The manuscript of The Long Shadow arrived in the mail during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown period. In common with most of you, that time of social isolation was a perfect opportunity to read and ponder. For me, in one sense the isolation was a bit of a bust because I had been looking forward greatly to my first Anzac Day since retiring as Governor-General, to participate in the march in Sydney with my old mob, the 9RAR Association, the battalion with which I served in Vietnam. The march, like all large public gatherings, went by the board in April 2020.
When I first picked up The Long Shadow, noting its length and great detail on the subject of ‘Australia’s Vietnam veterans since the war’, I thought I would read it over four or five days, but once I started, I read it through in one go. I couldn’t put it down. In this major work, a defining account of those men and women who served in the Vietnam War and their challenges in its aftermath, Peter Yule has combined empathy, insight and forensic research of the highest order.
Peter has not attempted to write a history of the war operations in which Australians participated, but his references to that aspect of veterans’ experiences ring true in every case. But that is not his emphasis – rather, it is what followed. His account is of nearly five decades of suffering and angst, policy and research concerning the
health and welfare of Vietnam veterans. He sets the scene vividly and persuasively for a comprehensive analysis and occasional deconstruction of popular impressions and a flawed policy about the war and the veterans who experienced it. I found myself cheering him on as I read his account of the long years of struggle by the veterans to urge for recognition of disabilities and the slow adjustment by the nation’s supporting systems. He set out to give an account that included the voices of veterans, and in this he has succeeded marvellously well.
If you are a Vietnam veteran, you are now in your senior years and many of your fellow veterans have passed. Indeed, you will know of many, who for one reason or another, are in poor shape. The Long Shadow helps us all – veterans, their loved ones, veterans’ supporting agencies and the wider community – to understand the effects of a war like that of Vietnam, embraced by the veterans as part of their duty at the time, endured by them for the rest of their lives, in the aftermath.
There are many books about the Vietnam War: the war at large, Australians in that war, and a great number of individual stories. None go as close as The Long Shadow to telling us of the most significant, lingering impact on Australia – on our veterans.
I commend this excellent account for those who would understand the impact of wars on those who fight them. The prism might be Vietnam, but the landscape beyond is universal.
Congratulations, Peter Yule!
General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK AC (Mil)
CVO MC (retd)
(9RAR, 1969; HQ 1ATF, 1969–70)
Peter Yule's book The Long Shadow: Australia's Vietnam Veterans since the War will be published by NewSouth in November 2020.