The Battle for Hearts and Minds: Counterinsurgency and Reconstruction Programs in Vietnam
East Auditorium, George C. Marshall Conference Center
September 30, 2010
- Chair: Richard Hunt, Historian, Office of the Secretary of Defense
- Elie Tenenbaum, Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), and Jean-Marc LePage, Karraoul High School, “French-American Relations in Intelligence and Counterinsurgency during the First Indochina War”
- Geoffrey Stewart, University of Western Ontario, “Community Development, Modernization and Exceptionalism in South Vietnam, 1957-1963”
- Robert Kodosky, West Chester University, “To Forgive and Forget: The Forgotten Lessons of Dai Doan Ket, a Program for National Reconciliation in Vietnam, 1967–1972”
- Commentator: Pierre Journoud, Institute for Strategic Research, École Militaire, French Ministry of Defense.
DR. CARLAND: Appropriately enough, we are now at the point where we have a session titled “Battle for Hearts and Minds: Counterinsurgency and Reconstruction Programs in Vietnam.” The chair, is chaired by Richard Hunt. Dick Hunt, who served in the Army in Vietnam, 1971, as a MACV historian, and then from ’71 to the year 2000, he was historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, working on the history of Vietnam and also on the oral history program. Dick and I were colleagues there when I was at the Center also.
Since 2002, he has been historian in the Department of Defense Historical Office, researching and writing a volume on Melvin Laird as Secretary of Defense. In addition to writing articles, book reviews, presenting papers, Dick is the author of one of the most important books on the history of the Vietnam War, titled Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam’s Hearts and Minds, a necessary book on America’s pacification efforts there. And thus, he is singularly suited to chair the panel.
DR. HUNT: Thank you, John, for those kind words, and thank you for organizing this conference. It’s just been fantastic.
Today’s session– this afternoon’s session on counterinsurgency and reconstruction will cover a range of topics and periods, but common to each presentation is an examination of the relationship of the United States with its allies: the French during the first Indochina war and the South Vietnamese during the second Indochina War. The topics range from the work of French and American intelligence organizations in setting up counter-guerrilla programs during the French-Indochina War, U.S.-South Vietnamese differences over Ngo Dinh Diem’s efforts to build rural political support, and U.S.-South Vietnamese disagreements over the concept of national reconciliation, the effort to integrate members of the Viet Cong into South Vietnamese society.
The first paper is a joint paper. I’ll be announcing both speakers at the same time and they will smoothly transition from one to the other.
Jean-Marc Le Page is currently a high school history teacher at Karraoul, France. He recently earned his PhD in history at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. His dissertation covered the French intelligence services during the first Indochina War. He is also the author of a number of articles on the pacification program and French intelligence during the Indochina war.
His co-presenter, Élie Tenenbaum, is currently a PhD candidate in the History of International – at the School of History of International Relations at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. He earned an MA from that institution and a bachelor’s degree from the War Studies Department of Kings College in London. He has published articles on the Strategic Hamlet Program and French influence on U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine.
Take it away.
DR. Le PAGE: Thank you. French-American intelligence relations were for mostly presented through the prism of Graham Green’s novel, The Quiet American . This embroidered vision was not completely disconnected from reality as concedes its true nature of the French-American relations in this area, that often necessary but unwanted on a reluctant alliance.
We are going to divide our presentation into parts, according to the line of our respective research orientations. I will be talking first on the political and psychological level about interagency services relations. Then, Élie will take over to put some emphasis on those services, even mounting the counterinsurgency.
Apart from the experience towards the end of the Second World War, it was only during the ’50s that the French intelligence services were in relations with the U.S. in Asia. What was the kind of relationship between the French and U.S. intelligence services during the French-Indochina War?
You can take this copy, please. [handout]
The French intelligence services were numerous in Indochina. Near the G2 and the military services, like the SRO [Service of Operational Information, Service de Renseignement Opérationnel ], specialized in the HUMINT, human intelligence, there was a special service. It was SDECE, for External Documentation and Counter-espionage Service [Service de documentation extérieure et de contre-espionnage] . The SDECE was divided in four main sub-services: intelligence service against China (inaudible) and Burma, HUMINT agents, the COMINT, with the SDR, and the Action Service.
Colonel Belleux was at the head of the SDECE in Indochina. He was always in relation with Paris. Between 1951 and ’57, it was Pierre Boursicot who directed this French intelligence service. SDECE was subordinate to the prime minister’s office. After 1950, the CIA was in Indochina. It was important to specify the relations between French and American services, all the more so as the French authorities were very suspicious about American activities in Vietnam. Since 1949, SDECE maintained a relationship with the British intelligence service. An MI-6 official was working with SDECE in Saigon, and a French officer was in Singapore. The idea was to develop similar links with the CIA.
In May-June 1951, Pierre Boursicot met General Bedell Smith, Allen Dulles, and Frank Wisner. A protocol allowed the CIA to operate in Indochina through the United States Embassy in Saigon. Mr. Mac-Clintic, then Mr. Duffield, were the CIA correspondents close to the SDECE. By 1952, there were three: Col. Hall, Mr. Caswell and Patton. They exchanged intelligence on a weekly basis on military matters and communism in the region.
Regarding Indochina, in the mind of the head of the SDECE, it was only military matters. The internal political affairs were not concerned by these (inaudible). At last, in July 1954, a new proposition was offered by Langley and executed by the French Government in the context of Geneva agreements. Colonel Belleux and Edward Lansdale would deal with the practical conditions of these future collaborations. But the end of the war caused an agreement proofreading, and some officials of the French intelligence services struggled against the French – the American agencies who maintained the Diem solution.
Another collaboration existed between the SDECE and the young NSA. An agreement had been adopted by the two governments to exchange the COMINT, communication intelligence, results, and the SDR and the NSA worked together and they formed a pool against China. The 31st of August 1953, Boursicot and Allan Dulles reached a new step in the collaboration. The end of the Korean War increased American needs and Indochina could be seen as a solution. American operators were in position at Seno, Laos because the Okinawa interception stations were too far away to be able to act in the best conditions to intercept the south-Chinese networks.
Communist China was the target. The Korean War demonstrated the difficulties in obtaining intelligence about China. Firstly, in June 1950, when the North Korean army invaded the South; secondly, in November, when the Chinese volunteers attacked the UN forces near the frontier, the different American services were in the dark. Indochina was a battleground of the Cold War and a window for determining the Chinese possibilities and intentions. The collaboration between the Western services was essential, and the Franco-American special services collaboration ran smoothly. However, it was not the same with the French authorities in Indochina and the American services.
George W. Allen showed the good relationship between the French G2 officers and their foreign counterparts, but it was not the same with a different commander-in-chief and their general staff. The American intelligence services were in place through military attaches and the officers of the CINCPAC. Some officials of the CIA were formally at the Embassy, but also less officially, in different organizations, like the Special Technical and Economic Mission. The STEM was managed in 1951 by Robert Blum who was close to the CIA. Blum was also the president of the Committee for Free Asia and sustained the struggle of the nationalist states against communism. But at the same time, his views were on the verge of Francophobia and Gen. De Lattre obtained his re-posting.
French authorities accepted more or less this presence. In the simplest case, that of the military attaches, an agency was created in the main to facilitate the exchange of intelligence and to control it. This foreign affairs section organized meetings every day in which the G2 took bearing on the military situation and answered questions. Nevertheless, all the sensitive aspects were under control. Normally, this section was the only intelligence network between the French forces and the allies. But some of them were not satisfied with the level of information and the search for more roundabout means.
The State Department was discontent about the military attaché reports and put pressure on them. The American representatives in the Hanoi consulate in 1952 were embittered towards the French, who didn’t feel the same, according to a Sûreté report, the French political policy in Indochina.
This fact, among others, was a result of one of General Salan’s information notes. The French commander-in-chief, between January ’52 and May ’53, denounced the relations during the social gatherings between French officers and their foreign representatives. The rumors collected were sent back and could be used against the French interest. That’s why the officers had to make contact with the military security once they met foreigners, even if they were allies.
Nineteen fifty two was the worst year in the relations between the two states. The consequence for the Americans was the poverty and the indigence of their reports. This fact was increased by their weak understanding of the French language because they couldn’t find other sources. It was a French opinion!
A similar problem for the French authorities was the U.S. contact with Vietnamese personalities. Moreover, the U.S. representatives were under surveillance. The intelligence agencies excluded political affairs. But as the U.S. wanted information, they contacted Chinese and Vietnamese personalities, as Trinh Minh The – a Cao Dai multi-defector in South Vietnam (inaudible). Furthermore, the French political police reported the constitution of a cell composed of a dozen Chinese and Vietnamese close to the North Vietnam consul. Also, it would seem a radio post had been brought to the Chinese people. (Inaudible) some Vietnamese and Chinese people met the U.S. representative directly and get information. But they were more often biased.
Salan couldn’t understand all these maneuvers, and it was the same for a lot of officers and civil servants. During this year, in 1952, we came close to a breakdown. With General Navarre, relations were more simple because he understood the force ratio between the two states. But he was reluctant to give the results of these technical services. For example, in the middle of 1953, Navarre decided to increase the French interception capabilities as needed. He was dependent on the U.S. military aid, and the Americans, in compensation, wanted the results of the listening in South China. Navarre, firstly, refused because he wished to protect the COMINT organization. But finally, he had to give this information. There were two main reasons to explain this situation. The French authorities wished to keep control of the war. France accepted the material and financial aid but refused all interference in the conduct of the war.
Secondly, to understand Salan’s attitude, we have go back in time to 1945 and the OSS action. It was obvious for the French that American services had given weapons to the Vietnamese. And Major Patti was in Hanoi in September 1945 for the declaration of independence of Vietnam. On the other hand, the French officer, Lieutenant Klotz, had been shut down by Vietnamese in the presence of an OSS officer who declared himself neutral and didn’t step in. In the perception, not the reality, but in the perception, numerous French, this facts offered proof of the U.S. double play, and the assassination of Lieutenant Klotz increased the resentment.
Who was in Indochina in 1945 and 1952? General Salan or General Jacquin, head of the Tonkin G2. The relations between France and the United States in Indochina was complex, because the French forces was – we have two position in France. The SDECE have had a global vision of the Cold War. And for the SDECE, Indochina was a front like Germany or Korea. But for the authorities in Indochina, we have a local vision and only for the Indochina.
But finally, despite the problems, by 1952, the intelligence relations were successful. If De Lattre or Salan were very worried of the U.S. intentions in Indochina, they accepted – and initiated the Western intelligence exchanges after the Singapore Conference in 1951. The perfect collaboration between the intelligence agencies was another proof. And in this game, France was the main beneficiary because all this information filled out their intelligence synthesis.
MR. TENENBAUM: Thank you, Jean-Marc. And I will now take over and carry on the presentation on a more applied and operational level, that is the French-American cooperation, or lack of one, in counterinsurgency and specifically in counter-guerrilla operations. Indeed, in Indochina, the action branch of the SDECE was probably one of the most vanguard and innovative service in the French military. Its main innovation, which proved to be seminal in the future of counterinsurgency across the world, was in fact quite linked to the American intelligence service in Indochina. And that is my first subplot, which I call the French-American birth of the GCMA – as the GCMA would see it later.
The French-American collaborations in terms of counter-guerrilla issues can be traced back from a 1950 Dean Acheson memorandum to the National Security Council entitled “Collaborations with Friendly Government on Operations Against Guerrillas,” where the Secretary of State states that, quote, “While there has been a certain amount of exchanges of views between the military representative, as in the case of the French in Southeast Asia, it does appear that an organized effort had been made to pool information, skills, and techniques among the friendly nations who have a common interest in defeating this kind of activity.” Here is the memo (shows it to the audience).
On the ground, those “exchanges,” as Acheson puts it, were performed by intelligence services, intelligence service officers on both sides. In May 1950, at the very time the French were setting up the SDECE station in Indochina, it seems that the CIA actually came out with a plan to create a counter-maquis . Now, this term of maquis demands to go back a little bit into time to find the very roots in terms of French and American collaboration in counterinsurgency operations. Indeed, French and U.S. intelligence operatives at the time were deeply impacted by their World War Two experience, as many of them had fought in the French Resistance, actually, often being parachuted in to France from England and trying to activate some guerrillas in the country that was called the maquis . In France, this joint British-American- and French guerrilla operations were known as Jedburghs.
In the Pacific war against the Japanese, the Allies tried to do the same in the jungle. Let’s recall, for instance, Orde Wingate’s Chindits in Burma. The French did the same in Indochina, though it was a bit late, as the Japanese were already falling back. And rapidly, they resorted to these guerrilla tactics in a counter-guerrilla fashion to fight the fledgling Viet Minh, which was itself organizing in a maquis . So the idea was to put on counter-maquis on the rear of the Viet Minh maquis , and thus to switch from guerrilla warfare to counter-guerrilla.
Nevertheless, counter-maquis required material and funding that the French did not have at the beginning of the war in Indochina. And this is why the Americans, who had been familiar with this method in World War Two in those joint operations, came in in May 1950 with a proposal of activating counter-maquis in Tonkin, the most infested part of Indochina. It was interesting because there was actually a big secret about who among the Americans made this first proposal.
I was talking with Mr. Phillips yesterday, that there is a legend among the French former SDECE men that it was actually Lansdale who as soon in May 1950 made the proposal, but this is probably untrue because Lansdale had never been to Indochina at this time. It seems, actually, that the negotiations surrounding this proposal were probably conducted on the U.S. side by a certain Thibault de Saint Phalle, who in spite of his French name, was a U.S. citizen, and a CIA agent and, incidentally, a former Jedburgh and Chindit in World War Two.
So on the French side, we have Léon Pignon, who was the high commissioner at the time and Maurice Belleux, who was, as Jean-Marc told us, the head of the SDECE in Indochina.
According to Saint-Phalle’s memoirs, recently published – a very interesting book, by the way – Saint-Phalle obtained from Pignon, and thanks to the help of a very pro-American French intelligence officer called Colonel Jean Carbonel, that the authorization to train and drill the future Vietnamese cadres of this counter-maquis at Vung Tau (then Cap Saint-Jacques), in a CIA-organized facility under the U.S. flag. But the plan actually fizzled out when General De Lattre took over in December 1950. De Lattre feared that the Americans would meddle too much in French business, and tried to oppose it. He first thought – obtained Saint-Phalle’s expulsion, actually in ’51. And then, at the Singapore Conference in May 1951, which was a meeting of the French, British, and American high commands in Southeast Asia, De Lattre managed basically to oust the CIA from the project.
I have here some letters and telegrams from De Lattre’s personal archives, where he violently opposes the project, saying a quote that is main – the most important thing was to avoid, I quote, “that the American put their nose in my business,” and that the secret goal of the Americans was the realization of the guerrilla system controlled by them.
So to conclude this first part, there is a deep American involvement as soon as 1950-51 in the very liberation of an original counter-guerrilla strategy in Indochina. And interesting aspect of this paternity is that diplomatically, this involvement finds itself in the wake of NSC-64. Operationally, it bears the weight of a common military memory, that of World War Two joined Franco-American behind-the-lines commando operations. Even if this project are now to be fully internalized by the French military, it does appear that the American in some way, at the origin of what would later be called the GCMA, the Groupes Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés , a very impressive counter-maquis system in the Tonkin and Laos highlands, which happened to be partially recuperated by the Americans at the end of the war. And this is the subject of my second-to-last part. I’ll be brief, thank you.
And this, the second part, what I call the French counterinsurgency legacy and its American heirs. Indeed, at the time, the French were falling back from Indochina in mid-1954. The American intelligence service came back to office and back to the counterinsurgency issues as they glimpsed that they would have to carry the burden after the French. And this time, we really have Edward Lansdale being appointed as colonel in the – by John Foster Dulles, actually to head the so-called second military mission, who was, as we heard before, some kind of other CIA station in the country.
The second military mission fitted in frame of the TRIM, the Training Relations and Instruction Mission. And according to Lansdale, who seemed very enthusiastic about it at the beginning, the TRIM was a French-American institution charged, to quote Lansdale, “to push French and Americans to work together to help Vietnamese to take control of their own affairs.” The reality was somehow gloomier, as French and Americans did wage a silent war at each other over who would have the most influence on the fledgling state.
Inside the TRIM, the SMM -- that is, the CIA – belonged to National Security Division, which was in fact the other name for pacification and counterinsurgency operations. The political conditions and power struggles made the collaboration uneasy between the so-called Allies. And nevertheless, the mission allowed Lansdale to discover the French know-how in terms of counterinsurgency and pacification. For instance, he discovered the GAMOs [Groupes Administratif Mobile Operationnel ] of General de Linarès from which it dragged the new unit, the Civic Action Teams, which was, like the GAMOs, supposed to, and I quote Lansdale again, “to go out in the countryside and work in the villages to foster self-rule, self-development, and self-defense.” On the GAMOs, I recommend you reading of Jean-Marc’s very good paper on this.
But the most impressive SMM borrowing from the French methods was this very idea of a counter-maquis . The recuperation of an operational strategy is less owed to Lansdale than to his rather obscure second-in-command, the Franco-American Lucien “Lou” Conein. And this sort of super-spook – sorry – who had joined the CIA in 1940 and participated in the maquis in the French Resistance, then had played somehow a murky role in Indochina in ’45. Indeed, according to the SMM report published in the Pentagon Papers, Conein was, I quote, “a paramilitary specialist well known to the French for his help with the French-operated maquis in Tonkin against the Japanese” on the one – in the one American guerrilla fighter who had not been a member of the Patti Mission in ’45.
So he arrived in Saigon in July ’54. He got in touch with the French SDECE officer, Colonel Jean Carbonel, the very same who had worked with Saint-Phalle in 1950 with the first proposal at the time. And the – so Carbonel actually proposed to Conein establishing a maquis , those very maquis of ’51, in the U.S. proposal. They were now envolving. Those maquis had now flourished and they were now involving thousands of Montagnards people in the high region and who fought on the rear guard in the Viet Minh. And the French were leaving. They now counted on Washington to carry on the military and financial support of these irregular units.
When Conein reported Carbonel’s proposal to Washington, it was refused, and the Montagnards were abandoned. Well, nevertheless, the idea proved long-lasting in the intelligence service circles.
And this would be my final point. The watchful student of Indochina wars would have certainly noticed the resemblances between the GCMA maquis of 19 – of the mid-50s and the CIA-funded Laotian and then Vietnamese guerrilla operations in the early ’60s. Well, this is not pure chance. And as a form of conclusion, I would quote a former CIA operative in Laos in 1959, Stuart Methven, whom I interviewed last year, and where he states that General Ouane, who was the Laotian army chief of staff at the time, gave him the very idea to establish exactly – in exactly the same fashion that 10 years earlier the CIA made the first proposal to the French maquis in the Montagnards .
So to conclude, we find U.S. service – intelligence services both at the input and at the output of one of the most important counter-guerrilla experiences in Indochina. And I would say that it is interesting to note that beyond real and frontal political opposition, that when French and American intelligence services in counterinsurgency operations on the operational point of view, they both proved to be able to benefit from the resources of the other.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
DR. HUNT: Our next speaker is Geoffrey Stewart. He graduated from the University of Western Ontario. He is now an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario, where he specializes in American diplomatic history and international relations.
He has concentrated on the development of Ngo Dinh Diem’s organization and program for civic action, examining Diem’s community development planning as an expression of his personalist revolution. His paper will cover conflicting Vietnamese and American notions of political development in the period 1957-1963.
PROF. STEWART: Thank you, Doctor Hunt. And I’d just like to join everybody else and thank Doctor Carland and the Office of the Historian for the opportunity to come here and speak in front of you all.
On March 1st, 1957, the Government of the Republic of Vietnam launched a community development program to promote the active participation of the people and the mobilization of latent community resources in a much larger plan for social and economic development. This larger plan sought to capitalize on Vietnam’s agricultural sector in order to develop the productive capacity of the country and eventually achieve an independent economy that would not be reliant on foreign aid.
Community development formed the basis of Ngo Dinh Diem’s plans for nation-building at a local level in the Republic of Vietnam. His aims were to create a viable, noncommunist, and independent nation in the southern half of Vietnam and solve the interrelated problems of overcoming Vietnam’s chronic underdevelopment, which was a legacy of its colonial past, and a burgeoning communist-led insurgency. Now, for the main part, policymakers in the United States, the RVN’s principal ally, shared these goals. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy viewed the establishment of a viable, noncommunist state in South Vietnam as an essential bulwark against the spread of international communism in the global Cold War.
Despite these shared aims, relations between the two governments over the scope and the pace of nation-building were often quite tense and at times quite volatile. Diem was a fervent nationalist who ran an authoritarian and autocratic regime, and he jealously guarded his country’s sovereignty. He believed the source of South Vietnam’s strength was found in the traditions of Vietnam’s pre-colonial autonomous villages. Community development was intended to harness this strength to realize his national vision.
For their part, many of the individual Americans involved in assisting South Vietnam’s development carried their own preconceptions about nation-building and the role of the United States in the process. Their beliefs were emblematic of their notion of the primacy of America’s place in the world. Now, in both of these cases, Diem and the American policymakers in Washington adhered to the belief that the respective historical experiences of their states were exceptional and uniquely qualified them to carry out development in South Vietnam.
This paper examines how these exceptionalist Vietnamese and American notions of development influenced nation-building in South Vietnam. It uses Diem’s Community Development Plan and its militarized offshoot, the Strategic Hamlet Program, as its focal point. Now, it’s premised on the notion that the South Vietnamese had a far greater role in the nation-building process than many previous Western accounts, and this significantly shaped the course of relations between the United States and the RVN.
The Presidential Palace in Saigon believed community development could help alleviate Vietnam’s economic condition and thwart the growing strength of the insurgency. It aimed to rally the rural population to take an active role in agricultural development in the hope that this would lead to an increase in purchasing power across the board. This would then theoretically be translated into a greater demand for manufactured goods produced by indigenous light industries, allowing the people of the RVN to build the social and economic infrastructure on which they could base their future industrial development. This would undermine the appeal of the communist model in the North by creating a showcase of successful post-colonial development that would be more enticing than the alternative that Ho Chi Minh had to offer. Over time, Diem hoped, this model state would lure his compatriots in the North to defect in numbers that would bring about the communist regime’s, in the North, eventual collapsed.
But more than just a means to contend with the threat of the Hanoi government, Diem believed that community development offered his government a chance to obtain greater control of the RVN’s destiny in the international arena. Diem wanted to ensure that the Republic of Vietnam’s newly-won independence remained free of the dictates of any of the great powers. This applied not only to the communist nations, which Diem perceived to be acting through Ho Chi Minh, but the Republic of Vietnam’s ally, the United States. The reality of the matter was that the RVN could not have survived without the economic and military support of the United States. And Diem bristled at the neocolonial implications of this.
Community development’s reliance on indigenous human and material resources, Diem hoped, could shield his country from any overt American influence in the nation-building process. Diem believed the Vietnamese people had proven they were uniquely disposed to achieve these aims. Speaking before the South Korean National Assembly in September 1957 – and I am paraphrasing here – Diem argued that, just as their ancestors had acted in the great crises of Vietnamese history, the current generation had, quote, “subdued quickly and with determination the post-colonial anarchy,” end quote, that had threatened the tasks of, quote, “political and economic reconstruction.”
Now, Diem attributed this strength of character to Vietnam’s, quote, “concrete cultural traditions.” And these traditions could be found in a pre-colonial democratic and autonomous village spirit that Diem believed had formed the foundation of the Vietnamese way of life and met the economic conditions of its time. Now, through community development, Diem intended to tap these deep roots, to rebuild South Vietnamese society, and achieve the industrialization and unification of his country.
Now, by 1957, the Eisenhower Administration’s policy was to support the Diem regime and help to build a noncommunist state around it. The individuals who set policy believed that their country was uniquely suited to do this. As scholars such as Robert Pakenham and Emily Rosenberg have demonstrated, many Americans at the midpoint of the twentieth century possessed the conception of their nation’s developmental history that held that the American people as a whole had enjoyed relatively uninterrupted economic development with considerable ease. They saw this development as unique and exceptional. It was not exploitative but was conceived as liberating and democratic, and therefore, they assumed, a universal model that others could emulate.
Now, an undated memorandum drafted around this time for President Eisenhower’s signature, clearly articulated this belief. In it, he argues that the developing nations would, quote, “find much of value to their own situation in the methods developed out of the American experience,” end quote, particularly as the United States had dedicated itself to, quote, “finding techniques of economic and social advance which do not compel the sacrifice of freedom of choice or freedom of opportunity,” end quote.
At the time, however, the prevailing mood in Washington was for retrenchment in foreign aid. Eisenhower’s new-look policy emphasized the downloading of defense costs to its allies, and in the case of Vietnam, discouraged any spending on aid programs that might place excessive demands on Vietnam’s limited budgetary resources. Community development was seen as a local matter. It was not consistent with the overall direction of America’s foreign aid policy. And Eisenhower’s advisors felt his government should have as little involvement as possible with the program if it was not conducive to their interests.
Now, between 1957 and 1961, the cadres of Ngo Dinh Diem’s Special Commissariat for Civic Action attempted to implement community development throughout the countryside. For reasons I can address during the discussion, the cadres of the Special Commissariat found the ideals behind community development failed to gain sufficient traction among the peasantry to ward off the challenge posed to Diem’s legitimacy by the communist-led insurgency.
By 1961, following the establishment of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, the escalation of organized violence in the countryside forced the Diem government to take more drastic measures to gain the allegiance of the peasantry. Placed under the supervision of Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the Strategic Hamlet Program attempted to fortify all of the Republic of Vietnam’s 16,000 hamlets, and mobilize the insurgent – or, sorry, the inhabitants – to take responsibility for their own security against the communist-led insurgency.
Now more than just a security measure, the Strategic Hamlet Program appears in many ways to have been a means to implement community development amidst a more sustained insurgency. The Ngos thought that the Vietnamese people had to bear the primary responsibility for developing their economy, just as they did for providing local defense. Nhu emphasized small economic projects, such as cottage industries, that required little external support and could generate revenue to pay for hamlet and village administration. Not only would this ease the pressure on an already over-stretched central government to come up with the resources for such an undertaking, but by shifting the burden onto the people, it would instill them with a vested interest in its success. The strategic hamlets, in the word of – in the words of Phillip Catton, represented an attempt to harness the latent energy that supposedly existed in these corporate communities for the greater task of nation-building.
And while the Strategic Hamlet Program was in the works, the American commitment to South Vietnam deepened considerably. As part of this new commitment, Kennedy and his advisors advocated a greater American involvement in nation-building. They were influenced by modernization theory, a model for development emerging from the Academy of Social Sciences. Now, modernization theory reflected an interest in the architects of American foreign policy and a more scientific approach to combating communism in the developing world. And this theory, in the words of Nils Gilman, attempted to chart the social, economic, and technological process of progressive historical change between societies defined as traditional and modern. Now, it borrowed from evolutionary theory by arguing that traditional societies followed a unidirectional path toward modernity through a series of progressive phases. When this was combined with the assumptions that underpin the liberal developmentalism of the Eisenhower era, the United States was seen by modernization theorists as a prototypical modern state whose developmental history offered a set of benchmarks against which all other societies could be compared.
Now, modernization theorists contended that this process could be dramatically accelerated through contact with developed societies, warning that any developed nation, including a communist one, could intervene in the develop – or in the modernization process, and potentially direct it toward its own ends. And they believed that it was the mission of the United States to step in at this vulnerable stage and protect the independence of the revolutionary modernization process going forward.
Now, one individual who was clearly influenced by this thinking was the
Director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and later as Secretary of State for – Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Roger Hilsman. In November 1961, he oversaw a study entitled Internal Warfare and Security of the Underdeveloped States. And this study argued that the rural populations of underdeveloped lands were beginning to experience an increase in political consciousness and a mounting restiveness which made them vulnerable to the subversive apparatus of a revolution by export. Communists would specifically target these societies to manipulate these conditions, pressures, and demands, to demoralize the population, and set the government against its people. If, the study continued, the government’s efforts to modernize are neither great nor rapid enough to meet popular demands, the communists could easily try to gain physical control of an entire region and then move from terror and guerrilla tactics to full-scale civil war.
The following February, he put together a strategic concept for Vietnam which aimed to defeat the insurgency through a combination of military, political, economic, and social measures. Integral to the plan was the Strategic Hamlet Program. Hilsman envisioned gradually extending the zones of strategic hamlets throughout the countryside like an ink blot. Equally as important were the civic action teams. They appear to accord with what Hilsman called a, quote, “national cadre who would serve as reformers that could become the basis for modernization,” ultimately contributing to a long-range development plan to help Vietnam press ahead to an era of self-sustaining economic growth, once the communist menace had been brought under control.
Now despite the similarities in their objectives, the exceptionalist notions that underpin the respective nation-building paradigms of the Diem regime and the Kennedy Administration tended to hinder close cooperation in the Strategic Hamlet Program’s implementation, at least at the official level. Now, Americans were concerned about the manner in which the Strategic Hamlet Program was being implemented. They felt it was haphazard and at times heavy-handed. They feared that its emphasis on self-reliance placed undue hardship on the peasantry at a time when the regime needed to demonstrate what it, quote, “could do to help the people” rather than emphasize, quote, “what the people should do for the government.”
But the American concerns miss the point of the program, as far as the Palace was concerned. For Diem, self-reliant strategic hamlets exemplified the much larger nation-building effort he was attempting to carry out. Diem viewed self-reliance as both a virtue and a necessity. It was virtuous because the Palace believed, in the words of Phillip Catton, that a people forced to rely on their own resources would develop the inner strength and common bonds of unity necessary to build a new society and it was necessary, given South Vietnam’s budget restrictions and the government’s reluctance to rely on foreign aid.
Now, as this paper has demonstrated or endeavored to demonstrate, both the Ngos and the officials in the American Government had exceptionalist notions of their respective countries’ past that influenced their prescriptions for nation-building in the Republic of Vietnam. Both sides shared a practical belief that their model of development, if properly applied, could undermine the communist-led insurgency and create a viable, modern, noncommunist state by demonstrating to the people of South Vietnam that they had more to gain by siding with their government than its opponents.
But beyond that, their conceptions diverged significantly. For the Ngos, the conception of development was articulated in community development, and later the Strategic Hamlet Program. The Ngos anticipated community development harnessing the power of Vietnam’s economic, human, and material resources for the process of vaulting a country into a greater – or into an era of greater economic self-sufficiency. This would reduce their dependence on their foremost ally, the United States, and allow the Republic of Vietnam to maintain its political and economic independence in the international realm. They believed that their village traditions of democracy and autonomy made the Vietnamese people suitably disposed to achieve these aims.
For many Americans, particularly those in Washington, the conception was realized in modernization theory. American policymakers like Roger Hilsman believed the United States was uniquely suited to lead the people of the developing world into modernity in a complex international environment. Now in fairness, American foreign policymakers were largely oblivious to the imperialistic tendencies of their actions. They believed that the United States had a model of developmental assistance that, through its benevolence, not only lacked the stigma of colonialism but would be welcomed by their Vietnamese allies. But what the concerned policymakers failed to realize was that the model of development that was guiding their actions was fundamentally incompatible with the broader Vietnamese desire, or South Vietnamese desire, of maintaining a free hand in directing Vietnam’s political, economic, and national development.
Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. HUNT: Thank you very much. By my watch, you did not use all your allotted time. So –
Our next speaker is Robert Kodosky. He earned his PhD from Temple University. He is currently an assistant professor of history at Westchester University in Pennsylvania, where he teaches courses in American diplomatic and military history. He is the author of a book on the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office, entitled Psychological Operations, American Style . He will discuss South Vietnam’s program for national reconciliation that was established in 1967.
PROF. KODOSKY: Thank you for having me, and thank you all for coming out in the midst of the rainy season here in Washington DC all of the sudden.
When I tell students I study American psychological operations, or psy-op, it’s always the same. I get peppered with questions about men who stare at goats. (Laughter.) Of course, getting any reaction from undergraduates, no matter how misguided, constitutes a victory for history professors everywhere. (Laughter.) Besides, M.E. Roberts reports in Villages of the Moon , that while deployed to Afghanistan with the 345th Psy-Op, he received similar questions about his unit’s work from other soldiers who wanted to know about Jedi mind tricks.
Psy-op is really less mysterious than it is often imagined. It has little to do with mental telepathy of either the barnyard or the galactic variety. Its practitioners convey information selectively to influence others in support of national objectives. Psy-op covets hearts and minds and acquires them with persuasion. It serves the military as a force multiplier. It withdraws from the ranks of adversaries and adds to the bank of support. Both parts of the equation, deficit by defection and deposit by winning hearts and minds, are vital for success. Defectors can be counted. Hearts and minds are hard to measure. Psy-op that emphasizes the former over the latter for the sake of expediency, as happened in Vietnam, has all the worth of a one-sided coin.
Still, its study retains value for Afghanistan. There, President Hamid Karzai announced in January that the time had arrived to forgive and to forget. The Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program, or PARP, targets both foot soldiers and the leadership of the Taliban. It offers insurgents cash, amnesty, and jobs, and it promises reconciliation with the Taliban’s leadership. Afghan officials call PARP the main pillar for bringing peace to Afghanistan. It offers an honorable place in society, the program does, for those who are willing to renounce violence, respect the Afghan constitution, while cutting ties with al-Qaida. British Foreign Minister David Miliband cited PARP as part of a civilian surge, aimed at reaching Afghan hearts and minds. American Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates echoed the endorsement, suggesting that there could well be a surge of such followers willing to be integrated into Afghan society.
Whether Karzai’s plan works depends on the ability of its architects to incorporate the lessons provided by Dai Doan Ket, dubbed national reconciliation by American officials. Republic of Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky instituted Dai Doan Ket by proclamation on the 19th of April, 1967. It intended to reinvigorate the defector program in place since 1963, known as Chieu Hoi. While Chieu Hoi had targeted foot soldiers, the new initiative promised government aid in finding careers for top-level defectors. Further, it offered full participation in political activities to all who agreed to renounce force, abandon communism, lay down their weapons, and abide by the constitution of Vietnam.
Proponents of Dai Doan Ket envisioned national reconciliation as a means to ending the war by nation-building. It failed to realize that promise. The number of high-level defectors remained minimal. For example, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN, offered ex-Viet Cong officers the chance to take examinations that would enable them to join the military at their old ranks. By 1971, the tests remained un-administered. Nobody volunteered to take them. That same year, Viet Cong agents posing as defectors, infiltrated the program in record numbers and overran 31 outposts. In fact, little enthusiasm ever existed for national reconciliation outside of WashingtonDC. American officials, under increasing pressure to demonstrate non-military progress in Vietnam, pressured Republic of Vietnam officials into extending an olive branch to their enemies.
Twenty-third of November 1966, Ogden Williams, who was the American director for Chieu Hoi, met with his ARVN counterpart, Colonel Pham Anh. The Vietnamese colonel appeared somewhat jolted by confronting the magnitude of the program, which was national reconciliation, that Williams presented him. He also posed a very significant question. Was this national reconciliation a Vietnamese idea or an American idea? Good question, indeed one that Williams understood required the correct answer. Williams went on to convince Anh that in fact, the idea had originated with Anh himself in response to a question about how to reenergize Chieu Hoi. Williams too told Anh that his suggestion became the basis for discussion between top American officials and top Republic of Vietnam officials before and during the conference in Manila.
Williams reported back to Washington that Anh now seemed reassured. Williams saw this as a good thing, reporting that, contrary to what Washington may think or claim, it is most important that this program be considered by the Vietnamese as being their own idea. Williams’s sales job actually began several months earlier in the office of the United States Ambassador-at-large Averell W. Harriman, where his negotiations committee met under direction from President Johnson, to search for a negotiated settlement in Vietnam, meeting for the first time on the 2nd of August in 1966. The committee speculated that a meaningful amnesty offer could open up the possibility of National Liberation Front leadership returning to political life in the South. It recognized that there would be considerable resistance in Saigon, both on the part of the Republic of Vietnam’s military and the American Embassy, for this idea. And it turned its attention to how the idea could be sold in Vietnam.
The impetus for the enthusiasm about the amnesty offer in the first place came from a report presented to Harriman earlier in the day by Henry Kissinger, who had just returned from Vietnam. Kissinger reported that American strategy there was wrong. Kissinger contended that the task remained to break the link between the guerrillas and villagers, a slow, hard job which did not appeal to the generals in Saigon. He advocated that an amnesty offer by the Republic of Vietnam would be useful and should precede any serious effort by the Republic of Vietnam to engage in talks with the National Liberation Front, or the Viet Cong.
Kissinger was persuasive. Harriman’s group, which officially signed on to the idea later in that day, began pushing it up the ladder. Harriman reported to Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk on the 18th of August that, as a result of previous consideration, and particularly Kissinger’s talk in Viet – talks in Vietnam, the negotiations committee began taking several steps toward possible eventual reconciliation between substantial elements of the Viet Cong and the Republic of Vietnam.
The Johnson Administration embraced the idea as a means to produce an accelerated disintegration of the Viet Cong. Still, the idea hardly met with an enthusiastic reaction in Vietnam. Ky labeled the proposal as premature. He contended that such an appeal could adversely affect the morale of the South Vietnamese troops, who would see their enemies being accepted back before they were defeated. Ky worried that national reconciliation could pretty well eliminate the ARVN fighting capacity. Nguyen Van Thieu observed that over the years, Chieu Hoi has not had a very powerful effect.
Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge cabled these concerns back to Washington and warned that there was a pace at which things could be done in Vietnam. Lodge’s words of caution went unheeded in Washington, where officials had already put the cart in front of the horse. Johnson’s special assistant, Robert W. Komer, identified that mounting a massive national reconciliation campaign deserves top billing – backing. And he advised Johnson to press both Ky and Thieu to stand up and say the right things at Manila.
American officials received the pledge they sought from the Republic of Vietnam officials at Manila to promote national reconciliation, and they garnered little more for the next six months. Washington forged ahead nonetheless, and American officials in Saigon followed. Chieu Hoi Director Williams wrote Richard Holbrooke on the White House staff that he had pressed for a special decree to extend voting rights to defectors, largely with international opinion in mind. This happened despite Kissinger’s own admission, during his trip to Vietnam in July of 1966, that the problem of how to establish effective civil administration remained unresolved in Vietnam. Consequently, any promise that the Republic of Vietnam made to defectors remained hollow.
The existing status of Chieu Hoi, three years after its beginning, did not bode well for national reconciliation. Begun at the insistence of American and British advisors in 1963, professor – or Premier Nguyen Cao Ky claimed that Chieu Hoi left him disgusted, indicating that much American money had been wasted. This notion constituted a recurring theme. Thieu expressed concern that of 40,000 defectors brought in through Chieu Hoi, 32,000 were totally out of Republic of Vietnam control. He argued the program lacked the ability to ensure that defectors did not revert to VC. Thieu pointed out that nothing big could be expected in the way of national reconciliation. There remained in Vietnam a widespread suspicion of defectors. He told Ambassador Lodge that when PremierKy recently spoke of National Liberation Front members becoming ministers, he was at once subjected to a tremendous barrage of criticism. Regarding reconciliation, Thieu continued, there should be no illusions.
Yet the illusions persisted. That American officials harbored them at all is remarkable, given the numerous problems with Chieu Hoi reported from the field in August of 1966. During a large-scale appeal, once advisor reported, few defectors came in. Another advisor noted that the Chieu Hoi center in Lam Dong Province had been raided by an ARVN battalion. Other reports were equally bleak. One filed from Quang Ngai-Quang Tin indicates that neither province has an effective Chieu Hoi psy-ops team in operation. Another from An Giang cites a marked lack of initiative on the part of the Chieu Hoi chief. An advisor from Tay Ninh-Binh Long inserted that the Chieu Hoi program simply has not been very effective.
American policymakers maintained their illusions about Chieu Hoi because they continued to put their faith in numbers, a reflection of the strategy of attrition employed on the military side. Quantity trumped quality every time. Through its entire time of operation, including the period after 1967, when the Republic of Vietnam implemented Dai Doan Ket, the initiative yielded about 200,000 defectors. Yet, as advisors made clear, this metric is misleading. On the surface, the program appears to move along. Defectors come in, but any look below the surface reveals grave problems, one wrote. Specifically, Chieu Hoi activity is not coordinated with other elements. A report filed from Hau Nghia cites a growing number of defectors, double that in April, but observes that the Chieu Hoi office has yet to work out a re-indoctrination program on the most elementary sort. Defectors just sit at the center. Of course, a study to facilitate re-integration into society remains shamefully lacking.
Where programs of re-integration did exist, Republic of Vietnam officials dwelt more heavily on the need to kill VC than on the stated Republic of Vietnam goals of peace and prosperity. Lecturers read from prepared texts with little regard as to whether they were even understood, much less accepted. Defectors found Chieu Hoi personnel to be undemocratic and lacking enthusiasm for what they were teaching.
A report prepared by the Chieu Hoi Division in 1966 reveals the defector program’s problems as widespread. Citing little, if any, coordination of the Chieu Hoi psy-ops effort with military operations and noting that reception centers had not been built up either quantitatively or qualitatively to the desired standards. Further, the report also identifies a number of cases of mistreatment and labels the political reorientation for returnees as sadly deficient.
Dai Doan Ket didn’t fix this. In 1968, American advisors cited Vietnamese motivation and administrative capability as the program’s continued problems of ultimate concern. There existed still a continued attitude of suspicion among people living in the Republic of Vietnam that inhibits resettlement and reintegration of returnees. In fact, the more Dai Doan Ket promised, the worse the situation became. Suspicion turned to resentment whenever the program offered any extra advantages to ex-Viet Cong. The program risks becoming extremely counterproductive, in the words of American advisors, to the entire war effort if returnees are not successfully reintegrated into Vietnamese economic life, especially as finding jobs for Hoi Chanhs, or defectors, remained a major specific problem.
The Republic of Vietnam had already authorized the establishment of high-level provincial committees to find jobs for Hoi Chanhs. By the end of 1971, though, only five provinces had such a committee. At the national level, the Chieu Hoi Ministry provided jobs to several prominent returnees, but other civil ministries demonstrated no initiative or desire to make national reconciliation a reality. Neither did the United States. American Embassy officials applied rigorous rules to prevent American agencies from hiring defectors, thwarting the efforts to do so on several occasions by both the Joint United States Public Affairs Office and the United States Agency for International Development. United States security regulations inhibited the employment of returnees as laborers, drivers, and in other non-sensitive positions. Getting embassy security clearances for former nationalist Viet Minh was difficult, while the problem of – was even greater for ex-Viet Cong. The Chieu Hoi Division saw this as critical, particularly as a former employee of the colonial regime had no difficulty whatsoever receiving clearance.
By 1973, former Chieu Hoi field officer J.A. Koch noted that the tendency of the bureaucracy is to body count the returnee as he comes in the door, then to lose interest in his further activities and welfare. The economic livelihood of the ex-enemy is far from assured. There had yet to transpire within the RVN by this late date the development of Chieu Hoi into a dynamic and effective national reconciliation movement.
National reconciliation, despite the repeated proclamations of Dai Doan Ket issued by RVN leaders remained an American-conceived promise disconnected from the reality of Vietnam. As implemented through Chieu Hoi, it never received a genuine endorsement from Vietnamese. Through the coordination of American firepower and psy-op, both delivered in massive quantities, defections occurred regularly. The RVN did little to accommodate those who rallied, however, and offered little to attract Hoi Chanh in the first place. They presented Chieu Hoi officials with their greatest challenge because the program could only sell the image that existed of the Republic of Vietnam. Without genuine attempts to reform widespread RVN corruption and apathy, Chieu Hoi held little appeal to Viet Cong on an ideological or political level. This suggests why American psy-op generated to support the defector program largely emphasized fear, hardship, et cetera. It had few positives to offer.
The president’s special counsel at the time, Harry McPherson, identified these issues when he visited Vietnam following the Dai Doan Ket Proclamation that summer. He warned Johnson that the VC take every advantage of the hatred caused by Republic of Vietnam corruption and by the absence of government services. McPherson admitted that while it sounds romantic to say, if he were a young peasant and saw that the ridiculous Vietnamese educational system offered him few opportunities, and the RVN had provided him no reason to have it, if given a position of leadership in the VC, he would join up.
The communists had little to offer in a positive way either. Their basic appeal, though, targeted those who wanted to get rid of the system today. It proved sufficient, however, to thwart any promise made by Dai Doan Ket for national reconciliation in Vietnam.
Thank you. (Applause.).
DR. HUNT: Thank you very much. Our commentator today is Pierre Journaud, who is a research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Research at the École Militaire and associate researcher at the Center for Contemporary History of Asia. He received his doctorate in contemporary history from the University of Paris in 2007. He’s the author of several books and articles on the diplomatic and strategic history of the Indochina wars, as well as the forthcoming De Gaulle and Vietnam , which will come out in 2011.
DR. JOURNAUD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you very much to the organizers for inviting us with my French colleagues, and to have the great honor and pleasure to participate in such a fascinating conference.
I would not want to apologize for being French except to acknowledge our sadly well-known reluctance to speak foreign languages. One of the explanations, if not excuses, might be related to the difficulty to – for a French person to be fluent in his own language. I must confess that I’m still learning French, so pardon my mistakes, please. (Laughter.)
I presume that the organizers have chosen a French scholar to comment on this particular panel, having in mind the French experience of the Indochina war, and especially the experience of a counterinsurgent program that some French officials established during the Indochina war and intensified in the Algerian War, and further developed in Africa.
Let me underline briefly a strange paradox. As you know, a few French officials, like Roger Trinquier or David Galula and experts like Bernard Fall, who was French, by the way, tried to share their knowledge of this field with their American counterparts at the very beginning of the Vietnam War. At the same time, however, they were marginalized in France by de Gaulle and his government, due to the disastrous politicization of the army during the Algerian War, due as well to the priority given by General de Gaulle to the construction of a nuclear deterrent, and due, finally, to his conviction, personal conviction, that Vietnam required a political solution, not a military one.
First, I will develop some brief – briefly remark – general remarks and sometimes critiques, hoping that it will be constructive. And then, if I have time enough, a few questions.
First of all, I have been impressed by the richness of the sources used by our four presenters, thanks to the privilege of reading their papers before the conference – North American and French archives, interviews, the press, and of course, a wonderful FRUS . As a permanent construction and reconstruction, the past needs to be explored with new materials, and our four researchers have proven to be very use – efficient, sorry, in this quest.
Despite real difficulties in locating some archival material relating to the secret services in France, because specific SDECE’s series are completely closed in France, Élie and Jean-Marc have succeeded in demonstrating the reality of cooperation between French and American secret services in the fields of intelligence and COIN. Even more interestingly, their so described ambivalence of this cooperation, which sometimes led – leads to a covert or silent war between the two allies. In their reconstruction of the genealogy of pacification and COIN programs, Jean-Marc and Élie demonstrate an acute grasp of Franco-American exchanges and interactions which are still active nowadays. I think that they provide a very interesting way of better understanding the complexity of this particular French-American engagement.
Historians can contribute in drawing a more accurate picture of these relations, too often reduced, I think, to simple positions and crises and too often used for negative political purposes, as we saw in 2003. I modestly tried to move along this path in my PhD dissertation, describing the survival of strong links among some diplomats, intellectuals, and experts from both our countries during the Vietnam War and demonstrating the sometimes efficient cooperation that they sometimes strove to develop in the secret peace process.
Geoffrey Stewart and Robert Kodosky exemplify this recent tendency within North American historiography, which aims to revisit the South Vietnamese quest for autonomy from USA, motivations, divisions, goals, and objectives, as Professor Brigham brilliantly did a few years ago, followed by Edward Miller and some others.
I found very interesting the link that the organizers have made between COIN, reconstruction, and reconciliation, a link which has never well articulated, whether during or after the Vietnam War. It focuses on the heart of the problem faced by the leadership during the Indochina wars and, of course, confronting today by a new generation of American political and military leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, the political problem, the political foundation of the states, the social structure of South Vietnam, the sensitive question of legitimacy of the state that the French and then the American has tried to build on their attempts (inaudible).
Historians have to be clear, I think, about the origins of local insurgencies, without which there would be no foreign – no need for outside military intervention. Most historians agree today that the roots of the insurgency in South Vietnam are located in the violent anticommunist repression launched by Diem beginning in 1957, which contradict, of course, the official principle that the regime was always invoking among others the respect of the human person. The French expert Philippe Devillers demonstrated this very convincingly as soon as 1962. In order to understand the failure or the success of COIN programs, historians also need to study very precisely the context and interactions between the political, the economic, the social, and the cultural aspects of insurrection.
Even in the military field, they must study counter-insurrection in its relation to conventional operations. We know, for example, that search-and-destroy missions and counteroffensives after the Tet 1968 proved very detrimental to the pacification efforts because of the indiscriminate use of power and followed by American and allied troops throughout (inaudible) South Vietnamese civilians. COIN programs generated massive population displacement, and pacification became linked to occupation.
Galula, as early as 1963, and many others pointed out that population and not territory is the center of gravity of counterinsurgency. But the population’s motivations were not deeply studied by these authors, as some analysts like Daniel Ellsberg or David Elliott would do it later. Historians have the right and, I risk adding, the duty to continue their approach because they understand how false lessons can drive people motivated with the best intentions. As David Elliott wrote in 2007, each – quote, “Each insurgency has a distinctive political and socioeconomic character, which usually renders the tool-kit approach ineffective or irrelevant.” From this point of view, the historian of this panel, especially the French ones, would be wisely advised to go deeper into the analysis of these centers of gravity.
Let me offer a few illustrations. The Franco-American idea of GCMA mentioned by Élie and Jean-Marc was presented at that time without any precise idea of the history of relations between the loyal Vietnamese troops and the ethnic minorities that were used by the French, and then by the Americans, against other Vietnamese, namely the Viet Minh and the Viet Cong. We know the long history of both conflicts and cooperation between Vietnamese and so-called Montagnards, and the later were divided among themselves. We know of dramatic consequences of some of these – for some of these minority groups, such as the Hmong, armed and radicalized in their antagonism against Vietnamese or Lao communists and within their own community before being abandoned under disastrous conditions by the French and then the Americans. We should analyze this program within the local context and complexity of relationship between minorities and between Vietnamese and minorities.
Second, the motivations of the population have often been ignored and misrepresented. To say that most of the population will be neutral in the conflict, support of the masses can be obtained with the aid of an active, friendly minority, as Galula has written, and as many French and American official asserted during the Indochina wars, as we have seen in some of the papers today, is, I think, nonsense. All the French, American, and Vietnamese reports that I’ve been able to read confirm that in 1964 and 1967, most of the South Vietnamese population was tired of the war and ready to accept a mutual solution as permitted by de Gaulle. I personally think that no COIN program could have succeeded for this reason, but it’s – okay, it’s my point of view. The choice of war was one of a minority devoted to protecting its own narrow interests against the desire for peace and neutrality felt by the majority.
Let me move quickly on some more specific points. Élie has told us that French-American relations in Indochina were a necessary but unwanted alliance, a reluctant alliance. I think that this appreciation should be nuanced. Many among French political and military elites, even de Gualle itself of the early ’50s, favored a strong alliance with the USA in Indochina. Mostly for financial reasons, by the way. This has been intensively studied by historians like Laurent Cesari, Hugues Tertrais, and Mark Lawrence in particular.
Likewise, the orthodox Western perspective, as Geoffrey Stewart wrote in his paper, portrays Diem as an American creation or even an invention of Landsdale. I think that it is time to break with this very American-centered and perhaps CIA-centered vision. Please don’t forget the French actor. Diem could not have become prime minister without the agreement of the French Government at that time and the active support that he has garnered from important members of the French elite, some linked with the personalist networks, others close to Diem or Nhu.
Diem then authorized and sometimes favored the survival of very important economic and cultural French interests in South Vietnam. Even in the military field, he asked for French documentation about the Algerian War before seeking of rapproachment with Paris in the early ’60s.
If I have two or three minutes, I can – yeah, ask a few questions to the panelists. First of all, Jean-Marc and maybe Élie, in 1944 and ’45, there was a split between – among French – between those who wanted to maintain colonial or neo-colonial control more or less along the line of de Gualle’s policy and those who were called New French, so named because they had fought in the resistance, come to Vietnam with a new way of thinking. The New French realized the power of an appeal of nationalism, even when absorbed into communism, as OSS agents did at that time. And I think especially about the Mission Five under Jean Sainteny’s responsibility. What became of these New French agents during the Indochina War and maybe later?
For all of you, maybe, could you recall for us the French origins of the strategic hamlets that Geoffrey told us about? Maybe more for Geoffrey Stewart and Robert Kodoksy, what were the main results for the five-year plan for economic development and the social progress promoted by Diem in 1957? What were the main sources of inspiration of the Diem economic and social program? I know some French experts from the École Polytechnic and the Economy and Humanism Association were involved in the search for a viable economic program, standing somewhere between capitalism and communism. And – but this has never been studied. I don’t know if you have some information about that.
And the last question, I know it’s a very huge question – I’m sorry for that – but how such government as that of South Vietnam, born in the late ’40s, dominated by a miniscule business class, a bourgeoisie d’affaires , which was in truth not well interested in the fate of the vast peasant majority, a government which only survived thanks to foreign aid, a government that became dominated by a military elite dedicated to the pursuits of war in 1965. How could such a government have made peace? Would not negotiation, coalition, or reconciliation have been suicidal for those who followed Diem?
If I might had a few words in conclusion, I would suggest that if lessons can be and must be drawn from history to a level, tactical, strategic, and political, it also teaches us that valuable lessons, whether deliberately or not, can be quickly forgotten by the leaders. As Richard Goodwin, the former speechwriter of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, wrote, “History is an enigmatic teacher, a trickster, whose only certain lesson is that the future cannot count on the past.” But the man of character, the world historical personality, according to Hegel, is he who attends the penetrating understanding of history and simultaneously turns toward the future, moves freely within the singularity of events and sizes up moments favorable to his goal.
Evidently, in the period and place examined in this fascinating panel, the men of character remain in the communist camp. In the early ’40s, at least, they were engaged both in a total war and a huge effort to rebuild an état-nation after a troubled century of colonial domination.
Sorry to have been so long. Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. HUNT: Before we turn the questioning over to the audience, do any of the panelists want to respond to the questions that were posed?
Mr. TENENBAUM: Let me just shortly –
DR. HUNT: Sure. Briefly, that is.
MR. TENENBAUM: Yeah. As briefly as possible. On concerning New French, that’s true that there has been those French from the resistance who’ve been replacing actually in ’44-45 the old colonials who had been on the overall loyal to Vichy. But then the problem – I mean, it’s interesting to see in, specifically on terms of, for instance, guerrilla questions, that those New French had this joint background with the Americans and the British because they were allied to London at the time. So maybe this is how they influenced the way the war was viewed at the time, whereas the Old French, as we can say that, who had been loyal to Vichy had – were more embedded in a more colonial fashion. And that’s how those New French were maybe less colonial. And that’s how maybe we can see that the French were as something that the New French – I mean, we have to be very careful about that because it was a very restrictive number of people, so –
But to some extent, it brought less colonial vision to the war. Maybe Jean-Marc wants to talk about a little bit of the strategy gamble. We have to see that the strategy gamble is mainly a British influence. I mean, the French did influence to some extent because of the gamble. Maybe Jean-Marc wants to talk about it. But on the overall, it was Sir Robert Thompson who was mainly at the origin of the strategic hamlets, so he’d have to be considered as mainly a British influence. Maybe we have some examples of a French experience that could have influenced the program, but mainly it was British one.
DR. LePAGE: About the pacification, however, we have an evolution between 1951 and 1952. The French authorities search new solutions about pacification because the ancient solution (inaudible) different points were developed. The constitution of the GAMOs, it’s like the civic actions teams during the Vietnam War. And it was, this GAMO, was very successful during the pacification operation in the South Vietnam, in particular, and (inaudible) in North Vietnam. We have different (inaudible). We have the creation in France, in the (inaudible)– excuse me – warfare with the GE-5 bureau of political warfare and in end to develop propaganda. And the U.S.’s transformation of the self defense militia in the model of the original popular troops of the RVDN.
And we have two ideas with the French armies. The first, it’s the Vietnamization of the pacification with – because, for example, there’s the GAMO, was totally Vietnamese. And in the other end, you have in the same time acculturation of the French Expeditionary Corps, who adopted the local RDVN warfare, yes, in pacification.
PROF. STEWART: I’ll be brief and try to address the – I think I basically got three questions here. The first were what were the results of the five-year plan, or Diem’s five-year plan, which the community development was part of? What were the main sources of this economic program? And how did a regime like the Diem regime think it could get support?
Okay, well, the first one, the results of the five-year plan, in a nutshell, it was never really realized just with the insurgency and then Diem himself getting deposed, though he was – and I think Ed Miller could probably address this a little better than I could – but I get the impression that some economic development, some industrialization, was occurring in the South during this time, but never to the degree that Diem would have liked or to make the country anything near self-reliant.
Now, the sources of the five-year plan, that is a very good question and that’s something that needs a lot more work. What I can see is basically two influences here. The first one is clearly the doctrine or the ideology of personalism, this idea of what Ed Miller was talking about earlier, kind of a – almost a – might’ve – be between kind of a compromise or towing the line between liberal capitalism and communism as well as it does seem that they were a little bit influenced by Walt Rostow’s modernization theory or his development of it during the 1950s.
And then finally, how did the Diem regime think it could gain support? That’s a very good question. I do believe that Diem thought he had the best interests of the people at heart, but just his methodology didn’t work. And I think his – the personalism, the ideas behind this were trying to use Vietnam’s material and human resources to develop this country and give people a vested interest in its development, and this would show the people that the government was trying to provide them something, but it clearly wasn’t working.
DR. HUNT: Questions from the audience?
QUESTION: I just want to clarify a couple of things. One is that the Chieu Hoi program, while I was responsible in many ways for getting it started – yeah – can you hear me? The Chieu Hoi program, while I was responsible for getting it started, was not an American or a British idea. It was actually a Vietnamese idea. And they were the ones that decided what the program was going to consist of. It had simply bogged down bureaucratically and nobody was actually planning on it. So that’s how it got started. So the notion it was somehow an American program imposed on the Vietnamese is absolutely incorrect.
In terms of the development of, or the imposition of American ideas or the difference between American ideas, I can tell you that there was a considerable difference between American ideas on the ground and American ideas in Washington. And the American ideas on the ground, since I was responsible for a lot of them in counterinsurgency, were related to what the Vietnamese were trying to do, to try to assist that. And I think you need to modify that a bit.
On French-American relations, nobody mentioned Paul Mus, who was a very key figure.
The other thing is that – yeah, the other thing is – sorry, I tend to gesture when I – (laughter) – the other thing that I would – and I don’t think you adequately – any of you adequately addressed is the fact that France failed, after many repeated attempts by the Vietnamese, to give the Vietnamese real independence. And that was a tremendous underlying factor in the failure of what we were trying to do. And that was also the cause of a lot of difference between the Americans and the French.
Back in 1951, or 1950, De Lattre told Mr. Blum -- he said you are the most dangerous man in Vietnam. Now this meant conceivably that he was more dangerous than Ho Chi Minh. So you have to take into account, I think, that dynamic when you address the – and I’d love to get some comments on – from any of you on that one.
PROF. STEWART: I guess my only response to the Chieu Hoi, everything I see in the documents credits Thompson in bringing it in from Malaysia in 1961, and Lansdale bringing it in from the Philippines, working through EDCOR [Economic Development Corps] and with Magsaysay. So the FRUS volume of –
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) He started working with somebody designated by Secretary of Defense [Nguyen Dinh] Thuan, and together they helped developed this program, but it was a Vietnamese idea.
DR. HUNT: Any other responses to that question?
DR. LePAGE: Just on Paul Mus, who played a major role as a political counselor of General (Inaudible) in 1945, and he tried to convince him and de Gaulle that it was time to accord – accord, yeah? – the independence to Vietnam. But de Gaulle, when he received him, answered we will be back in Indochina because we are the most strong. And you know the result. Maybe you know his books. I don’t know if he – it has been translated in English, (in French). It has been written in 1952, I think.
QUESTION: It was one of the first books I read when I (inaudible).
DR. LePAGE: Great.
DR. HUNT: Another question.
QUESTION: Just a postscript on the issue of Hoi Chanh and defectors: In the late 1960s and early ’70s, when I was evaluating psychological operations in Vietnam, I found that the fungibility of the categories of defectors and prisoners was such that, on the Vietnamese side, it was very dangerous to ascribe that people had defected. Many, many defectors did not come in in response to a ideological appeal but simply being caught between a rock and a hard place and defect – I’m here, if you’re trying to make eye contact – that’s okay. You were the one who brought up goats earlier, so – (laughter).
But what I wanted to point out that was Americans were very judicious. Someone who came in and was tagged as a prisoner remained a prisoner while he was in the American chain. Similar, it was also true of Hoi Chnh. On the South Vietnamese side, people were very often reclassified. That is to say a prisoner who showed signs of collaborating and cooperating would be reclassified as a defector. And a defector who did not prove to be very useful in terms of his intelligence or cooperation would be classified as a prisoner. The result was that the only people who were really coming in as defectors very often were people who were in a tactical situation, caught by the hair on the back of their neck and decided to put up their hands and say Chieu Hoi, although probably not literally. The result was we recommended that in leaflets and other appeals, the term “allow yourself to be captured” was far more acceptable to the North Vietnamese than to say “surrender or defect.”
DR. HUNT: Another question there?
QUESTION: Yes, I actually have some familiarity with picking up Hoi Chanhs with the river patrol boats and never really sure exactly how valid they really were. All you had to do was have a little leaflet, and of course it was in Vietnamese. And so – but yeah, you could imagine that it would be pretty gutsy to just kind of come up to a river patrol boat armed to the teeth and say, “Hello, I’m ready to turn in – myself in.” So it never did have much confidence in those guys, except that if you could send – get some information out of them that said that there were some enemy someplace, we would convert them immediately to a scout, basically, and take them back out on an operation, which then kind of really hung them out. But since we were hung out ourselves, it really was not much of a difficult decision to do.
The numbers that you were citing sounded very, very high compared to what I ever saw. Not that I was there for five years or anything. But still, I think you said 200,000 or something was that number?
PROF. STEWART: Yeah, actually, the report, I think, puts it at – it’s under 200,000, but it’s 194,500.
PROF. STEWART: But those are highly contested and I think reflect your remarks regarding the classification. The fundamental point, I think, is that the counting was very difficult, the classification was very difficult, and essentially, whether through Chieu Hoi or through Dai Doan Ket, the attempt to reintegrate and make – give some credibility to the promises that were being made -- wasn’t there.
The suspicion that you were talking about, I see repeatedly both on the Vietnamese and on the American side. And on the American side, there was a concerted effort, more or less the whole time Chieu Hoi was running, that it’s cheaper to defect a Viet Cong than to kill a Viet Cong and constantly talking about the difficulty of convincing what they called in the document Free World forces, meaning American and allies, of trusting prisoners that they brought in. So it was a constant problem. And constantly, too, in the documents it is the tactical – it’s the American firepower that essentially, in the heat of the moment, brings in defectors. But the defectors, after they come in, the follow-up process very difficult.
One of the connections to the Philippines, actually, there were a number of Filipinos who were brought in who were familiar with the process in the Philippines to keep their eyes on the Vietnamese, to try to make – and that ran through the whole program. So that’s one of the things that suggested the sort of Filipino routes. So –
QUESTION: Well, I would just add that if we got a Hoi Chanhs – and I never saw more than one at a time – and I would say that we also did a lot of psy-ops, usually with speakers playing a tape, and we’d go down the canals and past the little villages and be blaring away with this tape, and people would stare at us like we stepped off a spaceship, practically, except for the kids, who would always come out and wave and cheer and whatnot. It was a big event. But then we would – if we got – picked up a fellow, we would bring him back and it would – eventually wound up – it – the provincial headquarters with the PRU, P-R-U, USAID guys and the Vietnamese Regional Force province people, and then they converted them for intelligence purposes.
And as for resettlement, I mean, it was – the chain was broken. I had no clue where these people wound up, so – and I would say that in almost 19 months in country, I guess I would say maybe a handful, four, is about the most I can ever remember. Maybe one or two we were able to convert to an operation, which had ambiguous results anyway. We never really could close down that – it wasn’t like you were going to find a VC hospital or a big cache or something like that.
We did a lot of psy-ops, handed out a lot of leaflets. And –
PROF. STEWART: Yet the numbers that I’ve seen are staggering, billions in very short pieces of time. But to some degree, I think it was counterproductive in the sense that many people, including within USIA and in JUSPAO, including Barry Zorthian, sort of talking about the need to get out and do face-to-face. But because of the difficulties regarding language and because of the – obviously, it needed to be Vietnamese that were going to be presenting the most credible and legitimate representation of the Republic of Vietnam, it was difficult. So essentially, the response from the American side was to create leaflets. But study after study of people, communications people who went over there and looked, said that the least productive ways to do psy-op are leaflets and loudspeakers. Face-to-face, handshake –
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Thank you. (Laughter.) Suspicions confirmed.
DR. HUNT: We have time for one more question.
Well, since there are no other questions, I’d like to thank the panelists here for a very interesting session, and I guess we have a break. (Applause.)