An uneasy legacy: Vietnam veterans and Australian society

Hiddlestone, Janine Francis (2004) An uneasy legacy: Vietnam veterans and Australian society. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

The Vietnam War is remembered more for the controversy than the war itself. This has contributed to the stereotyping of the war and those who fought in it. War is always political in nature, but the politics of the Vietnam War provided a series of distinctive complications that heralded a divergence from Australia's traditional approaches to war and remembrance.

This thesis examines the origins, veracity and consequences of the veteran stereotypes. It uses a range of sources, including documents, film, and interviews to explore the experience of veterans since the war ended – and ultimately their struggle to find a suitable place in Australian history. There is a methodological focus on oral history, based on a group of veterans in the North Queensland region. The study finds that there is neither a simple nor a single explanation, but rather a series of events, decisions and outcomes accumulating over a period of time. Veteran-related issues emerged initially in the United States of America, but this does not indicate that they were purely American problems and responses. Rather, the issues were addressed there first. The relative size of the different veteran populations played an important role, with the Australian contingent smaller and more widely spread, geographically. However, some of the more extreme images emanating from the US were applied to the emerging representations in Australia. The impact of those stereotypes is complex: while they were most often a burden to veterans, they could also offer some advantages, being concurrently helpful and hurtful. This made finding a suitable identity problematic, as few veterans wanted to identify with the stereotypes, but nonetheless sometimes found themselves trapped by them.

Rather than discovering the popularly perceived group of disturbed malcontents, however, the broad scope of the sources (particularly the interviews) revealed a group of men searching for an historical context into which to place their experiences both during the war and in the following years. The evidence revealed a group of average Australians who, for a period thirty years ago, were asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. The interviews offered the opportunity to provide context to a difficult history, contributing not only to the study of the conflict, but to a wider Australian public memory in a country whose war stories have had so much impact.

Item ID: 1113
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: war; Vietnam War; Australia; history; politics; Vietnam veterans; war veterans; identity
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2006
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society @ 0%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160801 Applied Sociology, Program Evaluation and Social Impact Assessment @ 0%
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