In 1969, Major D.K. Atkinson of the Australian Army suggested that Vietnam might be “The Unwinnable War” in the pages of the RMCS Journal, the professional magazine of the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham, UK. (Now — God help us — an institute of defense management). His British peers at the college, and the journal editor, had pestered him for insights about Vietnam. Turns out, he had them — he was straight off a tour in-country as an operations officer with the Royal Australian Regiment — but he also had insights that are just as functionally utilitarian today. For example, one of the downsides of a free press:
It is the lack of definition of terms and a lack of public education in the United States and in Australia which may prevent us from winning. Peace is an attractive word to everyone but does the word mean the same thing to a Communist Party member and to the well-meaning clergyman marching beside him in the same demonstration? It is in this field that national mass communications media can he of the greatest assistance, or do the most harm. At the moment. through either deliberate editorial policy, ignorance. or a plain desire to make money. the press inhibits our capacity to win.
An example of distorted reporting was the Viet Cong Tet offensive in January and February 1968. The majority of enemy objectives were known and allied forces were redeployed to meet the threat approxi- mately one week prior to the offensive. The 1st Australian Task Force moved from its normal base area in Phuoc Tuy province to cover approaches to Bien Hoa approximately 100 kilometres away. The ofiensive was a military disaster for the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. Returning from the operation after three weeks we had our first opportunity to read the world press. There was no doubt that by incompetent. inaccurate and hysterical reporting we s u l k e d a propa- ganda defeat. A typical example of the irresponsibility of the press was a front page headline in a Melbourne paper – ‘Australian Battalion Wiped Out.’ The three paragraph report gave details of a supposed action in which 7 RAR had been lost. The last sentence admitted that the report was unconfirmed. In fact, the battalion had five men killed.
He goes on to describe actions in country, including a day-long fight when an Australian unit thought it had latched on to a local force VC company, but had actually come to grips with a main force NVA battalion.
And he goes out with another poke at the media:
One of the first Viet Cong acts in the attack on Saigon was the ruthless massacre of the families of South Vietnamese soldiers in a barracks there. Presumably this act of terrorism was designed to further destroy the morale of the army. I saw many photographs of buildings full of slaughtered women and children; of soldiers crying over the dead babies in their arms. I didn’t see any of these pictures published in the national press. What I did see was the photograph of the Police Chief summarily executing a Viet Cong. It was not a nice picture and was extensively used in anti-war propaganda. But what that picture did show was the hate, the fury, the ruthless determination of these people to rid their country of the terrorists, stand-over men and murderers that are the Viet Cong.
Maybe one of our down-undrian readers can explain what a “stand-over man” is.
In the end, of course, the USA, Australia, and most of all the RVN all lost. Re-education camps, Montagnard massacres, and the Boat People all lay ahead.
The quotes are from Australian Army Journal, No. 253 (June, 1970), in which Maj. Atkinson’s article is reprinted on pp. 3-8. (Here’s a link to the magazine in .pdf).
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.
17 thoughts on “Insight on the Media from Australia in 1969”
An Aussie “Stand-Over Man” is a colloquialism for someone who extorts money through intimidation-I.E., “Nice business ya got here, friendo… Pity if something were to happen to it…”.
I disagree with the appraisal that the Vietnam War was unwinnable. This has become a common line with the assholes of the world, and it’s a perfect rendition of the “Big Lie”.
Vietnam was a won war, when we left. The South Vietnamese threw back the Easter Offensive in ’72, with US help. The ARVN stood fast, and destroyed an NVA invasion force that had more armor in it than the Germans took into France in 1940, with our air support working closely with them, and our resupply efforts. In ’74, that fucking filth Teddy Kennedy led the move in Congress to zero out the funds we were providing, and disregard our treaty obligations to our ally for air support. Following that, the re-supplied NVA came south again, and won handily. Many ARVN troops were down to a magazine or two of ammunition, and had no other choice than to flee.
Our defeat was never military; maybe the war effort in South Vietnam was inept, but we still won. Where we lost the war was in the halls of Congress, and those sorry fucks like Kennedy who got us into that war in the first damn place. 50,000+ American lives, pissed away by the Democrats. The fact that we were ever even in Vietnam was a Democratic Party choice, one that they rammed through the government over the objections of the Joint Chiefs. And, then, having pissed away untold amounts of money and all those lives, they betrayed every one of those servicemen and women, our allies, and the South Vietnamese people. If there’s any justice in the afterlife, Teddy-boy is currently taking it up the ass in an eternal North Vietnamese Re-Education Camp.
No, the war was not “unwinnable”. The historic fact was, we won it. What we then did was piss it away, by betraying our solemnly sworn word to our ally. For current examples, see “Iraq”, and “Afghanistan”.
A long time ago, back during the Jurassic Clinton Era, I knew a guy who was an avowed Scoop Jackson Democrat. Good guy, but when he aspired to higher things in his party, he went back east to some function run by the Clinton crowd. He came back from that trip a changed man, and cut all ties with the Democratic Party. I don’t know what he saw or experienced, but he did venture one bitter remark about the Democrats: “One day, we’ll be hunting those f**kers through the streets with dogs… And, they’ll deserve it…”.
Actually, read Atkinson’s report. He actually contrasts the public (media-generated) perception of the war as unwinnable with an explanation that “things must be done to win, and those include…” I’m sure if he’s still with us, he’s another 60- or 70-something Vietnam vet who feels a bit backstabbed by the home front.
As I said in one of my previous rants, (Don’t worry Hog, I am sober at the moment)
We won in Tet. Had we followed up….well, yeah. Y’know how that goes.
Dead nuts right Kirk, I have been saying the same thing to people for years, Especially to the assholes who just repeat the party line that the war was a lost cause. The war was won, Most of the country was pacified and life was going on back to normal and VN was starting to become a success, There would have been fighting off and on, but it was good. Further more Nixon , if he had just went a little further with those bombings, Hanoi was truly on the verge of announcing that they quite, Many of the leaders from the time admit it.
It was lost by the democrats, Hell JFK even OKed the coup of the President they had that knew exactly what had to be done, Its a damn shame DIem is still vilified. The left of this country promised those people everything and that we would always be there for them. Then betrayed them and left them to an unimaginable fate. They deserved so much better, Just look at what the 18th Div did on their own at the end, With ammo allowance reduced to 3 rounds of 556 a day for each man. its hard to imagine how they must have felt at the end looking to the sky waiting for the much promised American tactical air to arrive..
The the horror of Cambodia and Laos, After all the leftwing intellectuals laughed at the domino theory. Not many of them speaking up after their simple farmers revolt ended. As Nixon himself said. He no one ever tried to escape INTO North Vietnam,
Now we get to see the same thing play out all over again in the Middle East. Its like those idiots in DC have never once in their lives read a book. it is truly amazing how they do the same thing over and over, Betray people they swore they would help, and leave them to a horrid fate over and over.
The Viet Nam War was not lost by the Democrats. It was unilaterally surrendered by the Democrats. Pure, plain, and simple.
Of course, it did not help much that the Nixon/Kissinger treaty forced upon the South left the NVA in place, in the South, armed and ready to carry on the fight at a latter time (but not too much later).
So a pox on both political parties for their moral cowardice.
Other than that, I agree with you 100%.
I would have to say you could change the names and dates to reflect the past 16 years and it would describe the media and the Cosmos/Progressives/Tranzis statements and reports.
Pop said when he left in ’74, we were winning.
I same similar things about Iraq and Afghanistan.
He carried an XM-117 and wore his sleeves on his flight suits rolled up.
I carried an M-4 and would roll my sleeves up whenever I could get away with.
Everything changes and nothing changes.
You wouldn’t let your mates down until they had you dusted off.
you sure your Dad didnt carry a XM177?
Oops. Bourbon and touch screen tablet keyboards while watching the Braves don’t mix.
Yes, I meant -177. Or an Ithaca M-37 on occasion.
“The majority of enemy objectives were known and allied forces were redeployed to meet the threat approxi- mately one week prior to the offensive.”
That was a surprise to me. I have a thing for the ‘My Year in VN’ genre of autobiographies – I must have read a few dozen over the years. I would swear the usual reaction to TET was ‘we had no idea’, with the occasional ‘we had a few indications something was up, but nothing on the scale of Tet’. Is that because the books I’ve read are by lower ranking – mostly junior enlisted, with a smattering of LT’s and CPT’s, and the Big Picture didn’t filter down?
Stand over man ie you are bleeding on the ground if you don’t do what the thug’s boss wants you to do! Most Aussie slang is pretty descriptive!
Also known as a toecutter from one of their favourite persuasion methods. See Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read…
I met Chopper once, a long story but very funny. For such an evil person he was actually quite nice to speak with.
All day long the noise of battle, Gerard Windsor
Pretty sure the day long firefight with an NVA battalion that you mention is the topic of this book.
Great read – as much for the way it deals with the tricks that time plays on memory as for the battle description itself.
My dad explained to me once in a sneared low voice that I’d never heard before “the damn hippies are the reason we lost the war”.
The film *Danger Close* about the Australian Task Force battle at Long Tan in August of 1966 is about due out, and btw, that anniversary is coming up next month. The movie’s website, and an accompanying trailer *sizzle reel* [not *exactly* clips from the actual movie footage, so pay no attention to M1 Garands seen here and there] can be seen here to give those with a limited imagination some idea about what it’s like when an Australian company of a hundred guys or so run into 2500 NVA in a rubber plantation. http://dangerclosemovie.com/
Anyway, history tells us. The Diggers cleaned their clocks. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0441881/
There’re some typos in the second paragraph of the first block quote caused by PDF copy paste felgacarb. Should be “suffered a propaganda defeat”.
For who’s responsible for the Vietnam War bugout, see SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, by James Webb for what the ’74 Congressional Democrats did.
For the propaganda victory, see the current Wikipedia on Nguyễn Ngọc Loan shooting of Nguyễn Văn Lém which makes it pretty clear that it was the shootee that was the war criminal.