Just this week a minor undiplomatic incident occurred in our neck of the woods that gives rise to some speculation. When I say our neck of the woods, which is the Australasian colonies, I really mean French Indochina.
A group of old soldiers and their families wanted to go to the site of a skirmish that took place during the last Indochinese war – the one that featured Western players, not the next one between neighbours. It was an uneven fight but an Australian and New Zealand company-sized body of soldiers saw off about two regiments of North Vietnamese and Vietcong infantry. Not without casualties, it must be emphasized, but with such disproportionate effect that it has been hailed ever since as somewhat of a victory in an otherwise failed war.
It is difficult to get official government agencies or servicemen’s fraternal societies to actually say this in so many words, but it really is how it is seen by them. Unfortunately it is also viewed in this light by the current regime on the Indochinese peninsula…and with characteristic Asian concern for appearance, prudence, power, and face, they want nothing of it. To put it bluntly, since they drove the round-eyes of out of the place 40+ years ago, they do not want them back trying to trumpet a victory…albeit a small one.
The old soldiers got sold tours and trips to the place to commemorate the day, and then once they had paid their money, the Indochinese refused them permission to do it. Then the government in Canberra got onto the regime headquarters in Hanoi and brokered a deal for small groups to visit the memorial – provided they did it surreptitiously. Heaven knows what the Prime Minister said on the phone, but I am willing to bet that there was money involved…
None of it surprises me, from either side. I’ve seen what they both look like close up, and I am sufficiently aware of the way their minds work. It is the sort of thing that might happen again, so I have a modest proposal:
a. The memorial cross and surroundings at Long Tan be purchased by the Australian government, carefully lifted, crated, and shipped to Australia. If this is not possible, an exact copy should be prepared here. The memorial should be erected in a park set aside for it in Canberra.
b. A suitable official commemoration ceremony for the event should be worked out in conjunction with the New Zealand Army and held annually each year on the appropriate day.
c. Representatives of the South Vietnamese community should be invited to participate in the ceremony. Flags and all.
d. The Ambassador and consular staff from the current Hanoi regime should also receive formal invitations to attend…and be accorded all diplomatic dignities.
But they must be informed that no form of uniform, badge, pin, or flag will be permitted…