Australia’s Changing Responses in the Involvement of the Vietnam War

1 January 2017

Responses in the Involvement of The Vietnam War Australians changed their responses to our involvement in the Vietnam War for many of reasons. Australians were initially in favour of the war, but these feelings soon changed. The Media Influenced these changes in attitudes as it was the first war that had ever been televised.

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This means, Australian families were able to view every night on television what was really going on in Vietnam. This effected the Conscription Debate, which never seemed to end. It eventually discouraged the amount of support for conscription. To explore these changes in attitudes, I will be using a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald and an interview with an original founder of SOS (Save Our Sons), Jean Mclean. These influences were raised in moratorium marches which in the end made the Australian government pull out our troops from Vietnam.

Many of the population in Australia were originally in favour of the war, as many of the general public, being of the older generations, tended to accept that “the government is always right”. Many still believed in the governments claims that communism was spreading and that Australia was acting honourably in responding to the request from South Vietnam to help combat the Viet Cong. However, the 1960’s was a time of political change and people in positions of authority were being questioned. Younger age groups started to warm to this idea of questioning those in power.

With more information becoming available about the war, such as through television, young people began to push to make their own decisions, determine their own beliefs and not just follow their parents. Now imagine- you have never been to war, heard a war, nor seen a war. With the booming of technology that the 1960’s foreseen, it brought the invention of the television. Nine in ten Australian families owned one, and all of these families had the ability to freely watch live streaming footage of Vietnam.

This footage included intense visions of the horror and fear of what was really going on in in the war. The effect that this had on the public led to many of questions, questions towards how much truth was included within what the government was telling society about the war. These findings from media influences concluded in the public (being mostly of the younger generations) conducting in rallies and protests towards the government for answers. Dissent to the war was expressed in the media as well.

Individuals of the time were allowed to send letters into popular newspapers to state their opinions. A source from the Sydney Morning Herald, published in October 1966, addressed President Lyndon Johnson and his visit to Australia. This source clearly supports the idea of media influences, as it shows evidence of visuals that were shown only on the television. This anti-war emotion was eventually shared by the majority of the Australian public. This letter speaks about the president’s visit to Australia, and how his welcoming by the public was probably not as expected.

This was due to societies feelings towards him and the war. This letter then goes on to discuss that our country’s enthusiasm towards the war was very insufficient. The author of the letter states: “What ever your military advisers say, Mr President, the burning of crops, the bombing of villages, the killing of men, women and children are no way to improve a political situation . . . ”. The author is trying to get their point across through this harsh and visual statement: that what the president is condoning over in Vietnam is unethical.

This statement supports my idea of media influences effecting the changing in attitudes towards the Vietnam War as the government would certainly NOT have told the public about these war tactics. Therefore, the media would have been an information source for the author to make these assumptions, concluding in that media helped persuade the public’s decent towards the war. Now imagine- you have three sons, one deceased in war, another recently left to war and the other is in jeopardy of being conscripted into war.

With the major uproar of the conscription debate that World War I brought upon Australia, came back to haunt society. This chaos within the public by the means of the Vietnam War was uplifted with the many more freedom privileges and human rights that the 1960’s brought forward. The effect this had on the public was very debated, but the overall feeling of the anti-conscription supporters, were helped by media influences which allowed the public to see for themselves. This is in comparison with the new technology that was present in the Vietnam War, but not in the duration of WWI.

Dissent to the war was expressed in the conscription debate also. There were many of government, religious and personal groups that were formed to help in the anti-war movement and many of these focused around conscription. An interview from 1987 with one of the founding members of Save Our Sons, (Jean McLean), speaks about SOS’s success in the movement. This source clearly supports the idea of the public in time following the anti-war movement, revolving around the idea of being against conscription. This anti-war emotion was eventually shared by the majority of the Australian public.

In the duration of the interview, Jean talks about how and why the protest movement grew in Australia. Jean comments on the timeline of events within Save Our Sons and their priorities and aims: “I convened the first meeting of SOS . . . The issue of being against the war came later. These [women] were mainly against conscription as such . . . Our aims were that we were against conscription for overseas service”. Jean Mclean is trying to get her point across that the groups first intentions were not to stop the war as such, but merely put a stop to conscription in Australia.

This statement supports my idea of the conscription debate effecting the changing in attitudes towards the Vietnam War as the anti-war movement was established around the foundations of the conscription debate. Ultimately, the anti-war movement concluded in the government pulling our troops from Vietnam. Therefore, the idea of conscription caused major community out brawls within the nation which ended up gathering more support for the anti-war movement, concluding that the conscription debate helped persuade the public’s decent towards the war.

In conclusion the two factors that played major roles in the changing of attitudes towards our involvement in Vietnam, included media influences and the conscription debate. These together resulted in huge rallies and marches which forced major pressure upon the government. The Whitlam government went into power during the Vietnam War, and this was because of his assurances of the abolishment of conscription and the final withdrawal of our soldiers from Vietnam.

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