The Head of the Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove and the Retired Services League say Australia's contribution was never going to be succesful. It's the first time the head of Australia's Armed Forces has made such a retraction. But General Cosgrove says when Australia's troops first went to Vietnam he has no doubt the majority of the country supported the war. And he says with a conflict with Iraq on the horizon, it's the right time to discuss Vietnam.
EPSTEIN: General Cosgrove was a platoon commander in Vietnam and won the Military Cross for his efforts but now he thinks the war was a mistake.
COSGROVE: It's one of those things where history is able to judge better than people were at the time.
I mean, plainly at the time, when we committed to Vietnam, the vast majority of Australians supported it strongly, the government was clear that it was the right thing to do and it's only with the hindsight of history and the analysis we could have made, which we weren't able to make at the time, you could say, "well the conditions probably weren't right for us to achieve what we set out to do".
And I have to point out, that people are going to make the same judgements tomorrow and in 30 years time, like we're all doing today.
EPSTEIN: Does that mean that you think the war was fought tactically wrong or the perception that the perceived communist threat required an Australian response in Vietnam, was that perception incorrect?
COSGROVE: I don't think the political environment inside South Vietnam was conducive to enduring democratic state. I think the people in Vietnam across the board, ultimately seemed to prefer self-determination rather than the presence of a large number of foreign troops.
I think the way we went about the whole thing, we the allies, probably wasn't set for enduring solutions.
EPSTEIN: When you do you first think that Vietnam was a mistake? Was it when you came back, or did it take until say the '80s?
COSGROVE: During the '80s I think there was a body of analysis and a lot of debate and I think most Australians came to the conclusion that that was one we can sign on the debit side in terms of whether it was going to work.
EPSTEIN: And Deputy President of the RSL, Ian Kennett, agrees with him.
KENNETT: I believe that General Cosgrove is probably 100% right on the issue. The majority of those who did serve over there probably realise, in hindsight, that it was a mistake and, as you say, we've had many, many thousands of those young fellows who were committed to national service who would probably agree with the General whole-heartedly.