ASIS retainee; the CIA’s deputy station chief; and the British MI6 agent in Saigon, who, with a tuck of his silk handkerchief under his cuff, promptly stated that he did not wish to participate in ‘defeatist talk’.
"Ham’s intelligent commentary on such terrible dilemmas prompts disquieting thoughts: when, for example do certain actions irrevocably diminish the society that condones them?" – Alan Stephens, The Age
"Vietnam: The Australian War should be essential reading for Australian of all ages. Only then will this nation truly understand the sacrifices our soldiers made during Australia’s longest-ever military campaign." – Peter Masters, Australian Defence Magazine
"... In the grandeur of its sweep and the precision of its detail, Ham’s book is a classic of that branch of our literature which still seems to have most to tell us of ourselves." — Peter Pierce, Bulletin with Newsweek
"It is the comprehensiveness of Paul Ham’s blockbuster on Vietnam that is both enticing and chilling to the core, in what is uncovered and laid out with precision and compelling evidence." – Tim Fischer, The Australian
"It’s a book all Australians should read: not as some prescriptive history lesson that must be rammed down our collective throat, but as a truly important part of our history, a moving and engrossing story of a misguided war, the wounds from which still fester and smart." – Sunday Mail, Brisbane
"A wonderfully illuminating read about a shameful episode." – Daily Telegraph
"Ham speaks with remarkable clarity and rapidity ... His grasp of the Vietnam War, let alone the extensive declassified documents which largely inform this book, is impressive." – Christopher Bantick, Courier-Mail
"Vietnam:The Australian War’s harrowing pages not only enlighten, but provoke sorrow, anger, even outrage in equal measure." – Bron Sibree, Sun Herald
All The Way, a two-hour documentary based on Vietnam: The Australian War and presented by Paul Ham. The film charts the US-Australian relationship during the war, revealing that America's indifference to Australia led to actual battle casualties and demonstrating the truism that governments have no true friends, only interests. All The Way powerfully shows why Australia really went to war in Vietnam, why we stayed and the price we paid.