Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 28 March 1968


Mr ARMSTRONG (Riverina) - Mr Deputy Speaker,one thing has impressed me since I have been a member of this House. Having served in the Army for 6 years and reached field rank, I am amazed at how few strategists I knew in the Army and how many are here. I propose to devote my remarks almost exclusively to the matter that most of all is agitating the minds of Australians and almost all other people in the world - the situation in Vietnam. I believe that there is a crisis at hand - not at the military level, but at the political level. I suggest that the one man who is probably more interested in seeing Robert Kennedy win the Presidential election in the United States of America than is anybody else is Ho Chi Minh. Political factors have become the dominant factors in Vietnam. They override the military ones. The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross), my friend and travelling partner, and a man for whom I have great respect as an opponent, said that no member of his Party takes any satisfaction from the dilemma of the United States in South Vietnam. He said he hoped that the Americans would not leave the country. I suggest that nothing could contribute more to that end than does the continuous, poisonous propaganda that is sapping the will of some of the Americans and breaking down their resolve to persist in the great battle that they are waging.

What is being done to win the war? Much is being done to win it. And a lot is being done to win the peace. The object of this conflict is not merely to win a war or destroy anything; it is to establish the peace. If we were to stop talking defeat, we would make a greater contribution than we make by continually talking as if defeat were inevitable. Stop the bombing of North Vietnam, it is said. But this would take away the only tactical advantage that the allies have over the Communists. Endeavour to negotiate, it is said. Negotiate, of course, but wilh whom? Who has shown a willingness to negotiate? There has been a marked pause in the bombing of North Vietnam on a number of occasions - once for 38 days- but there has been no sign whatever that the North Vietnamese would come to the conference table and negotiate. If we believe that this is an isolated war and that it is not part of a far broader picture, we have only to see the maps that the Chinese themselves issue. They show the Chinese area of influence as embracing Turkestan, Mongolia, South East Asia and many of the islands adjacent to Australia.

I do not have the time to go into the details of this aspect and I do not want to devote my time solely to correcting statements that have been made by honourable members on the other side. However, I want to say that the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) delivered a speech before dinner that the troops in Vietnam would be very interested to read. He said that the success of the Tet offensive had been greatly understated. My friend and colleague, the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), referred to the whole strategy of the war. It is true that the Tet offensive seemed to meet with some success, but the winning of one battle does not necessarily mean the winning of the war. As the honourable member for Indi said, while the Communists have complete and unfettered sanctuary in areas of Cambodia and Laos, the allied forces face an impossible task. Anybody who suggests that the troops in Vietnam should fight a holding war does not know anything about military tactics. How can troops hold an area unless they can patrol and control the area adjacent to it? In addition to this, enemy naval vessels have absolute immunity while they are outside the 12 miles limit and they can come in at night to supply the Communists. Our vessels must patrol a coast that is 1,000 miles long but which is actually about five times this distance if the contours of the foreshore are followed. I share the opinion of my honourable friend that, while this situation prevails, the war will be just a stalemate.

General Westmoreland did not say that the Vietcong and the Vietnamese were run down and were failing. He said that the war was being won, but nobody said that this would not be a difficult war to win. It will take a Iona time to win the war and will take even longer to establish peace throughout the country. Lieutenant-Colonel Charlesworth did hot say that the pacification plan had not been successful. He was reported to have said that he was very upset to learn that a village that had been under our control had been re-entered by some Vietcong and he had lost a soldier when the Australians returned. In such a war as this, it is impossible to prevent infiltration. We have heard mention of the success of the Tet offensive. The Cambodian areas are very close to Saigon. Within a few minutes of taking off from Tan Son Nhut aerodrome, areas of Cambodia can be seen. They are covered with dense jungle. Whole divisions could form up there and could be in Saigon within 24 hours. This should give honourable members some idea of the problem in Vietnam. It is no surprise that in these circumstances Saigon could be raided.

One of the most dangerous aspects of the situation is the continuous propaganda war that is waged by a wide spectrum of people. It is far more effective than bullets. With the greatest respect to . you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and your calling in private life, the propaganda comes from people ranging from violent Communists to naive clergymen. It undermines confidence. Resolute determination is shaken by statements that the war is bogged down. This propaganda only prolongs the war, with consequent heavy loss of life and destruction of property. The enemy is happy to learn of this defeatist attitude. What is happening in Vietnam? Considerable progress has been made. From July 1965 until probably November or December of that year, the war had been virtually won by the Communists but they did not realise the extent of their control. At that time they were poised outside many of the large cities and towns. They had complete control of Route 19, which cuts the country in half and they had much greater control in the Mekong delta, which is the country's rice bowl, than they have ever had since then. Much has been achieved in the last 2i years. We have given the South Vietnamese some hope, and they did not have any hope in 1965. We have, in addition, given them the will to resist. We have given confidence to the people of other South East Asian nations, and this is a vital factor.

What would happen if the United States pulled out of South Vietnam? We would lose the confidence not only of that country but of all South East Asian countries. Where would we be then? That is the question I pose to all those strategists who talk about the work of General Westmoreland and General Johnson disparagingly. Where would Australia be now? Where would our women and children of this generation be and what would happen to future generations if the United States were to forsake this area? Australia has, by its efforts, won the respect and friendship of the people of South East Asian nations. Above all, the efforts in South Vietnam since 1965 gave the anti-Communist forces in Indonesia the heart to resist Communism. Communism failed to reign supreme in Indonesia in October 1965 by only a hair's breadth. Sufficient publicity has not been given to the narrow escape that that country had from Communism.

The attempt of the Communists to gain control was planned most carefully. The action was timed for midnight on 30th September. It commenced with the abduction of the generals. The Army was the only really effective anti-Communist force, although it had a strong Communist influence in it. Sukarno's palace guards went in covered trucks to the residences of the eight generals. Each truck contained between forty and fifty armed members of the Young Communist movement. My colleague, the honourable member for Indi,' mentioned this. General Nasution's daughter was murdered and he escaped after having been shot in the ankle. But the important factor and the one that saved the antiCommunist force was General Suharto's absence from his home. Before he could be located, the Communist trap had been sprung and an announcement had been made over the radio that the coup had been successful. General Suharto was able to seclude himself, gather his loyal officers together, collect his troops and take action to restore this situation. If he had not been able to do so, it is not too fanciful to say that Communism would have reigned supreme in Indonesia until the present time and would have been difficult to dislodge.


Mr Anthony - It was all planned from Peking.


Mr ARMSTRONG - That is so. I want to refer briefly to the proposition put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) that a Vietnamese woman spy who, without question, had been active in supplying information that led to the deaths of eighteen Australians, should have been brought to Australia to give evidence.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member is now referring to a previous debate in this House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!There is no substance in the point of order.


Mr Hansen - On a point of order, I ask whether the honourable member is allowed to put his own interpretation on statements that appear in newspapers.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The point of order is not upheld.


Mr ARMSTRONG - If the statement was not correct, the Leader of the Opposition had the right to deny it. I will pay him the courtesy of saying that that was the statement he was reported in the Press as having made and he has never denied it. The proposition was that this woman should be brought to Australia to give evidence against Australian serving soldiers.

A highly accredited and notable correspondent, Mr Geoffrey Fairbairn, who has spent some time in South East Asia, speaking at a meeting of the Canberra branch of the Defend Australia Committee about 10 days ago made several very pertinent observations. It is claimed that he has spent as much time with the South Vietnamese Army as has any other correspondent. He said that the South Vietnamese are fighting courageously, are well trained and well disciplined and that their numerical losses from desertion are comparatively small when all circumstances are considered. But he said that they have suffered more casualties and have inflicted more casualties on the enemy than all other forces in South Vietnam put together.


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Rubbish.


Mr ARMSTRONG - Of course, the honourable member for Hindmarsh would know more about military strategy and tactics than anybody. Mr Fairbairn made a telling reference, in view of what I have been saying, to the attitude of many journalists in South Vietnam when he said that there were many of them, unfortunately a lot British, who did not want the United States to win. They may not have wanted the United States to lose, but they did not want it to win. Fortunately this is not the attitude of all British journalists. I would like to read to the House an extract from an article which appeared in the London Daily Mail' in February this year. It read:

It is not, I believe, too fanciful to describe the battle as potentially one of the major turning points of civilisation, and to think of General Westmoreland and his men in the way that, with the perspective of history to aid us, we think of Leonidas and the Spartans at Thermopolae, John Sobieski facing the Turks at the gates of Vienna, or Lord Dowding and Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain.

For each of those battles changed the face of the world for the better; or rather, prevented others from changing it for the worse.

And so it may be at this moment in Vietnam. The war there is confused and horrible; its aims blurred, its methods savage, its cost in innocent blood uncountable. But if it is lost, if the Americans finally get tired of doing the world's work for nothing but the world's abuse, if South Vietnam is left to its fate, then what will follow is not merely the piecemeal engulfing of the rest of South East Asia.

What will follow, as surely as Austria followed the Rhineland, and Czechoslovakia followed Austria, and Poland followed Czechoslovakia, and six years of world war followed Poland, is a nuclear confrontation on a global scale between the forces at present engaged in one tiny corner of the globe.

Referring to the Americans, the article reads:

They are there because they know that, where aggression is concerned, the appetite doth grow by what it feeds on; and because they therefore know that, however great the price of the war in Vietnam, it is still less than would be the price of the war we will all one day have to fight elsewhere if it is lost.

I propose to read now from a report which appeared in the Melbourne 'Herald' on 27th March. The report dealt with some comments made by former United States President Eisenhower. The report reads:

Calling for an immediate end to the activities of 'militant peace-at-any-price groups,' the former President said:

There is no reason to tolerate this arrogant flouting of the law. It could be stopped - and should be stopped - at once. Their action is not honourable dissent. It is rebellion and verges on treason.'

He described the so-called 'domino theory' - that other South East Asian countries would fall to Communism if the US withdrew from Vietnam - as frightfully correct'.

He firmly supported constructive negotiation to end the war, but said North Vietnam had made it emphatically clear that 'it wants no negotiation - except on terms which would mean our complete capitulation'.

It is probable that the behaviour of the dissenters themselves is making honourable negotiation impossible', he said, because 'their words give aid and comfort to the enemy and prolong the war'.

The United Kingdom is leaving South East Asia and, I believe, will not return. Even if it were willing the United Kingdom does not have the capacity to reinforce Australia except in a minor way. So our immediate aims in this area must be to help India; to help to raise and to maintain the social and economic capacity of South East Asian nations; to help to raise Indonesia to as high a standard of social and economic stability as possible; to continue to assist in New

Guinea. But none of these things is possible except within the security of the United States of America.







Suggest corrections