Speech delivered by Hamish Chitts as part of a forum on the 40th Anniversary of the Tet Offensive, Brisbane Activist Centre, 31st January 2008.
Photo: Australian Soldiers in Vietnam
The fact has been widely publicised that many of service men and women who came back from the Vietnam War, returned with some from of mental scaring. The legacies, for some veterans, of the military training and combat experience in Vietnam include:
• difficulty in making sense of emotions in themselves and others
• difficulty in relationships
• excessive emotions or emotional bluntness
• resorting to ‘learned’ action responses (violence and other forms of abuse)
Combat in the Vietnam War exposed veterans to severe traumatic situations of
threat, death or serious injury for themselves and those around them. These
experiences often involved feelings of fear, helplessness or horror. Many veterans may have recurring thoughts and feelings about such traumatic events and in some veterans there will be a longer lasting disorder such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Conservative thinkers acting as apologists for the ruling class that created this War have eagerly taken up the idea that it wasn’t so much what happened in Vietnam that has caused these problems but the lack of a heroic homecoming that is the main cause. As if some ticker tape parade would have made things all right. Capitalist governments have used this idea to suppress antiwar movements in their own countries. They say, ”Look how the protesters traumatised the Vietnam veterans.” They shift the blame from themselves to those who protested. This is completely false. All conflicts take a high and lasting psychological toll on its participants.
Just looking at Australia: There is a growing number of surviving World War 2 veterans now seeking counseling for PTSD. A recent Federal Government funded study showed that after more than 50 years Korean War veterans are significantly more likely to suffer psychological problems than a control group. They are also three times more likely to suffer alcohol-related problems. Only 18 per cent felt "pleased about their life" compared with 40 per cent of other elderly men. Major research on the health of Australian veterans of the first Gulf War shows their mental health years later was strikingly worse than that of other defence force personnel not deployed to the Middle East. Of the 900 who had served in Somalia, at least 20 per cent had serious mental health problems. Hundreds from the East Timor deployment have lodged compensation claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs. There is an undeniable pattern here and it is happening again, right now 7000 Australian Defence Force personnel are being deployed each year on six-month stints to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Many of these men and women will be permanently crippled mentally. With the flow on effects to their families and communities this 7000 people deployed a year equates to 10’s of thousands of lives adversely effected every year this continues.
What can be done?
The introduction to the film Sir, No, Sir! states: During the Vietnam War an anti-war movement emerged that didn’t take place on university campuses, but in barracks and on aircraft carriers. It flourished in army stockades, navy brigs and in the dingy towns that surround military bases. It penetrated elite military colleges like West Point. And it spread throughout the battlefields of Vietnam. Hundreds went to prison and thousands into exile. And by 1971 it had, in the words of one colonel, infested the entire armed services.
By the Pentagon’s own figures, 503,926 “incidents of desertion” occurred between 1966 and 1971; officers were being “fragged”(killed with fragmentation grenades by their own troops) at an alarming rate; and by 1971 entire units were refusing to go into battle in unprecedented numbers. In the course of a few short years, over 100 underground newspapers were published by soldiers around the world; local and national antiwar GI organizations were joined by thousands; thousands more demonstrated against the war at every major base in the world in 1970 and 1971, including in Vietnam itself; stockades and federal prisons were filling up with soldiers jailed for their opposition to the war and the military.
Let us be clear, the main reason that stopped the Vietnam War and turned public opinion in the West against the war was the resistance of the Vietnamese people. However the GI antiwar movement was a strong expression of solidarity with the people of Vietnam and added a lot of weight to the antiwar movement in the U.S.
Today it is also the resistance of the Iraqi and Afghani people that bogs the U.S. and it allies down and turns public opinion against the wars there. The longer they have resisted the more people have realised the hypocrisy of the U.S. and allied governments’ reasoning for their involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ tens of thousands of civilians and thousands of troops have died to set up puppet governments run by warlords and thugs no better than the tyrants they have replaced. The only winners have been large multi-national companies who have made billions from the war and seek to gain more from Iraqi oil fields and a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan's oil fields through Afghanistan to lucrative markets in India and Pakistan.
I am one of the initiators of a new group called Stand Fast, which draws inspiration from the traditions of the G.I. antiwar movement and current groups in the U.S. such as Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Stand Fast is a group of veterans and former military personnel who oppose the current wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. We who have carried rifles denounce these wars because:
· These wars are about money, power and fear.
· Soldiers are people; they are our neighbours, our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.
· Too many have paid the price with their lives. Leaving behind partners and children who will never know their parents.
· Many will carry the psychological scars for the rest of their lives.
Stand Fast seeks to add weight to the antiwar movement in Australia through organising veterans to speak out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by debunking the myth that “If you’re against the war, you’re against the individual service people involved.” We also seek to ferment and support resistance to these wars within the Australian Defence Force.
Stand Fast hopes to have speakers at the March 15/16th rallies marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. If anyone is interested in joining the group or knows of someone who might, please take one of these open letters. If you're not a veteran or former soldier I urge you to get involved in the antiwar movement, Brisbane we have the Stop The War Collective and I urge you be at the Palm Sunday rally on March 16th here in Brisbane protesting the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War.
Let’s bring all the troops home and stop anymore from going over.