The Vietnam War was a conflict between the communist, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. In the wake of the Second World War western fears of a communist expansion throughout Asia were running high. The United States was concerned that if North Vietnam succeed and turned Vietnam into a communist state, neighboring countries were also likely to follow. As an ally of the United States and Australia’s involvement in South-East Asia Treaty Organization and the Australia – New Zealand – United States Security Treaty and the belief in forward defence Australia was an enthusiastic supporter of the American policy in Vietnam.
The majority of Australians supported the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War in its early years mainly because of the threat of communism. Australia felt that if communism dominated South Vietnam it would be an even bigger risk to Australia because of the domino effect. If Vietnam fell into communism so will its neighboring countries including Australia. Australia did not want to fall into communism and agreeing to the request for help by South Vietnam, Australia supported the war and troops were immediately sent to Vietnam. The decision to send the army to Vietman was also made by the Older Australians which were part of the group called the Returned Servicemen’s League. These people believed in the idea of the Anzac Spirit and expected the younger generation to do their bit as they had during World War II.
The Australian People and Liberal Party rallied behind the leadership of Menzies. Therefore, the Liberal Party was also in agreement with Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1966, Australia warmly welcomed the visit of the American president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. The new prime minister of Australia enthusiastically declared that when it came to Vietnam, Australia was ‘all the way with LBJ’, which meant that Australia was willing to support the US in supporting the Vietnam War. The Democratic Labor Party at that time who split from the Labor Party had a very large Catholic membership and was also very anti-communist. It was also determined to oppose any ALP policies – so it automatically supported the war. After the first announcement of sending troops there was a general support from the news outlets for the government’s policy. This wasn’t the kind of support shown in Australia’s involvement in previous wars.
There was little mention of words like ‘heroic’ and more mention of words like ‘grave decision’. Many of the papers simply said Australia had no alternative, given its geographical position and its treaty commitments. The support was there, but it was muted and it tended to question the political situation in South Vietnam. Australian Catholics had been encouraged to see South Vietnam as not only the last democracy in South East Asia, but as a Catholic democracy. There was widespread support for the government of the Republic of Vietnam, even after the assassination of the Catholic leader Ngo Dinh Diem. At the same time as the Australian government made the announcement that it was sending troops, the Pope called for negotiations to take place in Vietnam for a peaceful resolution. Many Australian Catholics did not see the Pope’s announcement as any reason not to support the commitment of troops to South Vietnam and so they were in support.
There was even a large section of the community who seemed to take no interest in what was going on in South East Asia. Many people believed Vietnam to be too far away for the ‘average’ person to care about. They were quite unconcerned about the war and firmly believed it should be left up to the government and the army to sort out. Sending troops off to fight in wars was seen by many ordinary Australians as not only the right thing to do but as a good way of increasing Australia’s prestige in the world. This caused a lot of people to automatically support the government without really questioning if it was a good idea or not. On the contrary, there were many people and organisations that were against this war. Anti-war protests had been taking place in Australia since 1962 when the first military advisors had been sent in to Vietnam. Since then, protests had taken place for various reasons at various times, but it was not until the P.M.’s announcement in April 1965 to provide an infantry battalion for service in Vietnam for ‘further military assistance’ when protests really began to take shape.
This opposition was a result of extensive media coverage, a unequal system of conscription and growing political consciousness. A lot of violent and gruesome footage of the war was broadcasted right into people’s homes every evening. Many protests were the result of this. Conscription introduced in November 1964 had forced young men to fight away from their home country. Many people saw this as unfair and wrong. This too caused a lot of controversy and many arguments were made against the government for introducing this. The ALP was against the commitment of troops to Vietnam. The Labor leader Arthur Calwell had the unenviable job of responding to the government in parliament. Labor saw the war as essentially a civil one in which Australia should not get involved. Calwell did say that they would back the Australian troops and not deny them the support they would need. Many of the trade unions called the government support of America’s foreign policy in Vietnam ‘diggers for dollars’.
They believed the Australian government was sacrificing the lives of Australian troops to ensure that America would boost the economy by spending more money in Australia. In response to this belief and the announcement of more troops being sent to Vietnam, unions wanted to hold work stoppages in protest. The Australian Council of Trade Unions followed the Labor Party policy of not supporting the war but not denying the soldiers support. In later years, no other group would be more associated with anti-war activities, but reaction in the universities immediately after the announcement. Educated university students didn’t see the point in continuing a futile war. They thought that young men being forced to go to war was unnecessary, it disturbed their lives and the potential to live to their dreams. They also thought that the enormous amount of money used on the war should be spent on helping their own count. The fact that it was an overseas war and that it had nothing to do with us was another reason for opposition.
The reason why they were opposing the war is because they considered that Australia is following USA blindly, it is not our war and they also didnt like the idea of young men being forced into war and innocent woman, elders and children being killed due to the war. There was also a large and angry anti-war movement growing. 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. We should stop following US policy ‘blindly’ The women of SOS “put on their hats and gloves and carried their blue and white banners high — to the army barracks, to court, to Parliament House, to the City Square, and even, in 1969, to Vietnam itself”.
Most of the SOS members were ordinary middle-class and working-class women, wives and mothers, who had no connections to the radical youth counter-culture, but they educated themselves and others on the situation in Vietnam and on the laws associated with conscription and conscientious objection. In the process, their politics became increasingly radical. Later, Following the success of the November 1969 Moratorium in the United States, a series of Australian’s groups opposed to the war in Vietnam decided to band together to put on a Moratorium in Australia. The demonstration in Melbourne, led by Member of Parliament Jim Cairns, had over 100,000 people taking to the streets in Melbourne alone. Across Australia, it was estimated that 200,000 people were involved. The second Vietnam Moratorium in September 1970 was smaller after more violence occurred. 50 000 people participated and there were violent incidents between police.
Two hundred people were arrested in Sydney. The third moratorium in June 1971 were of nearly 100 000 people. By this time public opinion was beginning to turn assertively against conscription and Australian‘s involvement in the war. The intensity of the conflict in Australia over our involvement in Vietnam, and the issue of conscription, contributed to the election of a Labor government in December 1972. Twenty-three years of conservative Liberal government had ended. The new Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, immediately abolished National Service and recalled the Australian army. As we see due to the fear of communism in Australia most Australian’s were ready to send troops to fight in Vietnam. However, as the war progressed and the society were starting to see all the pictures on TV and hearing so much soldiers are dying and sent overseas and that this war can’t be won, Australian’s started to do something about this. They went out on streets to protest, fight, and hold moratoriums and as a result of these conflicts the troops were called back after 10 years and 60,000 soldiers fighting in the longest war Australia had been part of.