The documentary All The Way (November Films, 2011) is based on Paul Ham's award-winning publication Vietnam: The Australian War. It examines Australia's political motivation in committing advisers and then troops to a distant conflict, and the entanglements that kept us there. In particular it concentrates on what Ham calls 'The unravelling of the US-Australian alliance at tactical, strategic, diplomatic, political and economic levels during [the Vietnam War]'. In a single hour-long episode, narrated by Paul Ham, this little-known aspect of the war is persuasively told and well examined.
The Vietnam War was the longest war Australia had ever fought, spanning our first official commitment of training troops in 1962 to the withdrawal of our last battalion in late 1971. But it was also a war Australia entered with a number of self-interested motives, not just the intention of saving the people of South Vietnam from invasion. The film argues that politically Australia embraced the war as a means of ensuring an American involvement and interest in our region. During the post-World War Two period former European colonial powers in the area either withdrew or were expelled by various successful independence movements. This left Australia, with its British heritage, feeling isolated, abandoned and vulnerable.
The development of the Cold War exaggerated Australia's alarm, and Australia's participation in the Korean War and the Malayan Insurgency confirmed the rise of communism as our principal concern for defence. The SEATO Treaty and the ANZUS pact were considered by Australia to be demonstrations of America's willingness to accept great responsibilities in the region. However, as this documentary points out, America would interpret its commitments under the treaties as it saw convenient.
The Vietnam War was an outgrowth of the Indochina war. The changing level of American support and involvement in the region was a reflection of America's increasing concern with the success of communism. America started with financial assistance to the French in their fight against Vietnamese nationalist forces. They escalated their involvement to providing arms, military advice and money to South Vietnam after the French defeat, and finally direct military intervention.
The Australian government, which desired the reassurance of future American military help in the uncertain Cold War future, sought to indebt America to Australia. What better way to achieve this than for Australia to provide support for America's military intervention in Vietnam? Initially this assistance consisted of the provision of a team of Australian military advisers – known as the AATTV (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam). Then on 29 April 1965, and despite contrary advice from the Department of Defence, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced the intensification of Australia's support. Australia would now commit actual combat troops to the Vietnam conflict. However, as former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser says in the documentary, 'You don't win brownie points with a superpower'.
The documentary weighs up the military drawbacks to Australia of engaging in our longest conflict beside an impatient giant willing to take large casualties, expend enormous firepower and ignore more gradual tactics. Interviews with several Vietnam veterans bring this point home and emphasise the operational independence that the Australians demanded, eventually being assigned their own province (Phuoc Tuy) to pacify. The Australians would subdue Vietcong influence in Phuoc Tuy in a gradual campaign of stealthy patrolling, that the Americans disapprovingly called 'inactive', and thwarted North Vietnamese conventional forces in an engagement at Long Tan.
The Australians fought differently to the Americans, using effective jungle warfare techniques developed with the British while fighting communist guerrillas in Malaya. Wher