it's pretty ironic that it was a national government that sent nz troops to fight in the viet nam war, but it was a labour government that ended the involvement in that war and that today delivered a formal apology. i particularly liked brian rudman's take on this.
chris trotter was much more critical yesterday on radio nz. he didn't think there should have been an apology at all. his comparison was with the german soldiers of WWII who were never honoured or glorified. nor were they apologised to, because they had fought in an unjust war using cruel methods.
my own views of the viet nam war would be similar. much like WWI, this war wasn't much about freedom and democracy and all those other high ideals. individual soldiers may have believed this was so, although from the interviews i heard today, it sounded pretty much like they went because they were told to. in any case, the government of the day knew that wasn't what this particular war was about. it's just that keith holyoake didn't have the stomach of a david lange or helen clark, and wasn't able to withstand the pressure to send troops.
i don't know that the soldiers should have received a hero's welcome when they returned. again, while individual acts of heroism may have occurred, the war was not an heroic one. neither should they have suffered abuse or shame. that should have been reserved for those who made the decision to send them.
i wouldn't go as far as mr trotter. i think they did deserve an apology in terms of the failure of governments to recognise the damage caused by agent orange, and to recognise the difficulties they faced when they returned.
tariana turia goes further in requesting an apology to the people of viet nam for our involvement in that war. peace movement aotearoa are planning to send the following letter to the ambassador of viet nam:
"On the occasion of the Tribute 08 in Wellington, 30 May 2008: It is thirty three years since the war in Viet Nam ended, yet we know that Viet Nam is still feeling its effects. We citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand wish to express our sincere regret for New Zealand's participation in the war and for the suffering inflicted on the people of Viet Nam. We look forward to the New Zealand Government formally apologising to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in the near future - an apology is long overdue."
the vietnamese do need an apology. but not from us, at least not at first. and they deserve compensation. from those who made the decision to use agent orange and decimate that country and its people.
i note that peace groups are planning protests along the route of the honour march on saturday. i'm sorry, but i find this to be in bad taste. there are issues to be protested, there are matters to be raised but this is neither the time nor the place. let the vets have their day. they've been waiting a long time for this, it surely can't hurt to let them have a few events over the course of the weekend, without disruption.
the rememberence of the suffering of the people of viet nam needs to happen too. i hope that we can, as a nation, set aside a day and an event for it. if not for an apology, then at least for an acknowledgement. it's the right thing to do.