Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) :
United Future joins with others in this Crown apology to the Viet Nam veterans this afternoon. As we do so we recall the fact that although the New Zealand forces were withdrawn from South Viet Nam in December 1972, the veterans have had to endure a living hell in every sense since that time, in terms of their own rehabilitation into New Zealand society, their health and employment issues, their family issues, and the way in which they were treated by the wider community at the time. If Korea was the forgotten war, then Viet Nam was surely the despised war, and those who fought in it, for the noblest of motives at the time, have suffered consequently ever since. I think today’s apology brings to an end a shameful chapter in our nation’s history in that respect.
Like many of my generation, I was an active anti-war protester from the age of 15, but I still recall with some sadness and horror being in Auckland in May 1971, when a detachment of New Zealand forces came home from Viet Nam and was marching through central Auckland, only to be splattered with red paint and to experience other insults from the crowd that was gathered. And even though I was morally on the side of the crowd’s cause, I was horrified that we could treat those who were serving our nation in that way. I think that over the years the type of horrific experience that those returning soldiers experienced then became, unfortunately, the norm for the way society treated them. Those soldiers, and other personnel, were doing their duty at the behest of the New Zealand Government of the day, and it was wrong that they as individuals bore the criticism and the contempt that should have been reserved for those who made the political decisions.
Although today’s apology will come too late for many of the veterans, it is a necessary step and it is one that is long overdue. We support the call now for recognition that New Zealand forces and personnel were exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliants, contrary to some of the advice received over the years, and we look forward to there being a favourable settlement in their regard.
I want to make one other brief observation. Some good has come out of this, in a small way. The shocking way in which our nation treated those who fought in the Viet Nam conflict has, I think, served as some sort of national wake-up call regarding equally unpopular involvements such as those in Iraq and in Afghanistan and the way we now reflect upon those who have represented us in those conflicts. We have matured as a nation, and we will never treat good New Zealand service personnel doing their duty on behalf of the Government and people of New Zealand in the way we treated those who came home from Viet Nam. Although that may be some ongoing consolation to the Viet Nam veterans, it will never remove the appalling blight of the way in which we treated them.
Today’s apology is one way—one small, but significant way—in which this Parliament and this country can attempt to put right those wrongs, and can attempt to say to those who served that their service is up there with that of all those others commemorated in this Chamber, and that they and their families can rightfully, justifiably, and properly hold their heads high and walk with honour amongst us. They did a job well on behalf of their country, and they stood up for our national ideals and objectives of that time. That is why this apology is so vital today.
Source: parliament.nz | [Volume:647;Page:16443] | Wednesday, 28 May 2008 | Ministerial Statements | Viet Nam Veterans—Crown Apology