Thursday, 18 August 2016

The battle of Long Tan

was 50  years ago in a war which, like all wars, was something which should never have happened. There was supposed to be a service at the site in Vietnam today but the Vietnamese government has cancelled it at the last minute. It is causing a diplomatic rift between the two countries. The "local sensitivities" may well exist but I know that many people have returned over the years and given assistance to the local people who had no more wish to be engaged in war than the young conscripts had.
I was at school when that battle was fought. One of the former students at the school I was then attending was one of those killed in the battle.
I remember the  head, not my father at that school, coming into the assembly hall. He looked ashen and, barely in control, he told us what had happened. I know the younger students barely understood but the older students understood all too well. 
We knew that, if the war continued, then some of the boys would be called up and that they could face the same fate. I remember the boy standing next to me in assembly grabbing my hand and holding it so tightly it hurt.  There were tears, a lot of tears.
The war was still going on when I left school. It went on right through my time at teacher training college. It affected me and my family in ways that other people can only guess about. It still has an impact on us  today.
My brother registered as a "conscientious objector". He refused to be drafted. As a family we backed him. I won't describe what happens to conscientious objectors or their families. It is probably sufficient to say it is not pleasant. 
Several years later the boy I planned to marry was killed in Vietnam. We had met in London and my parents knew nothing about him. He was a young diplomat-in-training and not a combatant. The trip to Vietnam was supposed to be to a "safe" area but we had both decided to say nothing to our families until after the trip was over. Neither of us believed that anywhere in Vietnam was "safe".
It's a long time ago now. Unlike the combatants who wanted to go back and lay the ghosts to rest I have no desire to even visit Vietnam. I don't want to stand in the place where he was killed. Even if the insane man who killed him was alive I would not want to meet him.
But, I can understand the combatants desire to go. The decision of the Vietnamese government shows a lack of insight. They are building a wall instead of a bridge.

No comments: