78. News Release Prepared in the Office of Public Information, United States Information Agency1

No. 2

Address by Leonard H. Marks, Director, U.S. Information Agency International Radio and Television Society Newsmaker Luncheon


The story today in Viet-Nam is one of war. Radio and television, the headlines and front pages of our newspapers tell us daily of American forces—in support of our gallant Vietnamese allies—fighting countless deadly engagements in delta swamps, in dense jungles, over rugged mountainous terrain. The horizon of every American’s concern has [Page 222] been extended to remote places with unfamiliar names—the Iadrang river valley, Binhdinh province, Chulai, Danang.

But there is another war being fought at the same time, and in the same country, that the American people know little about. It is the struggle for the minds and hearts of the Vietnamese people, and it is just as crucial in its final import as is the military effort. For this other war is a confrontation of concepts—those of freedom versus those of coercion.

In that struggle the whole matter of communications—communication among the people, and between the people and their government—is of vital importance. Let me tell you something about it.

Slow, low-flying airplanes drop millions of leaflets asking:

“Why do the Viet Cong kill innocent, unarmed people?

“Why are the Viet Cong rice taxes so very high?

“Why do the Viet Cong force the people to labor at gun point?”

Hovering helicopters relay recorded appeals to Viet Cong guerrillas from their wives and sweethearts to lay down arms and come home.

Traveling drama troupes—an ancient Vietnamese custom—bring entertainment to the hamlets as well as a kind of “commercial”, for they also speak out the story of attack and subversion from the North and of valiant resistance in the South.

Newly established provincial newspapers, national radio—and now television, posters and photo exhibits—set forth the Saigon Government’s efforts to build and to protect a free, prosperous and peaceful nation.

Offers to welcome back Viet Cong to the Government side chieu hoi—“with open arms”—have been even floated down rivers on banana tree rafts to enemy-held territory.

The North Vietnamese are informed by air leaflet drops of the facts of their regime’s aggression, of the reasons for our limited bombings. The leaflets make clear that it is the communist party of North Viet-Nam which is our enemy, not the people. Gift packages of clothing and toys are dropped addressed to the children of the North from the young people of the South.

South Vietnamese Government information teams are spread out over the countryside talking to the people face-to-face. They tell of the real goal of the Viet Cong—conquest, directed and supported by outside communist forces. They tell of the opportunities of freedom, of independence, and of rising levels of life possible with the end of communist aggression.

These are a few examples of the psychological and informational operations in the field of human communication being carried out with [Page 223] vigor and ingenuity by the South Vietnamese—advised and assisted by American representatives operating in all 43 provinces of that tragic and war-scarred country.

Recognition of the critical importance of the psychological front and the necessity of a coordinated American approach was signaled in May, 1965, when President Johnson delegated the overall responsibility of coordinating and directing U.S. psychological and informational activities in Viet-Nam to the director of the United States Information Agency.2 A new U.S. field organization—the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO)—was established to carry out this responsibility within Viet-Nam.

JUSPAO combined USIA’s operations in Viet-Nam with the communications media activities of our AID program there, which provides communications equipment and technical advice to the Government of Viet-Nam. The U.S. military assigned carefully selected military officers to JUSPAO, and the Department of State contributed its own qualified personnel. JUSPAO also began providing policy direction to the psychological warfare operations of our military, to assure common policies and closer operational coordination between U.S. civilian and military psychological actions.

I know that all of you here today are interested particularly in the fields of television and radio. In the past few days television has come to Viet-Nam. It is yet another means of establishing sound, reliable and continuing communications between the Government and the people and its immediacy and visual impact make it a potentially powerful and effective medium in a country of wide regional and local differences to inform, to educate, to unify. At the same time this television capacity will be used to inform and to entertain our own forces stationed there.

We have also helped the Vietnamese to develop their own radio capability in many directions. We advise and assist the Vietnamese Broadcasting Corporation and the Vietnamese Defense Ministry’s Voice of Freedom. We are training Vietnamese in program production, station and network management and administration, and central and regional programming.

The Voice of America—USIA’s global radio network—broadcasts to South and North Viet-Nam six and one-half hours daily in Vietnamese. In the VOA transmitting and relay complex is a 50,000 watt, medium-wave relay transmitter situated at Hue in South Viet-Nam, [Page 224] just south of the 17th parallel, with directional antennae capable of providing strong signals to both North and South Viet-Nam. Incidentally, this installation must be an audio thorn in the side of the communists since they have shelled it several times over the past year and a half and our personnel there have found it prudent to carry out their duties wearing side arms.

JUSPAO is perhaps the most unusual development in U.S. overseas information activities since the establishment in 1953 of the U.S. Information Agency as an independent arm of the Executive Branch of our Government.

What is its plan of action?

JUSPAO acts to help the Government of Viet-Nam:

(1) to increase the participation of the Vietnamese people and their Government in the war against communist subversion and aggression;

(2) to increase the Vietnamese people’s participation in developing Viet-Nam’s social and economic progress, and its unity as a nation within the free world community;

(3) to develop further understanding of the United States and of our policies and programs among the Vietnamese; and

(4) to increase other nations’ understanding and support of Viet-Nam’s cause.

To carry out this wide range of activities, JUSPAO’s muscle has been carefully but substantially strengthened over the past months. Its manpower now includes some 160 Americans and nearly 400 Vietnamese fellow workers.

JUSPAO installations now comprise a headquarters in Saigon, a printing center, American cultural centers in four major cities, and field representatives operating in every province. JUSPAO also oversees U.S. support for seven Vietnamese-American centers throughout the nation.

The nerve ends of this entire operation are those valiant and valuable men—our field representatives.3 Some 40 of them aided by over 100 Vietnamese colleagues are now serving throughout the country from the mountainous North to the Southern delta.

For the most part civilians, these representatives work at the rice roots4 level under difficult wartime conditions. With a basic mission to move among the people, they must often do so in the sinister shadow of the Viet Cong presence. The danger is real. For instance, I can tell you that only a few days ago—on February 4—one of our own Vietnamese staff members, and four employees of the Vietnamese [Page 225] Information Service, were ambushed and murdered by the enemy. Frequently far from home base, our representatives’ success in cooperative operations with their Vietnamese Information Service colleagues singularly depends upon their own reservoirs of judgment, ingenuity—and courage.

Naturally such an intrepid corps develops its own legends. I have heard many. For instance, often our men in the field have to improvise. Because of higher priorities, air leaflet drops have been known to be cancelled. Some of our representatives at times have taken to hand delivering up to 10,000 leaflets from light L–19 observation planes simply by leaning out the side windows and letting fly. As a result a new occupational disease, known as “the L–19 arm” has developed—a bruise on the upper pitching arm—caused by repeatedly striking the window frame as the leaflets are flung into the wind.

The immediacy of our challenge is reflected in the report of one officer battling to keep hamlet bulletin boards from being shot up constantly by the Viet Cong. In one town he advised the construction of a reinforced concrete bulletin board and up went the latest posters. True to precedent, the Viet Cong tried to destroy it, but the board held and the patrol fled. There was beautiful irony in the theme of the bullet proof exhibit that the Viet Cong were unable to ruin: how the Viet Cong fails to prevent the facts from reaching the people.

Yes, our officers’ days and nights out there can be quite different from life at more sedate and sartorially splendid posts. They tell of one particularly well-dressed man who after three days under mortar attack and nights in a slit trench remarked of his near lethal experience: “You sure can lose the crease in your pants out there”.

After all this, it’s a fair question to ask: how are we doing, and what have we accomplished?

To lead off, may I first point out that the JUSPAO coordinated effort is only little more than six months old.

And then I want to make clear that psychological and informational programs do not operate in a vacuum. They must—over the long haul—reflect the realities of situations. True national images—like personal ones—cannot be created by trick lights or soft focus.

But we can advise and assist in showing how modern methods can be established, how channels of communication can be opened up so that a vital flow of ideas, information, the facts may reach all the people.

Through such methods and channels the Vietnamese can learn, for instance, of strengthened American commitments, of the rise of their own national morale, of the increased terrorism of the Viet Cong, of Vietnamese-American military successes.

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On this score a senior correspondent for a distinguished London journal wrote from Saigon only a couple of weeks ago that the impression of a mood of defeatism has “gone” in the South and has been replaced by an “all pervading certainty that the war cannot be lost”.

He goes on: “The notion spread by the communists the world over that the Viet Cong movement is a spontaneous, indigenous and gallant agrarian revolt against a repressive Saigon regime is self-evident nonsense. The Viet Cong’s exceptionally revolting system of rule by sudden terror, murder, and mutilations, which understandably evokes counter-terror, is a system under which 1,100 village and hamlet chiefs and other local officials were assassinated in one year—a living advertisement for Mao’s dictum that power grows out of the barrel of a gun . . . If the Viet Cong movement had any genuinely convinced support among the South Vietnamese populace, it is scarcely conceivable that the National Liberation Front should have totally failed to attract a single Vietnamese of any standing or caliber in the South, even during last year’s nadir of hope.”

One way to gauge your psychological effectiveness is how sharply the opposition reacts. Let’s look at the record. The North Vietnamese army paper, Quan Doi Nhan Dan, has said: “They—the South Vietnamese and the Americans—have resorted to the use of radio stations, leaflets, anonymous letters with counter-revolutionary contents slandering us with despicable and disgusting arguments, and false rumors fabricating thrilling and attractive stories in the hope of creating skepticism, the fear of war and of the United States among our people.”

Another case: “They take advantage of the poor political standards, the inquisitiveness and talkativeness of a number of persons in order to use them as loudspeakers to disseminate their psychological warfare venom in an unconscious way.”

And on September 11 Hanoi Radio’s domestic service—not designed for foreign consumption—reported that: “. . . the enemy has intensified its activities against our installations and dropped leaflets spreading false rumors with the aim of sowing confusion among our cadres and people. The revolutionary vigilance and the fighting spirit of our cadres and people are not as high as desired.”

Another way to measure results—set within the context of psychological potentials—is to chart the course of defections by the Viet Cong and their supporters.

Here it is significant to note that the rate of defections has trended sharply upward over the past twelve months. For instance, the January 1965 figure was 406. But by December it had climbed to 1,482. During 1964 the number had averaged out to something between 150 and 200 monthly. By the latter half of 1965 this average was over the 1,000 mark.

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I cite some instances of specific action and reaction. On October 24, copies of eight different leaflets were airdropped into Viet Cong threatened areas in 15 southern provinces. Calls to defect were carried directly to the enemy by loudspeakers, airborne and located on the ground. Over the next three weeks a careful check was made of Viet Cong defectors. Of 86 coming from the areas covered, 62 carried with them copies of the leaflets dropped on October 24.

In another area a similar effort produced the joint defection of a 22-man Viet Cong guerrilla platoon and an eight-man Viet Cong cell, the largest single Viet Cong unit defection in the war to date.

During last month—January—the Vietnamese Government’s Psychological Warfare Ministry carried out an intensive propaganda campaign to coincide with Tet—the seven-day Vietnamese observance of the lunar new year—which is a celebration with profound nationalist, cultural and religious implications. JUSPAO provided considerable logistical support and other assistance to the campaign.

Its principal objective was to enhance the confidence of the Vietnamese people in their Government and to erode the faith of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces in their own leadership and cause. Stress was laid on the Government’s chieu hoi—open arms—program.

Just a few days ago I learned that during January there were 1672 chieu hoi returnees—this sets a record. Now these results, obviously, can be only partly attributable to the Tet campaign, and they are only very early straws in the wind—and nothing more. But they do give reason for sensible hope.

Where do all these psychological and information programs lead?

In a profound and long-term sense we Americans—through the JUSPAO experience—are gaining invaluable insight into how best to blunt and turn the thrust of what the communists call “wars of liberation”—to wit: the tragic visitation upon innocent people desiring only peace and freedom of subversion, infiltration, guerrilla operations, terror tactics. There can be no doubt that the somber prospect of possible future “liberating wars” makes it essential that we develop—in the free world—highly effective techniques to stop the communists at their new ploy for conquest.

In South Viet-Nam itself these psychological and informational programs can result in the firm forging of continuing and effective lines of communication to allow discussion and decision among the people and between them and their Government. It can also save and widen the opportunities for Viet-Nam to participate and to gain from the constant international exchange of ideas, inventions and innovations between the free nations of the world.

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The South Vietnamese want this freedom and they have the inalienable right to enjoy it.

Let me give you just one example of how badly they want it, and I quote from a recent Editor and Publisher article datelined Bloomington, Indiana:

“Prophetic words were spoken a year ago at Indiana University by a South Vietnamese editor. He was murdered recently in front of his home in Saigon by the Viet Cong.

“The slain editor was Vu Nhat Huy, editor-in-chief of Viet-Nam’s second largest newspaper, Chinh Luan (Right Reason). A year ago he was in a group of 19 newsmen who spent four months in the Foreign Journalists project, sponsored by the State Department, which is based at Indiana University.

“Professor Floyd G. Arpan, director of the program for the past 15 years, recalled that at a seminar on the campus, Mr. Huy asserted:

“‘All of us must fight for principles, and in South Viet-Nam we are engaged in a life and death struggle for those principles. Some of us will die for those principles.’. . .

“According to press dispatches, he was one of many Vietnamese newsmen who received letters from the communists threatening them with death if they did not moderate their editorial policies to suit the Viet Cong.

“Chinh Luan published the letter he received along with an editorial of defiance of the communists. According to press dispatches, a gunman killed Mr. Huy when he arrived home for lunch with his wife and six children.”

There is then this one bedrock humanitarian issue of ultimate principle and purpose—the fate of every Vietnamese man, woman and child. The Vietnamese people want peace, independence, social and economic progress. We know that it is the free world that can help them best to achieve these ends. They must be allowed to have this opportunity.

It has been the free and peaceful interplay of minds, and talents, and skills that has produced the most harmonious systems of government and the greatest economic abundance the world has ever known. Mao Tse-tung can assert that power grows out of the barrel of a gun, but it was Victor Hugo who discerned that: “No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come”.

This then is the season for testing. The time is now and the place is Viet-Nam. The issues, psychological—in the broadest meaning of that word—as well as military need to be known the world over. For I submit that, in the final reckoning, how the psychological struggle goes will turn out to be as decisive as what happens on the field of battle.

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The USIA is now telling the story of that struggle—and all that it implies—to men everywhere.

This task, of course, is only one part of our Agency’s role in the foreign affairs establishment. For we have a daily challenge and a vital responsibility to present to the world, in full and fair perspective, the truth about America in order to gain foreign understanding of our ideals and aims, and—where possible—support for our policies and actions.

To carry out this mission we have a huge broadcasting network, movie and television producing studios, a magazine chain, a worldwide radio-teletype service, a cultural, library and exhibit program. And, certainly the most important asset: a dedicated foreign service corps serving in over 100 countries around the globe.

Our constant goal is to ensure that no man anywhere chooses tyranny because he has never had the opportunity to know of the philosophy and prospects of freedom.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, USIA Historical Collection, Office of the Director, Biographic Files Relating to USIA Directors and Other Senior Officials, 1953–2000, Entry A1–1069, Box 13, Leonard H. Marks, Speeches, 1966–1967. No classification marking. The address was delivered by Howard L. Chernoff, Executive Assistant to the Director, in Marks’ absence.
  2. Delegation of that responsibility actually occurred on April 9, 1965, with the issuance of NSAM 330. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. II, Vietnam, January–June 1965, Document 246.
  3. For additional information about JUSPAO Field Representatives, see Document 54.
  4. Reference and comparison is to “grass roots,” an American idiom used to describe the basic level or foundation.