THE RUSSIAN AUSTRALIANS IN VIETNAM
Dear reader, this is a very uneasy page. Unlike the majority of other wars, my generation remembers the war in Vietnam. We grew up under the clouds of animosity to the West and, first of all, to America - the most powerful, richest country of the West, which had been using its military power with no hesitation when her material or ideological interests were jeopardized. As well as thirty years ago, nowadays the history of war in Vietnam is full of myths. What did we know, or, more precisely, what was allowed us to know about the war in Vietnam? An unfortunate country after liberation from the French colonial rule had found herself to be split into two parts. The "correct" northern part aims itself at "the construction of socialism", carries out progressive transformations, the standard of living and well-being of workers grow, national democracy blossoms. In the "wrong" southern part, which remains a semi-colonial possession of the West, the anti-national regime rages, democracy is suppressed, poverty and prostitution dominate. People of the "wrong" part struggle for liberation and reunification with the "correct" part. The latter is helped by the mighty Soviet Union - a friend of all oppressed people. I used to help too, a Moscow pioneer, - brought to school tins canned food, notepads, pens for children of struggling Vietnam… Meanwhile the American imperialists brutally kill peaceful peasants in the "wrong" part, using chemical weapons, bombs and napalm.
A lot of this was true, but much was lies. A lot of lies were told to our contemporaries in America too. Millions of them after having turned 18 were sent to war with "Vietcong" – communist guerrillas. For Americans "communism" was a deadliest foe. Actually, a fair bit of the "progressive" transformations, which were carried out in the north of Vietnam, rather clearly reminded those which had taken place in other countries which had been moving down the road to socialism - ruthless collectivization of peasantry, executions of prosperous and dissident citizens, complete suppression of any civil rights, brainwashing, millions of refugees who were fleeing from the communist paradise…
Certainly, the southern part of Vietnam, constantly tormented by guerrillas, was far from being a paradise as well – political oppression was way of life. Simple Vietnamese, most likely, were unaware, that, as well as ten - fifteen years ago in Korea, ideological interests of two super-powers - USA and the USSR had collided on their land. Defending the "ideological" correctness, the superpowers were ready to sacrifice millions of Vietnamese lives. The Soviet Union managed to avoid (or nearly so) sending of its citizens to this war (our turn came in six years after Vietnam – in Afghanistan). America sacrificed tens of thousands of lives of her soldiers, and as it turned out, completely in vain, - she had to leave Vietnam. To leave, when the guerilla movement had been mostly suppressed, and ways of deliveries of the weapons, ammunition, movements of reinforcements for the exhausted guerilla groups had been blocked.
In 1975 the South Vietnamese regime rapidly collapsed without the American support under the strikes of regular army of the communist Northern Vietnam. In reality, it was a worthless victory – the Americans were followed by millions of refugees. The united Vietnam, having copied the political and economical system of the Big Brother, failed to overcome backwardness, poverty, ruin and famine. Ten years after unification Vietnam had to carry out market and liberal reforms to break the deadlock. And now in the city, which Vietnamese among themselves still call Saigon, numerous bars and nightclubs are open again, groups of motorcyclists speed on the streets – everything exactly like B475 (before 75)… But the Vietnamese remember American bombs and napalm, remember villages burnt out by communists and Americans, executed relatives. It is impossible to forget this war. Certainly, it is remembered in the West too. Usually it is declared, that the Vietnam War was lost by the Americans at home – lost to the anti-war movement, unwillingness to fight and sacrifice lives, to the domestic economic and racial problems and mass media. Probably, it was so… Hundreds of books have been written and hundreds of films shot about this war. One of the best was "The Deer Hunter" with then young Hollywood stars Robert de Niro, Meril Streep, Cristopher Walken. It’s a film about the Russian Americans in Vietnam. See it if you have a chance.
The Australian involvement in Vietnam is one of the little-known facts of this war. Australia had followed her "Big Brother" - America. It is remarkable, that Russians both in Russia and in Australia (often many years in this country) do not know about it. One of my Russian-Australian acquaintances in a conversation with me on this theme said with a bit of contempt: "There were, probably, three Australians there", and was very much surprised, having learned, that about 50,000 Australians fought in Vietnam. Actually, during the Vietnamese war Australia went through the same events as America, though not in such a large scale. There was all here: the initial enthusiasm, the subsequent disappointment, protests and demonstrations, public setting on fire of draft notices, planes with coffins and soldiers returning home, usually at night so that to avoid collisions with demonstrators. The contemptuous attitude of fellow Australians to the war veterans, mental frustration, drunkenness and drugs, the crippled lives – all that has been typical. It’s enough to mention that more than 280 veterans of that war (more than 50% of the combat loss!) have taken their lives so far and this horrendous figure is still growing. However, recently the country turned a better face to those who once had been sent to fight and die thousands miles away from home. Now the veterans of the Vietnam War participate in annual marches of veterans of all wars on the ANZAC days without a fear to be sworn over and spat on by compatriots.
I have come across the Australian veterans of the Vietnam War many a time: at work, in the street, where I live, at parties. My recent neighbor, a war veteran, was drunk all day long. A social worker constantly lived with him in order to supervise my restless neighbor… I noticed, that there were people of different nationalities amongst the Vietnamese veterans: Croatians, Serbs, Poles. Many of them were born outside Australia or arrived to this country in their childhood. There were my countrymen amongst them as well. Two interviews with Russian participants of a war in Vietnam are offered to your attention.
Read interview with Alexander Ilin and Eugene Konashenko.
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