Vietnam War Impact on New Zealand

Last Updated: 02 Apr 2020
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The Vietnam War had several social effects in New Zealand. The New Zealand publics’ opinion was polarized due to New Zealand’s involvement in the war, and public debate was generated over New Zealand’s foreign policy in particular how it relied on an alliance-based security. An anti-war movement developed in New Zealand, who disagreed with the strategy of forward defense. They also questioned the validity of the domino theory, and thought communism in south-East Asia did not in any way threaten New Zealand.

The members of the anti-war movement also condemned the western intervention in Vietnam; they argued that they should not support a corrupt regime such as Ngo Dinh Diem, that it was immoral. The anti-war activists urged the New Zealand government to get a more independent foreign policy, instead of being submissive to the American government. The anti-war movement grew steadily, by the 1970s mobilizations that involved thousands of New Zealanders marching to protest the war where occurring in cities all over New Zealand.

Young and highly educated New Zealanders made up a most of the anti-war war movement, which was also supported by church groups, students, and growing numbers of the public. This was a large social effect the Vietnam war had on New Zealand as it meant people where coming together to protest the war, and it caused New Zealanders to be more aware of politics and become more politically involved. The Vietnam War also had large political impacts in New Zealand.

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While New Zealand troops where in Vietnam the political ideas of National and labor towards the war became markedly different. Initially both parties supported sending troops, national publically stating New Zealand had a duty to support its ally, but as the war continued Labor began to adopt the ideas of the anti-war movement. From 1969 labor promised if they were elected New Zealand troops would be withdrawn from Vietnam. Labor supported a more independent foreign policy, which would reflect New Zealand as a small multicultural country situated in the south pacific.

Labor hoped it would be able to achieve this and keep New Zealand in its alliances. National however remained committed to an alliance based foreign policy, arguing a small country such as New Zealand had to rely and co-operate on powerful allies. New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War lead to the end of the earlier Bipartisan cold war consensus between National and Labor on foreign policy, marking it a significant turning point in the development of a new direction for New Zealand’s foreign policy.

The Vietnam War had both long term impacts on the New Zealand soldiers involved and more immediate impacts. A more immediate impact was while in Vietnam New Zealand soldiers were put under a lot of stress. The Viet Cong were an “invisible enemy” who fought using guerilla tactics. New Zealand soldiers also patrolled in silence, using hand gestures to communicate, so as to not reveal their position to the enemy. This meant the soldiers did not know where the Viet Cong were, and knew they could appear at any moment.

This would have frightened the soldiers and put more stress on them, as they were never sure when they would run into the Viet Cong, knowing that each time they went round a corner they could run into the Viet Cong. Veterans recall “endless fear, tension and adrenalin. ” during their time in Vietnam. Some of the missions New Zealand soldiers were required to go on resulted in the deaths of Vietnamese women and children, many soldiers suffered psychological damage as a result of seeing the bodies and realizing who they had killed.

Upon returning home soldiers faced hostility from the public, who described them as “war-mongers” and “baby-killers. ” This had an emotional effect on soldiers, who had been an expecting a hero’s welcome, many where surprised and hurt by the public’s reaction. This was one of the factors that caused veterans to think of themselves as “ cynical” and “distrusting. ” New Zealand soldiers also suffered from long term affects from the Vietnam war, in particular many suffered from exposure to the defoliant agent orange.

Agent Orange was a dangerous toxin used by the US to kill the foliage the Viet Cong hid in. it was sprayed by air and by hand. Zone three, where New Zealand soldiers were serving had over 20 million liters of Agent Orange sprayed on it, more than the other zones got combined. Exposure to Agent Orange caused high rates of cancers such as liver, Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and lung cancer among veterans, around 30 to 40 years after they left. Agent Orange also had an intergenerational impact, affecting the veteran’s children.

After the war many of their wives had still or premature births. One soldier’s wife had seven miscarriages. Agent Orange caused genetic mutations to occur; the women who did manage to have kids gave birth to children with deformities and disabilities. Initially the New Zealand government refused to acknowledge the effects of Agent Orange, and would not give recognition of the harm that had been done to New Zealand soldiers. However after incontrovertible proof was provided to a governments select comity it was officially agreed that New Zealand soldiers had been put at risk.

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Vietnam War Impact on New Zealand. (2016, Dec 18). Retrieved from

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