CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Alcohol abuse during the Vietnam War was a significant problem for Australian troops who were supplied with the equivalent of more than five cans of beer per soldier per day during the later years of the conflict, an official record says.
But some Australian commanders regarded beer as a lesser evil than the heroin and marijuana that gained popularity with allied U.S. troops fighting in the conflict, according to the third and final volume of the official history of the Australian Army in Vietnam, "Fighting to the Finish," which is being published Tuesday.
"A few Australian commanders said the Aussies had a drinking culture and they were safer keeping that under control then allowing them access to what could have been far more damaging," co-author Ashley Ekins told The Associated Press on Monday.
"It was a big problem that every Australian task force commander had to confront," said Ekins, an Australian War Memorial historian.
While Australian troops were barred from drinking during combat operations, binge drinking was a popular form of relaxation when troops returned to bases at Nui Dat and Vung Tau.
In all three cases in which Australian privates murdered superior officers during Australia's decade-long military involvement in Vietnam that ended in 1972, the culprit was drunk, the book says.
When a lieutenant was murdered by a drunken soldier who threw a grenade into his tent, another soldier asleep in the same tent was so drunk that he slept through the explosion.
"The biggest problem from the man management point of view in Vietnam ... was grog," Col. Max Simkin, commander of the Australian logistics base at Vung Tau from 1969 to 1970, is quoted as saying. The Vung Tau base's average consumption rate at the time of six cans a day was higher than at the Australian headquarters at Nui Dat.