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Long Tan and Short Memories

November 22, 2006

Yesterday the Australian Prime Minister of Australia laid a wreath at the site of the Long Tan battlefield in southern Vietnam. It is rightly famous for the Australian infantry who beat off more than 2000 enemy.

There are criticisms by Australian veterans about how this battle was forgotten, nay even rebuffed by those in government at the time. That veterans received inappropriate, or worse, no recognition at all for their efforts. They accuse various governments of short memories.

But there are other short memories about that war that we should be thankful for. Visit Vietnam and discover how few are aware of the war. Vietnam has one of the highest under 25 year old populations in the world. And they are all hell bent on securing the materialistic future they see in the Western media. Drink at Starbucks, ride the latest Japanese motorbike, shop for the latest fashions and have the latest accessories. Some have never heard of the war of aggression we call the Vietnam War.

More remarkable is the handful of Vietnamese you might be fortunate enough to meet who hold no grudges despite their losses – material, social, filial, fiscal. And mental. I met an amazing woman we simply called Grandma who had fought the French, fought the Americans, lived in the Cu Chi tunnels, fought the Cambodians in 1979 (she lives on their border near the “Parrots Beak”.) On occasions she helps coach junior diplomats from the US Embassy. They know nothing of her background until the end of their time with her, when she takes them through a review of her martial life.

The impact is dramatic, and was for us too as she laid out her experiences with great pathos and compassion and humanity. What a remarkable thing to discover that in someone who had every human reason to harbour a grudge was a person who held no grudges. Resented no foreigner. Only wanted to build opportunities for her children and grandchildren.

We go to Vietnam today with something of a self conscious cringe, hoping they will not resent our visit. Worried about what they might think about those of us coming from aggressor nations that killed more then three million of their citizens. They welcome us with open arms, great humour, an earnest desire to know about us, to practise their English. And take our money. But through their open honesty and driving passion to build their nation they remove our cringe. A humbling experience, built on their thankfully very short memories.

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