He was only nineteen
All the headlines about the war crimes in Afghanistan takes me back to when I was travelling Australia with a significantly older boyfriend in the 80’s (I mention his age as it is relevant). On approaching Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia he told me about a group of ferals the locals in Broom called 'Mung beans'. Apparently, many were Vietnam veterans. They lived in the sand dunes, and would come into town when their welfare payments were due, cash their cheques and stock up on supplies – a lot of alcohol included – and then head back to their campsite. They’d get very drunk, fight, drink some more, run out of supplies and then the cycle would all start over again.
At the time, I thought of how sad their lives must be for them to dropout so completely.
The story resonated even more because my boyfriend was also a Vietnam war veteran. He was now (was then) a director, but when drafted he was an eighteen-year-old; the eldest son of a Greek migrant family who lived in Sunshine, Melbourne. When strings were being pulled all over Australia so that young men could avoid the draft, he and young men like him found themselves being deposited into that nightmare of a war.
He recounted how the Americans took drugs, the Australians drank and there was copious pornography to keep them all occupied when the other substances wore off. Apparently, it was so lawless that the onsite officers requested of their superiors that no rank be acknowledged, as the officers on the ground felt so much animosity amongst the men that they were in fear of what might occur.
My boyfriend recounted how it was incredibly boring for long periods – and then, almost without warning it was terrifying. Possibly, the most tragic thing that I could understand was that when these young men returned to Australia they were abused and even spat on if they wore their uniforms in public; frequently by their peers who obviously had no idea of their innocence nor of the horrors that they had experienced.
I am fully aware that it is naïve to think that all war is a crime but it would be even more naïve to think that a nation's participation in war is always for noble reasons.