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Tuesday, 15 June 2004
Page: 23635


Senator TCHEN (10:16 PM) —United Nations Security Council resolution 1500 marked a watershed in the world's recognition of the importance of the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism. Until this unanimous expression of world opinion, it had become increasingly commonplace for a parallel to be drawn between the Iraq war and the Vietnam War. Indeed, as far back as the beginning of 2003 that parallel was being drawn. I recall that my first experience of that parallel being drawn was in February 2003 when I attended the lunar new year festival, the Tet Festival, in Springvale, Victoria, where the then Leader of the Opposition used his address on this festive occasion to warn about embarking on a new Vietnam War. It was a rather incongruous gesture on his part, since most of his audience were refugees from that unfortunate country, but it has not stopped other people from drawing similar parallels since then.

Of course, there are parallels to be drawn between the Iraq war and the Vietnam War. In particular, they are both part of a wider conflict: Vietnam as part of the war against communism and Iraq as part of the war against terrorism. Hopefully we will see another parallel come to pass in due course when democracy triumphs against terrorism as it did against communism. There are just over 150,000 Australians who have at least one parent born in Vietnam. These people are the true victims of the Vietnam War. They were uprooted and expelled from their home country by their own people to make a new life in Australia, quite often making very good contributions to the community they now call home. Nevertheless, these people with their experience of the Vietnam War have never been called on by the people who are interested in drawing parallels with the war in Iraq to make comment about their experiences, just as nobody that I know of who complains about Australia's participation in this war in Iraq has ever thought of asking the opinions of the more than 30,000 Iraqis who live in Australia by grace of the regime of Saddam Hussein about Saddam Hussein and the justness of the war in Iraq.

But I do not want to talk about the Iraq war tonight; I want to talk about the Vietnamese Australians who are the true victims of the Vietnam War. The Vietnamese Australians have often been the most hurt by inaccurate depictions of the Vietnam War in history textbooks and public statements by politicians and media commentators, particularly at this time when they are pleased to draw the parallel between this past conflict and the current one we are involved in. The way it is portrayed is that Vietnamese Australians are usually described as being people on the side of the bad guys, the bad guys being the Americans and the Australians who should not have been there. They are described as people who worked for these bad guys or who supported a corrupt regime which could not sustain itself and then fled when it was overthrown by a principled revolution.

From the Vietnamese Australians' point of view, these are lies and half-truths which have victimised their community's sense of identity, particularly that of their families and the younger generations who were born in Australia. There is consistent concern amongst the older generation that, if perpetuated, this could damage their grandchildren's view about their parents and grandparents. I have received a letter from Dr Tien Nguyen, President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, putting the view of the Vietnamese community about this propaganda. His letter to me says:

As we see it, the Vietnam War was a just war. It was the South defending itself against the North's ambition to grab its riches and to expand communist authoritarianism. South Vietnam lost, not because its soldiers were incapable or because communism was a principled cause, but because the West withdrew military supplies while Hanoi kept getting theirs from China and the Soviet Union.

The nightmares South Vietnam fought to prevent have now become reality. The Communist victors jailed more than a million people ...

This is not a fictitious claim. I have here a comment by the then Vietnamese Prime Minister, Pham Van Dong, being quoted by Jean-Claude Labbe of the Paris Match in September 1978, shortly after the fall of Vietnam. He said:

... we have liberated more than one million people who were guilty of collaborating with the enemy one way or another.

The Communist regime had `liberated' one million people who had cooperated with the enemy! That liberation was by jailing them and putting them in correctional work camps. They killed thousands, they flattened southern soldiers' cemeteries and declared that all lands belonged to the Communist Party. Dr Nguyen went on to say:

The regime is consistently among Asia's 3 most corrupt. Party bosses have amassed at least hundreds of millions of dollars. After 14 years of damaging policies, then 15 years of repair and billions in aid, per capita GDP is back to South Vietnam's pre-1975 levels.

That is not taking into account inflation. He continued:

Yet the many who loudly denounced Saigon or praised Hanoi, are now deafeningly silent. And, as the Iraq War debate goes on, many of the old untruths about the Vietnam War are again being repeated.

That is a matter that I think is of concern to all of us. While history never exactly repeats itself, we seem to have a habit of repeating the mistakes of history. Those people who like to draw parallels between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War should be reminded that in fact many of the concerns which we had about Communist domination in Vietnam—that it would create a domino effect and other concerns—and which are today fashionably considered untrue were valid. Let me repeat something said by someone who should know—Lee Kuan Yew—stating that in fact the Vietnam War was necessary to protect our way of life. He said about Vietnam's impact on Singapore and the ASEAN region:

Although American intervention failed in Vietnam, it bought time for the rest of Southeast Asia. In 1965, when the US moved massively into South Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines faced internal threats from armed communist insurgencies and the communist underground was still active in Singapore ... America's action enabled non-communist Southeast Asia to put their own houses in order. By 1975, they were in better shape to stand up to the communists. Had there been no US intervention, the will of these countries to resist them would have melted and Southeast Asia would most likely have gone communist. The prosperous emerging market economies of ASEAN were nurtured during the Vietnam War years.

This is from the book From Third World to First—The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, published by HarperCollins in 2000. (Time expired)