The Battle of Khe Sanh was an extended conflict that took place in Quang Tri Province in the first half of 1968. A few weeks ago in Vietnam there were commemorative programs on TV to mark the 45th anniversary of this battle.
I found it interesting to see how that battle was commemorated, as it’s a part of the war that I think other participants view differently.
I’m not a Vietnam/American War expert, so I could be wrong here, but my sense is that in most accounts of the war in the US, the Tet Offensive dominates what is told about 1968. Yes, the Battle of Khe Sanh began before Tet, and continued after it, but the Tet Offensive is now seen as having had the biggest impact, as it reportedly demoralized the American public, and started to turn the populace against the war.
So for Americans, I think the Battle of Khe Sanh is largely a footnote (although it must mean much much more for the soldiers who actually fought there).
Then there are the Australians. When I hear the name “Khe Sanh,” the first thing that comes to my mind is the Cold Chisel song, “Khe Sanh.” I’ve heard Australians call that song the “Australian National Anthem.”
Cold Chisel was a rock band that was ahead of its time. In today’s globalized age they would be world famous, but in the more provincial world of the 1970s when they started to flourish, they could not even penetrate the insular American market (and wrote a classic song called “You Got Nothing I Want” to tell the US to go &%$# . . .).
“Khe Sanh” was (as far as I know) the first song to document the experience of a (non-Vietnamese) veteran of the war. It talks about how difficult it was to adjust to the mundane, suburban society that veterans returned to, and how memories of the war still haunted them.
The song describes a bleak existence, with the only “escape” being to go to a place like Hong Kong:
You know the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone
Only seven flying hours, and I’ll be landing in Hong Kong
There ain’t nothing like the kisses
From a jaded Chinese princess
I’m gonna hit some Hong Kong mattress all night long
This song was apparently banned from record play when it first came out because of its sexual references. But as the video above indicates, by the 2000s it had become an anthem.
I doubt many Australians today can really identify with what the song is about, just as most Vietnamese today (given how youthful it’s population is) have no recollection of the Battle of Khe Sanh.
It’s hard to control meaning.
But this is still a damn good song.