Myth vs History
NewSouth Books 2019
Paperback 272pp RRP $32.99
Reviewer: Mike O’Brien, June 2019
Mark Dapin has now written several books on military history. This one is based on his PhD dissertation (there is a copy of that thesis in our library).
It is fair to say that myths have infiltrated our collective military memory and their eradication is far from easy. Craig Stockings has delighted in editing two books on these myths: Zombie Myths of Australian Military History: the 10 Myths that Will Not Die and Anzac’s Dirty Dozen: 12 Myths of Australian Military History. Other authors notably Peter Stanley (Invading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942) and Graham Wilson (Dust, Donkeys and Delusions: the Myth of Simpson and his Donkey Exposed) have taken myth busting further, with the consequences of stirring hornet nests of disagreement.
The author wrote The Nashos' War: Australia's national servicemen and Vietnam in 2014. It debunked several of the myths of this war and it did so on the firm ground of interviewing some 150 veterans. In reviewing this book Dr Peter Edwards, the Official Historian of the Vietnam war, said, ‘Dapin’s overriding theme is that the truth is always more subtle than the myths’.
He examines claims that every national serviceman was a volunteer; questions the idea that Australian troops committed atrocities; debunks the fallacy that there were no welcome home parades until 1987; and rebuts the fable that returned soldiers were met by spitting protesters at Australian airports.
Dapin’s approach is clinical and analytical. He defines the myth and reviews its publication history, tracing changes to its telling in several instances. He then looks at any evidence to support the claims. It is neither surprising that many claims arise from anonymous sources nor that their retelling adds further unsubstantiated layers to the myths.
This book is unkind - but justifiably so – to a range of individuals and organisations. The instance that sticks in my recollection is that dealing with the myth of ‘no welcome home parades: the chapter is headed by eight short quotations from The Sydney Morning Herald. The first (2013) boldly states ‘none of them were welcomed [home]’. Seven others (1966 – 1971) catalogue the welcomes. Great journalism!
This is a well-researched and well-written book. If you are interested in the facts of Australia’s Vietnam War, this book is for you.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.