Vietnam…Putting Some Of The Worms Back Into The Can


by Ed Mattson


Last week when my articles took us back to the Vietnam War, I figured it would open a can of worms for some, but for others it would be shedding the light of truth on an era in our history that many would just as soon forget. 

Unfortunately forgetting about history is the real problem that nations face when its population loses track of its past and events are allowed to be swept under the rug.  I wrote about this in other articles during the year when discussing World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Did Germany learn anything from World War I? Did the Allied nations learn about the errors of their ways when their post World War I policies strangled the German population creating a pathway to complete destruction with the rise of Adolph Hitler? Such repercussions are always the result of forgotten history and often can be directly traceable to revisionist history.

Surely if World War I was “The war to end all wars”, there should have never been another war, but in just less than two decades the world would once again be embroiled in a war that would take nearly 50,000,000 lives, about 30% more than the lives lost in World War I (38 million lives lost). The death tolls from World War II was 2.5% of the world population, which is the equivalent of killing off 10% of the entire population of today’s North American Continent.

Does war ever solve a situation? Perhaps history will one day come up with the answer to that question, but certainly many of the wars that have been fought since time began could have been avoid.  Sadly many have been forced upon the world to stop ethnic cleansing, territorial expansion, and just plain old evil. I would place into evidence that free societies seldom ever go to war with each other but are dragged into war to stop aggression and man’s inhumanity to man.

Australian soldiers are our brothers

Politicians seem to be the root cause to all wars from the research I have done, yet they are seldom held accountable except those on the losing side. “To the victor goes the spoils” has been attributed to Senator William Marcy in 1831 or 1832, though I am sure it was uttered many decades before 1832 by others. Among those “spoils” would have to be the ability of the victor to inflict retribution to the losing side, and generally the harsher the sanctions, the more likelihood of future conflict and bitterness.

Going back to the Vietnam War was a risky undertaking because that war of all the wars in which Americans have been asked to fight, was so much more unsettling than others because it tore our country apart. Initially what was a noble effort with a fairly well defined goal soon became a misunderstood venture with no leadership and political willingness to win. It turned citizen against citizen and fostered a hateful mistrust of our returning troops who were mere pawns to be sacrificed by a government which refused to listen to the military which had to fight the battles. There have been thousands of books written about the Vietnam and virtually every subject has been covered at least a dozen times, but nobody has really been able to make a case for singling out the military and the treatment they had to endure upon their return stateside.

Is it any wonder many Veterans have not been able to get over the disgrace to which they were subjected, the battles they have experienced in dealing with the Veterans Administration to get the treatment they were promised, and then have to battle the politicians who are more willing to cut Veterans benefits in favor of providing more handouts to a segment of the population not willing to earn it for themselves.  Yet even today the figures contained in the documents I have listed below, say that more than 70% would be willing to still fight for our country so that their children wouldn’t have to. Even more surprising, as the years have come and gone even the most vehemently angry Veterans are coming to terms with living with the truth about Vietnam and their role in a war that had such a catastrophic ending.

The Australian Vietnam Veteran has to work his way to respect, just like the American Vet

The name calling has pretty much ceased as we learned there were probably fewer atrocities than many other conflicts, less civilian casualties, more acts of bravery (240 Medal of Honor recipients), more actual days under fire for US infantry than any war  that can be remembered (the average infantryman saw about 240 days of combat in a year’s deployment versus 40 for the average GI in World War II), and a far lower percentage of American youth conscripted than World War II. There was nothing extraordinary about the “conditions of the war” that made it exceptional other than the politicians who simply didn’t have the will to win. The anger was directed to the troops when in fact, it should have been directed at the politicians.

In my articles I related to a number of facts which the media and revisionist historians have gotten all wrong. I cited the numbers and footnoted the sources in my column but I still received many letters wanting further clarification and some even doubting the records presented. Many of our military brothers have slipped to such low state of self esteem from what was written about Vietnam that I promised more documentation. What I believe to be good therapy and interesting reading is listed below, and I hope the Veterans who are in doubt will review them. The Vietnam Veteran did his/her noble best that is on par with every war in which any American has ever participated. There should be no sense of shame and only contempt of our political leaders at the time.

Brief history of the war including the politics –

The War, by the numbers –

General Giap ready to call it quits following the Tet Offensive –

Australian Colonel’s take on The Tet Offensive –

10th grade Australia student essay of the Vietnam War –

A parallel to the American role in Vietnam is that of the Australian-New Zealand Army Forces known as ANZAC.  Having a population of about 20 million in 1960, the countries of Australia and New Zealand participated significantly  in the Vietnam War  based on their total population. Of the 60,000 troops they sent into Southeast Asia, most were conscripted (drafted) into what the Aussie’s call, National Service.  Most Americans were totally unaware that it wasn’t just the US military doing the job, but that the ANZAC troops made their mark as well. I point this out because their citizens went through the same cycle of what occurred in the United States with first support and then disapproval by most folks. I also think they have been able adjust a little better and faster than Americans.

Initially, at the close of hostilities, the treatment of their returning veterans was about the same as it was for our troops in most major cities, but in the smaller towns and rural areas it wasn’t nearly as bad, probably much like many towns in America which we never heard about from our biased press. All we ever heard was the cry of “baby killer” in our major cities, but many smaller towns were just glad to have our troops come home, yet the stigma created by the radicals, had a long lasting effect on those in the military for decades to come.

For our Vietnam Veterans who feel isolated and despondent over their participation in the war, it might be somewhat comforting to know the Aussie troops went through much the same including their issues with PTDS and Agent Orange. Also like in the US, the passing of time has healed many old wounds and after the years people are starting to accept Vietnam veterans once again. They finally got to settle the bitter memories of the 60’s and 70’s and there is finally a resurgence in the pride they have in their military which, like America, has a long history of excellence and respect. As most Aussie’s say, “The legend is starting to intensify in the hearts of Australians once again”.

Many things are being remembered today as part of the parades and of those who fought in the War that the ANZAC legend, “still stands for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat.” These were war correspondent, Charles Bean’s, words about the ANZAC and its ever-living legacy. He went on to say he truly believes that war is destructive to the heart and mind and that the good we as humans get out it is what we do to help each other…Vets talking to Vets!

Like the US military ANZAC troops have a proud tradition and the Australians have come to realize that in Vietnam the soldiers still went into battle and fought courageously as they have done since they became a nation, often alongside Americans, and that despite political decisions beyond their control the legend has been reaffirmed through the humanitarian deeds that present-day forces are doing around the world. “They have supported each other in difficult situations like their fathers and helped those who are oppressed or in difficult situations, yet many veterans have retreated into a world of almost hysterical bitterness, disillusionment, anger, guilt and sickness toward their government”.

In closing, I hope those who have had a difficult time adjusting the reception they received coming home, can take some solace in the fact that you were not along, but can also take comfort in knowing, like your Australian brothers in arms, that the public is wising up to the fact that you did your job and it was the governments’ fault things turned out the way they did.


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Following his service in the Marine Corps Ed Mattson built a diverse career in business in both sales/marketing and management. He is a medical research specialist and published author. His latest book is Down on Main Street: Searching for American Exceptionalism Ed is currently Development Director of the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program, Fundraising Coordinator for the Warrior2Citizen Project, and Managing Partner of Center-Point Consultants in North Carolina. Mr. Mattson is a noted speaker and has addressed more than 3000 audiences in 42 states and 5 foreign countries. He has been awarded the Order of the Sword by American Cancer Society, is a Rotarian Paul Harris Fellow and appeared on more than 15 radio and television talk-shows.