How Many Roads? Living in the ‘70s

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

How many seas must the white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes and how many times must the cannonballs fly

Before they’re forever banned

Bob Dylan – Blowin’ in the Wind 1963

Starting in 1962, the war in Vietnam was considered by most Australians to be necessary to stem the spread of Communism.  Conscription was introduced in 1964 and by 1970 many Australians wanted all troops withdrawn.  This was especially so as the number of casualties grew.  Young people marched in demonstrations, carrying banners and chanting anti-war slogans.

Joanne was fairly immune to all the controversy until her second year at college and her introduction to Shauna’s passionate views.

‘Last year the moratorium marches in America showed that more and more people oppose the war,’ said Shauna. ‘This year they are going to be held all over Australia.  We are going to march against conscription and bring about the end of the Vietnam War!’

Joanne helped Shauna and Margo paint a few posters but declined to participate any further. She had to go home for the weekend. She was amazed at the strangers invading their share house, all preparing for the march. Margo and Shauna told her that a new friend of theirs had been called up in the draft and was refusing to go. ‘He’ll get prison if he’s caught,’ whispered Margo.

Arlo Guthrie sang on the record player.

You can get anything that you want at Alice’s Restaurant.

Vietnam War protestors Sydney, May 1970 (Sydney Morning Herald)

Meanwhile Leo had a dilemma. His American cousin was coming to Sydney on R&R from Vietnam. He was planning a day trip to entertain him and thought a visit to Canberra might be a good thing to do. He asked Joanne if she would ask a girlfriend to come with them on a double date.

Joanne asked several girls but they were not available.  She wondered about Margo, who was preparing to march with Shauna.

‘You want me to go out with an American soldier?’ Margo looked at her in disbelief.

“Well, he was drafted, so he can’t really help it if he’s in the war,’ said Joanne. ‘ He needs a bit of normality after what he’s been through.’

Margo agreed to go.  Leo’s cousin seemed happy to have some female company. Joanne was not so happy.  Just days before their planned trip the phone had rung at Mrs Kruger’s house.  It was her mother, Annie.

‘Look, I don’t know what you want to do, but I’ve just had a phone call from the American chap who stayed with us in the Christmas holidays.  He’s back in Australia and wants to see you.’

Joanne had received several communications from the American.  He had returned to the United States but was now fearful of being drafted in the Vietnam war.  He thought if he moved to Australia he might avoid conscription but was doubtful how long he could stay. Now he was coming to Yerrinbool on Sunday to have a talk about the future.

She felt she had to tell him face to face that she had moved on, but how?

Finally she arranged with Leo to stop at her home and leave her on the way back from Canberra.  She would catch the rail motor to Wollongong the next morning.

They had an interesting day in Canberra, viewing the embassies, visiting Parliament House and exploring the Australian War Memorial. Margo was stressed by the graphic depiction of war and announced she was going to throw up. What the cousin thought we’ll never know but Leo and Joanne sang all the way back and it was with some sadness that Joanne bid the others farewell when they left her at her childhood home.

The American was there, keen to tell her of his plans to move to Australia. She told him about Leo and he said that was wonderful and that he had high hopes that there was a future for him with his other penpal.

Time passed and the American had to go home, was drafted and served in Vietnam.  Joanne often wondered what happened to him but she was sure she saw him on an American reality TV show late one night.

Leo’s cousin finally was demobbed and returned to his home.

Conscription ended in Australia in December 1972. 63,735 national servicemen served in the Army, of whom 15,381 were deployed to Vietnam. Approximately 200 of those conscripted men were killed but the mental and physical aftermath of the ‘American War’ will never be fully realised. As for servicemen from the United States and the Vietnamese people themselves, the scale of death and destruction cannot be put into numbers or words.

14 thoughts on “How Many Roads? Living in the ‘70s

  1. My dad is a Vietnam veteran.

    It’s… Well, to say it’s “difficult” sounds trite. But it is. Very difficult. The impact — constant and continued — on his own life and on the rest of the family’s, has been at different times explosive, depressing, anger-inducing, and sad. “Detrimental” does not begin to cover it.

    He has PTSD from the war.

    The rest of us have PTSD from him.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember marching against the war. The march on the pentagon was the last anti-war march i participated in. When they began to ask if anyone had bandages over the loud speaker for those who got injuries trying to storm the bastions? I don’t know what. But I thought that was pretty poor planning. And dangereous.

    I also remember listening to Alice’s Restaurant for the first time. I was in NYC with my father on part of a trip to my birthplace, Springfield, where he was going to speak. I remember laying there in the dark and loving that crazy song.I was still in college so I think it was 1967 or 1968. I bought some bell bottom jeans and I was the first one in the art dept at Wayne to have them. My grandmother was so disappointed that I went to NYC and didn’t buy a nice dress.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your family was very politically minded so it’s no wonder you were there.
      I laughed about your grandmother’s disappointment Re the bell bottoms but I bet you were pleased with being right on trend.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. It was truly such a big issue in the late 60s. In Queensland the marches were firstly about it being illegal to march but the underlying reason was the wish to protest Vietnam. My father was adamant I mustn’t march as he’d seen the violence at one in 1948. So I didn’t march…just walked alongside on the footpath and fetched drinks for friends. Dad was right about the violence and it was shocking to see.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Another great piece, Linda. My dad was born in 1945 and was in that first cohort who went into the lottery for Vietnam. He was a uni student at the time and could defer. So far so good. However, that wasn’t going to work forever. As it turned out, he was in a serious car accident in the rain and\
    his car skidded across the Pacific Highway and hit a Mercedes head on. As it turned out the couple in that car was having an affair and that came to light When the police interviewed him about the accident in hospital, he said it was “an act of God”. I have to agree with him, because the injuries he sustained rendered him medically unfit to go to Vietnam.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t imagine what going through all of that was like and there were families who had been through WWI and WWII had been through enough. A friend of mine was also born in 1945 and his Polish father had served in WWII as a bomber pilot for the Brits. When he missed out on the lottery, he father broke out the champagne. It was a huge relief. So good your husband missed out.

        Liked by 1 person

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