Apology to Viet Nam veterans must not glorify war
Apology to Viet Nam veterans must not glorify war – Maori
Hon Tariana Turia, Veterans Affairs spokesperson 27 May 2008
A government apology to Viet Nam veterans must accept full responsibility for sending our soldiers into a war that our people did not support, says the Maori Party.
“There needs to be a distinction between acknowledging the sacrifices made by the vets and their families, which everyone accepts have taken a terrible toll, and the government insisting there was honour and glory involved in the Viet Nam war ," says Veterans Affairs spokesperson Tariana Turia.
“We got involved in that war through the government’s belief that New Zealand was helpless without American protection. That attitude underpinned our foreign policy, and our soldiers paid the price. The tragedy is that New Zealanders’ lives, health and sanity were sacrificed to our government’s subservience to US interests.
“The anti-war protest movement held us all accountable, and eventually managed to end our involvement in Viet Nam. But the issues were never resolved ," she said.
“The government tried to conceal its mistake by sweeping the issue under the carpet. The result is that the veterans have carried the burden of shame ever since.
“We share the grief of the whanau of Viet Nam veterans - nga morehu who have lived with the effects of dioxin poisoning, Kawasaki disease, multiple organs, cancers, brain tumours; and their ongoing distress at what they consider to be the Crown's “consistent and despicable rejection of Viet Nam Veterans’ health and welfare concerns.”*
“We acknowledge too, that 65% of Vietnam Veterans are of Maori descent. We are thinking of the legacy of the late Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, who laid a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal as he believed the current system of compensation for veterans did not do justice to their pain. On his deathbed, Whakahuihui gave a deposition which ended, “this has to go on for the wives and the children”.
“So there are good grounds for a heartfelt apology to Viet Nam veterans. The Maori Party supports an official apology. It should express regret for the mistakes of the past, and make a commitment not to repeat them in future,” said Mrs Turia.
“We should also remember the people of Viet Nam, the ordinary citizens, the women and children, who were also casualties of the war. Agent Orange has poisoned their whenua, and their whakapapa, for generations to come. We owe the people of Vietnam an apology as well. Do we have the moral fibre to apologise to them too?"
“And if we are serious about not repeating our mistakes, we should demand some clarity from the government around the role of our elite force the SAS in Afghanistan. Are we at war there too, and whose interests are we really fighting for and protecting?" asked Mrs Turia.
* Freda Moffitt,
• Vietnam Veterans’ Action Group
• Claimant, WAI 1401 (Maori Vietnam Veteran ex defense personel and their suffering)