A Lt. General - A Colonel - A Prime Minister - A Brigadier
During an Anzac Day re-union (1994), I, and several other veterans, were locked in deep discussion with a high-ranking (ex-Vietnam) officer, over concerns we still held for that occasion, when 9 mates had been killed by mines in the Long Hai hills, on 21 February, 1967. The ex-officer listening to this account, excused the apparent blunder, by suggesting that that area had probably been checked out some weeks before and had no doubt been ‘cleared’. He said: “Sometimes mistakes were made when communications broke down ... but that was just part of ‘the game’!”
That concept of ‘the game’ cropped up on several other occasions during further discussion, including this ex-commander’s recollection of an abortive attempt by the NVA to launch an attack on Nui Dat from the north. “The enemy was kept at bay by salvos of artillery, so we were denied a full-scale ground battle! But that, I suppose, was all in the game!” he said. One could hardly help but come away with the frightening impression that that was exactly how some (if not many) military leaders perceived the war ... as just one ‘big game’ and rewards for winning would be ... medals and ... promotion? Flashback scenes of some senior officers outside the Intelligence tents in BHQ at Nui Dat, standing around a sand-pit, manoeuvring models of armoured vehicles and troops sprang immediately to mind.
“As a cadet at Duntroon when Menzies’ decision to send troops was announced, there
were cheers at mess parade ... We had a war and the reasons for it were irrelevant.”
- Greg Lockhart, quoted in Ken Maddock’s Memories of Vietnam. 1991.
“It is good that this war is so terrible, or we might learn to love it!”
- General Douglas MacArthur (1943) in Old Soldiers Never Die.
“Pencils travel on maps more easily than men!” - General A. Currie (WW1 Commander).
Old Soldiers' Games
Model manouvres at the sand pit
Old Soldiers' Games
On a map, a slash, with a marker pen;
On merry-go-rounds ride uniformed men;
A circus of clowns, with anonymous names.
With focused obsessions, each on a career,
Strategies planned whilst safe in the rear;
Greying, still playing, in old soldiers’ games.
And red hat-bands tagged these pompous warders,
Of prisoners confined and forced by orders;
All power entrenched in military laws.
Images distorted in some directions;
Imitations of polished brass reflections;
Imposters posing, behind closed doors.
’Twas a remnant rump from Empire scenes;
Commissions issued by kings and queens;
All titles bestowed as honours, by the Crown.
Society’s base back then, ’twas inferiority;
Wealth a mere mask of superiority;
And status went hand in hand with the gown.
That fortress factory, an assembly line,
Canberra churned them out, with a one track mind;
Genesis of egos, to be revealed.
Of similar ilk, personalities honed;
An identical code, thinking almost cloned;
Alternate views taboo and well concealed.
At the news announced, ’twas ’65 that year,
A Duntroon hurrah, a unanimous cheer;
Promotion potential, for some, in this Corps.
A welcomed chance at glory and fame;
Theory into practice, no longer a game;
Finally, at last, they’d have their war.
Over there toy models of troop positions,
Were adjusted constantly, with changing conditions;
Since fresh ‘intelligence’ arrived every day.
As if each ’twas a gambler, with a croupier’s rake,
Life and death decisions ‘high brass’ would make,
In a sand pit, smiling, like children at play.
Today, as advisers on government boards,
As writers of history and service records,
Some twist and contort, reality’s story.
In April marching, proudly, this time way out front,
So remaining thus, still in the hunt,
Some revel in status and mythical glory.
For those I address who portend to lead,
That Honour Roll again, you all should read;
Face those faces and hear their names.
Perhaps then you men, you may finally pen,
The facts, ‘My Sirs’, and therefore, not pretend,
And cease playing, in old soldiers’ games.