Australia in the Vietnam War

A Case Studies in Foreign Policy Analysis

Australia's Decision to Enter the Vietnam War

This timeline focuses on a number of significant ideas, issues, events and personalities that a student might use to develop a case study of Australia's decision to participate in the Vietnam War. Why did Australia get involved in what many have called the United States' worst foreign policy decision of the 20th century? This timeline cannot hope to cover all, or even most, of the important issues in what was perhaps an unusually eventful time—not only for Australia, but also the globe. Consequently, it aims to provide a snapshot of what could be considered the important foreign policy contexts that influenced Australia's commitment to and role in the Vietnam War.

One of the major aims of the timeline is to provide an effective way to understand the three levels of analysis that have been stressed in this course. Two timelines are provided here to facilitate this. One timeline focuses on the context of the Cold War, and the United States and international events it was central to. The other timeline focuses more on our immediate region, and Australia's domestic politics of the time.

The dates for the Vietnam War are usually given as starting in 1964 and ending in 1975 (although you will see these timelines start much earlier). Fighting on one side was a coalition of forces including the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam, or the RVN), the United States, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. Fighting on the other side was a coalition of forces including the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the National Liberation Front (NLF), a South Vietnamese guerrilla movement also known as the Viet Cong. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and People's Republic of China provided military aid to the North Vietnamese and the NLF, but they were not military combatants. The Vietnam War was part of a larger regional conflict involving the neighbouring countries of Cambodia and Laos, known as the Second Indochina War. In Vietnam, this conflict is known as the American War or the War against the Americans to Save the Nation.

A number of Australian Prime Ministers and most textbooks have suggested the reason Australia entered the Vietnam War was to protect our shores from Communism, and that this was best done by fighting a war distant from those shores. However, a good case study involves going past the obvious. It won't come as much of a surprise to hear that politicians have been known to lie. The essential approach here for the case study is, therefore, depth. To help provide this depth, the timelines here offer some of the more important events of the 1960s-1970s. They include the antecedents and descendants of the hippy movement, as well as the civil rights, anti-war, women's and environmental movements. The psychedelic and the protest movements were also greatly enhanced by the revolution in music.

Happy hunting for the causes—because there maybe more than one. You may like to listen to some 60s music while you are browsing the timelines. However, it is important to ensure you focus on the interaction of the three levels of analysis that we have been highlighting in this course.