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soc.history.war.vietnam FAQ: Australian Involvement (3/3)

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Archive-Name: vietnam/australia/part3
Last-modified: 1996/05/10
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Frequently Asked Questions: soc.history.war.vietnam

The FAQs on the Australian involvement in Vietnam were
written by
     Brian Ross. 

--- This is the continuation of the article in
soc.history.war.vietnam
FAQ: Australian Involvement (2/3) ---


     The Labor party, once more consigned to the opposition
benches in Parliament, pointed out that Australia was not bound 
in any way to help Malaysia, Australia being only committed to 
the defence of Malaya under the ANZAM agreement.   They would 
have preferred a formal treaty between the two states as to what 
sort of commitment that Australia was to make to Malaysian defence.
This was however defeated in parliament along party lines when 
it went to the vote.

     Although the confrontation consisted of counterinsurgency
operations in North Borneo, the Government was worried about
a direct attack by Indonesia against Australian territory, in
particular New Guinea.   When in may 1964 Sukarno called upon 
"21 million volunteers" to crush Malaysia, and his Government 
told Australia not to interfere in what was basically an Asian 
problem, warning that if Australia did become involved then the
responsibility would be Australia's alone.22

     After this was announced there followed a discussion on
21 April 1964 in Parliament, as to whether an attack by Indonesians
on Australian troops in Borneo would activate the terms of the
ANZUS agreement, leading to the involvement of America.   After
criticism from the opposition leader Arthur Calwell, who' said that,
"America does not believe that its commitment does include the
protection of Australia troops already in Malaya".23

     The Prime Minister, Robert Menzies replied that while
the letter of ANZUS does not cover Australia troops stationed abroad,
the intent did.   He suggested that,

     "The United States of America did not even withdraw its
     support for Malaysia. It has recognised Malaysia, and it
     wants Malaysia to be maintained...  [but] That when it came
     to the immediate defence of Malaysia this was perhaps
     primarily a Commonwealth responsibility."24

     Despite the brave words the government was worried. It
feared the possibility of the confrontation escalating and that 
as its troops were already in contact with the Indonesians in 
North Borneo, that the United States would not come to its aid. 25

     With defence becoming more of important in the thinking
of the Government, selective compulsory conscription was introduced
before Parliament on 10 November 1964.26 This was to increase the
Army to an effective strength of 37,000. The reason being given was a
lack of sufficient volunteers, due to a period of full employment
and economic expansion in the civil sector.  This build up of the Army
was required for, Menzies said,

     "our deteriorating strategic: situation.  We expect a
     continuing requirement to make our forces available for
     cold war and counterinsurgency tasks.  We must have forces
     ready as an immediate contribution should hostilities
     occur."27

     The small Australia Army was over-extended by its
commitments both in Malaya and Borneo and the result was that 
only two Battalions to defend Australia. The Army was also 
committed to providing "advisers" as part of an aid package to 
the Government of South Vietnam in its war against Communist 
insurgents and this was stretching its limited resources to the 
maximum. Obviously more manpower was required if a credible 
defence was to be mounted against the threat of Indonesian 
aggression and the only way that could be achieved was through
conscription.

     Then it was announced that Australian combat troops in
the form of one infantry Battalion, with supporting elements, 
would be committed to the war in South Vietnam, on 29 April 1965.
The Government was criticised by the Opposition as well as by 
a strong vocal middle-class minority which could not be dismissed
as Communist or pro- Communist in their views.

     This vocal minority was made up of numerous
dignitaries, including Bishops of various denominations,
 who were extremely critical of the policies of the rapidly 
changing South Vietnamese Governments.   They believed 
that the Australian Government should seek a negotiated 
settlement of the conflict, rather than sending more
military aid.28

     As a result of this decision Australian conscripts
would, for the first time serve outside Australia or its 
territories and north of the Equator.   This had not even
occurred in World War II, and it particularly incensed the 
Opposition leader who held to the ALP's longstanding 
opposition to conscription for service not in the direct
defence of Australia.29

     This initial commitment of an Infantry Battalion
quickly grew to become a Task Force (or Brigade ) of three 
or four Battalions with supporting units of Armour, Engineers, 
Artillery and Logistic support, as well as RAAF units flying 
Canberra's and helicopters and also naval units.   The tasks 
of these units quickly changed, from guarding and defensive 
ones to offensive operations against the Vietnamese
Communists. At its height the Australian commitment to
Vietnam reached 8,000 men in 1968-69.

     Australia's involvement in Vietnam was prompted by
three main factors.  Perhaps most important of these was 
a very poor perception by the Government of world affairs 
at that time. Throughout the late fifties and sixties 
Australian diplomatic circles were firmly convinced of 
a subversive "Communist Threat" outside Australia. This
threat, initially directed by Moscow, and later by Beijing,
dominated Australian diplomatic thought for approximately 
fifteen years.

     It had though, roots which went much further back than
that. As Frank Cain mentions,30 the members of the coalition
government gained anti-Communist convictions well before the 
second world war. He suggests that the "the road to Vietnam 
was not only paved with anti-radical and anti-communist 
rhetoric and actions but that the non-Labor forces came to 
be prisoners of such rhetoric."31

     As a consequences of their repeated successes in
federal elections, they were convinced of the appropriateness 
of these policies. In fact when they failed to "kick the 
Communist can" as they did in 1961, the coalition nearly lost 
office. As a consequence the anti- Communist policy of the 
government under Menzies became electorally self-rewarding 
and they sought to use it where ever possible.   This does 
not deny that they were not totally convinced for the best 
of reasons but that they also managed to convince the
electorate that Communism must be opposed where ever
possible.

     As Cain suggests, when Menzies made his statement
suggesting that "the takeover of South Vietnam would be 
a direct military threat to Australia,"32 the anti-Communist 
convictions developed over the previous five years were 
now convincing them to intervene and this action led 
Australia into the "quagmire of the Vietnamese civil
war."33

     Even after the departure of Menzies in 1965, the
ideological crusade to which the Coalition was committed 
carried it to greater electoral victories.   In the 1966 
election Harold Holt's government was returned by an even 
greater majority by an electorate who believed in the necessity 
to remain in Vietnam.

     However as the middle-class became more convinced about
the dangers of their sons being conscripted to fight overseas in
Vietnam, they switched their vote to the Labour Party in response.
It was ironic that the coalition by using anti-Communist rhetoric
to maintain electoral support now lost office by not taking note 
of it in the election which led to their defeat in 1972.

     The coalition government's doubts about Indonesia's
political alignment had been reinforced over the years by the
acceptance of large quantities of military and civil aid by 
Jarkata from initially Moscow, and then later Beijing. While 
in retrospect it is obvious that Sukarno was playing the 
East off against the West in an effort to gain what he wanted, 
it raised fears in Canberra that Sukarno was increasingly coming 
under the control of the local Communist members of his 
government. This was further reinforced when Sukarno threatened to
nationalise the three major oil companies operating in
Indonesia (Shell, Caltex and Stanvac) which represented over
$US500 million in investment.34 This fear of a Indonesia becoming a
Communist country on Australia's doorstep further reinforced the
already rigid anti-communist stance of the coalition's leaders.35

     This perception of an aggressive Communist threat in
Asia prompted Australian foreign Policy planners to support
American policies in Asia almost completely blind to the realities of
the situation facing them.  The war in Vietnam was not perceived as a
local rebellion or civil war, caused by discontent, or even
as a war of "national liberation" from the last vestiges of colonial
rule as it perhaps should have been.   Instead, it was perceived 
by the then Minister for External Affairs, Paul Hasluck', as he related
in his policy speech on 23 March 1965, as a conflict where, "the
application of the methods of and doctrines of Communist Guerrilla
warfare first evolved in China and then successfully in North Vietnam."36
In his judgement the South Vietnamese were not dealing simply with
a situation of local unrest, but with a "large scale campaign
of assassination and terrorism", the direction of which was
coming from "outside".37

     This "outside" direction was perceived most definitely
as from Beijing.   Gregory Clark suggests that this perception of
Chinese aggression was carried to the point of "Sinophobia".38 He
relates the story of how Hasluck visited Moscow in October 1964.   He
was seeking to enlist Soviet aid in preventing the success of this
perceived Chinese aggression in Vietnam.   Needless to say the Soviets
turned the discussion to things of more interest and use to them.39

     This fear of Communist aggression was not, only
confined to the Ministry of External Affairs.   The Prime 
Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, said in his policy speech on 
29 April 1965 that, 
     "the takeover of South Vietnam would be a direct
     military threat to Australia and all the countries 
     of South and South-East Asia. It must be seen as a 
     part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian 
     and Pacific Oceans."40

     The fear of this Communist aggression was founded upon
what was referred to as the "Domino Theory" by its exponents.
Unless this aggressive action by China was stopped in Vietnam, 
ran the theory, then after Vietnam had fallen, the surrounding 
countries would follow, just like a row of Dominoes.   These 
countries, which tended to be neutral in their outlook, 
favouring neither east or west, might become embroiled in another 
war like Vietnam, or they might defect to the Communist line.   
It was feared that this "domino" action would eventually lead to
Australia's shores and then the policy of forward defence would 
mean Darwin instead of Vietnam.

     While it was in confrontation with Indonesia the
government had the added fear that, as Renouf suggests, 
"Indonesian success with confrontation could lead to a 
reverse Domino Theory - from south to north - with 
Singapore, a strategically placed island, being an early
victim,"41 and with Australia being perhaps the next target.

     Perhaps more significant than this as to why Australia
became involved in the Vietnam War, was the Government's 
policy of relying on "great and powerful friends" for 
Australia's defence.   The Government was afraid that if 
the problems with Indonesia came to armed conflict
then Australia would be abandoned by America and Britain.
The response of its two major allies, Great Britain and the
United States, to the problems of West New Guinea and to a 
lesser extent Borneo, had convinced the government that they 
did not share Australia's deep concern about Indonesia. 
The United States was unwilling to support Australia's stand 
with anything more substantial than words.

     Both Britain and the United States had seen it against
their interests to provoke Indonesia, who commanded considerable
power amongst other third world countries and because of the 
large amounts of investment both countries had tied up there.  
They feared the danger of Sukarno nationalising their interests 
without compensation.42

     In addition when Australia had asked the United States
for an unequivocal commitment under the ANZUS treaty, that it was
willing to guarantee Australia's defence in case things with 
Indonesia blew up first over Dutch West New Guinea and then 
later in Borneo. While Pemberton suggests that in Washington's 
mind it was fully committed to Australia, in Canberra the 
lack of a public sign or declaration to that effect weighed 
heavily on Menzies's mind.43

     So it was that Australia was seeking a method by which
America could be "locked into" the defence of both Asia and in
particular Australia, against this feared Communist Aggression.   The
opportunity presented itself when America proposed that Australia
provide more advisers and some air and naval aid to Vietnam.44  Australia
however seized upon the chance to offer troops, particularly with
the expansion of the Army to meet "a continuing requirement for
cold war and counter- insurgency tasks".45  While William Bundy, the
Assistant Secretary of State for SE Asia, noted the offer of troops,
he was more hopeful of receiving advisers instead. As America at this
time was not willing to commit her own troops to Vietnam.

     As Sexton suggests, this would seem to indicate that
the Australians believed the Americans were not taking a tough
enough line.   They had allowed political events, both at home and
abroad to influence their actions.   The Australians believed that the
Americans needed their resolve stiffened.46

     So it was that Australia offered the use of ground
troops on 18 December 1964.   Although the announcement that this offer
had been received and accepted by both the Americans and the
Parliament until 29 April 1965. Although, as Sexton points out, the request
that Menzies referred to in Parliament was not received by the
Australian Government's representatives in Saigon until that very day
had to be almost forced out of the South Vietnamese government.47

     Talks on the matter had taken place well before this
date, on 22 April, between the Australian and the Americans. This
announcement came before an American decision to commit ground troops had
occurred.   So it was that at Australian insistence, Australian troops
were committed to take part in the Vietnam War not, as was always
stated, on the basis of an American request.48

     So it can be seen from these short accounts that
Indonesia's policy of Confrontation over West New Guinea and Malaysia
was a major contributing factor in the Australian Government wishing to
become involved in a war far from Australian shores.  Other factors
that contributed to this wish to become involved in an Asian war
were the fear of the Domino theory, the seeming lack of American
commitment to the defence of Asian and Australia in particular, and the
fear of a perceived threat of Communist

     As both Sexton, and Cooksey, point out, Australia was
not happy with the United States' performance over the West New Guinea
and Borneo affairs, so in an effort to build up a "credit of
goodwill" with America that could be drawn upon in time of need it
would seem that Australia decided to enter the Vietnam war.49  There is
an old American political adage that says "not what you have done
for me, but what have you done for me lately"? So Australia became
involved to show the Americans that if we were willing to help them,
they would then perhaps be willing to help us if it ever came to the
point of war with Indonesia.

----------------------------------------
ENDNOTES

1 p.70, Pemberton, G., All the Way, Australia's Road to
Vietnam, Allen E; Unwin, Sydney, 1987.
2 p.71, Pemberton, G., All the War, Australia's road to
Vietnam.
3 p.24, Wiesbrod, H., 'Sir Garfield Barwick and Dutch New
Guinea, Australian Quarterly, June 1967.
4 p.628, 'Policy Speech on External Affairs', Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 9 March
1950.
5 p.881-2, Current Notes, Vo1.28, November 1957.
6 quoted p.26, Wiesbrod, H., 'Sir Garfield Barwick and Dutch
New Guinea'.
7 pp.76-9, Pemberton, G., All the Way.
8 pp.80-1, Ibid.
9 p.29, ibid.
10 p.80, ibid.
11 P.99, Pemberton, G., All the Way.
12 p.428, Renouf, A., The Frightened Country, Macmillan,
Melbourne, 1979.
13 idem.
14 p.889, 'Ministerial Statement on West New Guinea, ' ,
Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of
Representatives, 15 March 1962.
15 pp.1151-1161, 'Debate on International Affairs' ,
Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of
Representatives, 21 April 1962.
16 Wiesbrod, H., 'Sir Garfield Barwick and Dutch New Guinea,
Australian Quarterly, June 1967.
17 p.30, Ibid.
18 p.21, Current Notes, Vo1.33, No.  3, 1962.
19 p.431, Renouf A., The Frightened Country.
20 pp.431-2, Renouf, A., The Frightened Country.
21 p.436, ibid.
22 p.157, Andrews, E.  M., A History of Australia's Foreign
Policy: from dependence to i n dependence , Longman Cheshire
, Melbourne, 1979.
23 p.1279, 'Debate on International Affairs', Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 21 April
1964.
24 p.2718 `Defence Review Debate' , Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 10 November
1964.
25 pp.174-5, Pemberton, G., All the Way.
26 p.2718 `Defence Review Debate' , Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 10 November
1964.
27 p.2718, 'Defence Review Debate' , Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 10 November
1964.
28 p.113, Watt, A., Vietnam, An Australian Analysis, F.  W.
Cheshire, Melbourne, 1983.
29 p.114, Watt, A., Vietnam, An Australian Analysis.
30 Cain, F.,`Australia's road to Vietnam - Non-Labour and
Anti-Communism 1920-1966', original manuscript supplied by
the author
31.p.1, ibid.
32 pp.1060, `Vietnam - Ministerial Statement', Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 29 April
1965.
33 p.161 Cain F., `Australia's road to Vietnam - Non-Labour
and Anti-Communism 1920-1966'.
34 p.178, Pemberton, G., All the Way.
35 pp.436-7, Renouf, A., The Frightened Country.
36 p.2381 'Debate on International Affairs', Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 23 March
1965.
37 ibid.
38 pp.19-20, Clarke, G., 'Vietnam, China and the Foreign
Affairs Debate in Australia, a personal account', in King,
P., (Ed.  ), Australia's Vietnam, Allen g Unwin, Sydney,
1983.
39 ibid.
40 pp.1060-1, "Vietnam - Ministerial Statement',
Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 29 April
1965.
41 p.436, Renouf, A., The Frightened Country.
42 p.99, Pemberton, G., All the Way.
43 p.188, Pemberton, G., All the Way.
44 p.61, Sexton, M., War for the Asking, Australia's Vietnam
Secrets, Penguin Books, Ringwood, 1981.
45 p.2718, `Defence Review Debate' , Commonwealth
Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 10 November
1964.
46 p.69, Sexton, M., War for the Asking.
47 pp.140-145r Sexton M., War for the asking.
48 pp.165-171, Sexton, M., War for the Asking
49 p.47, Cooksey, R., 'Assumptions of Australia's Vietnam
Policy', World Review, October 1966.

----------------------------------------
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources:
Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of
Representatives.

Current Notes, Vo1.28, November 1957

Secondary Sources:
Andrews, E.M., A History of Australia's Foreign Policy: from
dependence to i n dependence , Longman Cheshire , Melbourne,
1979.

Cain, F.,`Australia's road to Vietnam - Non-Labour and Anti-
Communism 1920-1966', original manuscript supplied by the
author

Clarke, G., 'Vietnam, China and the Foreign Affairs Debate
in Australia, a personal account', in King, P., (Ed.),
Australia's Vietnam, Allen g Unwin, Sydney, 1983.

Cooksey, R., 'Assumptions of Australia's Vietnam Policy',
World Review, October 1966.

Renouf, A., The Frightened Country, Macmillan, Melbourne,
1979.

Pemberton, G., All the Way, Australia's Road to Vietnam,
Allen E; Unwin, Sydney, 1987.

Sexton, M., War for the Asking, Australia's Vietnam Secrets,
Penguin Books, Ringwood, 1981.

Watt, A., Vietnam, An Australian Analysis, F.  W.  Cheshire,
Melbourne, 1983.

Wiesbrod, H., 'Sir Garfield Barwick and Dutch New Guinea,
Australian Quarterly, June 1967.
_______________________________

- -Brian Ross

=================================================================
Copyright (c) 1995 Brian Ross.  Non-commercial distribution
for educational purposes permitted if document is unaltered.
Any commercial use, or storage in any commercial BBS is strictly
prohibited without written consent.





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