UNSW Canberra

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  • (2018) Dapin, Mark
    This thesis examines the evolution of the memory of Australia's Vietnam War. It argues that the current popular perception of what happened during the war, in both Australia and South Vietnam, is virtually unrecognisable from the picture held during the war itself, and that we have come to see the history of veterans' experience of both combat and – for those troops who were national servicemen – conscription largely through the filter of post-war concerns about the 'homecoming'. This thesis posits the existence of a folkloric canon of tales, similar to that which in the First World War might have been considered 'trench mythology', although some of these stories might be more usefully classified using Professor Jeffrey Grey's term 'military urban myth' as they refer to events in Australia. In a forensic review of the literature, it traces the development of some of these myths – about alleged manipulations of the national-service ballot; about atrocities purportedly committed by Australian troops; and about demonstrations supposedly staged by the anti-war movement to greet returning men at Sydney Airport – and identifies the points at which unsubstantiated and implausible testimony has been accepted as fact in various texts. It compares newspaper reports written at the time with recollections offered 40 or 50 years later, and finds they have little in common. It uses 219 questionnaires completed in the early-1990s by veterans of 7RAR's two tours of South Vietnam to establish the differences and similarities in the experience and perception of the army and the war between national servicemen and regular soldiers, and to build a picture of the Vietnam experience that is unsullied by sensationalism. It examines the different social and educational backgrounds of the 'nashos' and 'regs' to determine whether they can be usefully viewed as two distinct sections of the population. It finds some variances in attitudes and actions between the two cohorts, but also variances between the two tours. In conclusion, this thesis suggests our current view of national service and the Vietnam War is an influenced as much by Hollywood movies, popular songs, and fraudulent or suspect testimony as it is by the actual lived experiences of veterans.