In 1995, sitting on Vung Tau Beach with a mate, this author watched dawn break against the backdrop of the rugged hills of Long Hai. The term ‘If Only?’ kept cropping up in my mind, as I pondered the chances we have squandered in coming to the correct decisions, both as individuals and as a nation.
At the time of writing this poem (2004), with world crises on the brink and a number of western powers (Australia, Britain and USA) about to decide upon their futures with new elections, we might have done well as a nation to consider carefully the pathways we wished then to travel and the leaders we wished to have had.
Alas, now (in 2018) after the debacle of Iraq, we can contemplate those choices we each then made. Howard, Blair and Bush were all re-elected as leaders of their respective governments … and so the war raged on and on and on.
“At the time of the Battle of Ia Drang Valley (November, 1965), U.S. casualties were at 7,466. Two years later in October 1967 the casualty list was 100,278. This was the period McNamara stayed in his job as Defence Secretary, remaining silent in spite of his inner knowledge that the war was unwinnable.”
- Paul Hendrickson in The Living and the Dead, 1996.
“When the apologists try to re-write history, it would help to have the real record at hand.”
- Jeb Magruber in The Arrogance of Power.
Like glow-worms on the roof,
Of some deep limestone cave,
Countless stars dot the heavens,
Searching answers I crave.
And as each blink reaches Earth,
Taking light years, yet now burnt,
Energy wasted, like those lives,
What lessons have we learnt?
On this beach at Vung Tau,
Wonder expressed on my face;
Giant bodies as mere specks,
Suspended far out in space.
Each wave crashes, with a roar,
Unrelenting, rolling in;
Spawned miles out in the depths,
White-capped in moonlight, by the wind.
During this hot summer night,
Tempered here, by the breeze,
Ebony skies as a backdrop,
Images recalled, I can freeze.
I think about what could have been,
Power politics dominate;
Chance to avoid repetition,
Slips and fades, will not wait!
Silhouettes of the Long Hais,
Haunting peaks, just like before;
Since last I saw you, thirty years,
A flash in time, since that war.
And like the shine on new metal,
If neglected, fades to rust,
Chances squandered, ignored,
Lay scattered in the dust.
Sand grains sift through my fingers,
An hour-glass of quartz, now so fine;
Wasted lives of young soldiers,
Mere memories, shattered, clocking time.
Small fragments, symbolic,
Of mountain minerals and shell;
Whereas once they had meaning,
Their function now, hard to tell.
And as my mind wanders,
I’m brought back, down to Earth;
Contemplation of that cost,
What was each life really worth?
’Tis true hindsight reveals wisdom!
Yet, mistakes once made, cannot mend!
Even these stars, waves and mountains,
Like chances … fade in the end!
Vung Tau Beach to Long Hai - January 1995 J. O'Callaghan and Author on Vung Tau Beach - 1995