RSL plan outrages Vietnam veterans

A PROPOSAL by the RSL to foster rapprochement between Australian and Vietnamese veterans of the Vietnam War has caused outrage, prompting the national president, Rear-Admiral Ken Doolan, to apologise for the way it has been handled.

But he has vowed to press on with debate over a proposed memorandum of understanding, which he says has the support of the federal government, arguing that ”we owe it to the future to do all we can to bring former enemies together”.

'We owe it to the future to do all we can to bring former enemies together' ... Rear-Admiral Ken Doolan. Photo-Andrew Sheargold

But the national president of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, Ron Coxon, said his organisation did not support it. ”We haven’t signed an MOU with the Japanese or the Germans. Why would we want one with the North Vietnamese? There are people this is going to upset and we’re not going to get anything out of it.”

Last year Mr Doolan wrote to the then foreign minister, Stephen Smith, seeking the government’s views on a memorandum of understanding between the president of the RSL and his Vietnamese counterpart.

In January the office of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, said the government ”had no objections”.

But Mr Doolan said a group opposed to the proposal was running a campaign of ”misinformation”, including that it contained a plan for Australian veterans to march with former Vietcong, which was ”absolutely wrong”.

In an email to members, Mr Doolan apologised that the proposal had ”not been properly or clearly explained”.

He says the RSL took up the proposal at the request of some veterans who had been going to Vietnam for many years and had ”built friendly and positive relationships with former foes”.

He said the proposal ”may or may not go ahead” but the idea of a ”rapprochement” had been ”going on for some time”.

The state member for Baulkham Hills, David Elliott, who served with the army’s peacekeeping force in Bougainville in 2000, said he was ”horrified” by the idea when veterans in his electorate raised it with him. He would write to Mr Rudd to express their concern. ”Forgiveness and reconciliation is a very personal act,” he said. ”It’s not something that governments can force on returned servicemen.”

Published: 2011 October, 18 | By: Sean Nicholls | Article Link: | Article Title: RSL plan outrages Vietnam veterans

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