VIETNAM veterans have accused the RSL of a gross betrayal over plans to cosy up to Vietnam's communist government's veterans association.
The RSL push to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Vietnamese Veterans Association has been sanctioned by the Gillard government as it moves to cement closer ties and negotiate a free trade agreement with the totalitarian government in Hanoi.
Returned and Services League National President retired Rear-Admiral Ken Doolan has met with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and the MOU is being overseen by Australia's Ambassador in Hanoi Allaster Cox.
According to Admiral Doolan, "many" Vietnam veterans support the push, but email traffic between veterans and their associations shows the vast majority vehemently oppose it.
The Daily Telegraph has obtained a letter written by Admiral Doolan, who served in Vietnam as a navigating officer on HMAS Perth and was operational commander of all Australian forces in the first Gulf War, to state RSL presidents last month telling them to ignore the "general email chit-chat".
"We can't continue on with the hatred," he said.
The RSL is split with the WA and Tasmanian branches against the MOU being pushed by the NSW, Victorian and Queensland branches.
NSW branch president Don Rowe said only two sub-branches opposed the move and the debate was being hijacked by a vocal minority.
Victoria Cross winner Keith Payne said the RSL should butt out altogether.
Mr Payne, who won the nation's highest gallantry award in Vietnam, said many individual veterans, including himself, had been to Vietnam and made friends with their former foes, but that was a personal matter: "The RSL should not be pushing this, you can't involve people from other campaigns.
"If the Vietnam veterans want to pursue it then that is fine, but I am opposed to any form of MOU, they are for governments, not the RSL."
Two-tour Vietnam veteran, RSL life member and veterans advocate Noel McLaughlin said the Vietnamese Veterans Association was an arm of the government of Vietnam and the central committee of the communist party that continues to persecute former South Vietnamese soldiers.
Mr McLaughlin, convenor of the Concerned Veterans Action Group, wants the government taken to the International Court of Justice for war crimes and maltreatment of Vietnamese civilians.
"The bastardry is still going on and there is no democracy or free speech there," he said.
"I have been a member of the RSL for 42 years and the MOU just adds to the sense of betrayal and disenfranchisement which existed on return from Vietnam."