Flat White

Beer can craft and other symbols of war

12 May 2018

7:26 PM

12 May 2018

7:26 PM

The beer can plane was perched high on a seldom-dusted shelf in the local op-shop.

The last time I had seen one of these was on Saigon’s former Rue Catinat – renamed Dong Khoi after 1975 – and they were being peddled by a legless veteran of the former South Vietnam Army.

The beer can planes – or more, frequently, cars and helicopters made from Coca-Cola or Dr Pepper cans, the departing Americans having left their rubbish behind them,  told their story, of defeated armies, mutilated veterans and lives destroyed. Stories written on the faces of the Amerasian kids who gathered outside the few hotels open to foreigners in the years after the fall of Saigon, hoping to make a few dollars.


But years roll on and Vietnam’s now one of Asia’s most popular destinations. The tunnels at Cu Chi are now a tourist destination and few tourist guides point out the site of the Hoa Lo prison, the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ where former navy pilot Senator John McCain was held and tortured. The Hanoi Hilton is now a historical museum.

What shouldn’t change is the respect that military veterans deserve, as well as their serving counterparts and when recently Australia brass Chief of Army Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell spoke out against what the general termed ‘death symbols’ the serving and veteran chat lines ran fast with comments.  Campbell opined such practice was ‘arrogant, ill-considered and eroded the ethos of the Army’.

Oddly enough, fighting men have usually relied on intimidating kit or accessories worn as part of the uniform when going into battle. Sometimes the ‘death symbol’ might be facial paint or musical – the war drums of the Saracen forces below the walls of the citadels defended by Crusader forces were said to be a terrifying sound.  The Romans liked their trumpets and Boudicca the British warrior queen hung severed heads around her chariot.

Do we really want, or expect garden party manners from the men and women tasked to defend our lives and country?  Experts believe that the two foremost ways to break down segregation of racial and cultural barriers are sport and military training.

Perhaps Minister Payne could remind Lieutenant-General Campbell of George Orwell’s famous lines, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” That violence may come wearing ‘death symbols’.

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