The Effect of the Vietnam War on Australia The controversial Vietnam War had a huge impact on Australian society in the 1960’s/1970’s. Australia’s involvement in the key international Cold War conflict of the Vietnam War created instability and a significant shift in the nation’s military, social, political and economic status. Vietnam was known as a ‘TV War’. A great deal of shocking and violent footage of the war was broadcasted right into people’s homes. This caused a lot of social involvement and drama throughout Australia.
People spoke and even protested their own opinions on what they believed were going on, although this was a very biased view of the war. The Australian government was criticized for being selective in what it showed to the public. They altered it to suit their own opinions. One lie that the media pushed was that the war was helping the Vietnamese people, and also that the government was determined to disprove that it was blindly supporting and following the USA into an unnecessary war.
This can be seen in this propaganda caricature of the President of America portrayed as a large eagle, dropping bombs and behind him a smaller bird representing Sir Robert Menzies. This represents America leading the war. Sir Robert Menzies behind him represents the alliance that Australia has with America; the bird being smaller represents the smaller influence and effect on the Vietnam War in comparison with America’s influence and effect on the war. Because of these viewpoints and news coverage, Australian society itself seemed to split in who to believe and what was right.
This resulted in protesting and social instability. Conscription forced young men to fight away from their home country. Many people saw this as unfair and wrong. One of the main problems with the war was the issue of conscription. In none of Australia’s previous wars had any man been conscripted to fight outside of Australian territory. The Vietnam War was different; at one stage in 1968 nearly half of Australia’s men in Vietnam were conscripts. The Menzies government introduced conscription in November 1964. When it was first announced it only involved military training that required no overseas ervice, which wasn’t the truth. The government got strong hints that service would be needed in Vietnam, so really conscription was a way of preparing for overseas combat. Who went was decided by a ‘lottery. This was done by every date in the year written down and days were drawn at random. If a man’s birthday was drawn, he then was conscripted. Overall the protests against conscription lasted longer than the protests against the war itself. Although, when at first the government announced it, the public’s reaction was minor.
But there were later developed protests about individual students being called up to war. There were public draft-card burnings, student sit ins and large noisy group demonstrations when the American President, Johnson visited Australia. By the late 1960’s a much stronger and more violent form of protest appeared. Protesters raided officers and campaigns were launched to persuade young men not to register for conscription. The Labor Party was against the conscription method, calling it unfair, and they had much support from the Australian public.
This too caused a lot of controversy and many arguments were made against the government for introducing this. This public opinion also sparked the interest of the political parties. The Labor and Liberal parties had both opposite opinions of the war, and used Vietnam as more like a tool of election propaganda. The Labor party spoke out against the immorality of war and people were supporting then claiming that it was unjust and cruel. The party organized the first Moratorium, where more than 120,000 people took part and expressed their opinions.
The protesters had hoped that Labor would win the 1966 elections and would then withdraw the soldiers. When the Labor party was defeated, the protest movement had died down for a while. After the war, thousands of Vietnamese boat people have come to Australia. This was because the people had dissatisfaction with the Communist government and that Australia was within reach by boat. At the beginning of the war, surveys found that the Australian public at first supported the idea of a small military team based in Vietnam training Vietnamese soldiers.
In 1965 when 800 combat soldiers were sent to Vietnam, again the public still generally supported it. Though in 1967 there was a change, most Australians still supported the idea of helping the South Vietnamese government but they were against sending any more Australian soldiers. But still, more were sent. Between 1967 and 1969 there was a definite change and eventually most Australians were in favour of a complete withdrawal of soldiers from Vietnam. This opinion continued throughout the war and many protests were the result of it.
There was a great Vietnam Debate on the issue and many valid points. The people in favour of the war, generally believed in the Domino Theory and saw it as a genuine threat. They acknowledged the USA’s role as a protector to the world against Communist Ideologies and believed they had to be supported. People against the Vietnam War argued that the war was really a civil war and was none of our business and that Vietnamese problems were only natural considering that the country had been recently divided.
They also believed that If the Communists of North Vietnam had gained control, we could just contain the whole of Vietnam, therefore stopping the Domino Theory. The Catholic Church constantly supported the war. During the WW1 the church had strongly opposed it, but dealing with Vietnam they were strongly in favour of Australian involvement and conscription in order to fight a ‘godless communism’. There were two main protest groups… those who believed that Australia should not be involved, and those who believed that only conscription was wrong. Most of the protests at the time were quiet and calm.
A number of universities organized ‘teach ins’ where people present and argued for both for and against the involvement in war. There were more violent and active protests after witnessing the ones in the USA. A ‘don’t register for conscription’ campaign had been launched aimed at the young men. In late 1966 and anti-Vietnam group stopped Sydney’s rush hour traffic by sitting on the main roads. This protest movement though was nothing compared to the ones in America, and the ones here had almost no effect on the government’s choice. Here is footage of a Vietnam War protest in Melbourne, in 1971.
The war caused many social outbursts and many draft resisters, objectors and protestors had been fined and jailed, and the soldiers met a hostile and unwelcome on their return home. The Vietnam War created instability and a significant shift in Australia’s military, social, political and economic status. The so called “TV War” showed a lot of shocking and violent footage of the war broadcasted right into people’s homes, causing large and sometimes unnecessary, biased social involvement and drama throughout Australia. Twenty-five years after the first military advisers were sent to Vietnam. We still remember, and we shall not forget.