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Thursday, 28 March 1968


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) has made his usual speech, jibing at the Australian Labor Party about how it would withdraw troops from Vietnam. Some day the honourable gentleman will realise that he is Minister for Defence and that what the people would like to hear from him if he believes the war is justified is how he proposes to win it? This happens to be his duty as Minister for Defence, but not one speech that he has ever made gives the slightest indication that he has any idea of where his military policy is leading or how he proposes to win the war.

The Tet offensive of the Vietcong has produced a change in the thinking of the Government. We are no longer, as in the statement of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) of last October, steadily winning the war' in Vietnam. We are facing 'a new and anxious situation testing to the full our resolution'. But there is not just a change in the military situation. There has been a steady change in the Government's analysis of the nature of the war. m April 1965 Sir Robert Menzies was sticking to the story that we were in reality at war with China. He said:

The takeover of South Vietnam would be a direct military threat to Australia ... It must bc seen us part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The Government no longer claims that we are striking blows at China. If we were, no doubt China would have occasion to regret it. China has no occasion to regret Western involvement in Vietnam and he would be a fool who contended that it had. The involvement of 500,000 American troops in a morass, alienating the sympathies of a large part of Europe and Asia, involved in bloody conflict with no Chinese involvement, is no blow at China at all. Rather it leaves her able to wait for changes produced by exhaustion.

The Minister's speeches have from time to time dealt with the changed military situation in Vietnam before and after the events in the Tet offensive. But his speeches flinch from facing the question: Is the changed military situation the product of a change in allegiance in South Vietnam? Who were the people who suddenly declared themselves and attacked in twenty-two cities from within? They were not observed to be moving to attack across the countryside. While the focus of attention was on whether or not the United States should bomb North Vietnam, the United States was in fact manoeuvred into blasting from the air whole suburbs of cities it held, including Saigon.

The new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has come at last to the simple truth. We are not really fighting China, as Menzies contended. We are not there because of South Vietnamese appeals, as Holt contended. We are there because the United States is there. If the United States left we would leave. Quite clearly the United States elections could revolutionise Australia's foreign policy. But

Kennedy, Nixon and McCarthy are at the moment in the realm of speculation. South Vietnam is being fought for between President Johnson and Ho Chi Minh, and both operate on considerations which have nothing to do with the people of South Vietnam, or, at the most, only as a secondary consideration. On 27th February, President Johnson, speaking in Dallas, said that the Tet offensive had produced a 'turning point' in the war from which there could be *no retreat'. He said that any weakening of the American will would 'encourage the enemy and prolong the war'. On 29th February he said:

No American President ever lost a war, and I'll be damned if I'll be the first.'

The Tet offensive raised the question of the credibility of the information on which the United States acts. I propose to come to this question of credibility later. The fundamental nature of the conflict is between Ho Chi Minh's doctrine, which is Maoist, that the people of South Vietnam must have a violent revolutionary experience, and Johnson's doctrine that nobody can successfully defy the power of the United States. Both claim to be rescuing the people of South Vietnam; both have motives which have nothing to do with the needs of the people of Vietnam, and the people of South Vietnam are being crushed between the two.

Ho Chi Minh has possibilities of a parliamentary victory in South Vietnam. Because the Catholic candidates in the South Vietnamese election were well organised they were able to win 50% of the seats with 15% of the votes. I have not met anybody who knows the Vietnamese situation who would contend that the National Liberation Front would get less than 30% or 35% of the votes were its candidates allowed to stand and that if it were equally well organised it could command a parliamentary majority. There is no doubt whatever that if the Government of North Vietnam stopped all the fighting and appealed to the United Nations to have absolutely free elections and asked for the supervision of these elections by the United Nations, it would have a very good chance of a parliamentary majority in South Vietnam.

But that is not its philosophy. It does not desire to obtain power by those means. Its doctrine is that people must be forced into having a revolutionary experience. Therefore, whatever parliamentary possibilities the North Vietnamese Government has, and they would be reasonably good, there is no prospect of bringing the war to an end. The United States military doctrine now emphasises that the allies are killing many more Vietcong and northerners than the enemy are killing members of ARVIN - the Army of the Republic of Vietnam - and their allies. This is in fact acceptance of Giap's war of attrition, which Giap says can be maintained for 15 years. Only an invasion of the north might bring the war to an end. But this might well unify China and the Soviet Union and it might produce a world war. To permit the Vietnam war to turn into a world war would be final proof of great power insanity.

How credible is the information on which the Government acts? I speak not only of information from military intelligence but of all information on major issues. Defence is the servant of foreign policy but the preTet assessments of South Vietnam and the alleged and doubtful incidents of the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, which became the casus belli in Vietnam, show very clearly that defence is running foreign policy and that it is high time the armed services were required to have the same standards of information as that required of the civil service. But it is not only the Services. It is the. quality of great power' information accepted by the Australian Government uncritically.

Sir RobertMenzies in his memoirs 'Afternoon Light' says that he has no knowledge of an arrangement in 1956 between Britain, France and Israel for Israel to attack Egypt to give Britain and France an excuse for intervention. When Dr Evatt suggested such collusion his suggestion was characterised as 'dastardly'. Yet the British Minister of State for Foreign Affairs at the time, Anthony Nutting, records that Eden, Mollet, General Challes and Nutting met at Chequers for just such an arrangement. Menzies' policy, therefore, was based on misinformation. I propose to deal with United States information in a moment. Before I do, I invite the House to note that in the 'Voyager' affair, in the VIP aircraft affair and in the alleged water torture case, it is clear that a series of civilian Ministers in this country were misinformed and that only with extreme reluctance did the Service chiefs permit inquiries into what they regarded as their private domain. The Gulf of Tonkin affair, when Menzies seized the chance to treat this House to his sonorous and thundering indignation, is one of the worst cases in modern history of a Service initiative in foreign policy producing a major intensification of a war on doubtful information. [ remind the House that on 2nd and 4th August 1964, the United States destroyers Maddox' and 'Turner Joy' were allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats and that within 12 hours the President of the United States had ordered the bombing of North Vietnam, Congress had passed resolutions authorising 'all necessary measures' and Under-Secretary of State Katzenbach had characterised these measures as 'a functional equivalent of a declaration of war'. The man who was captain of the 'Maddox' at the time has just published a statement that be was mistaken in thinking that his ship was under continuous torpedo attack. An account of his statement reads:

While the first two sonar reports might well have been enemy torpedoes, after that '1 felt like I'd more or less been tricked or something by myself. Subsequent sonar reports . . . were simply sounds of the ship's own propeller being reflected by its rudder. AH subsequent sonar reports 'resulted from our putting our rudder over'. ... 'It was our propeller ... we were manoeuvring and we were getting this effect from our rudder.'

Lieutenant White, who had been on one of the vessels that went to the assistance of the two American vessels after the radio signal had been sent, said this:

In August 1964 I was serving as a commissioned naval officer aboard the USS 'Pine Island' in the Pacific. 'Pine Island' was the first US ship to enter the war zone in response to the 'attack' upon the destroyers 'Maddox' and "Turner Joy'. I recall clearly the confusing radio messages sent at that time by the destroyers - confusing because the destroyers themselves were not certain they were being attacked. Granted that some North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats were in the area and used harassing manoeuvres, the question is this: Did they actually fire shells or torpedoes at US warships? The answer is no.

I learned this by speaking with the chief sonarman of the 'Maddox' who was in the sonar room during the 'attack'.

That is the so-called attack -

He told me that his evaluation of the sonarscope picture was negative, meaning that no torpedoes were fired through the water, at the ship or otherwise. And he also said that he consistently reported this to the commanding officer during the 'attack'. My naval experience as an antisubmarine warfare officer makes it clear that a chief sonarman's judgment in such a situation is more reliable than that of anyone else on the ship including the commanding officer. No-one is in a better position to know than the chief, and in this case his judgment was that there was no attack.

Yet the Pentagon reported to the President that North Vietnam had attacked us, and the President reported it to Congress. Why? Was it simple misunderstanding, or a deliberate attempt to test our position in Asia? Whatever the reason, in a moment of panic, based on false information, the President was given unprecedented powers which today enable him to conduct an undeclared war involving over half a million men and costing billions of dollars . . .

I remind the House of the Distant Early Warning Line, or DEW Line, situation that developed in the north of Canada, when the warning system recorded on the radar screens what was considered to be an approaching Russian air fleet. This was accepted and mobilisation began immediately and went on until a Canadian Air Marshal caused another evaluation to be made. The image on the radar screens was the result of a trick situation caused by a certain consequence of the rising of the moon. But nothing is more certain than that, if thousands of rockets had been launched in retaliation, we would have gone on swearing that an aircraft attack had been under way. I am not deriding anybody's mistakes in these matters, but I do say that it is becoming increasingly important to take a look at the quality of information coming from the Services. After our recent experiences here, we need to ask whether instant honesty to a civilian Minister is what we get from the Service chiefs or whether they regard a civilian Minister as merely an interfering civilian probing into a private domain.

It is the assessment of the situation in Vietnam itself that leaves something to be desired in the way of a change in the Government's thinking. We remember very well that Lord Casey came back from Vietnam at a stage when the Government's policy was to support the French, and told us that the French were about to smash the Reds at Dien Bien Phu - the Reds including all the people who are now in the South Vietnamese Government. I have not any doubt that if the United States had recently launched 50,000 troops into Indonesia at the stage when it was very close to a Communist takeover, instead of leaving the situation to be dealt with by the people of Indonesia themselves, we would have had the complications of people wondering, as they did in Vietnam, whether they should support the Europeans or whether, on a national basis, they should expel the foreigner. This was the sort of problem with which Ngo Dinh Diem and all sorts of other people were presented as long as this Government supported France's attempt to restore its authority in Vietnam. Afterwards, we ceased to call them 'Reds' and we became allied with some of them. Let us at least be modest about our assessment of where allegiances lie in Vietnam and let us recognise that we are dealing with a foreign country with a way of thinking that is very alien to our own. Let us realise that we need to be very careful in our assessment o"f what the people of Vietnam may or may not be thinking.

A distinguished anthropologist, who speaks Vietnamese perfectly and who has lived for many years in Vietnam, contends that it is basic to the thinking of the Vietnamese that a legitimate government has a mandate from heaven and that the Government of Ngo Dinh Diem, in their view, had a mandate from heaven. The United States sent to Vietnam a mischief making ambassador who went into collusion with those responsible for the overturning of the Diem Government. Whatever were its Weaknesses, what is undoubted is that it lasted for 9 years and that it had needed no outside support apart from that of a handful of military advisers. Since its overturn, we have been committed increasingly to supporting a government in South Vietnam. If that is a sign of increasing allegiance among the South Vietnamese people to the Government that has replaced the administration of Ngo Dinh Diem, it is indeed a very surprising sign of increasing allegiance. We have the testimony of Wilfred Burchett, a Communist journalist, who was present with Hb Chi Minh when the news of the overturning of Ngo Dinh Diem came through. According to Burchett, Ho said to him: T would never have believed that the Americans could be so stupid'. We have Burchett's testimony also that the President of the National Liberation Front said to b.im: 'The death qf Diem is manna from heaven for us. It dismantles the youth organisation, the women's organisation, the intelligence system and the structure of allegiance in South Vietnam.' We have no idea where allegiances lie, and for a very long time we have not had much idea where they lie. The present United States Government cannot, apparently from motives of pride, disengage, and disengagement undoubtedly is fraught with the prospect of devastating effects on morale in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and South East Asia generally. Disengagement will come only from the defeat of Lyndon Baines Johnson - it would be only doubtful then - and, failing that, the war may continue to the destruction of the resources and people of South Vietnam in the name of saving them.

Johnson had no responsibility for the overthrow of Diem or for the whole background of United States policy from 1945 on. Here is a curious pattern in United States policy. The Americans first of all prevented the French from going back into Indo-China. As a result, the Japanese surrendered their arms to Ho Chi Minh. The Americans then decided that Ho was a Communist, and the French had to fight him when he was established. Precisely the same sort of thing happened with Chiang Kai-shek. The Americans insisted that he should take the Communists into his Government. At a later stage, they reversed their policy. At present, it is American arms that are going to the guerilla forces in Africa. No doubt, at some later stage, there will be another reversal of American policy. Johnson is, however, the architect of the policy of matching manpower in Asia. We follow because the United States has replaced the British Empire as the safeguard and in our minds, at any rate, as the soporific for our fears. Policy has lacked the motive of caring about the people of South Vietnam. Instead, consistently since 1945 we have been involved in a policy of manipulating regimes - a policy of manoeuvring the French into returning and then manipulating, one after another, the regimes that have been established in South Vietnam. There is a prospect of 20 years of war arising out of Lodge's connivance at the destruction of Diem. He not only jeopardised South Vietnam; he jeopardised Laos and Cambodia. The Maoist form of guerilla warfare is ideal for attrition. Guerilla warfare in Malaya involved security forces outnumbering terrorists by 18 to 1) and this was when the British bad the government in its hands and when Malaya's borders were sealed against assistance to the Communists. The extension of Mao's form of warfare can involve the West in endless demands for manpower.

I would have liked to deal with the Minister's comment on the nonproliferation treaty. The difficulty that faces us is simply this: Who in the long run will accept the view of certain great powers that, if they possess the nuclear weapon, it is a deterrent but, if others possess it, it is a danger? That is what we are saying to India and to many other nations. The great powers manifest to the whole world that they do not trust' each other and then invite the rest of the world to trust them in the non-proliferation treaty. It is extremely doubtful that countries such as India could be induced to surrender a diplomatic initiative and put themselves under the protection of other powers by denying themselves nuclear weapons. There is nothing for it but to go for a real disarmament, not for a situation in which a selection of powers possess nuclear weapons and another selection do not.







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