What would the Vietcong do to the Southern Vietnamese that didn't want to join them?

What would the Vietcong do to the Southern Vietnamese that didn't want to join them?

I have been trying to find out what the North Vietnamese would do to the Southern Vietnamese at the end of the Vietnam War. Everything I search for only talks about the PoWs, not the South Vietnamese.

This is one of those subjects that is easy to find information about if you know the terms to search for. Otherwise it can be a real pain in the derriere!

People like former South Vietnamese military officers, government workers and other supporters of the former government of South Vietnam were sent to "Re-education Camps" (According to the Wikipedia article, these were called "trại học tập cải tạo" in Vietnamese. As someone who doesn't speak Vietnamese, I'll just have to take their word for it).

There were at least 5 levels of these re-education camps, and they continued to operate until at least the mid-1980s. Those considered to be most 'dangerous' by the North Vietnamese were incarcerated in level 4 and level 5 camps.

In addition to Wikipedia, there are a quite a few sites that explain the system of re-education camps and describe the conditions within them. An example would be this page from vietnam.info.

I'm assuming that you truly are interested in this research so I will be forthright in my answer below.

First, I think it should be obvious why you cannot find information that satisfies your research hypothesis. The short answer is real historians normally do not drink the kool-aid of political ideology.

Second, this question assumes the generally accepted confrontation of North vs South Vietnam is correct. Cold War propaganda is how I will term it.

Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh

Do not forget the origin of the Viet Minh, it was anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist, not anti-Viet. In 1976, Saigon (in South Vietnam) changed its name to Ho Chi Minh City. And who was Ho Chi Minh? The founder/creator of Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam).


All of Vietnam celebrates Reunification Day (aka as Liberation Day), after they kicked out the US Army from Saigon.

The answer to your question(s) should be obvious if you think about these simple but crucial points for a moment without reference to accepted wisdom (whatever that means). In short, the question does not really make any sense from a Viet perspective.

Please allow me to say that my answer tries to address this in terms of history, not political values. I am not Viet and no, Vietnam today does not separate itself into South Vietnam vs North Vietnam. It is simply Vietnam.

Who Were the Viet Cong and How Did They Affect the War?

The Viet Cong were South Vietnamese supporters of the communist National Liberation Front in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the American War). They were allied with North Vietnam and the troops of Ho Chi Minh, who sought to conquer the south and create a unified, communist state of Vietnam.

The phrase "Viet Cong" denotes only southerners who supported the communist cause — but in many cases, they were integrated with fighters from the regular North Vietnamese army, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). The name Viet Cong comes from the phrase "cong san Viet Nam," meaning "Vietnamese communist." The term is rather derogatory, however, so perhaps a better translation would be "Vietnamese commie."


Through 1954, Vietnam was part of French Indochina, along with Laos and Cambodia. During the war, the Imperial Japanese Army occupied Vietnam and remained there until 1945, when the Axis powers were defeated. The Japanese were removed from Vietnam with the help of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh and his Vietminh forces. [4] Following the war, France began to reoccupy the Indochina region and reassert its former dominance. Much of this can be traced back to a desire to restore French glory and national pride after the humiliation the nation suffered during the course of World War II. The French also wished to reclaim the Indochina region to regain control over the vast rubber plantations across the country.

The people of Vietnam were completely against the return of the French. The Vietnamese experienced a lot of abuses by the French during their colonization in the mid 19th century. The people of North Vietnam rallied around their recently returned revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh and looked to him to gain at long last, their independence. [5]

The French spent nine years (1946–54) attempting to regain control of Vietnam. France did not realize that the current Vietnamese were much stronger than those that they were familiar with. They greatly underestimated the strength and capability of the Vietnamese force. The Viet Minh, or Viet Cong as they came to be called, were not going to let the French take control of their region without a fight. The men of the Viet Cong were communists and did not want to surrender their beliefs to the French. Together with the North Vietnamese army, they would defend their land. The Vietnamese used military and political tactics to push and expel the French from their lands. Northern Vietnamese troops were prepared to fight the French to the bitter end in order to ensure victory and their freedom. The loss of thousands of French men made it easy for North Vietnam and the Viet Cong to win the war. France lost a lot of their supporters of the war after many of their men were killed. It was also beneficial to the North Vietnamese efforts when they began to receive outside assistance. The Soviet Union sent them military hardware that they used in combat against the French. After suffering a major defeat at the fortress of Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954, the French lost control of Viet Nam above latitude 17 degrees north this became the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam. Soviet- and Chinese-made weapons and captured American ones given to the North Vietnamese army by China played a key role in the defeat of France.

Even before the CIA was formed, teams from the OSS, including one under Major Archimedes Patti, was in French Indochina, assessing the situation, and discussing alternatives with parties on all sides, including Ho Chi Minh. [6]

CIA officers moved to French Indochina in 1950 as a part of the legation of the United States in the city of Saigon. After their arrival, CIA involvement expanded to a new large base in Hanoi. The CIA's activities in Vietnam did not grow any further due to the French discouraging CIA activity (the French were still clinging to the idea that they could one day still dominate Vietnam and the U.S. was against this course of action). [7]

CIA involvement in Vietnam was discouraged by the French because it was found that the CIA would often bypass them to open channels to Vietnamese nationalists. CIA activity expanded when the Indochina region became three separate states, and grew exponentially during the French War in 1953 to 1954 when France was essentially forced to accept American assistance with unconventional warfare activities. [8]

Despite this resilience by the French, CIA intelligence perceived a deteriorating situation in Vietnam. A 1950 CIA intelligence report noted that the threat of Communism in Indochina was rising as rebel attacks on French outposts continued and highlighted the weaknesses of the French. An intelligence report on Indochinese military developments revealed how vulnerable the French military was, due to the fall of the French border holding at Dong Khe, as well as some attacks they had suffered in Tonkin. The report doubted France's ability to hold Indochina much longer if the Viet Minh continued to attack. [9] The authors of the report feared that, "if these attacks [were to] develop into a coordinated, a large-scale Viet Minh offensive, an action which [might] soon be within Viet Minh capabilities, French maintenance of control over Indochina – by means of their own forces alone – [would] be seriously threatened." This document also noted French hesitancy to bolster the Vietnamese Army, "apparently fearing that such a step would weaken their ability to contain Vietnamese nationalism." [10]

The U.S. intelligence community notes how cautious the French were in arming a Vietnamese army. The report further claimed that, "French reluctance to expand or strengthen the Vietnam Army is indicated by insistence on allocation and distribution of US military aid under French control, failure to make plans for necessary financing, inability of French officials to agree on a course of action or policy, and refusal to expand the local militia." Additionally the French officially refused to accept help from the U.S. in the form of training Vietnamese troops by US military instructors. There is a suggestion at the end of the report that the French would need to accept American aid to train the Vietnamese army and to supply them, if they wanted to change their policy of arming the Vietnamese. [11]

During 1953–1954, the involvement of the CIA increased when the French finally accepted U.S. assistance with the unconventional (guerrilla) warfare tactics they faced, as the French were facing large and costly losses at the hands of what would become the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese resistance forces. [12] The primary aid initially offered by the U.S. was military aid in supplying military hardware and training of the Vietnamese army the scope of U.S. aid to the French was greatly expanded during and after the Eisenhower administration. Without aid from the United States, there would be little practical effect from this ostensible change in French policy. [ clarification needed ] [8]

There was a reestablishment of a covert action section in Saigon Station. There was also unilateral covert action which was suspended in 1953 under State Department pressure. This was due to the French exposing paramilitary operations against the Vietminh in Ha Noi that the agency did not previously clear with them. [13]

The CIA's mission in Saigon was to directly assess the nationalist politicians. [14] The primary cause and motivation behind the intervention of the U.S. and CIA through 1954 was to gather intelligence, and provide interpretations of the events that occurred in Indochina through an American perspective. Outside of North Vietnam, the agency's broad span of activities reached into almost every aspect of the Indochina war. The agency conducted several paramilitary programs and conducted a full-scale war in Laos and South Vietnam. [8]

In 1954, the CIA would remain consistent in its activities in Vietnam. The CIA's expansion included various stations throughout Vietnam and Laos. A station was also located in Cambodia, but relations with that country were broken off in 1963 and reinstated only during the 1970s. [8] The CIA stations, though initially used solely for gathering intelligence and providing interpretations of events in Indochina, came to gain as much importance as the U.S. embassy in its scale of political relations with the South Vietnamese government due to its broad range of activities. The CIA stations in Vietnam were also responsible for conducting a full-scale war in Laos at that time in addition to South Vietnam paramilitary operations. [8]

Another key event that occurred in 1954 was the creation of the Geneva Accords. Signed by France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, and three Associated States of Indochina including Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Accords addressed the issue of what to do with Vietnam since the Viet Minh had ended colonial rule in the north. Although the United States had agreed to respect the Accords, it would not sign them because the U.S. government disagreed with the provision that split Vietnam at the 17th parallel. [15] These Accords would come to play a major role in the United States' decision to interfere with the situation in Vietnam. The U.S. government had provided the French with logistical support in their mission to defeat the Viet Minh. It was only a matter of time, however, before the French needed military support as well. Essentially, the Geneva Accords forced the United States to decide if it was willing to provide such assistance. As historian Thomas L. Ahern Jr stated, "In the end, the importance of halting Communism overshadowed the risks, and the United States embarked on its 21-year effort to create in South Vietnam a permanent barrier to Communist expansion in Southeast Asia." [16]

Covert action Edit

The new CIA team in Saigon was the Saigon Military Mission, headed by United States Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale, who arrived on June 1, 1954. His diplomatic cover title was Assistant Air Attaché. The broad mission for the team was to undertake paramilitary operations against the enemy and to train the South Vietnamese in the arts of psychological warfare, just like Lansdale had done in an earlier conflict in the Philippines. Although, Lansdale worked for the OSS briefly in World War II, he was never a CIA employee. [13] [17]

Working in close cooperation with the U.S. Information Agency, a new psychological warfare campaign was devised for the Vietnamese Army and for the government in Hanoi. Shortly after, a refresher course in combat psy-war was constructed.

One example of psychological warfare dealt directly with misinformation. Lansdale would later recall the event in his memoirs: "The first idea was used just before the French quit the city of Hanoi and turned over control to the Vietminh. At the time, the Communist apparatus inside the city was busy with secret plans to ready the population to welcome the entry of Viet Minh troops. I suggested that my nationalist friends issue a fake Community manifesto, ordering everyone in the city except essential hospital employees to be out on the streets not just for a few hours of welcome but for a week-long celebration. In actuality this would mean a seven-day work stoppage. Transportation, electric power, and communication services would be suspended. The simple enlargement of plans already afoot should give the communists an unexpectedly vexing problem as they started their rule." [18] The celebration did not last a week. The Communists thought that this manifesto was French counterpropaganda and attempted to order everyone back to work, which took three days. [18]

The second SMM member, Major Lucien Conein, arrived on July 1. A paramilitary specialist, well known to the French for his help with French-operated maquis in Tonkin against the Japanese in 1945, he was the one American guerrilla fighter who had not been a member of the Patti Mission. In August, he went to Hanoi with the assignment of developing a paramilitary organization in the north. A second paramilitary team for the south was formed, with Army Lieutenant Edward Williams doing double duty as the only experienced counter-espionage officer, working with revolutionary political groups. [15]

Intelligence analysis Edit

Working with available data, the CIA produced a National Intelligence Estimate in August 1954. It began by stating that the Communist signing of the Geneva agreements had legitimized them, and they would need to immediately move to control the North while planning for long-term control of the country.

This National Intelligence Estimate went on to suggest that while the Diem government was in official control of the South, it remained unpopular because of a disconnect of the government from the people. Certain pro-French elements may have been planning to overthrow it. CIA experts also noted that Diem would have political problems on top of already sinking popularity. Vietminh elements would remain in the South and create an underground resistance force, discredit the government, and undermine French-Vietnamese relations. [19]

On October 26, 1954, Lansdale lured two key personnel in a planned coup against South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem out of the country. Lansdale invited Hinh and staff to visit the Philippines.

U.S. personnel dealing with the Government of Vietnam had difficulties understanding Vietnamese politics. This can be attributed to the fact that the CIA did not make a concerted effort to gain a better understanding of the history and culture of Vietnam. The CIA instead focused on the military forces occupying the territory instead of the political and economic forces that motivated them. [20] The diplomats were not getting clear information in 1954 and early 1955, but the CIA station "had . no mandate or mission to perform systematic intelligence and espionage in friendly countries, and so lacks the resources to gather and evaluate the large amounts of information required on political forces, corruption, connections, and so on." [17]

In Thomas Ahern's monograph, he stops short of saying that the agency was an actor in the coup that overthrew Saigon leader Ngo Dinh Diem. Within the monograph it is noted that on the morning of the coup the U.S. Military Command in Vietnam (MACV) advised the CIA that Saigon was quiet, and that the CIA should stop reporting a coup was imminent or in progress. [13] The CIA also reportedly recognized that Diem would have political problems as early as August 1954. It is reported that policy surrounding Diem was set with this in mind. Relations with Diem's brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, began as early as 1952, also signaling that the CIA predicted political problems with Diem. Despite having the benefit of expert warnings, it is clear that the CIA acted beyond the scope of it experts. [13]

By 31 January 1955, a paramilitary group had cached its supplies in Haiphong, having had them shipped by Civil Air Transport, a CIA proprietary airline belonging to the Directorate of Support.

Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu had been exploited by the help of CIA advisors to help defeat one of the challenges to the new Prime Minister's authority.

Lansdale and the South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dienh Diem had been working together, however they did not agree on the government system they wanted in South Vietnam. In August 1955, Lansdale brought Juan Orendain, a Filipino constitutional scholar, to Saigon in order to sway Diem in a direction similar to the American system. Lansdale was hoping he could have the same effect on Diem as he had previously when working with Magsaysay in the Philippines. Part of this meant proposing a legislature and a judicial system to signal that Diem was open to checks and balances, and was not trying to be beyond reproach in his position. By April 1956 Diem had considered and rejected the model proposed by Orendain, and was more concerned about the broad authority he needed that very moment. All the while Lansdale had little to no real oversight from the rest of the CIA as these actions were taking place. Though he took advantage of this autonomy to improvise, it also meant he had little to no backup to enforce or further persuade Diem into a governmental separation of powers. [21]

During one encounter in early 1955, Diem rejected US ambassadorial representative J. Lawton Collins's nominee for commander of the Vietnamese Army. Collins wanted competence, whereas Diem preferred someone loyal.

On April 27, 1955 the Battle of Saigon had begun. The private crime syndicate Binh Xuyen and the Vietnamese National Army would wage conflict for around a month in Cholon. The Binh Xuyen had been influential (as a powerful Saigon gang) in post-colonial Vietnam, and had even stolen arms and fought the French, however they were defeated quickly. [22] Diem had issued the Binh Xuyen an ultimatum to come under control or be eliminated. The damage caused by the fighting resulted in around a thousand casualties, and tens of thousands more homeless.

In January 1956 Diem promulgated Ordinance 6, which authorized detention and reeducation for anyone considered a danger to the state. This led to a problem of overcrowding as there were already 20,000 communists that had been placed in detention camps since 1954. [23] Landsdale claimed that there was 7,000 political detainees in Saigon's Chi Hoa prison alone. [23]

Operation Brotherhood, created by Ramon Magsaysay in the Philippines, had its first medical team beginning in late 1954. By 1955, it had more than 100 doctors and nurses at 10 medical center locations in South Vietnam to treat refugees and to train Vietnamese medical personnel. The second pacification operation was launched late April 1955 in the southern Dinh Dinh and northern Phu Yen portion of Central Vietnam. [13]

Northern Vietnamese troops needed a way to link themselves with their allies in Southern Vietnam. The Viet Cong and Northern Vietnamese soldiers were able to supply troops and military operations through secret tunnels and the Ho Chi Minh trail. The Ho Chi Minh trail was an interlocking trail system that was created through the borders of Laos and Cambodia that reach from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. During the construction of this trail, native guides had to be used to guide the Northern Vietnamese troops through the wild countryside. Campsites that were built along the side of the trail grew into way points for troops to gather and rest. The trail stretched 800 miles and could take up to three months to travel by foot. [24] Laos had been demilitarized during the 1960s. The North Vietnamese however did not respect the Laos treaty with the U.S, Instead, the North Vietnamese disregarded the peace treaty and begun their construction of the trail to aid their southern Vietnamese allies. Pictures revealing the trail's construction were taken by Vietnamese journalists. [25] However, some of the greatest dangers were not the humans following the trail but rather the mother nature one would encounter along the way. Guides were needed for groups to navigate the dangerous trail. Snakes and spiders would flood the clothing of travelers along with dangerous terrain. For these reasons, travelers needed to practice great precaution along the way. The trail quickly became one of the secret forces of the war. Once United States officials gathered intelligence about the trail, they quickly installed motion censors across the trail to catch insurgents. [1] The complexity of the trail grew further during the 1960s.

Detecting Viet Cong movements on the Ho Chi Minh trail was exceedingly difficult. The trail was a complex collection of interconnecting footpaths. The flexibility afforded by its complexity meant multiple routes could be traversed from north to south. As such, it was easy to shift to a different route if the security of one area was compromised. Furthermore, the length of the trail and the small number of persons using it on any given segment, coupled with its flexible nature made detection all but impossible. [26]

In attempts to combat troop and supply movement along the trail, the CIA and U.S. military set up heat and movement sensors along the trail to track enemy movement. U.S. forces also attempted to use air dropped listening devices to track enemy troops and pinpoint Viet Cong movements.

1959 also saw the arrival of William Colby in the region, and it became increasingly noticeable throughout 1959 that Diem was becoming paranoid regarding security issues and the military. This time saw a constant back and forth between Diem and Nhu over control of the military in the region. The year 1959 saw Diem's authority quickly being lessened, as Tran Quoc Bhu had insisted upon it. [27]

The CIA had very few contacts in the Viet Cong ranks or Northern Vietnam at the time. Many of the contacts that they had were double agents run by the Viet Cong. Much of the intelligence gathered regarding Northern Vietnam was unreliable. [28] U.S. and South Vietnamese military personnel believed that the bulk of North Vietnamese supplies were being shipped over the Ho Chi Minh trail, however, more than 80 percent of Northern supplies were sent by sea.

U.S. Special Forces also began to train some Laotian soldiers in unconventional warfare techniques as early as the fall of 1959 under the code name Erawan. [29] This was because after President Kennedy took power who refused to send more American soldiers to battle in Southeast Asia. Instead, he called upon the CIA to use its "tribal forces" in Laos and to "make every possible effort to launch guerrilla operations in North Vietnam with its Asian recruits." Hence, under this code name, General Vang Pao, who served the royal Lao family was recruited. He then recruited and trained his Hmong soldiers to ally with the CIA and fight against the communist North.

In April 1961, Lansdale, who had been designated the Operations Officer for an interagency Task Force in charge of political, military, economic, psychological, and covert character, was to go to Vietnam. Changes of policy in Washington however, transferred these responsibilities to the military and diplomats, and Lansdale was no longer involved with Vietnam.

On May 11, 1961, President Kennedy gave the authorization to begin "a program for covert actions to be carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency which would precede and remain in force after any commitment of U.S. forces to South Vietnam." [23] Kennedy was giving the CIA the job of preparing for the eventual landing of U.S. troops. Later that year, in October 1961 the Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles approved a massive counterinsurgency program with the goal of launching a "village defense program in the lightly populated but strategically important Central Highlands." [23] The involvement of the CIA rose substantially when they were given the task of supporting "irregular formations" that did not fall under other agencies’ jurisdictions, which include civil wars, guerrilla wars, and rebellions. [23] They were given this job because of an interagency task force recommendation in January 1962. Later that year in May 1962, Defense Secretary McNamara promised the Far East Division chief Desmond FitzGerald "a blank check…in terms of men, money, and material." [23] This illustrates the important mission given to the CIA by the Department of Defense and the White House.

CIA begins to sponsor and train the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG) in the South Central Highlands. These were local defense operations with a mobile support component, "Mike Force", made up primarily of Nung mercenaries. Most CIDG units eventually became Vietnamese Rangers. These forces were intended to help combat the guerrilla tactics of the Vietcong.The CIDG grew out of a Military Operations Section (MOS) program led by Gilbert Layton. Layton's priority was strengthening the intelligence network in the country, specifically in the border regions with Cambodia and Laos. [23] Layton sought to find locals that could gather intelligence on Viet Cong installations in the area. [23] He proposed a program "designed to recruit as many as 1,000 tribesmen to operate in the guerrilla-infested high plateau areas bordering on northern Cambodia and South Laos." [23] His proposal for a crop station and seed distribution was approved but it suffered many delays and problems. [23] CIA Deputy Chief William Colby expanded the intelligence gathering operation into a defense building operation known as the "Montagnard defense program." [23]

In 1961, the CIA also strengthened contact with then-captain in the Royal Laotian Armed Forces, Vang Pao. [30] Pao was a member of the nomadic Hmong tribe, a southeast Asian ethnic minority dwelling primarily in the mountains of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and the CIA quickly realized the potential use of the Hmong as guerrilla fighters against Laotian as well as North Vietnamese communist forces. First donations of food, blankets, and then by January 24, 1961 300 Hmong received weapons to Vang Pao's troops, the CIA sent men to train Hmong fighters in guerrilla tactics, eventually engaging soon-to-be-General Pao's approximately 10,000 men. [31] These Hmong forces would prove valuable to the CIA's tactics for the remainder of the war, despite insecurities on both sides as to the allegiance of the other. It was during 1961 that Vang Pao expressed concerns as to the dedication of the CIA in aiding and remaining supportive of the Hmong after their use in the Vietnam War. [32]

Laos, in 1961, was more important than even the incoming president knew. Kennedy had organized a meeting with Eisenhower, who was on his way out of the Oval Office, to discuss the strategic importance of Laos. They discussed "keeping the 'cork in the bottle'. to prevent communist dominion over most of the Far East." [33] Eisenhower saw Laos as so important, that he was worried about all of Thailand, Cambodia, and South Vietnam falling to communism if Laos went that way. The president was concerned that the Royal Laotian Army (RLA) was impotent and mutinous, and did not want to rely on them. He was so concerned, that in this meeting, he said he would "as a last desperate hope. intervene unilaterally," if it were up to him. [33] The interventions, as mentioned in the paragraph above, ended up being the arming and training of paramilitary forces. While preventing a communist Laos remained the objective of the CIA for the next 14 years, the focus of their paramilitary operations changed over time. Until 1964, the Hmong fighters in Laos focused on trying to fight back North Vietnamese fighters and on preventing further encroachment. They were highly important, because the U.S. hadn't begun putting troops on the ground in any great numbers, yet. After that, in 1965, the report describes the Hmong activities in Laos as "flitt[ing] over mountain trails or mov[ing] by air to occupy key high ground and to harass Hanoi's tanks and artillery," [33] meaning that U.S. troops took on a frontline role and asked the paramilitary forces to operate in more difficult terrain and in less standard ways.

The Buon Enao Project

Buon Enao was a Rhadé village that was the location of a CIA experimental program designed to strengthen defenses against the Viet Cong. [23] The CIA brought several proposals to the village elders, and almost all were met with protest or skepticism. After satisfying all of their concerns, the Americans were able to build a perimeter border fence as well as dispensary. They also armed the villages and trained them how to shoot. They were named the CIDG so that they did not give the appearance of a "covert offensive military unity." Buon Enao was the "first CIDG Area Development Center, which controlled social and economic development services as well as the village defense system in the surrounding area." [23]

Tony Poe (Anthony Poshepny) Edit

Tony Poe was recruited into the CIA after he graduated from San Jose State University and finished his training in 1953. Poe worked with the Hmong starting in March 1961. He was then transferred to Long Tieng. In Long Tieng Poe ran field missions with the Hmong partisans. [34] After he took an enemy round in the stomach in January 1965, and one-too-many confrontations with Vang Pao, Poshepny was transferred up-country, to the land of Yao tribesmen. The tribesmen thought of him as "a drinker and an authoritarian commander and a mercurial leader, who could threaten and bribe to get his way" He died on June 27, 2003.

In February 1962, two disgruntled South Vietnamese air force pilots bombed the presidential palace in hopes of killing Diem and forcing a new leadership, but their plan failed as he was in a different part of the palace when the attack happened. Diem reassigned military officers to improve his security, however, he still did not undertake political reforms. [35] It was also agreed upon in 1962 to grow the Laotian irregulars despite potential diplomatic consequences. [36]

In the Spring of 1962, the CIA became interested hitting at North Vietnam's navy the agency called it Operation VULCAN. In order to fulfill this operation, the CIA hired “18 South Vietnamese who had been trained in underwater demolition” to target the port of Quảng Khê, which “was home to several of the DRV's Swatow-class gunboats”. [37] In June 1962, the demolition crew, called the “frogmen”, were carried by the Nautilus III within swimming distance of the North Vietnamese port, at which point the divers swam to the various military ships in the port and attached their bombs. However, “how many of them detonated remained unclear, for one of them went off prematurely, with the swimmer already spotted and trying to escape”. [37] The Nautilus III was chased down by a Swatow at which point the Swatow collided with the Nautilus III, and all crew, except one, were captured by the North Vietnamese. The document concludes that the mission was considered successful and the military was prepared to continue such operations which often ended with the summary of “mission successful, price heavy”. [37]

The Geneva Agreements were proposed in order to end suspension of flights that went through the Laotian airspace. The agreement went into place in October 1962. Later, the CIA grew afraid that they might demoralize their liaison partners so they did not disclose information pertaining to the policy basis that halted some operations. TARZAN was developed in order to monitor the North Vietnamese road traffic and then the findings would be taken back to the CIA. They were a sabotage team that was released near Route 2. On December 30, a sabotage team that was sponsored by SEPES was called LYRE. This was a part of the nine teams developed that often did not go into full effect. [37]

The U.S. supported Diem in hopes to create a nation that was south of the demilitarized zone at the 17th parallel. [38] In August 1963 South Vietnamese military officers initially planned to obtain support from the U.S. for their coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. State Department official Roger Hilsman originated a cable giving the South Vietnamese generals the green light for a coup against Diem and in October 1963 final plans were made for the coup that was carried out. [35] On November 1, 1963 the House of Ngo ended when generals working for President Diem surrounded the Palace. The Palace was surrounded by units that were brought into Saigon from Mekong Delta and Bien Hoa. [38] Observers of the firefight got close enough to count about 200 rebel troops and there was a report of 35 armored vehicles heading toward the palace. [13] With Diem loyalists being detained, political arrangements were of order and they acknowledged that the new government would be a civilian one. [13] Minh threatened Diem in every way, exerting that he had no patience and would "blast him off the face of the earth" if he did not surrender. After a bombardment of artillery fire to intimidate Diem, Minh ordered an assault on the palace. The next morning Diem finally called the JGC Headquarters promising to surrender if he had safe passage out of the country. [13] Americans had ordered that the Diem and Nhu were kept safe but an officer of Minh had placed them into an armored vehicle and shot them to death. The Americans began to focus on fixing the makeup of the coup rather than the policy of the successor's government after they had realized how bad Diem was as a leader. [38] The CIA paid $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters the morning the coup, given by Lucien Connie an act of prefigured in administration planning. [35]

On July 8, 1963, A CIA officer was told by Major General Tran Van Don(South Vietnam's army commander) that there were plans by the military to overthrow President Diem. [39]

In November 1963, the CIA, or "the Station", was relied upon by Vietnamese generals, who had recently staged a coup, to aid in the set up of a new regime. The Station was coming out of a U.S. Mission moratorium on contacts with the new leadership imposed by Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. A White House tape of President Kennedy and his advisers confirms that top U.S. officials sought the November 1, 1963 coup against South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem without apparently considering the consequences for Diem personally. [35] With support of the coup coming from the U.S. it would have the potential of making us responsible for the outcome in South Vietnam.

Intelligence analysis Edit

A Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) issued in May theorized that a short but intense air and naval campaign against the DRV would deter an invasion of the South, although not stop activities there. It also estimated that this would be a strong morale boost to the RVN. [40] The campaign described, however, was different than the actual gradual attacks that resulted from the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August. This tactic failed spectacularly, as it drove the North Vietnamese and Vietcong to use vicious guerrilla tactics against the U.S.

In October, another, less optimistic SNIE was issued, limited to the South. It said the situation was deteriorating, and a coup could occur at any time. The Prime Minister of the country, General Nguyen Khanh, stayed in power by placating various groups, while exhibiting little leadership of the country or the military. Defeatism was spreading from Saigon to the countryside, and was aggravated by a Montagnard revolt on September 20. No clear leadership was emerging. Much of this turmoil can be traced back to the Diem government and its inability to capture the hearts of the people like Ho Chi Minh had. The South Vietnamese government was completely detached from its people as much of its government was focused in Saigon (though most of the people lived in small villages and Hamlets in the countryside). [41]

The Vietcong, however, were not seen to be planning an immediate takeover, but are concentrating on psychological operations to increase unrest in the south and among American forces. [42]

Intelligence analysis Edit

Special National Intelligence Estimate 10-9-65, was done to assess the reactions, in various parts of the world, to an escalation of U.S. attacks on North Vietnam. This estimate is especially significant in the conflict between the White House and the military and intelligence community. [43] By summer of 1965 there were more than 125,000 U.S. ground troops in Vietnam and there did not seem to be an end in sight for their continuous arrival. [44]

In August 1965, after Prime Minister Quat left the position and was replaced, the CIA worried that Buddhist protests would resume as they had under Diem. Under Diem religious tensions increased between the Buddhists and minority Roman Catholics. He gave Roman Catholics preference in governmental appointments and in military positions in addition to other actions that benefited Christians disproportionately over Buddhists. In a special report on The Buddhists in South Vietnam from 1963, the CIA noted that they were tracking the discontent within the Buddhist community and trying to discern if these grievances could lead to political change within the country. In a section concerning political influences they write, "There seems to be little doubt that the intensity of the Buddhist protests reflected general discontent over the entrenched, autocratic rule of the Diems as well as specific grievances against their religious biases. there have been persistent reports that some extremist Buddhist leaders have been determined to keep up the momentum of demonstrations, not just to secure satisfaction of demands, but in hopes of bringing about the government's overthrow. Available information, however, indicates that most Buddhist leaders hoped to keep the religious issues isolated from broader political discontent and avoided collaboration with political opponents of Diem seeking to use the Buddhist issue to bring down his government". Diem's fight with the Buddhists lowered morale both within his government and his public support. The CIA feared that the Communists would exploit this in order to expand their influence in the community and made efforts to reduce Buddhist political involvement. [45] An Quang Buddhists, led by Tri Quang, were contacted by the CIA. They offered to fund An Quang training programs in return for them remaining nonpolitical. The CIA felt that An Quang Buddhists may resume protests against the government because the new Prime Minister, Thieu-Ky was Catholic. The CIA wanted to keep the Buddhists out of conflict with the South Vietnamese during such a delicate time. Through December 1965, the CIA had given the An Quang Buddhists $12,500. This endeavor was successful in keeping the Buddhists out of the political arena. [46]

In 1965, the CIA began gathering intelligence on Sihanoukville, a port in Cambodia that the CIA believed had importance to the Viet Cong. A CIA intelligence monograph on Sihanoukville written by Thomas L. Ahern, Jr. entitled Good Questions, Wrong Answers CIA Estimates of Arms Traffic Through Sihanoukville, Cambodia, During the Vietnam War was declassified, but large portions of the monograph are redacted. [47] The CIA reported on how the Viet Cong used Sihanoukville to supply its members in South Vietnam and in Cambodia. The agency examined traffic coming in and out of the port. It found that Chinese ships had visited Sihanoukville, but many United States officials and the Military Assistance Command Vietnam debated on the importance of the Chinese ships to the Viet Cong, leading to many visits to Sihanoukville. Certain individuals, whose names were redacted in the report, worked to prove the accounts, while others, also redacted, fought to disprove the reports.

In early 1966, the Johnson Administration authorized an extensive development of the pacification effort and the Agency programs became the basis of the U.S. pacification strategy. [23]

Late in 1966 the secret Polish-Italian peace attempt code-named Marigold by U.S. officials happened at a time when around 6,250 Americans had died. This peace talk happened 18 months before the Paris peace talks and more than 6 years before the accords that ended U.S. direct involvement in the fighting. [48] This meeting was to take place in Warsaw, Poland between U.S. and North Vietnamese ambassadors to talk over a 10-point formula for a settlement. Marigold is to be one of the most controversial and intriguing diplomatic initiatives that remain shrouded in mystery. [48]

The CIA also resumed trying to influence politics in Vietnam in 1966, by once again sending money to Saigon. [8]

Covert action Edit

The Phoenix Program was an attempt to attack the Vietcong infrastructure (VCI) with a "rifle shot rather than a shotgun approach to target key political leaders, command/control elements and activists in the VCI." It was also seen as a U.S. pacification effort. In that the VCI, as opposed to the main force VC/NVA combat forces, used terror against villagers, Phoenix can be considered a counterterror program using some of the same methods as its opponents. The main targets of this program were taking out the hierarchy of officials, guerrilla leaders,and local organization. The idea behind it was if the villages fell, as well as social order, the North Vietnamese would have to give in to American wills.

The creation of the Phoenix Program came as a result of a decade-long negligence on the part of the United States to track the activities of the Communist Party's political and administrative structure. From 1954 to 1964, the only intelligence offered by CIA efforts came in the form of a Hamlet Informant Program, which paid for information from untrained informants. Due to a lack in quality information, the CIA Station joined MACV J-2 and USOM's Public Safety Division in emphasizing a restructuring of intelligence. The Station wanted more centralization of intelligence, but US generals initially refused to offer a joint partnership in the efforts. As a result of this chasm in CIA and military intelligence efforts, the FBI broadened the National Interrogation Center for use by all security and intelligence operations. This change in strategy led to early successes, including the arrest of ninety-seven suspects identified under insurgent auspices, thanks in large part to information shared by police forces. [49] If the interrogation did not yield desired intelligence, or if the suspect resisted, the suspect would be killed. [50]

"Staffing of the advisory Phoenix program, meanwhile, was completed, at least in Saigon. The CIA contribution began with Chief of Station and Deputy Chief of Station membership on Komer's Phoenix Committee. It included, as already noted, Evan Parker as program director, and its Executive Officer, Chief of Operations, an analyst, and two secretaries also came from the Station. For the most part, the Stations participation in Phoenix staffing entailed a second hat for an Agency officer already working against the VCI. As Phoenix Chief of Operations, for example, John Hart was assigned to Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) the chief of his Intelligence. Operations Division (lOD), which conducted joint operations with the Police Special Branch. The entire division adopted CORDS cover under the title.

While Phoenix has often been called a CIA program, that is not entirely correct. It was under the direction of William Colby, who had been Saigon Deputy CIA Station Chief, and then Station Chief, between 1959 and 1962. He returned to Vietnam in 1968, as deputy to Robert Komer, the civilian head of the American efforts against the Communists, called CORDS. Shortly after arriving, Colby succeeded Komer as head of CORDS, which drew on a wide range of U.S. and South Vietnamese organizations, including the CIA station's Rural Development cadre. [51]

There were many allegations of torture among The Phoenix Program. Such tactics included were: rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes, or hard objects, and rape followed by murder electric shock ('the Bell Telephone Hour') rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue the 'water treatment' the 'airplane' in which the prisoner's arms were tied behind the back, and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair, after which he or she was beaten beatings with rubber hoses and whips the use of police dogs to maul prisoners. [52]

The Phoenix Program can be called a resounding failure. The South Vietnamese had a resounding lack of interest and investment in this part of the conflict. Many of those people who were captured and put into prison or who were executed were indeed not high ranking communists, but were instead average citizens. Numerous neighbors would turn in individuals who were their personal enemies or people who owed them money. American troops would commonly buy into these stories. Many of the victims of The Phoenix Program were indeed innocent. [53] By 1972, Phoenix operations were responsible for 81,740 Vietcong and 26,369 prisoners 'neutralized'. [54]

Military action Edit

The U.S. countered Viet Cong tactics through the use of prison camps, assassinations, and psychological warfare. The CIA planted sabotaged explosive Budweiser cans and poisoned cigarettes along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and The CIA extracted letters from communist bodies and used them as methods to gain intelligence.

Operation Shock Edit

Shortly after the Tet Offensive on February 2, a small group of CIA analysts who called themselves "brethren," lead by George Carver, reacted to the attack by devising a plan they called, Operation Shock. The analysts were worried that the generals in the Vietnamese Government grew too comfortable with the American army helping them which lead to growing support for the Vietcong. Their plan was to have the Vice President Ky "supervise a purge of all military and civilian officials guilty of corruption or other abuses." President Thieu would never have allowed the Vice President, who was his rival at the time, to lead a purging campaign, and as if knowing their plan would fail, the "brethren" included alternative solutions to turn the tide of the war including, forcing Thieu to resign and let a war hero come into office, temporarily stop bombardment of Northern Vietnam and initiate talks to try and negotiate surrender, or initiate talks with the National Liberation Front to possibly form a coalition government. The Director of Central Intelligence, Helms, silently handed off the plan to policymakers in Washington, who then relayed the information to President Johnson. Johnson's response was to talk with the Vietcong, stop bombardments, and announced that he was withdrawing from re-election. Vice President Hubert Humphrey is said to have later thanked Carver for stating that he "had a profound effect on the course of U.S. policy on Vietnam." [55]

An important part of the CIA's mission in Vietnam was to constantly monitor what was happening in North Vietnam in order to help the war effort. Since the conflict was part of the Cold War, concerns about aid from the communist powers of China and the USSR constantly remained a concern. One 1968 memorandum demonstrates what was discussed. In the document, titled "Communist Aid to North Vietnam," the types of aid being provided by the Chinese and the Russians are described in detail, with sections on economic and military aid. [56] On October 31, 1968 President Johnson announced a suspension of bombing attacks on the North Vietnam. [36]

In November 1968 President Johnson had written something pertaining to the bombing of North Vietnam. Kissinger tried to convince the CIA to form a smart plan in order to take action on the military targets on North Vietnam. [57] They responded to him by using Laotian guerrillas to go through different barracks and storage facilities located at Dien Bien Phu. Though most organizations figured that the costs would outweigh the benefits, Kissinger still convinced them to go through with it. [57] In December 1969 Kissinger tried to get more strikes on "lucrative targets" in North Vietnam. On March 10 a pipeline located in North Vietnam by the Mu Gia Pass was wrecked. When the government in Cambodia changed the US became more concerned. On April 3 a second pipeline operation had failed but Headquarters encouraged them to keep trying

On April 25 they had tried again but soon had to stop when they came across a North Vietnamese bivouac. [57] On July 3, 1969,the CIA produced an assessment of their collection program pertaining to the North Vietnamese logistics network (Ho Chi Minh trail). The document was intended to be read by Henry Kissinger and detailed the current inventory of CIA collection activities and their corresponding recommendations. Based on the document, the CIA was having difficulty identifying the total logistics structure of North Vietnam (between Laos and Cambodia) and the quantities/frequency of the supplies being transported. It was noted that the supply route in Laos was more active than Cambodia. (Due to the terrain of Cambodia). Though the CIA collection program was predominantly supported by technical and human collection, the high level of hostility made human collection very difficult. The recommendation of the assessment listed the need for more road watchers (to supplement human collection) and more sensors, aerial reconnaissance and wire taps for technical collection. [58]

The constant pressure placed on Thieu from the Station began to take its toll by the end of the 1960s. On May 25, 1969 President Thieu created another political organization called the National Social Democratic Front (NSDF) in attempts to rival the Communists. [59] Since the NSDF had a larger network than the Lien Minh, it quickly gained financial support from the U.S. However, despite all the resources that were being devoted to the organization, the NSDF failed to satisfy expectations and was largely considered to be a disappointment. Many politicians refused to work with a vexed associate of the organization named Houng. The National Salvation Front rejected the NSDF's consolidation request for this very reason. Moreover, the NSDF did not have any success with integrating its constituent parts. The CIA's experiment with the NSDF fizzled out and lasted about a year. Thieu did not want to turn pacification into a political task and would offer no supplemental ideology or program to replace Communism in Vietnam. [59]

Mixed covert action and intelligence collection Edit

Katrosh wanted Theiu and Ky to get along, so that "there would finally be political cohesion in South Vietnam",and ended up using the CIA as the main proponent to help make this happen. Eventually, Katrosh was successful in bringing the two together for the Lien Minh inauguration. Theiu did not want to be personally involved with the Lien Minh organizational activity. Bunker wanted Katrosh's help with pursuing him, so he was sending large sums of CIA money, in the amount of $400,000 to Katrosh. [60]

Neither the CIA nor the military really wanted Phoenix. A footnote to a report on the program may be more to the point than the main report [61]

On December 15 Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird met with George A. Carver, Jr., the DCI’s Special Assistant for Vietnamese Affairs. In a December 15 memorandum to Helms, Carver stated that Laird was anxious to remove all U.S. military personnel from the PRU program, as were MACV commanding general Creighton Abrams and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Laird admitted that his concerns were "political," and he wanted to avoid a flap over the PRU in which U.S. military personnel would be associated. Carver explained that recent steps had been taken to tighten controls over the program, curtail the operational involvement of U.S. military personnel, and shift the emphasis to intelligence collection from ambush or "elimination." Carver argued that the sudden removal of U.S. military personnel, who were already in the process of being gradually reduced, would be a mistake and would jeopardize the program. Laird agreed to reconsider his view.

The main report gives the level of US involvement, showing the Phoenix personnel were primarily South Vietnamese.

The Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) Program in South Vietnam forms an investigative and paramilitary attack upon the covert communist apparatus in South Vietnam. PRU teams, currently totalling approximately 4,200 men, operate in 44 provinces of South Vietnam. PRU are based in their home areas and operate in teams of 15–20 men. They are presently advised and supported by 101 US military advisors and seven CIA personnel. CIA funds the PRU and retains overall administrative control of the project for the U.S. Government.

Reasons against continued CIA involvement included a concern, much like that raised during the Korean War, about diverting CIA from its national-level to a tactical role:

  1. Continued U.S. support of the PRU program risks adverse publicity either through an untoward incident, a press campaign to publicize its efforts or complaints from accommodation-minded South Vietnamese officials or politicians.
  2. CIA will have to continue its support to a program which lies, at least in part, outside its usual intelligence mission. [61]

Vietnam 1969–1972 CIA's pacification programs in Vietnam deteriorated because the Vietnamese chose to not invest in them. [62] Although this is contradicted in the CIA's history books which state that The National Liberation Front was beaten by the pacification programs [63]

Psychological operations Edit

From a psychological operations perspective, The Vietnam War Phoenix Program is controversial to this day. Supporters say that it was a legal and closely controlled U.S.–Vietnamese intelligence program aimed at destroying the Vietcong infrastructure, while the critics say that it was an illegal system of arresting, torturing and murdering innocent Vietnamese civilians. [64]

"Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Directive 381-41, dated 9 July 1967, inaugurated the Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation (ICEX) program to Attack the Vietcong Infrastructure (VCI). In late 1967, MACV replaced the name "ICEX" with "Phoenix," after a mythical bird that appeared as a sign of prosperity and luck and a near translation of the South Vietnamese name for the program, "Phung Hoang" ("All-seeing bird")."

As early as 1964, General William C. Westmoreland, commander of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) "knew that he lacked the forces to wage both a war of attrition and one of pacification, so he chose the former. The argument over whether or not this was the right course of action will likely go on forever, but undoubtedly the shape of the war changed dramatically after the Tet Offensive. The enemy was badly mauled and, despite the political gains made, militarily lost the initiative for quite some time." [51]

When the VC regrouped after the Tet Offensive, "Westmoreland never had such an advantage. When American ground forces entered the war in 1965, they faced an enemy on the offensive, but in June 1968 the new MACV commander, General Creighton W. Abrams, confronted an enemy on the ropes. Abrams plainly recognized his advantage and implemented a clear-and-hold strategy aimed at moving into rural enclaves formerly dominated by the VC."

Much criticized for lack of precision, the Phoenix Program was described by a former official as a "sterile depersonalized murder program. I never knew an individual to be detained as a VC suspect who ever lived through an interrogation" Also many of the people captured under the Phoenix program can be seen as innocent. Many of the thousands of victims were given to the Americans cause of petty disputes among neighbors and for personal gain. Phoenix also had little chance for success because the Vietcong had the operation filled with their double agents from the beginning. [65]

Numerous left-wing websites have William Colby assigning an Operation Phoenix body count of 20,587 Vietcong enemy combatants, and have the South Vietnamese Government reporting the death toll as 40,994. Representative of these is page 5 of a book by author Ami Chen Mills [66]

The psy-war tactics that were most usefully used by the Vietcong were the use of booby traps. They came in all shapes and sizes and in varying degrees of sophistication, but they had a huge impact on the morale of American troops. These traps were not meant to kill, but instead maim and injure because it instilled more fear in the enemy soldiers, and because it took 4–5 men to care for 1 injured soldier, when a dead soldier would be less of a strain on resources. The Vietcong also used tunnels to their advantage. They could sneak out of their hiding spaces and take out a few American soldiers at a time. This increased the fear of the enemy because attacks could happen at any time and anywhere [67]

Operation Wandering Soul Edit

Another psychological warfare tactic utilized by the CIA was Operation Wandering Soul. This preyed on the superstitions of the Vietnamese. It was believed that if one died away from one's family and was not buried with their ancestors, then they would be forced to wander forever their souls in pain. The U.S. recorded tapes of South Vietnamese actors wailing, searching for their loved ones and imploring the Viet Cong to "desert the army to save your soul." These tapes were broadcast by GIs walking about with speakers or by overhead choppers. [68]

Another broadcast used at Nui Ba Den Mountain in 1970 used an actual recording of a tiger from a zoo in Bangkok. A rumor was spread of a tiger attacking the Viet Cong to supplement the playing of the recording. Allegedly, this acted as a catalyst for 150 Viet Cong leaving their positions. Leaflets were also used to amplify this scare tactic. [69]

With its "Vietnamization" doctrine, proclaimed in early 1969, the Nixon administration began the gradual withdrawal of the United States from ground combat in South Vietnam. The end goal of this was to strengthen the military of South Vietnam. An expanded program of irregular operations in the eastern Panhandle was more productive. There was a lot of pressure for Nixon to withdraw from Indochina on the home front. Johnson's bombing of North Vietnam in 1968 really got backlash from the citizens back in America. There were a lot of protests all over the United States because of this. Even though the war was ending in Vietnam, protestors in the United States were still going crazy as the troops were returning from the battlefield. [70] During the Nixon Presidency, domestic pressure to withdrawal from Indochina exponentially increased. However, Nixon was determined to escape the embarrassment of an American military defeat in Vietnam. Needing to rectify the aggravated electorate and ensure the prospects of shaping the settlement in Vietnam from a position of strength, Nixon and Kissinger turned to the CIA. Kissinger ordered the CIA to carry out “high political and psychological impact actions against military targets in North Vietnam.” [71] The Agency sponsored Laotian guerrillas to erode the enemy's confidence in the security of the trail network. On 22 February 1970, the Commando Raider operations began and set ablaze administrative and storage buildings in Dien Bien Phu, and sabotaged a pipeline near Mu Gia Pass. The success of these operations enticed the CIA station in Vientiane to adopt them as a staple of its agenda. The change of government's Cambodia in March 1970 signaled an opportunity to expand the Commando Raider operations. The CIA gathered more intelligence pertaining to the specifics of troop movements and the location of NVA supplies. Raids to destroy these supplies became common. The CIA focused on the complete interdiction of the trail system that extended through Laos and Cambodia. While many of these raids were successful, it was a futile operation. The “means [were] inadequate to the end.” [72] The CIA spent a great amount of resources and energy into preparing these raids, collecting intelligence, and carrying out attempts to further undermine the enemy now defeating them. In May 1970, a raid ended in disaster when all but four of 21 members were captured or killed. [73] The use of CIA covert action, particularly by Kissinger, illustrates the tendency of the White House to circumvent domestic or foreign restraints. The President dealt under the table to accomplish its strategic interests while hoping to save face among the electorate. Furthermore, the ultimate failure of CIA covert action reflected a recurring trend in the Agency's history—no matter the amount of intelligence collected, resources amassed, or strategies implemented, the Agency still failed to understand its enemy. Although the CIA had some success in anticipating the North Vietnamese offensive of 1972, the agency's last station chief in South Vietnam argued that "the illusion that the war is over and we have won is shattered." [1]

Even as late as 1971, the United States worried about resistance in the region along with the want of at least one American ambassador in order to allow for a Thieu victory in the region. Not only this, but there were attempts by the U.S. in order to garner Catholic support for Thieu in the country in order to set up footing among Chinese nationals and other groups. However, the senatorial election of 1970 caused American interest in the political machinations of South Vietnam at least to subside, even if they were interested as late as 1971. [74]

A series of accusations in the early 1970s that the CIA was complicit in drug trafficking in Laos was a contributing factor in the public's opposition to U.S. activities in Southeast Asia. Neither the CIA nor any of its officers were accused of direct activity in the narcotics operations. It is likely that the agency did not focus much energy on the trafficking by indigenous allies until a heroin epidemic broke out among U.S. troops in South Vietnam. There was nothing preventing the hill tribes in northern Laos from producing and selling opium until 1971, as the trade was an economic benefactor to the tribes, but under U.S. pressure, the Laotian government made it illegal. These activities predate the war on drugs in the United States and there was not even a reporting requirement in place until after Nixon's war on drugs had been declared. [75]

In 1972, The U.S. signed an agreement put forth by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (during Nixon's administration) that stated that the U.S. must cease fire immediately throughout Vietnam and that there should be no more U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. Also, there should also be a return of all captured personnel of the parties, and most importantly the U.S. must agree on South Vietnam's right to self determine their own government.

On March 12 of 1975 an anti-aircraft missile from North Vietnam struck an Air Vietnam DC-4 that was en route from Ventiane to Saigon, shortly after the aircraft communicated for the last time over a reporting point (PE9 on the G67 airway) [76] near Pleiku. The ARVN had fallen apart partially due to the North Vietnamese offensive, but it was not the sole reason. Since the North Vietnamese had been attacking everything, including B-52s and naval vessels, they had grown stronger and the South appeared to get weaker. The headquarters had tried to get information pertaining to Thieu's "grand design" on March 20. Headquarters decided to work on the responsibilities with the Communists and to gain support for the refugees that were moving away from the Communists. [77]

You’ve been pronouncing an American atrocity incorrectly

The My Lai Massacre, where a company of American soldiers murdered hundreds of Vietnamese civilians, became a rallying cry for anti-war protesters who argued that American involvement was far from the moral imperative their leaders often portrayed it as. But, despite the global outrage, people have been doing the victims a disservice for decades by not even bothering to pronounce it correctly. It’s actually pronounced: Me Lie.

What would the Vietcong do to the Southern Vietnamese that didn't want to join them? - History

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Some of the Vietnam War facts you think you know aren’t facts at all. The truth is quite a bit different than you might have imagined.

You're not alone. This war was so full of lies and secrets that it’s hard to separate the true Vietnam War facts from the fictional ones. Both sides committed and covered up so many war crimes that they could barely let a single truth slip out.

The American Army implemented covert strategies you would think were the stuff of science fiction. During the war, they used weather weapons that could make it rain, bringing wet weather to the dry season and flooding roads to impede truck traffic between North and South Vietnam.

They sprayed the whole country of Vietnam with toxic chemicals that still affect the area — and American veterans — today. One American unit even wore necklaces of dead Vietnamese men’s ears. They were responsible for the longest series of atrocities committed by any platoon in the war. No one was prosecuted.

Drug use was rampant. An incredible 15 percent of American soldiers were addicted to heroin, while others were so desperate for escape that they ate C-4 explosives just to get high. One soldier, Peter Lemon, even managed to earn a Medal of Honor while stoned out of his mind.

Not every lie made the war seem better, though. Some of the most horrible Vietnam War facts you’ve heard are twisted versions of reality.

For example, consider the iconic “Saigon Execution” photograph of a South Vietnamese general shooting a young Viet Cong fighter during the Tet Offensive. The victim, it turns out, wasn't innocent at all. Also, the U.S. Army had nothing to do with what happened to the infamous “Napalm Girl.”

Vietnam war facts are also ones of remarkable feats of courage, determination, and sacrifice. One American crawled for three days to take a single shot that would change the course of the war. A prisoner of war blinked in Morse code to send one chilling word home to the U.S. government: "torture."

But did his government listen? Richard Nixon, with his eye on the upcoming 1968 presidential election, had a frightening plan. He knew that the country wouldn't want to change leaders in the middle of a war. But what if the war ended? How would voters feel about him then?

Not great, if the group of anti-war protestors who gathered outside the Pentagon to perform an exorcism is anything to judge by — but that wasn't the end of their spiritual ambitions for the Department of Defense headquarters.

History, as you’ll learn in this gallery of Vietnam War facts, didn’t happen the way you think it did. There are a lot of stories you’ve never heard and a whole pile more that you have heard but incorrectly. The truth might just change the way you see America’s most disastrous war.

After reading these facts about the Vietnam war, check out these declassified Vietnam War photos and learn about the tragic legacy of America's chemical warfare: the Agent Orange victims.

“No Viet Cong Ever Called Me Nigger”

Stefan Fatsis told a version of this story on this week’s edition of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. An adapted transcript of the audio recording is below, and you can listen to Fatsis’ essay by clicking on the player beneath this paragraph and fast-forwarding to the 55:22 mark.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong” is one of the young Muhammad Ali’s signature lines. It helped to define him, his opposition to the war in Vietnam, his support for civil rights, and, really, the entire decade of the 1960s. It is arguably one of the most powerful sentences ever spoken by an athlete. It’s emblazoned on a T-shirt.

Through the years, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong” has been paired with another unforgettable, unmistakable Ali quote, cited in essays and books and op-eds, and repeated in the obituaries and tributes that have flowed like tap water since the heavyweight champion’s death: “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”

But Ali didn’t say “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger” when he first said “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” or something close to it, on Feb. 17, 1966. In fact, he may not have said it at all outside of a movie set. And there’s no evidence he coined the lacerating phrase himself.

Let’s start with the first sentence, the one Ali did speak. Ali was in Miami, training for a fight against Ernie Terrell. After his early afternoon workouts, he would sit in a lawn chair outside his gray cement rental and chat up high school girls as they walked home. Nation of Islam members attended to him, and reporters hung around him. On that February day in 1966, a reporter told Ali that the draft board in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, had reclassified him from 1-Y, or unfit for military service, to 1-A, making him immediately eligible to be drafted.

According to Robert Lipsyte, who was at the house reporting a feature for the New York Times, the boxer’s immediate response was more selfishly personal than defiantly political. “Why me?” Lipsyte quoted Ali as saying in the Times the next day. “I can’t understand it. How did they do this to me—the heavyweight champion of the world?” As the news spread, reporters arrived in waves, and neighbors and passers-by did too, asking question after question, for hours.

Ali answered them all. He said, “How can they do this without another test to see if I’m any wiser or worser than the last time?” (Ali in 1964 twice failed an Army pre-induction mental aptitude test.) He wondered why the U.S. government was “gunning” for him. He suggested that officials were biased against his Muslim faith. “I’m fighting for the government every day,” Ali said. “I think it costs them $12 million a day to stay in Vietnam and I buy a lot of bullets, at least three jet bombers a year, and pay the salary of 50,000 fighting men with the money they take from me after my fights.”

“He eventually subsided,” Lipsyte wrote in a May 1967 profile in the New York Times Magazine, “and questioners pressed, asking Ali about Vietnam. He admitted that he wasn’t sure where Vietnam was. They asked him about the Vietcong. He shrugged. ‘I got no quarrel with them Vietcong.’ ”

Lipsyte didn’t include the quotation in his deadline story spoken half-heartedly by a weary Ali after all those hours of talking, it didn’t instantly resonate. (Lipsyte has said he just blew it.) But the quote, or a version of it, was picked up by other reporters. “I am a member of the Black Muslims, and we don’t go to no wars unless they’re declared by Allah himself,” the Associated Press quoted Ali as saying. “I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Vietcongs.’ ” In an AP dispatch a week later, it was “Vietcong” singular.

Ali’s remarks had an instant impact. The governor of Illinois denounced them as “unpatriotic.” The state’s athletic commission ordered a hearing to discuss barring Ali from fighting Terrell the next month in Chicago Ali appeared at that hearing and refused to apologize, and the bout was called off. (Ali would defeat Terrell that November in Houston’s Astrodome in what became known as the “What’s My Name Fight.”)

Ali realized the line had force: It was simple and direct, pointed and rebellious, colorful and colloquial. According to Dave Zirin’s book What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States, Ali was asked about his anti-war rhetoric at a press conference later that year. “Keep asking me, no matter how long,” he replied in verse. “On the war in Vietnam, I sing this song. I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong.”

“No Viet Cong ever called me nigger,” however, did not emerge from the Louisville Lip. When Ali received the news about his draft status, the phrase was already circulating in the counterculture. On Feb. 23, 1966, just six days after Ali’s comments in Miami, the Times reported on an anti-war protest in New York where “One Negro demonstrator carried a sign that said ‘The Viet Cong Never Called Me Nigger.’ ” A protester at the March Against Fear in Mississippi that June wore a placard reading “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.” The Times spotted a teenage girl in Chicago that summer wearing “a button pinned to her flowered blouse that said, ‘The Vietcong never called me a nigger,’ ” and United Press International saw a button in Cleveland “on the lapel of a leader of J.F.K. House, a militant youth center.”

The phrase had staying power. In April 1967, at an anti-war march in New York attended by more than 100,000 people, the Times described a sign reading “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger,” and the Washington Post heard black protesters shouting the phrase. In April 1969, students at historically black Voorhees College in South Carolina put up anti-war posters featuring the line. In his 1998 memoir Walking With the Wind, civil rights leader John Lewis, who headed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid-1960s, recalled that “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger” was “an extremely popular poster” that hung on walls at black colleges and organizations. “We had a copy mounted on the wall of our SNCC headquarters in Atlanta,” Lewis wrote.

So who coined the phrase? It’s not clear. Sociologist Charles Lemert, author of the 2003 book Muhammad Ali: Trickster in the Culture of Irony, has written that the words “were first uncovered in Vietcong propaganda spread among the mostly black ground troops in the Mekong Delta.” In his 2007 book The African American Experience in Vietnam: Brothers in Arms, historian James E. Westheider credited civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael at the 1966 Mississippi March Against Fear: “Why should black folks fight a war against yellow folks so that white folks can keep a land they stole from red folks? We’re not going to Vietnam. Ain’t no Vietcong ever called me nigger!” But that was four months after the sign at the anti-war march in New York.

John F Kennedy and Vietnam

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a fervent believer in containing communism. In his first speech on becoming president, Kennedy made it clear that he would continue the policy of the former President, Dwight Eisenhower, and support the government of Diem in South Vietnam. Kennedy also made it plain that he supported the ‘Domino Theory’ and he was convinced that if South Vietnam fell to communism, then other states in the region would as a consequence. This Kennedy was not prepared to contemplate.

Kennedy received conflicting advice with regards to Vietnam. Charles De Gaulle warned Kennedy that Vietnam and warfare in Vietnam would trap America in a “bottomless military and political swamp”. This was based on the experience the French had at Dien Bien Phu, which left a sizeable psychological scar of French foreign policy for some years. However, Kennedy had more daily contact with ‘hawks’ in Washington DC who believed that American forces would be far better equipped and prepared for conflict in Vietnam than the French had been. They believed that just a small increase in US support for Diem would ensure success in Vietnam. The ‘hawks’ in particular were strong supporters in the ‘Domino Theory’.

Also Kennedy had to show just exactly what he meant when he said that America should:

“Pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend…to assure the survival and success of liberty ”.

In 1961, Kennedy agreed that America should finance an increase in the size of the South Vietnamese Army from 150,000 to 170,000. He also agreed that an extra 1000 US military advisors should be sent to South Vietnam to help train the South Vietnamese Army. Both of these decisions were not made public as they broke the agreements made at the 1954 Geneva Agreement.

It was during Kennedy’s presidency that the ‘Strategic Hamlet’ programme was introduced. This failed badly and almost certainly drove a number of South Vietnamese peasants into supporting the North Vietnamese communists. This forcible moving of peasants into secure compounds was supported by Diem and did a great deal to further the opposition to him in the South. American television reporters relayed to the US public that ‘Strategic Hamlet’ destroyed decades, if not hundreds, of years of village life in the South and that the process might only take half-a-day. Here was a super-power effectively orchestrating the forced removal of peasants by the South Vietnamese Army who were not asked if they wanted to move. To those who knew about US involvement in Vietnam and were opposed to it, ‘Strategic Hamlet’ provided them with an excellent propaganda opportunity.

Kennedy was informed about the anger of the South Vietnamese peasants and was shocked to learn that membership of the NLF had increased, according to US Intelligence, by 300% in a two year time span – the years when ‘Strategic Hamlet’ was in operation. Kennedy’s response was to send more military advisors to Vietnam so that by the end of 1962 there were 12,000 of these advisors in South Vietnam. As well as sending more advisors to South Vietnam, Kennedy also sent 300 helicopters with US pilots. They were told to avoid military combat at all costs but this became all but impossible to fulfil.

Kennedy’s presidency also saw the response to the Diem government by some Buddhist monks. On June 11 th 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, committed suicide on a busy Saigon road by being burned to death. Other Buddhist monks followed his example in August 1963. Television reported these events throughout the world. A member of Diem’s government said:

“Let them burn, and we shall clap our hands.”

Another member of Diem’s government was heard to say that he would be happy to provide Buddhist monks with petrol.

Kennedy became convinced that Diem could never unite South Vietnam and he agreed that the CIA should initiate a programme to overthrow him. A CIA operative, Lucien Conein, provided some South Vietnamese generals with $40,000 to overthrow Diem with the added guarantee that the US would not protect the South Vietnam leader. Diem was overthrown and killed in November 1963. Kennedy was assassinated three weeks later.

Tastes like… rabbit?

For our feature story on rats in this month’s National Geographic magazine, photographer Ian Teh shadowed a veteran rat catcher, "Mr. Thy," as he hunted the animals amid the farmlands of Quang Ninh, a province in northeastern Vietnam. (See gorgeous photos of Vietnam.)

Rat-catching is a vital source of side income for Vietnamese farmers, who trap rats alive in wire or bamboo cages and export them to small processing centers, where the meat is then sold to local markets.

Exploring New Vietnamese Dishes

Thy has a seasonal business catching the rodents, which he either sells or brings home for his family dinner. In Vietnam's rural areas, rat is often washed down with beer or rice whisky, Singleton says.

Rat-cooking techniques vary, Teh discovered. He saw rats killed by being placed in hot water, though Singleton has only seen rats done in by a severe blow to the head. (Read about the future of food in National Geographic magazine.)

Next the carcasses are either smoked, followed by frying or grilling or, they’re steamed or boiled. Steamed rats are said to have a stronger taste, and bigger rats are thought to be simply better eating.

“Foreigners who try rodent meat often say it tastes like chicken, but it is a dark meat and has a gamier taste than chicken. I equate the taste to that of rabbit,” Singleton says.

During his travels, Teh was told rats are nutritious, particularly for pregnant women Singleton confirms the meat is high in protein and low in fat.

Civilian deaths in the Vietnam War

  • It is estimated that 40,000 South Vietnamese civilians were assassinated by the People’s Army of Vietnam /Viet Cong
  • 250,000 were killed as a result of combat in South Vietnam and 65,000 were killed in North Vietnam.
  • Another 222,000 civilians were counted as military deaths by the U.S. in compiling its “body count.”

Deaths caused by North Vietnam/Viet Cong forces

J. Rummel – a professor of political science who taught at the Indiana University, Yale University, and University of Hawaii – estimated that:

  • People’s Army of Vietnam /Viet Cong forces killed around 164,000 civilians in democide between 1954 and 1975 in South Vietnam, from a range of between 106,000 and 227,000, plus another 50,000 killed in North Vietnam.
  • The Viet Cong killed hundreds of Montagnard civilians at the village during the Battle of Dak Son, 1967
  • 17,000 South Vietnamese civil servants killed by People’s Army of Vietnam /Viet Cong.

In addition, at least 36,000 Southern civilians were executed for various reasons in the period 1967–1972, about 130 American and 16,000 South Vietnamese POWs died in captivity.

Thomas Thayer in 1985 estimated that during the 1965 – 1972 period the Viet Cong killed 33,052 South Vietnamese village officials and civil servants.

Deaths caused by South Vietnam

According to RJ Rummel, there are lots of civilians and soldiers killed from the Vietnam War between 1964 and 1975:

  • An estimated 1,500 people died during the forced relocations of 1,200,000 civilians, another 5,000 prisoners died from ill-treatment and about 30,000 suspected communists and fighters were executed.
  • In Quảng Nam Province 4,700 civilians were killed in 1969.
  • This totals, from a range of between 16,000 and 167,000 deaths caused by South Vietnam during the (Diệm-era), and 42,000 and 118,000 deaths caused by South Vietnam in the post Diệm-era), excluding People’s Army of Vietnam forces killed by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in combat.

Deaths caused by the American military

  • RJ Rummel estimated that American forces committed around 5,500 intentional democidal mass-killings between 1960 and 1972, from a range of between 4,000 and 10,000 killed in democide.
  • Benjamin Valentino attributes possibly 110,000–310,000 “counter guerrilla mass killings” to U.S. and South Vietnamese forces during the war.
  • Estimates for the number of North Vietnamese civilian deaths resulting from US bombing range from 30,000–65,000.
  • Higher estimates place the number of civilian deaths caused by American bombing of North Vietnam in Operation Rolling Thunder at 182,000.
  • American bombing in Cambodia is estimated to have killed between 30,000 and 150,000 civilians and combatants.
  • Burial of 300 unidentified victims from the Huế Massacre, killed by communist forces and found after the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and U.S. Marines retook the area in March, 1968. U.S. Military photo.
  • 2 million gallons of Agent Orange, some of which was contaminated with Dioxin, was sprayed by the U.S. military over more than 10% of Southern Vietnam, as part of the U.S. herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam’s government claimed that 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of after effects, and that 500,000 children were born with birth defects. However, the United States government has challenged these figures as being unreliable.

  • Guenter Lewy estimates that around 220,000 civilians in South Vietnam were killed in US, Army of the Republic of Vietnam and other allied land operations.
  • Seven massacres officially confirmed by the American side and in five other places altogether about 100 civilians were executed.
  • Two further massacres were reported by soldiers who had taken part in them, one north of Đức Pho in Quảng Ngãi Province in the summer of 1968 (14 victims), another in Bình Định Province on 20 July 1969 (25 victims).
  • Tiger Force, a special operations force, murdered hundreds, possibly over a thousand, civilians.
  • In the course of large-scale operations an unknown number of non-combatants were killed either accidentally or deliberately – with the Army Inspector General estimating that more than 5,000 died in the course of Operation Speedy Express.
  • According to the Information Bureau of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRG), between April 1968 and the end of 1970 American ground troops killed about 6,500 civilians in the course of twenty-one operations either on their own or alongside their allies. Three of the massacres reported on the American side were not mentioned on the PRG list.

Deaths caused by the South Korean military

  • United States Marine recovered victims bodies who were killed by South Korean Marines in Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat hamlets on February 12, 1968.
  • The ROK Capital Division purportedly conducted the Bình An/Tây Vinh massacre in February/March 1966. The 2nd Marine Brigade purportedly conducted the Binh Tai Massacre on 9 October 1966.
  • In December 1966, the Blue Dragon Brigade purportedly conducted the Bình Hòa massacre. The Second Marine Brigade conducted the Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre on 12 February 1968. South Korean Marines purportedly conducted the Hà My massacre on 25 February 1968.
  • According to a study conducted in 1968 by a Quaker-funded Vietnamese-speaking American couple, Diane and Michael Jones, there were at least 12 mass-killings conducted by South Korean forces which approached the scale of the My Lai Massacre with reports of thousands of routine murders on civilians primarily the elderly, women and children.

“Winning Hearts and Minds” – The Long History of a Failed Strategy

Essentially, the United States tried to convince the native population that they have been liberated and that their quality of life has been improved by a benevolent American invasion.

One of the earliest efforts the United States made to win hearts and minds was really only carried out by half of the United States — or rather, two separate halves simultaneously.

Artist depiction of U.S. Cavalry Chasing Native Americans.

Both the North and the South during the Civil War expected to find massive numbers of friendly faces and new recruits when they entered the other’s territory. They expected to be able to approach the native population and win over many of those who were skeptical of their cause. In both instances, this strategy would utterly fail.

Civil War reenactment. Robert W. Mann – CC BY-SA 3.0

The Confederacy

When Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland in 1862, he remarked to Jefferson Davis that “If it is ever desired to give material aid to Maryland and afford her an opportunity of throwing off the oppression to which she is now subject, this would seem the most favorable.”

On the assumption that citizens of the slave state would rise up to support him, Lee was less concerned than he should have been about his small numbers, insufficient ammunition, and difficult supply lines.

Unionists throughout the Confederate States, including Germans, resisted the imposition of conscription in 1862.

This assumption may have seemed reasonable given pro-confederate riots that took place in Baltimore only a year earlier. However, Western Maryland was far less friendly to the Confederacy. Despite Lee’s instructions to his men to pay for supplies instead of looting and to act amicably, he found little support either in terms of supplies or manpower.

The Southern pitch to pro-slavery and anti-war sentiments among Marylanders, combined with their attempt to show hospitality, simply did not convince civilians who now found themselves in the middle of the war thanks to the Southern advance.

Crossing the Potomac at White’s Ford into Maryland 6 Sep 1862

The Union

The Union fared only somewhat better when it came to white Southerners in the Confederacy. The supposition that secession was the product of a few plantation-owning elite families while the average Southerner remained loyal proved to be entirely false.

The only major exception to this would be in the area that would become West Virginia, and in other Appalachian regions to a degree. When Union armies occupied central Tennessee and Northern Virginia early in the war, they expected to be joined by loyal locals but were instead treated to a hostile response.

Citizens in those areas continued to join the Confederacy and even raided behind Union lines.

Union soldiers on the Mason’s Island (Theodore Roosevelt Island) in 1861

The only major group of Southerners to support the Union was, unsurprisingly, slaves and former slaves. However, even their support was tempered by the decision of many generals early in the war – before the Emancipation Proclamation – to return escaped slaves to their masters since slavery was still legally protected in those states.

Even in the Border States, Lincoln’s strategy was to place Unionists in positions of power in state legislatures, rather than counting on winning over the average citizen.

Soldiers of the Fourth United States Colored Infantry at Fort Lincoln, in 1865

The “Polar Bear” Expedition

The Polar Bear Expedition was a little-known American intervention in the Russian Civil War. Ostensibly this intervention was designed to bring Russia back into the war by removing the Bolshevik government and saving a group of soldiers loyal to the Tsarist government.

At first, the English General, Frederick Poole, supported a more “moderate” anti-Bolshevik Leftist government in Northwestern Russia where the Americans landed.

Vladivostok, Russia. Soldiers and sailors from many countries are lined up in front of the Allies Headquarters Building. The United States is represented.

However, he then decided that he wanted to establish a reactionary monarchist government instead. This decision immediately alienated any Leftist anti-Bolshevik supporters the Allied invasion might have found.

Making matters worse, another British commander remarked that he “saw no purpose for a government here anyway,” and Poole became known for “his colonial approach to Russians,” according to historian Robert Willett. Given this arrogance, condescension, and flip-flopping between anti-Bolshevik factions, it is no surprise that the Allied forces found little local support.

U.S. troops in Vladivostok, August 1918

Even when individual soldiers gained the respect of locals, incompetence from their commanders soon erased all progress. On one occasion, Allied forces torched part of a village in retaliation for sniper attacks. By the end, they had lost what support greeted them upon their arrival.


U.S. Marines with Company G, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, direct a concentration of fire at the enemy during Operation Allen Brook

The most (in)famous use of a “hearts and minds” campaign by the United States came during Vietnam, and it failed as utterly as any other. Crucial factors were the disorganized nature of the war, local support for the Viet-Cong, and the difficulty in telling apart friend and foe.

President Lyndon Johnson declared that “ultimate victory will depend upon the hearts and the minds of the people who actually live out there.”

A U.S. B-66 Destroyer and four F-105 Thunderchiefs dropping bombs on North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder

The strategy involved providing security to villages, expanding access to services like electricity, and a propaganda campaign showing the Viet-Cong as merciless aggressors. However, the idea of providing security and denouncing the Viet-Cong was undermined by the behavior of American command, which often resorted to using extreme firepower to put down resistance.

Historian and author, George Herring, notes that “American firepower destroyed homes, villages, and crops, and alienated those whose hearts and minds were to be won.

The ruins of a section of Saigon, in the Cholon neighborhood, following fierce fighting between ARVN forces and Viet Cong Main Force battalions

American commanders declared entire areas free-fire zones. Troops would round up villagers, burn their hooches and relocate them from their ancestral lands into squalid refugee camps.” Unsurprisingly, hearts and minds were not won.

Vietnamese civilians escaping the fighting pass the destroyed Trường Tiền Bridge

The latest example of a largely failed hearts and minds campaign is the ongoing war in Iraq. During testimony before Congress in the lead up to the wars, several absurd claims were made. These included that Iraqis would readily accept US occupation, and that they would come forth with candies, kites, boom boxes, and smiles to greet the American liberators.

In reality, a massive insurgency erupted because, as Samer Shehata succinctly explained, “One of the many problems with such naively optimistic predictions is that they failed to recognize that Iraqis, while welcoming the end of Saddam’s regime, simultaneously disdained the idea of foreign troops in their country.”

A Marine Corps M1 Abrams tank patrols a Baghdad street after its fall in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As the United States pursued plans to rebuild or expand infrastructure in a bid to win over civilians, distrust in the occupying forces increased due to the growing length of the occupation. By 2005, when asked if Americans were “occupiers” or “liberators,” 71% of Iraqis answered occupiers.

Soon, many began to question the motivation of the occupation, and old sectarian divides started to reemerge under the newly installed democracy.

A city street in Ramadi heavily damaged by the fighting in 2006.Photo: Joey Buccino CC BY-SA 3.0

Even American efforts to rebuild infrastructure fell flat, as it often took years to repair the damage, and corruption was common. Ultimately, the attempt to win hearts and minds in Iraq ended up a complete failure.

So what can the American government learn from these failures?

U.S. Army and Iraqi army soldiers board a Marine Corps CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter in Iraq.

It is clear that any good-will generated from removing the previous regime does not last long. Consequently, the possibility of winning hearts and minds in any extended conflict should not be taken seriously. When it comes to operations like expanding infrastructure and education, Americans also seem to significantly overestimate their abilities in this area.

Protesters on 19 March 2005, in London, where over 150,000 marched

In reality, due to insufficient funding, poor planning, and corruption in the organizations responsible for carrying out these plans, such efforts have never truly been successful. Americans need to realize that they can be seen as an oppressor by native populations just as easily as the regimes they are replacing.

Watch the video: Tragödie in Vietnam - Der amerikanische Krieg. Doku