Tribune, 11 December 1973 / Trove

The "Vietnam War" was a defining event for many of those who lived through the experience.

For Australians, it began with the commitment of a small force of 30 military advisers in 1962, a number which grew to 200 by the end of 1964.

Clearly expecting an expansion of the war, the Menzies controversially introduced conscription for compulsory military service in November of that year.

In 1965, the Menzies government decided to upgrade this by sending Australian troops, whose numbers eventually peaked at 7700.

Resistance among the Australian community, including the Catholic community, began very quickly, with Labor leader Arthur Calwell, himself a Catholic, announcing that the 1966 federal election would be fought on the issue, only to suffer a crushing defeat.

By the time of the next election, with Gough Whitlam now Labor leader, opposition to the war had mounted considerably although not enough for a Labor victory.

1970 marked a turning point with a series of Vietnam Moratorium marches that paralysed state capitals and further mobilised public opinion.

Until this point, the Australian Catholic community and particularly the Australian bishops, had viewed the war through the lens of the Cold War and the fear of Communist domination of South East Asia and eventually Australia.

Former Catholic Action leader, BA Santamaria, who had been close to the assassinated South Vietnamese president, Ngo Dinh Diem, continued to back the war effort through his National Civic Council (NCC).

Other sections of the Catholic community, including the Catholic Worker and Catholic intellectual movements, which were in close contact with the anti-war movement in other parts of the world, took a different view.

Tribune, 6 March 1973 / Trove

However, it was perhaps the YCW and YCS movements, whose members were by definition young, which gradually began to feel the impact of the war on the generation of leaders and members of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This was no doubt aided by the fact that these movements had a history of distancing themselves from the Santamaria "Catholic Action" and NCC lines.

Moreover, Cardijn himself had given his support to an anti-war demonstration in Belgium that resulted in the cancellation of a planned visit to South Vietnam shortly before his death in 1967.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese YCW, which was the first organised YCW movement in Asia with a history dating back to the mid-1930s, had also begun to take a strong position against the war.

Indeed, the founder of the Vietnamese YCW, Nguyen Manh Ha, a nationalist, was a member of Ho Chi Minh's first and short lived independent government that came to power in September 1945.

In 1970, a number of YCW and YCS leaders and chaplains were arrested for their anti-war activities.

This led to an international solidarity campaign by the International YCW, which was taken up enthusiastically by the Australian YCW.

Telegram from Vietnam YCW to International YCW
appealing for solidarity