The Vietnam War and the Present Crisis

Crisis The Vietnam War drove a stake through the heart of Australia’s intellectual culture. This Friday, August 18, we observe the 50th Anniversary of the end of our nation’s involvement in that war and, more importantly, we honour the sacrifice of the 523 Australians who died, the 3000+ who were wounded, and the 60,000 who served. However, we must also remember the colossal cultural and intellectual damage caused by the war. Aside from the United States, no country suffered greater damage in these crucial areas than did Australia, and its effects resonate loudly today, as Australia faces an unprecedented crisis, a constitutional coup targeting its national identity and liberal democratic political system.

A Crucial Paradox How did this happen? What were its pre-conditions? At the centre of this account is a crucial paradox – the co-presence during the Vietnam War era of exuberant hope and deep anxiety. At one level, the Sixties had been born out of great optimism, heralded by the election of US President John F. Kennedy in 1960.  He christened his administration The New Frontier. As one leading historian observed:

John Kennedy … took office at the moment when America’s optimism was at its zenith. He believed it was possible … simultaneously to take the offensive in the Cold War, accelerate the arms race, eliminate poverty and racism, lower taxes and ‘pay any price’ … to achieve these goals. Most Americans agreed. Stephen E. Ambrose, Rise to Globalism, 1993

Affluence & Alliances Most Australians agreed. Like America, ours was then a frontier society, eager for new challenges. We were already shifting our allegiance from the United Kingdom, which was struggling economically and politically, and rapidly shedding its Empire in an attempt to embrace Europe. In contrast, we were also enjoying the benefits of the unprecedented post-war economic boom and long-term stable political leadership. This was exemplified by Sir Robert Menzies, a monolithic national presence who was prime minister from 1949 until 1966. After his retirement, there were four PMs in the next  five years, a collapse of national leadership right in the middle of the Sixties, a pivotal period of political and cultural crisis as it turned out.

Camelot Kennedy was a charismatic and inspiring figure whose brief presidency was likened by his widow to the mythical Camelot of King Arthur. He was especially liked in Australia, and his assassination in November 1963 was a great shock — so much so that it prompted Melbourne City Council to erect an elaborate monument to him in the Treasury Gardens, adjacent to Victorian Parliament House. This was an unprecedented act for a foreign head of state, and it reflects the fervent hopes that flourished under his presidency and began to die after him.

The Lucky Country At the time, Australians saw themselves as The Lucky Country, as Donald Horne’s famous book declared in 1964. Oddly, the title had been meant ironically and referred to the way in which Australians were allegedly enjoying an ever-growing affluence generated by the vast material wealth of the land rather than by our own efforts or enterprise. The book was also a criticism of the complacency, philistinism, anti-intellectualism, wowserism, spiritual bankruptcy, and dependency on ‘Great Powers’ that Horne believed characterized Australia. Nevertheless, the term was (predictably) accepted at face value and adopted as a sort of national motto.

The Great Chasm This positive re-interpretation of Horne’s negative critique reflected one of the most important features of Australian culture — the chasm that exists between intellectuals, who were invariably critical of Australia, and the masses, who don’t care what the intellectuals think and just want to get on with enjoying life as they see it. Various attempts have been made to explain the origins of this split and most focus on the tendency of frontier societies like Australia, through their formative years, to value pragmatism and the ability to engage productively with the concrete here-and-now, rather than be preoccupied with more abstract matters like culture and ‘airy-fairy’ theories.  Heading into the Sixties, Australia was notorious for its anti-intellectualism.

The Great Australian Emptiness Australian intellectuals were driven crazy by this indifference to their opinions, and they embraced the politics of cultural despair. As Patrick White, Australia’s only winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, lamented upon his return from Britain in The Prodigal Son (1961):

In all directions stretched the Great Australia Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions, in which the rich man is the important man, in which the schoolmaster and the journalist rule whatever intellectual roost there is [and] beautiful youths and girls stare at life through blind blue eyes.

White could have been describing the stark empty world depicted in Wake in Fright (1961), by Kenneth Cook, a novel about the hideous descent into madness of a young, bonded schoolteacher assigned to a two-year post in a one-room school in ‘Tiboonda’, a whistle-stop on a railway line in outback NSW. It was made into (an all-time great Australian) film in 1971 that was considered so confronting it was suppressed for decades.

Philistines It wasn’t just writers who felt estranged from the mainstream of Australian life. Prominent artist, John Brack, depicted the urban masses as anonymous drones in Collins Street, 5pm (1956). As one art historian observes:

For the artist, the problem is not just that such people are philistines; but they are incapable of generating the kinds of ideals or collective thinking that could nourish an artist.” — Christopher Allen, Art in Australia, 1997

The Cultural Cringe Other writers were equally explicit. A.A. Phillips, a Melbourne teacher, writer, and critic, developed the very influential concept of the Cultural Cringe in the 1950s. This described a national tendency to regard Australian literature, drama, and art as inherently inferior to comparable overseas work, particularly that of Britain and America: “Australia was made to rhyme with failure.” Phillips argued that local artists, writers, and intellectuals struggled against ingrained feelings of inferiority, and that the only way they could overcome this or acquire a local reputation was to follow overseas fashions, and/or spend time working in Britain, contributing to the ‘brain drain’ from Australia.

The Australian Ugliness A crucial area where the cultural cringe applied was in Australian writing. Although the country was a world leader in book readership and library usage, and there were popular local authors, it was not until the Sixties that Australian literature was recognized as a fit subject for academic study. This was marked by the appointment in 1962 at Sydney University of the nation’s first Chair of Australian Literature, followed by the publication of The Literature of Australia (1964) edited by Geoffrey Dutton.  Prior to this, Australian academics “tended to live a vicarious English intellectual life with little commitment to the local scene.” (Geoffrey Serle, From Deserts the Prophets Come, 1972).  Other sharply critical critiques included The Australian Ugliness (1960) by Robin Boyd, a scathing critique of philistine Australian architecture and the visual pollution of the vast monotonous suburbia that had emerged in the post-war years.

The Great Australian Stupor The alleged impoverished social psychology of the average Australian was the focus of Ronald Conway’s, The Great Australian Stupor (1971). This was a huge best-seller (70,000+ copies), which was phenomenal, given that it was an erudite and challenging book. Its argument was reinforced in The Land of the Long Weekend (1978). A clinical psychotherapist, Conway analysed Australian society in terms of shifts between historical periods dominated by specific character types. These were defined in terms of ‘Patrist-Authoritarian’ and ‘Matrist-Indulgent’ forms of identity, corresponding to “the relative dominance of either masculine or feminine patterns of thought and behaviour.”  

Conway believed Australian culture in the Sixties was dominated by the ‘Matrist-Indulgent’ orientation that had emerged in the post-war period in reaction to the regimentation and discipline of the previous era dominated by the Great Depression and WWII. With hindsight, it appears that the Baby Boomer Generation (BBG) that came of age in the 1960s was indeed excessively indulged.

Nation-Building Irrespective of such intellectual critiques, there was great inherent optimism amongst the Australia masses during the 1960s. The country was in a nation-building phase, exemplified by massive post-war immigration (below), the Education Revolution, and infrastructure development, spearheaded by the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme. This activity saw the resurgence of radical nationalism, a native intellectual tradition that found much to be valued in Australian history and culture. The key text was The Australian Legend (1958) by Russel Ward. This argued that the convict and mining origins of Australia and the ‘frontier experience’ of shared hardship had generated a valuable heritage of egalitarianism, co-operation and mateship that had manifested itself in the Anzac tradition, and had been called upon again in the post-war period. Although Ward was himself a Marxist, any notion of nationalism was targeted viciously by the New Left historians who rose to power during the Vietnam War period.

Massive Immigration In the post-war period, Australia benefited greatly from the turmoil in a shattered Europe. The Iron Curtain had descended, condemning most East Europeans to a totalitarian fate; 8 million Germans were driven from their homes while their devastated nation was chopped in two; Italy, Greece, and of Yugoslavia were in chaos. Even Britain was on the verge of bankruptcy. Massive numbers of migrants began streaming out, determined to start life afresh.

Starting with 170,000 Displaced Persons, Australia accepted over two million migrants between 1945 and 1965. Most were assisted by the Federal Government on the basis that they agreed to stay for at least two years and work in whatever jobs provided. Many found work on the gigantic Snowy Mountains Scheme (and incidentally opening up skiing in Australia); others opened up shops and businesses, worked in factories and heavy industry, or as labourers and farm hands.

Education Revolution Migrant children added to the BBG demographic bulge and participated in the post-war Education Revolution, vigorously promoted by the Menzies government. This saw government expenditure on education triple as a proportion of GDP between 1950 and 1970. Primary and secondary enrolments increased by 11 per cent and 45 per cent in the Sixties (1965-74); while tertiary student numbers grew by 90 per cent.

New Universities The number of universities grew from nine in 1958 to sixteen in 1971. University student numbers increased from 30,000 in 1955 to 120,000 in 1970, while the number of academics grew 350% from 2000 to 7000. Australia had three times as many university students per capita as Britain. The proportion of people aged 17-22 attending university increased by 48% between 1960 and 1972, and a high proportion of these were from families and classes that had had little or no previous association with universities. There was also a massive teacher shortage and so the states introduced teaching studentships, which sent thousands of (usually lower-income) Baby Boomers through universities and teacher colleges, bonding them to teach wherever needed for three years after graduation.

The New Class This unprecedented expansion produced of a new class – an increasingly large cohort of academics, bureaucrats, teachers, social workers, health and human service professionals, etc.. These were dependent upon the State and were “charged with directing [and] expanding education and welfare programs” and did so under the guidance of the radical Intelligentsia that rose to dominance in the Sixties and was itself largely under the influence of the International New Left. (Peter Edwards, A Nation at War)

The End of Liberalism This abruptly marginalized the older liberal intellectual culture. Previously great names like Arthur Koestler, George Orwell, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Daniel Bell, Raymond Aron, Albert Camus, Robert Conquest, Isaiah Berlin, Edward Shils, James Burnham, Melvin Lasky, Leopold Labedz, and Sydney Hook were consigned to an intellectual limbo and virtually expunged from intellectual history (see Peter Coleman. The Last Intellectuals, 2010) New names appeared, as a cadre of imperious master thinkers of the Left was ushered onto the intellectual stage by such ideological entrepreneurs as Perry Anderson and the other Francophile Trotskyites of the New Left Review and similar publications, such as the Neo-Marxist Arena in Australia. Suddenly, a magical pantheon manifested itself led by the hypertheoretical French: Foucault, Althusser, Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, and Baudrillard; with Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, and Chomsky thrown in.

All of those writers were motivated by a deep hatred of Western Civilization and particularly of America (and by extension, Australia). This proved to be a self-replicating ideological coup of the first order, and Australia has lived with the outcome ever since.

Nuclear Armageddon Meanwhile, there loomed the threat of global nuclear annihilation. The super-powers possessed thousands of nuclear bombs and Britain had conducted 12 nuclear tests in Australia during the 1950s, at Maralinga (below) and elsewhere, leaving two-thirds of Australians convinced there would be war by decade’s end. Then,  in 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik, the first satellite, which orbited the earth for 3 weeks, emphasizing the global reach of Soviet power and initiating the Space Race, which saw men on the moon in 1969. Meanwhile, in 1961, the Soviets exploded the gigantic 57 megaton, ‘Tsar Bomb’, a weapon that starkly illustrated the unimaginable horror of a nuclear holocaust.  

The Cuban Missile Crisis The real likelihood of nuclear annihilation became clear in October 1962, with the Cuban Missile Crisis. All-out nuclear war was avoided only when the Soviets agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for US concessions. The media provided a minute-by-minute coverage that kept public anxiety at extreme levels for weeks. As the novelist, Norman Mailer, lamented:

we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc [inflicted] on everyone alive in those years … For the first time in history we were forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that we all faced an anonymous radioactive death.

On the Beach In Australia, the Cuban crisis occurred as the local public dealt with the star-studded, blockbuster movie, On the Beach (1959). Made in Melbourne, the film was set in 1964 and focused on the city and its citizens as they faced certain death in the aftermath of nuclear war. Deadly fallout from the conflict had already destroyed all life in the northern hemisphere, and the wind was carrying it south, towards humanity’s last outposts. The film featured gloriously photographed scenes of Port Phillip Bay, Phillip Island, the Yarra River, and the forests and farms around Melbourne. These were juxtaposed with harrowing scenes of families pathetically lining up in their thousands to be given their allocation of suicide pills.

The Cold War This pervasive sense of anxiety was sustained and regularly intensified by the Cold War, an era of intense political tension, rivalry, and conflict that was played out in many areas, including an endless arms race; the space race; espionage; terrorism; propaganda; and proxy wars around the world.

Regional Dangers This hit home particularly in Australia as the British, French, and the Dutch withdrew from our region, leaving behind the conflict and chaos of the post-colonial world. The Malayan Emergency was followed by the Indonesian–Malaysian Konfrontasi, and then by the sharp turn towards communism in Indonesia under President Sukarno, who aligned his nation with the Soviet Union and China. This led to a military coup in 1965, his ouster, the liquidation of the Indonesian Communist Party, and the death of between 500,000 and 1 million of its supporters. All of these conflicts were on Australia’s doorstep and threatened to drag us into military conflict at any moment.

The Vietnam War This duly happened with the Vietnam War, America’s and Australia’s biggest military commitment outside the world wars. Lasting for over a decade, this proved to be an ever-widening military, political, and cultural abyss. And, in the new age of television, it was fought not only on the field of battle but in the mass media, where a fierce propaganda war raged, keeping anxiety at a fever pitch for years.

Tet Offensive The pivotal event proved to be the Tet Offensive, a massive surprise attack by communist forces throughout South Vietnam, launched during a truce on January 31, 1968. After horrendous fighting, the communists suffered a major military defeat and incurred huge losses (over 110,000 casualties). However, although it was a major Allied victory, the public was panicked by Tet and appalled by the extreme violence depicted in the media. Moreover, the pre-eminent American journalist, Walter Cronkite was in Vietnam at the time and his despairing TV report destroyed Allied morale.  In America it convinced President Johnson that he couldn’t win the upcoming presidential election. His shock withdrawal from the race precipitated a chain of events that re-routed history and led eventually to a communist takeover of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and the rest of former French Indochina.

Australian Reaction In Australia the Tet Offensive helped fundamentally transform public attitudes towards the War, which had initially been supportive of Australia’s involvement. When Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced in April 1965 that Australia would provide an infantry battalion for service in Vietnam opinion polls showed solid support for the decision: 52 per cent in favour against 37 per cent opposed. Fear of communism was very real and “the principal elements of the domino theory … were deeply embedded in the Australian psyche”: 64 per cent (versus 16 per cent) believed that Thailand and Malaysia would fall to communism if the Americans abandoned Vietnam; while a massive 72 per cent (versus 16 per cent) believed that China would become a threat to Australia in such an eventuality. (Peter Edwards, A Nation at War, 1997)

‘Nasho’ Six months earlier, in November 1964 when the selective National Service scheme for 20-year-old males had been introduced there was considerable support and little opposition.  In a public mood “of gathering alarm” about the deteriorating political situation in Southeast Asia, the media supported the move, sharing the view that the communist threat was very real, and that Australia couldn’t “shirk its responsibilities”, ever though “Australian casualties in [such a] dirty war are inevitable”. (Coral Bell, Australia’s Alliance Options, 1991).

Confusion on the Left At that time, the Australian Labor Party was torn between its right and left wings and provided little effective opposition. Major social institutions like the unions, the churches and universities initially either supported the government or at least accepted the necessity of the action. When the communist-controlled Waterside Workers’ Federation demanded strike action there was little support and a few protest meetings around the country drew disappointing crowds.

Churches & Universities Amongst the churches, the Anglicans were divided but key leaders and most members supported the government. Within the Catholic Church, the hierarchy and most of the membership also supported the commitment, as did the Democratic Labor Party and the National Civic Council, all being concerned with the general communist threat and the fate of the Catholic population in Vietnam. On the university campuses opinions were divided and small demonstrations championed both sides of the conflict. At the University of Melbourne in May 1965 a student meeting supported the commitment by a vote of 312 to 200.

The 1966 Federal Election Broad public support for the government was also registered in the 1966 federal election, which saw the Liberal-Country coalition returned with an historically large swing and a substantially increased majority over the ALP (82 seats to 41). Moreover, this occurred after Menzies had given a speech in London in June 1965, declaring that “we’re at war, don’t make any mistake about it”, and the 1965 federal Budget had increased income tax and imposed higher duties on petrol, tobacco, and alcohol to help pay for a 27 per cent increase in defence expenditure.

Adversary Culture Nevertheless, and despite this widespread public support, by the end of 1965 the strategically vital Intelligentsia was unanimously and violently opposed to the war. As Peter Samuels concluded in the Bulletin in December 1965:

While it is certain that a clear majority of the electorate support Government policy, in the opinion-forming circles – in universities, among school teachers, journalists, clergymen – and among the more politically interested and active people, the ‘antis’ appear to be in the ascendancy.

This was the basis of an adversary culture that emerged as an effective political force with an anti-war ‘teach-in’ at ANU in July 1965 attracting some 750 people. In July 1965 another ‘teach-in’ was held at Monash University, attracting an audience of some 2000 people to hear minister for external affairs Paul Hasluck debate the left-wing ALP MHR, Dr Jim Cairns.

Cairns emerged as crowd favourite, with Hasluck attracting “recurrent jeers and sarcastic clapping”; indicating that university audiences had already made up their minds, and wanted  only “to have their emotions given intellectual reinforcement”. (A Nation at War)

Moral Litmus Test In this fashion, within only a few years, Vietnam had become a moral litmus test amongst the Adversary Culture:

To be heard mildly defending the cause, if not the war, in fashionable intellectual circles was the social equivalent of announcing one’s Nazi memorabilia collection over the canapés. — Paul Ham, Vietnam, 2007

The Vietnam Action Committee was formed and abandoned the previous anti-war position, swinging over to a pro-communist position. Henceforth, it supported the war in the sense that it wanted Hanoi and the NLF to win,” as the official history of the war observes (Edwards, A Nation at War)  Indeed, a bizarre system of morality had come to prevail, as a future president of the NSW Legislative Council remarked: “I judged everyone on how they viewed Vietnam”; adding in a moment of apparent insight: “I was as mad as a cut snake”.

Contempt In 1969 some 500 academics signed ‘incitement statements’ calling upon young men to refuse to register for national service, with one prominent professor declaring that this was necessary because “the average Australian is a gutless rabbit,” a harbinger of the contempt for the average Australian that would be a defining characteristic of Adversary Culture, and remains in place today.

Active support for the Viet Cong, including fund-raising, came to be seen as acceptable on the campuses and amongst the Intelligentsia generally. Providers of such support were unconcerned their activities might lead to attacks upon Australian soldiers in Vietnam. Eventually the government was forced to legislate to stop militants providing financial and material aid to North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.

Rage against the Diggers Meanwhile, protestors focussed their aggression on Australian soldiers serving in Vietnam and their families. War memorials were disfigured; red paint was splattered on troops of 1RAR during their welcome home march in Sydney in June 1966; an officer awarded the Military Medal was spat on; while the parents of a soldier killed during Tet received a phone call declaring, “He got what he deserved”, and their house was daubed with red paint. Even the RSL turned their backs on Vietnam veterans who had to deal with an outrageous stigma that lasted for several decades.

‘A Respectable Rebellion’ Almost overnight, anti-war activism had become

a respectable rebellion … Two years earlier, ‘draft dodgers’ were condemned as coward and un-Australian; in 1969 they were seen as local heroes

After Tet and the turmoil of 1968, the anti-war and radical student movements moved into a ‘second phase’ of mass radicalization and mobilization. By 1970 anti-war  moratoriums were drawing crowds of up to 80,000 protesters in cities around Australia, and the anti-war movement had developed a strong leadership and a radical ideology that would go on to shape Australian politics and culture for decades.

Inter-generational Conflict Overall, the horror of the War and the terror at being consumed by it had a massive impact on the Boomers and their attitude to the parents’ generation:

The most important social and cultural consequence in Australia of the Vietnam War was the development of a Counter-Culture in the Sixties … A spirit of generational protest had been brewing … but the youthful protesters at universities and in the moratorium marches were rejecting more than the Vietnam War: being ‘against Vietnam’ implied a blanket rejection of almost everything associated with the world of their parents. Bruce Bennett, Literary Culture Since Vietnam, 1998

One Day of the Year Nothing symbolized this generational revolt better than Alan Seymour’s iconoclastic play, One Day of the Year (1962), which concerns ‘Hughie’, a university student writing an article ridiculing Anzac. This was his father’s ‘one day of the year’ in which, as an ex-soldier, his Dad can feel some pride. Berating his father, Hughie declares:

Do you know what that Gallipoli campaign meant? Bugger all, an expensive shambles. The biggest fiasco of the war.

ANZAC Day, he exclaims, is celebrated only by a screaming tribe of great, stupid, drunken, vicious, bigoted no-hopers.” The play and the attitude behind it became ubiquitous during the Sixties, moreso when it was adapted for TV.

A Fundamental Cultural Split Increasingly, as the Sixties unfolded, commentators spoke of “a new kind of split” in Australian society. On one side was the conservative establishment which had come to power in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the War and adhered to the elements of mainstream Australian culture as it continued the project of nation-building, exemplified by the Snowy Mountains Scheme. On the other side was the increasingly vocal and influential Adversary Culture, led by the intelligentsia and drawing its foot soldiers from the Boomers. Consequently, the years around 1968 accelerated

the transformation of the universities from relatively secluded centres of learning into sites of real political conflict, and of successful radical political mobilization.” — Andrew Milner, Radical Intellectuals: an Unacknowledged Legislature?

By now, the Adversary Culture believed it saw

so many shortcomings in Australian social development”, exemplified by the Vietnam War, that it felt itself driven to “the point of despair”. — Peter Edwards, A Nation at War

Failure & Despair This despair amongst the Intelligentsia was intensified when a majority of the Australian people ignored the radicals and their anti-war campaign to re-elect the federal Coalition  in 1966 with an increased majority, and then did so again in 1969 at a time when radical expectations were very high.

For many opponents of the Government the [1969] election result came as an unexpectedly cruel blow. The constant uproar of public demonstrations had led many people on the left to confuse the depth of [their] feeling with its breadth Peter Edwards, A Nation at War

The devastating effect of this failure on the BBG was mercilessly depicted in the play (and subsequent film) Don’s Party (1971) by David Williamson.

Hegemony This was a pivotal moment: the Intelligentsia and the Adversary Culture sought desperately to explain the chasm between their strongly held moral beliefs and the contrary concerns of the Australian masses. Quickly, the theory of ‘hegemony’ was adopted. First developed by the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci in the 1920s, the theory insisted that a capitalist society like Australia was so deeply influenced by the ideology of the ruling class and its American mentor that the masses were incapable of comprehending the reality of the world or of acting outside or against the interests of capitalism and American imperialism.

A Pseudo-World A prominent example of this type of analysis portrayed Australia as a “a pseudo-world … so alienated that people do not recognize their aims and goals as false ones”. All human desires were manipulated and the lives of the masses were programmed by their masters. Australians were puppets of capitalism, zombies whose

life is reduced to monotonous routine [controlled] from outside, a pseudo-life in which the question of individual self-realization does not even figure. People live conditioned, unconscious lives, reproducing the values of the [capitalist] system as a whole. Douglas Kirsner, Domination and the Flight from Being (1972)

The ordinary interests of Australian folk (work, sport, beer, the family, the car, the beach, the house, the garden, etc.) served only to hide “the emptiness these people would experience inside if they were not so frantically involved in [mindless] activity”, as Kirsner put it.

Hyperbolic Re-iteration Ironically, although such radicals saw themselves as involved in a generational revolt, their denunciation of Australian society was basically a hyperbolic re-iteration of the cultural despair critique offered earlier by Horne, Phillips, White, Boyd, etc., augmented by the Neo-Marxist theories that they picked up at the new universities.

Inner Logic This summary of political events and cultural phenomena during the Vietnam War period leads us to the ‘inner logic’ of the Sixties. It was characterised by two tendencies. On one hand, the era had been characterised by widespread hope and optimism, especially amongst the working masses.  On the other hand, amongst the Intelligentsia and the Adversary Culture there was a deep sense of alienation from the institutions and values of Australian society. A pervasive theme of suspicion, irony, ridicule, and absurdity spread throughout literature, cinema, TV, art, and culture, where it gradually crushed the initial optimism. This was especially the case throughout the education system, where the most radical and counter-productive theories of the Sixties prevailed, and have reproduced themselves relentlessly until the present day, to this nation’s great cost.

Ongoing Tension As the Sixties faded away and the Vietnam War came to an ignominious end, the Baby Boomers were absorbed into mainstream society. Once there, they adjusted to the system, got jobs and started families, although many remained loyal to the values of the Sixties and worked to reproduce them. But ultimately, the underlying mood of alienation, suspicion, and ironic detachment never dissipated, especially amongst the Adversary Culture, which increasingly dominated education, culture, and the media, and which still sees itself as pursuing a ‘counter-hegemonic’ political role. The paradox of hope and fear, allegiance and alienation, which threatened to tear Australian society apart during the Vietnam War has never been resolved and the tension remains, fundamentally shaping contemporary politics and culture.


7 thoughts on “The Vietnam War and the Present Crisis

  • cbattle1 says:

    As fit for the times, the ABC TV and Radio marked the occasion by celebrating the soldiers of Aboriginal heritage or identity who served in the Vietnam War, and calling for their specific recognition at the National War Memorial!

  • Paul W says:

    Thanks for this excellent summary. One thing I observed and which was noticed by John Hirst is the failure to recognise that Australia is a product of Western Civilization and Christianity. Notice that the Bible is not mentioned in this article, and notice that in teaching about the origins of democracy Australia must by nature look abroad. Why is that shameful?

  • padraic says:

    Agree your comments, cbattle1, re the ABC on this issue and the push to have separate recognition of the Aboriginal contribution. The younger brother of one of my schoolmates was killed in the battle of Long Tan. Other media tonight pushed the “apology” by the RSL but said nothing of the leprous behaviour of the self-loathing juvenile activists at the time and their disgraceful behaviour – a sample of which is evident in the photo at the beginning of this article.

  • Rexfiles says:

    I think you’ve got the date wrong. August 18 is the Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan (1966)…not the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam

  • Paul.Harrison says:

    I have a digitised copy of an ABC TV News article showing Comrade Cairns wearing a beaming smile of satisfaction as he descended the stairs from the aircraft in Hanoi in late 1973. He was there to offer aid and comfort to the enemy while our erstwhile friends the Americans and loyal South Vietnamese were fighting a rear guard but ultimately useless battle.

    I was at an RAN base in Sydney when I saw the original article on the ABC news, and it shocked me to the core and traumatised me. The part which did the damage was the news that he was there to specifically hand over $10 Million to the savage mongrels, and when I received the copy of the broadcast I quickly realised that it had been edited post-presentation to cut out the tail end bit about the fortune he handed over.

    We were within a heartbeat of having a Communist Prime Minister if Whitlam had died in office. Ever since then, I have hated with a vengeance anything whatsoever of Labor and the left. I know them for the schemers they really are.

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