Sunday, September 24, 2017

The same but different!!

Following on from the posting related to the physical geography of Vietnam I thought it important to do a posting on the culture of Vietnam – often what is unseen! Culture is very subtle and goes way beyond the physical aspect we often see, such a food and clothing. I really think it is important that you have a look at these sites that provide excellent information on the customs and cultural norms of Vietnam (which differ even from North to South Vietnam). It is important that we do not offend out of ignorance of the different cultural norms of a country we are visiting.

The Vietnam Airline video is worth looking at to get a feel for the culture.

Cultural Crossing is another great site to get an idea of the more subtle, unseen to the visitor aspects of the culture.

Other sites you should look at are:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A geographical perspective


Image above: Vietnam in Google Maps and the amazing Street View capacity of Google Maps,105.637318,6z

Knowing without going

What does this place we are visiting look like? The wonders of spatial technology allow us to have a look at a place in amazing details before we ever go there. I am sure all of you use Google Maps (,105.637318,6z)  all the time and know about the Street View tool that allows you to have a 360 degree look at street scenes across the world. Such scenes are usually available for settled areas in developed countries and large cities in less developed countries. As Vietnam is not a developed country (often called Least Economic Developed –LED) the Street  View coverage is generally limited to the large cities such as Ho Chi Min City and Hanoi.

To use Street View just click on the little figure at the right hand bottom of the screen and drag to a location on the map.

Remember it needs to be in the built-up area of Ho Chi Min City or Hanoi – however you will also find Street View images for Vung Tau and other places – have a play across the map to see where Street View has been developed.

 A street in Ho Chi Min City

A street in Hanoi

Vung Tau from a building

You can also get a satellite view for many of the areas we are visiting. These images are very useful to show road networks, agriculture, settlement patterns, topography (hilly or not), water bodies (rivers/swamps etc) and generally an overview of the landscape.

 Just click on the satellite box in the bottom left hand corner of the screen to turn the street map into a satellite image of the area on the screen.

I really recommend you use Google Maps and do some geography before we go – just out of interest to get an idea of the landscapes we will encounter.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Australian story

Image above: Vision from the 1968 documentary: Australian Diggers in Vietnam War.

Primary sources – propaganda or necessary communication?

Australian Diggers in Vietnam: an original source

After viewing the US focussed documentaries on the Vietnam War I thought it was worth referring you to some documentaries developed (official - funded by the Australian Government) to inform the Australian population about what our troups were experiencing and doing in Vietnam. Although rather dry, as primary sources these videos give a real insight to the attitudes and events of the time.

Australian Diggers in Vietnam is a documentary made in 1968 for publicity purposes to give insight into the Australian soldiers' experience. The film follows a group of Australian soldiers transiting into Vietnam, onto helicopter and into a contact with the VC, involving gunfire and capture of a Viet Cong fighter.

The narrator provides information about Australian and Viet Cong communications, tactics, supply lines, operational planning and other related matters. Other scenes include the gunners' command post, Army Air support, gun detachments firing, 20 pounder guns firing, river-bourne operations, troops tracking VC and wading through mud, creeks and moving through similar obstacles, use of APC's on the beach, inspecting villages for VC, detaining suspects for questioning.

This documentary covers the work of the units supporting the Australian infantry battalions in Vietnam - showing 105mm Howitzers of the artillery; Centurion tanks and M113 Armoured personnel carriers; Cessna fixed wing spotter aircraft and Sioux observation helicopters marking targets; signallers using various types of communications equipment in the field; the establishment of an artillery Fire Support Base; Bushranger gunships of 9 Squadron RAAF in action firing rockets and machine guns, the work of intelligence units; destruction of Viet Cong tunnels by the engineers; re-supply of units in the field; tanks and APCs supporting 5 RAR the battle of Binh Ba; a cordon and search of a Vietnamese village; winning the hearts and minds through the Civic Aid program; road building; repair of a bridge blown up by the Viet Cong.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The power of television!

Image above: Episodes from the series Vietnam: A Television History on YouTube.

The power of Television

It is often said that the Vietnam War was the first television war - it was televised into our lounge rooms and for the first time the community, young and old could see what war was really about. As a result, there was considerable resistance from sections of the community as the war dragged on and the images of suffering and death continued to be seen on television screens in Australia. Interestingly no war since Vietnam has had the same coverage in so much detail - compared to the censorship in other wars, including World War 1, the coverage was extensive and very real. It is worth reading the writings and viewing the photojournalism of famous Vietnam war photographers such as the Australian Neil Davis  to get an idea about how close the coverage was to the real action.

As a result of the images captured and stories told about the war the home front was informed about the nature of war more than ever before.  I wonder if WW1 and WW2 would have played out differently if we had television when they occurred?
I really recommend you view the YouTube episodes of the excellent TV Series from 1980's titled Vietnam: A Television History. Although very much focused on the US, the series provides great information and images to really make us think about their impact at the time.

As you will see above, on the right hand side of the YouTube page for the video there are plenty of great documentaries on Vietnam for you to look at and consider - some quite controversial as we continue to the write the history of the Vietnam War.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Editing history

Image above: Part of the photo of the Napalm Girl taken by Nick Ut Cong Huynh in 1972 outside the village of Trang Bang in Vietnam.

The Napalm girl (written by Cedall Slattery - teacher chaperone on the 2016 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize tour to Vietnam)

You may have seen in the news last year that the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg (along with many other leaders) accused Facebook of 'editing history' after it chose to censor the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Kim Phuc, more commonly known as 'Napalm Girl'. The image shows Kim and four other local children fleeing after a napalm bomb was dropped on her village in the south of Vietnam. As Kim is naked in the photograph, Facebook removed it in line with their Community Standards. After much debate and criticism, Facebook has now decided to allow the image to be shared, stating that 'Because of its status as an iconic image of historical importance, the value of permitting sharing outweighs the value of protecting the community by removal, so we have decided to reinstate the image on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed."

The photo was taken in 1972 and is considered a defining image of the realities and devastation of communities during the Vietnam War. Kim was just 9 years old at the time. Debate still occurs, however, regarding the power of this photo for strengthening the anti-war sentiments on the home front in USA and Australia. A simple Google search will leave you with various articles debating each side. 

The ABC's report of the Facebook censorship event (as well as a copy of the image itself) can be found here:

The photo is also on display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, which is on our itinerary to visit on Day 1. It certainly inspires a lot of discussion, particularly around the circumstances in which the bomb came to be dropped on her village of Trang Bang, and the impact of the war on locals. 

I have since taken to reading about Kim's life since the attack - it is a very fascinating story. She was inspired to study medicine after the treatment she received for her burns, but her plans were halted by the government who wanted to use her as a symbol of the war. In her 20s, she sought asylum in Canada, and has since become a citizen, and now tours the world speaking about her experience. 

She works with victims who have sustained injuries through means of attack (eg. acid attacks) to help them find forgiveness and confidence. She has also established a foundation to help child victims of war. In 2008, she read her essay "Long Road to Forgiveness" on NPR's "All Things Considered" 

A very inspiring and insightful story - thanks Cendall.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Worth thinking about

Although not only on Vietnam, I really recommend you have a look at the Veterans SA fantastic Think Piece series at

The ‘Think Pieces’ are short discussion articles written by eminent South Australians, veterans, defence personnel, military historians, authors, academics, educators, journalists and other specialists who have a particular interest and/or expertise in the Anzac Centenary and in Australia’s military history. The objective of the series is to offer different perspectives on the Anzac Centenary, its significance and meaning. Have a look at the archive of the excellent articles posted - there are plenty of great stories written since 2015 when Veterans SA started the series.
Interestingly the stories in the archives have been classified in accordance with some of the Spirit of Anzac characteristics that we have talked about during this competition.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The story of Long Tan

Image above: Commemoration ceremony and dedication of memorial cross on the site of the Battle of Long Tan.

This time last year, you may remember that the Battle of Long Tan was in the news for a range of reasons. It was the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and many Australians who travelled to the memorial site could not enter. Many of those excluded were Australian soldiers who had fought in the battle and felt somewhat disturbed that they could not commemorate their mates that fell at that spot. As always, as a contestable issue there are two sides to the story - sides that we discussed when we were in Vietnam several weeks later. As you know this is again a part of our tour and it would be great if you had some detailed background on the battle and the commemoration activities. We will be conducting a Memorial Service at the site when we visit - led by Kendal. In fact, this is the only official memorial service we participate in because there are no other memorials to Australian soldiers in Vietnam. We will however have informal moments of commemoration at nights when you present the soldier you have researched.

I recommend that you listen and/or watch the links below that provide some excellent backgrounding to the Battle of Long Tan and the controversy from last year. What do you think?