Messages from Long Tan, Vietnam
Memorialization, Reconciliation, and Historical Justice
Author: William Logan and Andrea Witcomb
This article explores the changing ways in which Australians and Vietnamese remember and memorialize their involvement in the Vietnam War and how these processes intersect with notions of reconciliation and historical justice in postwar contexts. It uses the Battle of Long Tan of August 1966 as an entrée into these considerations and questions whether heritage-making and memorialization processes can facilitate the achievement of reconciliation between parties formerly in conflict. Not surprisingly, the Australian and Vietnamese veterans of the battle and the two states, the Commonwealth of Australia and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, have different motivations for wanting to remember Long Tan. On the Australian side, a sense that reconciliation and atonement are needed is often reflected in official government and veterans' statements about the war and Australia-Vietnam relations, in the memorialization process at Long Tan and in the involvement of Australian veterans groups in local economic development and community building in Vietnam. On the Vietnamese side, where the Vietnam War played out as a civil as well as an international war, efforts by those who actively supported the former Republic of Vietnam based in Saigon and among the overseas Vietnamese (Viet kieu) to memorialize their engagement in the conflict have been frustrated. The usefulness of the notion of seeking historical justice is therefore questioned in post-civil war situations where people are locked into fixed histories and are unprepared or unable to revisit and retell personal and collective memories and histories.