Friday, August 6, 2010
Today in History: 12 May 1971 Anti - Vietnam War Protests in Auckland, NZ...
A civic reception for 161 Battery on its return from Vietnam was disrupted by protesters who accused New Zealand soldiers of being murderers and threw red paint, symbolising the Vietnamese blood on their hands.
The Vietnam War was this country's longest and most controversial 20th-century military engagement. New Zealand's involvement aroused considerable public debate here as in other countries. One protest march in April 1971 saw up to 35,000 people take to the streets. Many protestors argued that the conflict was a civil war in which New Zealand should play no part. They wanted New Zealand to follow its own independent path in foreign policy, instead of following the decisions of others.
Between June 1964 and December 1972 nearly 3400 New Zealand service personnel served in Vietnam. Compared to the First and Second World Wars, our contribution in terms of personnel was small. At its peak in 1968 the New Zealand force only numbered 543 − 37 died while on active service and 187 were wounded.
New Zealand Prime Minister Keith Holyoake's approach to Vietnam was cautious. Under American pressure, the government agreed in 1963 to provide a small non-combatant military force. In June 1964, 25 Army engineers arrived in South Vietnam, where they were engaged in reconstruction projects, such as road- and bridge-building. In May 1965 Holyoake announced the government's decision to send 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, to South Vietnam in a combat role. The artillerymen were later joined by infantry units. The Battery returned home in May 1971 after providing virtually continuous fire support (mainly to Australian and New Zealand infantry) for six years
The artillerymen were acompanied by two military policemen, one of whom was my brother, a sergeant whom I won't name here.
Much of their time was spent in Saigon City and out in patrol. These New Zealand servicemen were respected and never ambushed by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops. NZ later sent infantrymen to Vietnam and that was the time to fight kiwi troops.
The treatment meted out to returning kiwi troops was really despicable and not really warranted. NZ troops were professional volunteers and not conscripts. However these Vietnamese War veterans were not given the respect of their forebears and suffered publicly for decades. This treatment has since been rectified by New Zealand society and these brave men now stand proudly along side all other returned servicemen in New Zealand's military history. My late brother will be very pleased with the outcome there in the Valhalla of our Scandinavian ancestors.