September 10th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY 'Born that way' far from being scientifically verified

CANBERRA OBSERVED Malcolm's 25-point action plan is a bit dusty

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Chinese Australians deplore Mao celebration

U.S. POLITICS A superficial comparison: Donald is no Ronald

VIETNAM MEMOIR Reminder of communist tyranny from a good man

AUSTRALIAN MILITARY HISTORY 10 more awards for Long Tan after 50-year delay

EUTHANASIA BOOK REVIEW Moving stories by no means the whole story

UNITED STATES LABOUR The dwindling state of the States' unions

MUSIC The past is a present and enduring danger

CINEMA Stop-motion serves memory: Kubo and the Two Strings

BOOK REVIEW The West's left turn into today


EDITORIAL 'Free market' ideology a failure: economists

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Reminder of communist tyranny from a good man

by John Elsegood

News Weekly, September 10, 2016

The first comments former South Vietnam army colonel Vo Dai Ton uttered at a meeting in Perth was to praise National Civic Council founder, Bob Santamaria.

Seeing Santamaria’s photo on the wall of the National Civic Council offices in Belmont, Western Australia, the retired Colonel, who now lives in Sydney, said: “His name is still in my heart and he wrote about me crossing the ocean.”

Vo’s story is remarkable and his talk in Perth was timely, coming a day after the furore over the Communist Government of Vietnam’s rejection of the full-scale 50th anniversary ceremony, on August 18, of the Long Tan battle.

Former colonel Vo Dai Ton

This gross discourtesy by Vietnam to the many Australian visitors over a ceremony planned for 18 months and originally accepted by Hanoi, simply reminded people of what Western forces were fighting against.

Vo’s life too epitomises what the fighting was against. He had a distinguished career in defending South Vietnam from the communist aggression of the North.

As an intelligence operative, he was involved in many operations behind enemy lines and has 43 decorations for service and bravery. When the South Vietnamese government fell in 1975, he was Deputy Minister for Information and a member of the presidential military cabinet.

A day after the fall of Saigon, he and his wife Mai, the South’s leading television news presenter, fled to the southern port of Vung Tau where they were hidden by a Catholic priest with 49 others. From there, they undertook a perilous journey by small boat to Malaysia. Before they left the priest handed over some money that he had planned for his own escape. “You need it more than me, but promise me you will return one day to fight the communists,” the priest said to Vo.

Eventually settling in Australia, he was acclaimed by the Vietnamese community and maintained the cause of freedom for his homeland. In 1981 he returned to Vietnam to join the underground resistance.

After two years, he was captured and incarcerated and spent more than a decade in solitary confinement. When he eventually returned to Australia the emaciated man was reunited with his wife and a son whom he had last seen as a two year old.

When he told his son who he was, the boy replied: “You are not my daddy.”

This was perhaps the cruelest blow of the many physical and mental ones that he had suffered. His 4000 days imprisonment had been spent in a small cell in darkness, except for a peephole about the size of a book. He had no books, no recreational facilities, no sunlight, no pipe … nothing.

He was physically abused 96 times by interrogators who used a rubber stick with an electric wire, resulting in broken bones and a swollen body.

Countless times he thought of his beloved mother and father, an affluent Catholic couple. Vo’s father was a builder who had constructed churches, schools, hospitals – enough to cause him to be accused by the communists of being a spy.

His mother was buried alive in sand, after being accused of spying. Some 12 years later, Vo, who had been nine at the time she disappeared, dug out her body, after a tip-off by local people as to where she had been buried. “I saw her broken bones and hair,” he said.

He has always remembered her words invoking him “to be a good man, share your heart, don’t hold it to yourself”; accordingly he joined the South Vietnamese army, aged 22, to be one.

During his long suffering in prison he composed and memorised some 900 poems. This kept him sane.

During this dreadful period the Colonel was given a script by the communist authorities to memorise, in which he was to declare that his mission to Vietnam had been planned by the United States and ASEAN.

 In 1982, after being coached and given a trial “conference” witnessed by party hacks, he was brought before an international media conference in Hanoi. Here, however, the Colonel, did not follow the party line and refused to implicate the U.S. or other nations. Instead Vo said: “I will not betray my friends and I will continue to fight for a free Vietnam.”


While the communists confiscated material from the press, Vo was taken away for a beating, but they dared not kill him as he had become an international figure.

After 10 years, one month and 17 days in his bamboo gulag, he was transported back to Australia. He had survived on seven kilograms of rice a month and was given only two pairs of pyjamas in that time.

Now 81, the Colonel continues to fight for Vietnam’s freedom.

“While I hate war and communism, I do not seek revenge. In prison I tried to build up my spirit by prayer and positive things such as composing books in my mind. I also spoke English and French to myself so as not to forget,” he said.

His seven books – three memoirs and four of poetry – are crying out for an English publisher.

Colonel Vo Dai Ton is an honourable man who has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by a U.S. President and honoured by an array of U.S. State legislatures. However, the biggest honour for him is to know that he fulfilled his mother’s call to be a good man. Australia is fortunate in having him as a citizen.

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