When I was at high-school in my quiet little New Zealand hometown, the Army came round each classroom every once in a while to show what a great job they were doing to defend us from the commies.
I have always remembered one swaggering staff sergeant and his corporal explaining in great detail to our class how the anti-personnel mines they used in Vietnam to fight the vietcong; or “charlie” as they liked to call them -(short for “victor charlie” or “vc”) – how our honourable soldiers would park these little green claymore mines on their scissor legs on the jungle trails with tripwires for the unwary-be they “charlie” or local peasants and their children.
Once detonated by the tripwire , the blast shot six hundred little ball bearings at deadly velocity in a 60 degree arc, shredding anything and everything in their path. Our staff-sergeant explained with a weary smile that that those cunning little charlie used to instead turn the mines around so that they sometimes shredded “our ” men instead.
Our staff-sergeant made it oh, so very clear to us , that this virtuous war in Vietnam was not just a war against the evil commies, but a war against the ‘yellow peril’ who would otherwise kill us good white folks in our beds some day.
A Harvard University study estimates that up to 3.8 million Vietnamese people died as a result of that war. A recent Guardian article says that:
The US dropped more high explosives on Vietnam than the allies used on Germany and Japan together in the second world war. It also dropped napalm jelly, which stuck to its victims while it roasted their skin; white phosphorous, which burned down to the bone; fragmentation bombs, which hurled ball bearings and steel shards in all directions; and 73m litres of toxic chemicals, including 43m litres of Agent Orange, which killed vegetation and inflicted illness on those who were exposed to it.
Infamously, the US also bombed Hanoi – a city full of civilians with no air force to defend it.
And please, make no mistake, our New Zealand government was fully aware of our complicity in these horrendous war-crimes against a people who made the mistake of wanting to kick out their colonial oppressors; the French.
And were our NZ military commanders also oblivious to the massive firebombing of every city and town in North Korea (and some South Korean cities too) during the Korean War that killed, using wild under-estimations, over one and a half million people? I think not. Were they aware of, or complicit in the extensive war crimes committed by British troops in the Malay Insurgency?
And please, let us not forget our active involvement in the capture and torture and murder of anyone who might just look like the Taleban in Afghanistan.
But of course, this has all been in the name of freedom and democracy, and of course our ANZAC nation-building exercise….
For there to be true honour for our country, we must both acknowledge and compensate for the incredible human suffering our involvement in those wars have inflicted on other peoples. Are we a brave enough nation for that?
What’s to Commemorate?