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Hon Tariana Turia - Viet Nam apology

Viet Nam apology Hon Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Wednesday 28 May 2008

The Maori Party endorses the apologies of the Crown in the House today.

The New Zealand Military History tells us that between 1964 and 1972, 3890 New Zealanders served in South Viet Nam.

For those who served, for their loved ones, their children and those to come, it remains the defining point in their lives.

65% percent of those who served were tangata whenua.

One of them was our brother.

I stand here today, in pain and in deep sadness, thinking of those who volunteered to serve our country, driven by duty and honour. They went where their Government sent them - but they returned to the hostility and controversy of a country in crisis, a country divided.

What does that do to the soul of a soldier, to serve on combat lines in a battle which some suggest killed up to two million civilians?

Civilians who were innocent bystanders to the campaign from Washington to stamp out communism.

Civilians who were the collateral damage of what the people called the 'American War'.

The 'American War' - a genocidal assault on the people of Viet Nam, leaving behind a legacy of genetically deformed children.

An attack which has gone on for decades in the haunting impact of trans-generational birth defects.

Human beings cruelly deformed by the carnage of chemical destruction.

What does it do to the soul of a soldier to bear witness to the crime of military chemical spraying, and then to return home, to be told to never again be seen in public, wearing the uniform that reminds us of our shame?

Other generations of war veterans returned home to a heroes welcome.

The veterans of Viet Nam were hassled by customs officers, others recalled being smuggled back in the deep of night, hidden from view, covered up, invisible.

They were refused full entry to the RSA, and instructed not to wear their medals of service.

There were other insidious effects. One veteran, Bruce Isbister, told the Agent Orange Joint Working Group that:

"Their earning capacity has been taken from them by their service to their country, consigned to an income akin to poverty line and exacerbated by blatant discrimination.

The pain of those who served in this 'American War' is visible in the frantic website traffic of survivors. One vet summed it up,

"Don't treat me like crap then think you can come back forty years later and say sorry. It doesn't work like that".

But say sorry we must.

And not just SAY sorry, but BE sorry, so the world can see from our actions that we mean what we say.

Last year, Viet Nam Veterans marched on Parliament in protest against what they described as

"the Crown's consistent and despicable rejection of Viet Nam veterans' health and welfare concerns".

[Waitangi 1401] was lodged by the late Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, representing about 2000 Maori Viet Nam veterans and their families.

And we think of those for whom the torch of injustice still burns furiously, and we are in awe of their commitment, their courage, their passion for the truth to be told.

The Waitangi claim described the torturous impact of the enemies' bullets in Viet Nam, what Vercoe described as a 'human and environmental catastrophe".

We must say sorry for sending our soldiers to a war which is still leaving its trail of destruction in cancer-related deaths, genetically-damaged births, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the social impact so often manifest in chronic alcoholism, violence, the mental anguish that veterans faced on their return.

I read the words of one veteran who said,

"all I want to do is forget a period in my life that almost drove me crazy, and they won't let me forget".

As hurtful as it is, we must not forget the partners who miscarried, the stillbirths, the health related problems still seen in their grandchildren.

We must not forget the disgrace of successive Governments who denied that our soldiers were exposed to the toxin; the shock veterans felt over the Reeves inquiry or the McLeod report, reports the terms of reference of which ensured that justice would not be found. Such is the nature of political denials.

We must not forget what the 'American War' did to Viet Nam, to the people, to their whenua, and their whakapapa.

I was thinking about the actions of the Prime Ministers of Japan, who apologised to China for their actions during World War Two, once in 1995 and then again in 2005.

I think we need to have the courage to offer our apology to the people of Viet Nam.

It was a National Government that involved our soldiers in a war not of their making, and we need to be thankful today, for the actions of a Labour Government in bringing them back.

And so to you, our Viet Nam Veterans, tena koutou nga rangatira morehu.


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