Phoebe Murray first became a client of High Performance Learning in 2007 suffering from very poor reading, writing and maths skills. After completing our Basic Language and Phonics Program and Primary School Maths Program Phoebe is now academically capable across the full range of subjects as this project she has done demonstrates.
The first part of Phoebe’s ‘War and Conflict’ assignment required her to interview someone who had memory of what life was like living through a conflict such as a war. As Phoebe said in her essay she was totally naive about the nature of war and completely unaware of conscription and the cold war.
Mr Chris Brooks’s Vietnam War Experience Unlocked
by Phoebe Murray
War has not played a big part of my life so I have not really given it much thought. I used to think that war was all about the goodies (allies) and the baddies (enemies), about people killing each other with machine guns and lots and lots of blood. The first time that I really thought about war was when I read the book ‘Boy Overboard’ by Morris Gleitzman about three years ago. At that time, I found it very hard to understand because I couldn’t understand how people could do all those things to other people. I found the book disturbing and so I haven’t given much more thought to war until this assignment.
Interview with Mr Chris Brooks
From my interview with Mr Chris Brooks I learnt that there was a cold war that lasted for approximately 40 years where the two combatants (USA and USSR) didn’t directly fight each other and that the rest of the world was terrified by the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. But what the USA and USSR did do was to support wars in other countries which Australia also got involved in. The hot war that Mr Brooks had experience with was the Vietnam War. The USSR, People’s Republic of China, Khmer Rouge, North Korea and Pathet Lao supported the North Vietnamese and the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Khmer Republic, Kingdom of Laos adn Republic of China supported the South Vietnamese. The Vietnam War was a war about communism supposedly. The USA was trying to stop communism spreading into more countries whereas the North Vietnamese were wanting to be free of external control and work out their own country themselves.
Mr Brooks told me that Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War was approximately from the mid 1960s. He told me that initially he didn’t take much interest in the War because he was still at school and he was not very good at reading. By the time he was 18 he was aware that he might need to go into the army because at that time Australia had conscription. (Conscription is compulsory military service for young men for two years and it meant that they could do overseas service.) Mr Brooks decided to write a letter explaining why he was not going to ‘register for the draft’ his main reason being he was against young men having to fight in Vietnam without choice because Vietnam was not attacking Australia rather he saw it as a civil war in another country. Mr Brooks explained that the consequence of writing this letter meant that he was automatically conscripted.
Mr Brooks told me at this time, 1969-1970, lots of people held the view that Australia should no longer be involved in the Vietnam War. He thought that this had a lot to do with the fact that this was the first war to have television coverage and that many people found the war images shocking. People could see for themselves the horrible images of civilians, children and soldiers killed or wounded and the devastation of the Vietnamese country side. The news also covered stories of protest against the war for example it showed Monks in Vietnam setting themselves alight as well as political demonstrations in Australia and USA. The TV news also showed images of captured North Vietnamese being tortured.
Mr Brooks explained that he chose to protest against the Vietnam War by ignoring his conscription orders and so had to go to court a number of times. At his first court case Mr Brooks was fined and ordered to attend a medical examination which he did not attend. The second court case saw him fined again and this time imprisoned for one week in jail. The final court case he was due to attend was to sentence him to jail for 18 months. This court case did not happen because there was a Federal election where the government was changed. The new Government changed the laws governing conscription and pardoned all draft resistors.
During this time Mr Brooks told me that he lost all of his friends and his family didn’t like to talk about it and in many ways ignored him. It also interrupted his university studies and made married life difficult for him and his new wife. I asked Mr Brooks whether he had any regrets and he said no. He explained that he was one of about one hundred young men who chose to protest in this way and he believes that they were very influential in changing Australia’s policy. He also said that he learnt from his jail experience that people in jail were just ordinary people. He went on to say that even today he still has nightmares about this time.
I was interested to learn that Mr Brooks still suffered nightmares from this time and asked him if he knew what had happened to the other young men who served in Vietnam. Mr Brooks informed me that many veterans suffered from stress related disorders because they were never really able to relax because the nature of the Vietnam War was really guerrilla warfare – the North Vietnamese soldiers often didn’t wear a uniform and often women or children led soldiers into traps. One way that the soldiers tried to relax was by using drugs. Mr Brooks explained to me that a number of Vietnam veterans had committed suicide, in fact, more than than had been killed during the war. Mr Brooks said the Vietnam veterans were also exposed to many diseases and that many had been contaminated by the defoliant Agent Orange. These veterans had higher incidence of birth defects among their children. Unfortunately, when the Vietnam veterans returned to Australia they were not greeted with a heroes welcome. Mr Brooks believed that he had suffered in a similar way psychologically as the Vietnam veterans but he hadn’t had to kill anyone and he wasn’t sprayed by Agent Orange.
After doing this interview I now see things differently. When I see images of war on the television I don’t see them in the same way. Now I think about the images as people rather than as enemies. I have also learnt that a country isn’t a thing it is a bunch of people. Countries don’t fight, people do and often people without much power have to do the fighting.