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From the day the Menzies government announced Australian troops were going to be sent to Vietnam there was division in Australian society. Many people supported the government's decision, but others did not. As the war dragged on, opposition became more prevalent as support declined.
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The press

After the first announcement there was general support from the news outlets for the government's policy. It was not, however, the type of support that had greeted previous Australian involvement in wars. There was little mention of words like 'heroic' and more mention of words like 'grave decision' and 'inevitable'. There was no jingoistic, patriotic flag-waving. Many of the papers simply said Australia had no alternative, given its geographical position and its treaty commitments.

The support was there, but it was muted and it tended to question the political situation in South Vietnam. The majority of newspapers also supported the Labor Party's Arthur Calwell when he made a very eloquent anti-war speech in Parliament, but they then criticised the Labor opposition for having no alternative to the government's policy. See image 1

Only the Australian newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, criticised the decision outright. Its editorial described the move as 'reckless' and 'wrong' and said it showed contempt by Prime Minister Menzies for the people of Australia and their opinions on the war. See image 2

The Liberal Party

The Liberal Party rallied behind the leadership of Menzies, showing a lot of support for the action. That support was less vociferous in the Senate than in the lower House. Unlike the Labor Party, there were no ideological splits in the Liberal Party, so they were able to present a united front. When Menzies retired in 1966 and Harold Holt took over the leadership, the party rallied behind him. Holt brought Australia into an even closer relationship with America. He struck up a close friendship with the American President Lyndon Baines Johnson - popularly known as LBJ. In 1966 after a visit to Washington, where Holt was given a very friendly welcome by Johnson, he enthusiastically declared that when it came to Vietnam, Australia was 'All the way with LBJ'. See image 3

The Democratic Labor Party (DLP)

This right-wing faction of the Labor Party that had split from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 1954 had a very large Catholic membership and was very anti-communist. It was also determined to oppose any ALP policies - so it automatically supported the war.

The Catholic Church

For a number of years Australian Catholics had been encouraged to see South Vietnam as not only the last democracy in South East Asia, but as a Catholic democracy. There was widespread support for the government of the Republic of Vietnam, even after the assassination of the Catholic leader Ngo Dinh Diem. At the same time as the Australian government made the announcement that it was sending troops, the Pope called for negotiations to take place in Vietnam for a peaceful resolution. Many Australian Catholics, however, did not see the Pope's announcement as any reason not to support the commitment of troops to South Vietnam. See animation

There was some Liberal Catholic opposition to the war which grew over the years, but in 1965 the majority of outspoken Catholic opinion was firmly behind Menzies, America and the Republic of Vietnam.

The reactions of the wider community

In the New South Wales State elections just days after the federal government announcement that troops were being sent to Vietnam, the Labor Party lost power after nearly 30 years in office, to a Liberal Party/Country Party coalition. The election had primarily been fought over educational issues, but the issue of Vietnam also played a large part in the outcome.

Apart from the reaction at the election polls, opinion polls also showed widespread support among the people for the government decision to go to war. In a Morgan Gallup poll held in May 1965, 52 percent said they supported government policy in Vietnam, 37 percent opposed it and 11 percent were undecided. The same poll also showed there was widespread belief in the domino effect theory and that it was a popular reason for sending troops into Vietnam.

In newspaper surveys conducted in cities around the country, there were mixed reactions and concern over the possible use of conscription to send troops to Vietnam. There was even a large section of the community who seemed to take no interest in what was going on in South East Asia. Many people believed Vietnam to be too far away for the 'average' person to care about. They were quite unconcerned about the war and firmly believed it should be left up to the government and the army to sort out.

It has to be remembered that Australia at that time was politically and ideologically quite conservative. Sending troops off to fight in wars was seen by many ordinary Australians as not only the right thing to do but as a good way of increasing Australia's prestige in the world. That conservatism caused a lot of people to automatically support the government without really questioning if it was a good idea or not. Their reaction to; anti-war supporters also reflected conservative beliefs -' they wrote off anyone who did not support the government as left-wing 'loonies' or just ignorant university students who did not know anything about the way the world worked.

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1. Who did Prime Minister Holt say Australia was 'all the way' with?

Ho Chi Minh



South Vietnam


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