EPILOGUE! FROM TET OFFENSIVE TO "RICE WAR"
On January 30-31, 1968, the National Liberation Front launched its Tet Offensive. In a series of coordinated attacks all over South Vietnam, the NLF struck at over one hundred cities and U.S. bases. In the Mekong Delta, My Tho City, along with many other provincial capitals, was invaded and briefly held by the insurgents. After two years of the most intensive bombardment in military history, with its liberated areas in ruins, its ranks decimated, its surviving cadres worn down by the tensions and hardships of protracted struggle, the NLF brought off the most ambitious campaign in the history of the war.
The "DT" transcripts give no warning of the coming offensive, even though the last of the interviews in the series was conducted only days before the attacks. Indeed in one
or two cases, responses are so non-committal that the reader might be pardoned for suspecting that "false ralliers" had been sent out to lull US-GVN authorities with misleading information, From another source, we learn that the Tet Offensive in My Tho Province was a political triumph for the NLF, In a New York Times article, published November 5, 1972, Fox Butterfield speaks of "a recent study for the Rand Corporation" on the Front in Dinh Tuong Province.
The study noted that before the 1968 Tet offensive, many Vietnamese and American officials thought that the Vietcong in Dinhtuong were on their way to defeat, But once the Communists gave their sudden order to attack, "almost the entire rural population in the province was mobilized and coordinated in support of the attack, " the study concluded.
The RAND transcripts miss all of this preparation, For the most part consisting of the testimony of defectors, who wrongly concluded that the NLF was going to lose the war, these historical sources cannot tell us what we most want to know. Excellent in detailing all the problems faced by the Front, they only glancingly deal with those sources of strength within the NLF which made Tet possible.
The Offensive must have had a profound impact on the villagers of My Tho, For years, the Front had promised a "General Insurrection and General Offensive." The slogan was repeated so many times that it began to lose its force. As refugees reluctantly moved away from their villages, Front cadres had warned them that, in the end, the cities too would be bombed and shelled. At the time, such arguments must have seemed like the desperate threats of a movement which could feel itself going downhill. But in 1968 Front units erupted in the middle of cities like My Tho. 'The psychological implications of the attacks are incalculable," wrote Tom Buckley of the New York Times. *For the first time, (city dwellers) found the Vietcong in the streets, shouting their slogans and fighting with nerve shattering fury against the hastily gathered American and
Vietnamese units sent in to oppose them." (23)
To save themselves from total defeat, US-GVN soldiers turned their guns against the cities, large portions of which were destroyed. For example, one half of My Tho was leveled, according to the estimate of the AP correspondent. (24) After devastating the rural areas for two years, US-GVN firepower was now employed to tear apart those sections of the country which a few days before had seemed to be most firmly under the "control" of the Saigon regime. Front forces withdrew under the bombardment, and their
adversaries naturally claimed this as a 'victory." But if we look at the matter from the point of view of the peasants, we see it in a different light. The self-destructive reaction of US-GVN leaders inadvertently confirmed what the Front had said all along about the course of the war. In spite of its technological superiority, the Saigon dictatorship did not really control any part of the country; in spite of its many losses the Front still had the power to carry the war where it pleased.
In 1968, the Front might reasonably have hoped that its
demonstration of strength would persuade the United States to withdraw from Vietnam. Firmly entrenched throughout the Mekong Delta, which had been almost entirely liberated from Saigon control, cadres carried on their political work more openly than at any time since 1965. We have no interviews for the period after 1968 with which to measure reactions in the countryside to the new American escalation engineered by the Nixon administration, but I think we can assume that events followed a familiar course. Once again, massive bombardment generated refugees, and forced the NLF onto the defensive, and again, in 1972, a large scale offensive was needed to demonstrate that the insurgents were still strong, This time the U, S, decided to come to terms.
We know that since the signing of the Paris Agreements in January 1973, fighting between NLF and GVN forces has continued, Specific news about the My Tho area, however, is bard to come by, The Province has been a major battlefield in the "rice war" which occasionally is mentioned by one of the wire services, On August 30, 1973, for example, AP quoted "military sources" in Saigon to the effect that the id Communists aimed" to cut Route 4, the main highway through the delta to Saigon. 'The drive now is centering on the districts of Cai Be and Cai Lay, areas of traditional Vietcong control in Dinh Tuong Province in the northern delta." Apparently the cadres in My Tho are still determined to win 'the Indochina Road." A UPI dispatch, dated December 18, 1973, describes "fierce fighting ... in the outskirts of the district towns of Cai Lay ... and Cai Be." Saigon sources claimed the attackers left behind 97 dead, not necessarily a figure to be taken seriously, but at least one which suggests that a battle between fairly large size units had taken place. The cryptic account tells us perhaps more than the Saigon source intended. If the Front can concentrate significant armed forces on the "outskirts" of the district capitals, it must be in a strong position, with freedom to move around in the countryside, and with the Saigon authorities bottled up in a handful of strongholds isolated here and there in the Province.
Recent newspaper reporting on Vietnam did involve one special bonus for those interested in My Tho. Right after
the signing of the January agreement, a number of western journalists were able to travel in liberated areas of the Province. (25) Le Monde's Jean-Claude Pomonti visited the 20/7 heartland of the NLF between Route 4 and the Mekong River, twenty kilometers west of My Tho City (around Bang Long). The French correspondent found large political meetings taking place, while Front schools were being rebuilt and its entertainment troupe was 'constantly on the move" from village to village. Véronique Decoudu (Agence France Presse) and Jacques Leslie (Los Angeles Times) also toured the 20/7 area, beginning in the Village of Binh Phu, somewhat to the west of the region explored by Pomonti. They attended a show put on by an NLF troupe where, according to Decoudu, 'the atmosphere was enthusiastic," and 6,000 spectators were still absorbed in the spectacle after midnight when the visitors had to leave. Six thousand spectators! And this in an area where several years ago groups of five to ten people were dispersed by bombs and shells. Preventing villagers from joining together in groups was precisely the aim of U. S, escalation, Large assemblies of peasants indicate far better than any more narrowly military development the continuing vitality of the NLF.
Right at home in communities of real people, with their own past, present and future, cadres thus continue the work of the NLF. Pomonti recorded the remarks of his seventeen-year-old guide: "With Uncle Ho, people were happy. Around Uncle Ho, people felt good. What a shame he couldn't hold on till the peace! " The words reminded me that Ho Chi Minh's name has a special meaning in the interview transcripts. Respondents thought of him when trying to come to terms with the reality of a protracted war, According to a POW,
As Uncle Ho said, the Front soldiers would have to fight a long-term war, As the bamboo trees wither and bamboo sprouts spring up year after year, the Front will continue to fight, and it will fight until there are no Americans left in the South. Then we will have national reunification.
Another respondent repeated the following remarks from a military cadre:
At present, we are similar to the farmers who start to plant their crops. They have to endure the lack of their families' affection and temporary insufficiency of food. But when the rice is ripe, harvested and brought home, they will have plenty for their expenditures and they will joyfully unite with their families. Chairman Ho has resolved to make slight his family's affections. He took refuge in foreign countries and lacked food and clothing. He was also tyrannically tortured by capitalists. Even so, he has patiently maintained his revolutionary standpoint. Therefore, at present, we must follow President Ho's bright example. We must sacrifice our families' affections and resolve to bring victory to our people.
"If he speaks in these familiar terms of Ho Chi Minh" noted Pomonti of his guide, "it is not by accident, In his hamlet, the memory of the 'Uncle' of Vietnam is still alive, even among the youngest."
"I am a son of the revolution, " affirmed one cadre during a talk with Pomonti, "With hollow cheeks and an intense gaze, a dry manner and a calm voice, " the speaker appeared to the French journalist to be "a kind of Saint Just whose authority imposed itself from the start." "I was born in the revolution," the cadre continued, "I've lived in it, I grew up in it, I've been nourished by it, It's my life, my upbringing, my experience. What I've learned, I've learned from the people. "
As the interview went on, the audience never stopped growing, and the hut seemed to be surrounded by about fifty pairs of eyes and ears, mostly young partisans. Two journalists of the NLF took careful notes, while the host, an old peasant, passed around little glasses of tea.
RAND AND THE NLF
The RAND Corporation went to Vietnam in 1964 as part of the American war making apparatus. Since the money for staff members' salaries came from the Department of Defense, its interviewers and consultants were in effect employees of the Pentagon. RAND's client status must be stressed because, in the wake of its withdrawal from Vietnam, the Corporation has attempted to portray itself as an independent research organization which studied the NLF for purely scholarly purposes. The "User's Guide" to the transcripts, written by RAND consultant W. Phillips Davison, presents us with a picture of dedicated researchers seeking out the truth in spite of the often obtuse interfer-
ence of US-GVN authorities. 'Few Vietnamese or American officials in Saigon every really understood the purpose of the project," writes Davison. "Most of them seem to have regarded it as an intelligence- gathering undertaking rather than a long-range study of political, social, and psychological factors." Given the fact that the Pentagon was paying the bills, such assumptions were not unreasonable, 'We got the best damn intelligence in the war ! " boasted RAND consultant Leon Goure in the early days of U. S. direct intervention. (26) As we will see, the interview schedule used by RAND was clearly designed, at least in part, to gather military intelligence.
RAND's Vietnam enterprise, in other words, is the very model of a dishonest research project. The reality was that the Corporation worked for the U, S. Government, and its staffers by necessity cooperated closely with American and Saigon military personnel, whose good will was essential in day-to-day operations, RAND consultants were given military titles. For example, J. J. Zasloff, the first RAND a scholar" in Vietnam, was made a general. But in their work, RAND staffers systematically attempted to hide the fact that they were employees of the Pentagon. Here is Davison's description ,
The interviewers were coached to introduce themselves to respondents as persons studying the social, economic, and political situation in Vietnam, in order to understand the National Liberation Front and its position vis-a-vis the government of Vietnam .... When pressed as to the exact auspices of the project, the interviewers usually described in general terms a research organization under contract to the government.
Davison also cites the recollections of a Vietnamese interviewer who stated that "some interviewers claimed that they were reporters," while "still others posed as social science students doing research for their oncoming theses." (27)
In one sense, these lies were unavailing. As some of the
interviewers discovered, respondents held to their correct assumption that, in Davison's words, "the interviewer has some connection with either Vietnamese or American authorities." On the other hand, the attempted deception did serve one useful purpose When RAND first arrived in Vietnam, the Saigon government was reluctant for political reasons to permit U.S. military personnel free access to NLF defectors and POWs. Such contact would emphasize the American presence in Vietnam and bring out the client status of the GVN. From the point of view of Saigon authorities, RAND proved to be a good intermediary. As David Landau explains :
While RAND, which had been set up by the Air Force in 1947 and had depended entirely one official subsidies ever since was effectively a government agency, it nonetheless drifted in the half world of consulting and "management" firms and managed to preserve the aura, if not the reality, of political and intellectual independence. (28)
Under the cloak of non-partisanship, RAND talked to prisoners and defectors, then handed over useful information to US-GVN military officials. In this way, it was hoped, RAND's mythical neutrality would lend credence to the equally mythical independence of the Saigon regime. Puppets of the world, unite !
As for the transcripts themselves, intelligence considerations are manifest throughout. The interviewers ask many questions about NLF reaction to different U.S. military tactics. They try to pin down in minute detail the routines of Main and Local Force units. They ask for information on how the NLF planned to counter U. S. pacification drives. They go on for page after page in search of information on the names, whereabouts and activities of NLF local cadres. They show great interest in the process of defection, asking what defectors thought of Chieu Hoi leaflets, how they reacted to loudspeaker broadcasts from U. S. helicopters, whether they listened to Saigon radio when they decided to defect, how escape had been arranged, whether other ca-
dres still in NLF territory might be induced to follow in their footsteps. The connection between this information and any "long term study of political, social and psychological factors" is not clear, but the military value of the inquiries seems apparent.
In examining the dynamics of the interview situation, we find that the transcripts are flawed in another way as well. Prisoners of war were routinely tortured before being interviewed, and could look forward to a grim future of imprisonment, further "interrogation" and possible death, The RAND interviews, therefore, did not unfold in neutral circumstances, and indeed GVN police officials were often present during questioning. (29) Defectors were only slightly more able to speak freely, A certain number were in fact NLF spies (the GVN called them "false ralliers"), and Saigon authorities would be watching all 'ralliers" closely for signs of residual loyalty to the other side, Some defectors were put through intensive indoctrination sessions before the interviews, and their answers show the imprint of these propaganda barrages. (30) In other words, with both prisoners and defectors, a strong anti-NLF pressure was bound to shape the responses given.
The RAND interviewers brought their own bias to the project. According to the "User's Guide," all the interviewers of known occupation were from the urban middle class. Close to half had a university education, and the others whose educational background is given were graduates of secondary school. Two-thirds were born in North Vietnam, and 30% of those indicating a religious preference were Roman Catholics. On the other hand, the interviewees were almost all peasants, with a few years of primary schooling at most. Only one in 285, a North Vietnamese POW, was born in the North, and Catholics formed a small proportion of the sample. (31) Urban and rural culture in Vietnam are divided by a considerable social gulf, and the interviewers who ventured out into the countryside were like foreigners groping about in an alien country. Davison speaks of these safaris as "field trips" during which the "urban Vietnamese interviewers" and the Americans had to contend with primitive accommodations and uncertain "sanitary facili-
ties and standards of hygiene," in a milieu where "finding a meal that was both safe and palatable" was often a difficult chore, In the later phases of the project, some interviewers took to carrying their own food with them on their trips out of town. On occasion, the teams fell behind schedule and would have to go to considerable trouble to get safely back to Saigon before nightfall. (32)
These details have a political significance. Several of the interviewers saw the NLF as a class organization, uniting poor peasants against the bourgeoisie to which they belonged. Numerous peasant respondents shared this perspective, and as a result the interview situation in some sense brought together two antagonists in class struggle. The number of Northerners among the interviewers also seems significant, Refugees who left the Democratic Republic of Vietnam In 1954 after the Geneva Accords have provided the backbone of U. S.-sponsored right-wing coalitions in the south ever since. The presence of a number of Catholics, traditionally hostile to the resistance, seems to suggest the same kind of political bias. On the face of it, the interviewers come from groups predisposed to take a hostile position toward the NLF.
The transcripts confirm this expectation, In their postscripts to the interviews, and in the way they ask questions, many of the interviewers betray a strong anti-NLF prejudice. One spoke of the 'Front's unreasonableness and imbecility." Another noted that his subject, a POW, 'wanted to conceal his ideas, but he could not conceal them for long. He has been deeply indoctrinated with atheist materialism. However, he still loves his family." Suspicion of the NLF was balanced by solidarity with the Saigon regime. An interviewer suggested that one respondent, a defector, 'became less skeptical and more confident (in our cause)" in the course of the interview, 'The subject was deeply indoctrinated, " another observed, in speaking of a POW, 'and he was not sincere or cooperative with the interviewer, If the subject were released now, he would join the VC to fight against us. That was what he had in mind, unless we could change it by giving him a good brain-wash in prison." (33)
In this excerpt and in others, we see that a number of interviewers saw their role in para-military terms. Many
acted like interrogators, probing for hidden subversive leanings; see the above example of the interviewee who wanted to conceal his ideas, but he could not conceal them for long." Here is the postscript for another interview, in which the respondent, a POW, had forthrightly outlined the principles which motivated him to serve the NLF :
The subject was not sincere at all. He tried to avoid answering the questions of the interviewer to the point. He refused to reveal anything about the high ranking cadres who he certainly knew. He liked to express his views boldly, and seemed to want to make propaganda for the Front. But he revealed his thoughts and showed that he was a hard core Front cadre.
Others used the interviews as a vehicle for GVN propaganda. After discussion with a POW who had been tortured, an interviewer stated:
The subject was very cooperative and sincere. He agreed with the interviewer that his being beaten up by ARVN soldiers was simply an uncontrolled incident which occurred in a hot spot. He also agreed that the way the Front had drafted him away was inhuman.
Another interviewer described how he 'tried to summarily explain to (his subject) the American aims in Vietnam and drew a map of Southeast Asia to help him to understand." (34)
Time and again, the interviewers press for anti-NLF views. Often the phrasing of questions is designed to compel a certain response. "in your opinion," asks one interviewer of a POW, "were those totalitarian methods of leadership of the party good and correct ? " 'Why is killing such a trifle to the NLF ? " demanded another. Occasionally, interviewers lose their composure and simply quarrel with their subjects. Here is one question from discussion with a defector.
Why were the people glad when China or the Soviet
Union gave aid to North Vietnam, as you just said, and regarded them as good friends, but when the U. S. and other nations of the free world gives aid to the GVN which is about a hundred times that given to Hanoi by China and Russia, they said that the Americans were invaders ?
Such outbursts are usually informative. This one, for example, tells us that the interviewer regards as an enemy not just the NLF, but 'the people" as a whole, with their obstinate mistrust of the 'free world." At times these arguments have an ugly, vindictive edge. One POW was asked -
In the future, where will the NLF cadres go if there are no people in their areas ? Will you depart for North Vietnam and live there with Mr. Ho ? As a matter of fact, if you don't come over to the GVN side, you will have no people to support you.
Other interviewers show more restraint, and a number of interviews are developed in an intelligent and dispassionate manner. But the overall political atmosphere in which these exchanges take place is unmistakable. None of the interviewers show a pro-NLF bias, and statements favorable to the GVN are seldom challenged. Even if the interviewers had been sympathetic to the insurgents, the conditions of their employment discouraged candor. They were, after all, working for one of the parties in the war, and pulling down a handsome salary in the process ("comparable to what they would have received in the top ranks of the Vietnamese civil service," according to the 'User's Guide"). (35)
In attempting to promote the historical objectivity of the transcripts, Davison affirms that 'the existence of several very different political biases among the group (of interviewers) even though all were non-Communists, probably serves to offset bias in the interviews as a whole." This puzzling statement can be explained by the fact that Davison shares the ideological predispositions of the people whose objectivity he is attempting to measure. He is not particularly struck by their prejudices because he himself
looks at things in a similarly one-sided way, He thinks the dictates of political objectivity have been satisfied, while recognizing that all the interviewers are "non-Communist" (meaning in this context "non-NLF"), because he takes it for granted that "Communist" views are beyond the pale and do not deserve to be included within the framework of scholarly inquiry, Clearly, no one could reasonably expect RAND to make a practice of employing people who were not a non-Communist"! In a similar vein, Davison argues, "The fact that all the interviewers were Vietnamese nationalists" assured that they would not be content simply to tell the Americans what they wanted to hear about the NLF, "Devotion to their country," he asserts, 'probably moved interviewers to represent conditions as accurately as possible." (36) Some of the interviewers, and of course Saigon authorities, call the GVN the "nationalist" party in the war. But the usage is so questionable that it has been avoided even in the American press, As a foreigner in Vietnam, Davison identifies the nationalists as those who express 'devotion to their country" by agreeing to join him in working for a military establishment which at that moment was busy killing thousands of Vietnamese people, His judgment, and RAND's as well, of what constitutes an objective study of the National Liberation Front does not deserve to be taken seriously.
The transcripts suffer from a number of other defects. First, an attempt has been made to remove all names of people and places, ostensibly in the interests of protecting the respondents from future reprisal. With a bold cynicism, these Pentagon-financed consultants affirm that "Researchers have an ethical responsibility to ensure that no one suffers from having been a subject of research." (37) On the other hand, studies published by RAND consultants often reveal these names and places, while careless editing has left a few identifying details still legible in the transcripts. Although anonymity has by no means been uniformly maintained, the general policy of eliminating such detail causes considerable inconvenience for the reader.
More serious, information on American and GVN atrocities has been removed from the text. Davison concedes, "One team leader reported that he occasionally cut material
having to do with mistreatment of prisoners, in order not to jeopardize access to certain police and military installations, but that does not seem to have been a general practice." The reason given for deletions makes sense, and readers may wonder how other team leaders avoided the need to edit transcripts in order to stay on the good side of US-GVN officials. On the same subject, Anthony Russo has written -
Material on torture of prisoners or brutal treatment of civilians by Americans, Koreans, or Saigon troops was removed when the interviews were being typed up in Saigon. The policy, set by Goure, was the subject of bitter disagreement between him and me; I would never remove any material from interviews that went through my hands, nor would several others; but most complied with Goure's censorship policies. (38)
For these reasons, the transcripts cannot be considered fully accurate sources on American activity in Vietnam.
When considered altogether, these various factors limit the value of the transcripts as historical sources. Two hundred forty two of the respondents are defectors, and not surprisingly they tend to stress the shortcomings of the NLF. At the same time, reports from the 43 POWs are not that different in tone from those of the defectors. In fact, some try to convince their interrogators that they were just about to desert before being captured and therefore should really be counted as "ralliers." (39) The generally mixed picture of the NLF which we get from the transcripts might be a reflection of the real situation, but we cannot draw such a conclusion given the fact that the bias of the information gathering situation was so marked. Both defectors and POWs had no good reason for speaking well of the NLF and many which encouraged a negative report. In some respects, "defectors" and "POWs" are not the best categories for dividing up the respondents. The group might be more meaningfully split between the witnesses who discuss in some detail the activities of the NLF, and the interviewees who offer only cursory testimony. Usually, the
Front's "line and policy" tends to seem more complex, realistic and attractive in the longer and more thorough interviews, involving both defectors and POWs. But all too often, for reasons which by now should be clear, the interviewers are content with pat anti-NLF comments, and do not press their subjects for further information.
The RAND materials are thus well suited to answer certain kinds of questions, but not very helpful at all in dealing with others. For example, the reader quickly discovers that a credible picture of NLF strengths is not easily extracted from the transcripts. If we took them at face value, we would assume that in 1967 the Front was falling apart, losing public support and helplessly giving ground before adversaries who were on the verge of winning a military victory. This picture is inaccurate, as we know from subsequent history, but it is what we would expect from defectors who had decided the NLF was doomed and had escaped from an apparently sinking ship by joining the GVN side. Many of the defectors are well informed, but their observations are distorted by this fundamental miscalculation. Jumping to the conclusion that the Front was finished, they overlooked those strong points which enabled the insurgents to stage the Tet Offensive and to keep fighting for years afterward.
Along the same lines, the transcripts do not, and cannot, tell us the full story of Saigon rule in the countryside or the impact of U. S. military intervention on Vietnamese society. Interviewees speak with some candor of their hatred of Diemism. After all, the dictator Thieu himself had been a member of the military junta which usurped power from Diem in 1963, But they are not asked, and they do not volunteer, any opinion of later Saigon governments, As Davison explains, need for the "cooperation of Vietnamese and American authorities" dictated that "questions could not be asked about South Vietnamese politics." (40) Similar concerns prevented interviewers from probing very energetically for villagers' attitudes toward the United States. In any case, as we have seen, negative information which was uncovered tended to be censored out of the transcripts.
One of the topics the interviews do cover, and in priceless detail, is the array of difficulties encountered by the
NLF. The way cadres solved problems is not fully documented and must often be inferred from the more lengthy and thoughtful interviews. Instead defectors dwell on the Front's weaknesses, and interviewers are happy to encourage such reports. The result is that we are presented with a comprehensive picture of all the different kinds of problems which came up as the Front responded to American escalation. Rather than trying to make the transcripts perform a function for which they are not well suited, I have followed the RAND sources in stressing this side of NLF history, The perspective is not without value. We gain a special appreciation of the Front as we observe it confronting, and surmounting, obstacles which would have stymied a less cohesive political movement.
Bob Purdy helped me a great deal with the final version of the paper. I want to thank him, as well as Steve Karaian, who drew the map; and also the following people, for their suggestions and criticisms of earlier drafts : Feroz Ahmad, Herbert Bix, Paul Faler, Jim Green, Jim Hunt, Allen Hunter, Jim Kaplan, Esther Kingston-Mann and Henry Norr. I am especially grateful to Linda Gordon and Peter Weiler. Their firm attachment to the NLF has meant a lot to me - I wouldn't have dared to undertake this project without their support.
(1) A cadre is an official exercising responsibility in one of the NLF's local organizations.
(2) For a general description of the Rand project, see W. Phillips Davison, "User's Guide to the Rand Interviews in Vietnam" (Santa Monica, 1972), published by the RAND Corporation. Excellent critical discussion of RAND's Vietnam work is found in David Landau, 'The Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project," and Anthony Russo, "Looking
Backward : Rand and Vietnam in Retrospect," both in Ramparts (November, 1972).
A word on terminology. Saigon authorities speak of "Dinh Tuong" Province, and the name is used by American officials and journalists, and by RAND as well. But the NLF calls this area, along with neighboring 'Go Cong, " My Tho Province, after the Capital City of My Tho. District boundaries and village names also may vary, depending on whose maps are consulted, Throughout the paper, when I am aware of contrasting terminology, I have chosen to employ the vocabulary of the NLF, for reasons which I hope will become clear in the Chapter on 'Village Politics." According to one RAND study, "In clinging to the French province names, the Viet Cong would appear to be the more practical nationalists. Several generations of Dinh Tuong peasants have grown up thinking of their province as 'My Tho,"' David Elliott and W. A. Stewart, "Pacification and the Viet Cong System in Dinh Tuong , 1966-1967" (Santa Monica, 1969), 7 FT.
(3) 1 have transcribed passages from the 'DT" series just as they appear in the original, complete with misspellings, grammatical errors and clumsy phrasing, No attempt has been made to signal when inclusion of such mistakes has been deliberate. Putting in a "sic" for each of the dozens of errors, it seemed to me, would only add to the distraction for readers already bothered by the mistakes themselves. Readers should keep this in mind when they encounter words like "majestuously" and 'proseltying" in the paper.
Pairs of numbers separated by a slash are references to the 'DT" series. The first number refers to the interview, the second, to the question within the interview. For example, this quote is from interview #250, question #27 :250/27. Because of space limitations, I have not included in this set of footnotes most of the references to transcript passages referred to in the text. Readers interested in a complete set of footnotes should write to Radical America for a copy.
(4) See the description of this battle in Wilfred Burchett, Vietnam : Inside Story of the Guerrilla War (New York, 1968), 85ff.
(5) There is a good discussion of this issue of "upward mobility" within the NLF in Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An : Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province (Berkeley, 1973), 167ff.
(6) "Living integrated with the enemy" is discussed in Burchett, Inside Story, 59ff.
(7) Robert Sansom, The Economics of Insurgency in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), 65.
(8) The Vietnamese phrase hoc tap is translated as "political indoctrination" by RAND -see 49/33, for example -when "study" is really the more appropriate term, RAND translators sometimes disagree about this matter; note references to "indoctrination sessions" in some interviews, a study sessions" in others.
(9) Later on, these tactics played a more direct military role. For example, when Saigon troops passed through a village, the peasants beat on their wooden fish, Guerrillas were almost impossible to trap because, when GVN forces attempted to encircle them, they simply headed in a direction where no noise-making could be heard, See [59/60 for an example.
(10) When Wilder Burchett first published accounts of Diem atrocities, he was criticized by American observers sympathetic to the Saigon regime, Burchett, Vietnam Will Win! (New York, 1970), 49. But the transcripts corroborate Burchett's grim picture of Diem's rule, See, for example, the long discussion with interviewee #135, a defector, and one of the most authoritative respondents in the whole series. Long patronized by American scholars and journalists as a 'Communist," and therefore a hopelessly biased observer of the NLF, Burchett's description of the insurgency is borne out again and again, even down to minor details, by evidence from the transcripts, Note, for example, the respondents' references to "mother carbine" incidents, first analyzed in Inside Story, 109ff.
(11) Sansom devotes only a page to bombing and shelling, which, he recognizes, "threatened to push the issue of land reform, technology, Viet Cong taxes, and everything else into the background." The Economics of Insurgence , 240.
(12) The most notorious proponent of this view is Samuel
Huntington, 'The Bases of Accommodation," Foreign Affairs (July, 1968).
(13) NLF regular forces did fight some major battles during this period. For example, see John Albright, "Fight Along the Rach Ba Rai," John Albright et al., Seven Firefights in Vietnam (Washington, 1970), 67-84.
(14) These fortifications look quite different if we simply switch over to view them from the invaders' perspective -"My Lai I was screened by a thick hedge and heavily guarded by booby traps. Within minutes one of the mines hidden in the hedge line was tripped and the men of Bravo Company heard screams, Lieutenant Cochran was killed and four GIs seriously injured in the explosion .... Another booby trap was tripped; once more there were screams and smoke. This time three second platoon GIs were injured and the unit was in disarray. The surviving GIs insisted that they were not going to continue the mission, and said as much to Captain Michles. Colonel Barker flew in himself to see to the evacuation of the wounded, and then made an amazing decision; rather than call on the first or third platoon to complete the mission, he simply canceled Bravo Company's order to search and destroy My Lai I." Later that day, Bravo Company murdered scores of peasants in neighboring My Khe 4. Meanwhile, in the more publicized incident, "Charlie Company," also under Colonel Barker's command, was massacring Vietnamese in My Lai 4, Seymour Hersh, Cover-Up (New York, 1972), 13.
(15) "Face-to-face struggles" are discussed in Burchett, Inside Story, 62ff, He notes that during the Diem administration, "It was difficult for the police and local authorities to be too brutal with demonstrators who all claimed they were loyal supporters of the government and only came so that the government should know what was being done in its name in the countryside. And as high authorities of the government could not admit that atrocities were authorized in it name, the demonstrators had a useful weapon to take back with them in their arguments with local authorities." Inside Story, 67.
(16) This example shows the close interdependence between political and military activities of the NLF. Ideally, the Front counted on guerrillas to keep Saigon troops on the
defensive, leaving its regular units free to strike where they pleased. When military forces functioned in this way, enemy soldiers stayed close to their bases, and local cadres could operate freely in the villages. Their activities led to the mobilization of more recruits and taxes, thus strengthening military forces, which in turn were even more able to protect liberated territory from hostile incursions. But bombing and shelling tended to reverse this process. When people fled their villages, taxes and recruits were hard to come by, and big NLF units suffered accordingly. In any case, they could not easily venture into areas which were being intensively bombarded, As a result, the mobility of ARVN forces was augmented by bombing and shelling, and, left on their own, guerrilla squads could not prevent them from penetrating many areas. In such circumstances, without a military shield, local cadres found it impossible to carry on with their work. The complex interrelationship of politics and military affairs, and among the various Front military units, is discussed in the excellent article by Elliott and Stewart, "Pacification and the Viet Cong System in Dinh Tuong."
(17) The political weakness of Saigon's defector program was summarized this way by a POW - "When reading the Chieu Hoi leaflets, I experienced a mixed feeling of disbelief and apprehension. I felt that the war being waged in South Vietnam was not the business of an individual, but of an entire people. Therefore, peace can only be achieved when the leaders of both participants in the war agree to sit down and negotiate, I hardly believed that peace could be obtained through the conversion of cause of any lone individual." 142/189. With their meager understanding of the reasons why people joined the NLF, Saigon authorities did indeed conceptualize defection as a form of "conversion," in which cadres were persuaded to turn away from Communist blandishments, To them, the defector was a 'rallied" who had come back to the true faith.
These thoughts from Bernard Fall further help to put the Chieu Hoi program in perspective - "... In Vietnam during 1966 a total of 20,242 Chieu-Hoi ('Open Arms' defectors) came out of the jungle, bringing with them a total of only 1,963 weapons - i.e. most of these defectors were unarmed
civilians ... Meanwhile the South Vietnamese Army lost, that same year, at least 110,000 men, who simply walked off and out of the war." "The View from Vietnam." New York Review of Books (February 9, 1967), cited in In the Name of America (Annandale, Virginia, 1968), 331.
(18) The draft seems to have been reinstituted in late 1967, apparently in conjunction with planning for the Tet Offensive. As in 1964-1965, the move was part of a major effort which, it was hoped, would end the war. See 283/18, 288/19, 289/33.
(19) The phrase is Wilfred Burchett's. See his discussion in Vietnam Will Win, 115ff.
(20) Contrasting land policies of the Saigon regime on the one side, and the Viet Minh and NLF on the other, are discussed in Sansom, The Economics of Insurgency. Many interview respondents corroborate Sansom's findings.
(21) For another discussion of this subject, see Frances Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (New York, 1973), 220ff.
(22) This interview is particularly valuable because in general the "DT" series is short on female respondents. Only nine of the defectors and three of the POWs are women. Other informative women interviewees are #65, a POW, #182, a defector, but, in the words of her interviewer, a great fan of the VC," and #253, a defector.
(23) New York Times, February 4, 1968.
(24) Ibid., February 6, 1968. The dispatch read in part: "To stop the enemy troops, the allied forces had to attack them in the positions they had taken in homes and other buildings. It was a necessity of war. But the looks that the people of Mytho gave the Americans today appeared to be angry." The correspondent offered an estimate of 750 civilian casualties in My Tho as a result of the fighting.
Ben Tre, Capital City of neighboring Kien Hoa Province, was brought to the attention of American readers by another paragraph in this same dispatch, "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it," a U. S, Major was quoted as saying. "The VC had people all over this town," noted Major Phillip Canella of Ben Tre; "Christ, they were everywhere."
(25) Jean-Claude Pomonti, "Dans la zone du G. R. P,"
("In the PRG Zone"), and "Chez les partisans du G. R P" ("With the Partisans of the PRG"), Le Monde, February 7-8, 1973. Véronique Decoudu, 'Binh-Phu, village deltaique, contrôlé par. le G. R. P.: Quand six mille paysans assistent a une spectacle de danses dans une atmosphere de réconciliation nationale" ("Binh Phu, Delta village controlled by the PRG : When six thousand peasants attend a dance show in an atmosphere of national reconciliation"), Le Monde, February 3, 1973. Jacques Leslie, "Exclusive Report - A Day Inside a Viet Cong Stronghold," Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1973.
(26) Davison's observation is in "User's Guide," 27. The remark by Goure is cited by Anthony Russo, "Looking Backward," 57. My analysis of the RAND project is much indebted to the Russo article, and also to David Landau's essay in the same issue of Ramparts.
(27) Landau discusses Zasloff's rank in "The Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project," 32. The remarks about RAND staffers' hidden affiliations are in Davison, "User's Guide," 32-33.
To be fair, we should note that the first RAND team in Vietnam produced some of the best studies to come out of the project. See J. C. Donnell, G. J. Pauker, J. J. Zasloff, "Viet Cong Motivation and Morale: A Preliminary Report" (Santa Monica, 1965). This study, sympathetic to the NLF, came out at a particularly awkward moment. 'If what you say is correct, then we have joined the wrong side," noted Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton after reading the report. Cited in Landau, "The Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project," 33. Committed to escalating the war, U. S. planners chose to ignore Zasloff's findings.
No discussion of the RAND project would be complete without a mention of its most impressive results, the truly inspiring reports of Konrad Kellen, "A View of the VC : Elements of Cohesion-in the Enemy Camp in 1966-1967 "(Santa Monica, 1969), "Conversations with Enemy Soldiers in Late 1968/Early 1969: A Study of Motivation and Morale" (Santa Monica, 1970) and "1971 and Beyond: The View from Hanoi" (Santa Monica, 1971).
(28) Davison's remark on relations with US-GVN author-
ities is in "User's Guide," 32, The interviewer of subject #208 noted that, 'He mistook the interviewer for a GVN official, even though the interviewer had done his best to explain the purpose of the interview to him." Landau's comment is in 'The Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project,' 31.
(29) Russo : 'Virtually every prisoner was tortured .... Prisoners were tortured as a matter of course, even those who tried their best to be cooperative. "Looking Backward," 54, 56. Davison, "Many prisoners had been mishandled or even tortured during earlier interrogation sessions, and some defectors had been treated roughly, or at least without respect." "User's Guide," 33-34. One POW among the respondents reported that he was tortured "like the rest of the POWs.' 142/189. Another indicated that he had been "beaten up savagely." 239/83, The 86-year-old woman POW was also beaten. As her interviewer noted - "Mrs. XXXXX, 86-years-old, was very sick, tired, and unable to sit up .... I don't understand why the Special Forces arrested and tortured such an old lady." 2 6 4 /interviewer's comment. See also 49/40, 213/43, 272/3. For police presence during interviews, see 57/interviewer's comment, 144/19. Davison suggests the possibility that interviewing rooms were bugged, in 'User's Guide, " 30.
(30) See Russo's discussion of the Chieu. Hoi program- as a "rest and relaxation program for the V. C., " in "Looking Backward," 55. For an example of a "false rallier," note interview #87. Jacques Doyon writes that according to the CIA 7-10% of the deserters eventually returned to the NLF. He also provides a vivid sketch of the My Tho Chieu Hoi Center. 'The My Tho camp was pitiable. For the first time, a water tank on wheels from the army had been obtained. Before, it was necessary to boil the filthy water from the irrigation canals. A dirty, shabby building, a cramped dormitory of thirty to forty beds, tents where the deserters sleep or daydream. A painful atmosphere of idleness, boredom, neglect. Men hang around, while at the camp gate the interrogations go on non-stop." Les Viet Cong Paris, 1968), 257, 259.
Here are impressions from another French observer, on Saigon's attempts to educate defectors
When the head of the Center enters one of the conference rooms, he shouts, 'Let me introduce a friend, stand up! " The ralliers stand up in unison, clap their hands "with force and enthusiasm" (comments my guide) and shout: 'Welcome."
To relax them or put them in the mood, one of the instructors orders his proteges -prisoners to beat out the rhythm of the "Fantastic Ride of the Anti-Communists." The men are seated in a circle. Hands flat on the table, they listen to their mentor chant in rhythm ! 'One, two, cavalry of Vietnam, one, two." On the words one, two, the men strike the table first with their right hands, then with their left, and then with both at once. After the hands, the feet, the right, then the left, striking the floor. After the feet, in turn heads shake. Finally their whole bodies participate in this bizarre dance which ends with a chant, taken up together by master and pupils -
"Forward, forward, have courage. Life is rosy. A fresh wind is blowing. Don't hesitate, don't be afraid of anything, one, two. Don't wander, for fear of losing your vigor, one, two."
The rhythm accelerates as the song approaches its end. Faces are streaming with sweat and an implausible joy shines in people's eyes, Result of the exercise ? or of conviction ? In addition, each day the center rings with the sound of the antivietcong hymn, designed, as was gravely explained to me, to condition minds in the proper spirit.
Sample lyrics - "Today I have broken with the Vietcong, my life begins to smell perfume from all sides," etc. Fernand Gigon, Les Americains face au vietcong (Paris, 1965), 193ff.
(31) Occupations : Secretarial or clerical, 3: Professional, 14; Business, 3; Government Service, 2; South Vietnamese Army, 6; Student, 3; No data, 5. Education: Secondary School, 5; University, 16 -, No data, 15. Place of Birth: North Vietnam, 22; South Vietnam, 5; Central Vietnam, 6; Cambodia, 1; No data, 2. Religion: Roman Catholic, 7; Vietnamese traditional (mainly Buddhist), 14; Protestant, 2;
No data, 13. See chart in "User's Guide," 16. By contrast, a villager who reached the "first grade" of elementary school (the fifth, and last, year of elementary school) described himself as "relatively well educated." 1/31. Only one respondent, a POW from the North Vietnamese Army, was born in the North - #287.
(32) Davison, "User's Guide," 24-25. Perhaps significantly, Russo reminisced in an entirely different spirit -"The field trips I took in Vietnam revealed a lot about the war. Everywhere the American advisors seemed hassled, powerless, and isolated from the Vietnamese, as they stuck together in their compounds. I felt much more in touch with the country than most of them because I traveled with Vietnamese, stayed in Vietnamese hotels (which averaged about fifty cents per night before inflation hit), and ate in Vietnamese restaurants. The food was delicious; I had never dreamed there were so many varieties of rice. Usually, after we arrived in a place, I would leave the Vietnamese to the interviewing and explore the area, talking to village and hamlet officials and going out into the countryside whenever possible." "Looking Backward,' 55.
(33) The four observations cited in this paragraph are found in the interviewer's comment for interviews 45, 161, 171, and 230, The subject of the second of these interviews had been asked - "Do you think that there is an afterlife ? " He answered - "In my opinion, I cannot understand what I am unable to see with my own eyes. Whether a man has a soul or not, I cannot see it, so I am not confident in its existence. Death puts an end to everything" - hence his "atheist materialism." He also stated: "I have not joined the Communist Party because I did not carry out my duties actively, I don't want to join it because I still love my family." 161/26, 12.
(34) These three remarks are found in interviewer's comments for interviews 159, 272, and 15.
(35) The four interview exchanges mentioned in this paragraph are found in 157/ 0, 159/11, 140/40, 195/92. On salaries, Davison, "User's Guide," 14, When asked about totalitarian methods, subject #159, a POW, stated - "...1 don't think they were totalitarian because the Party forbade all forms of totalitarianism. Everything was decided upon
by everyone in the Party Chapter, and everything was carried out collectively. When I was not a member, I didn't find any totalitarianism either, because the directives or orders from above were carried out well for the good of everyone concerned." A moment later he suggested that the Diem government was a much better example of totalitarianism. 157/62.
(36) Davison, 'User's Guide," 21-22. (37) Ibid., iii.
(38) Ibid., 43 ft. Russo, "Looking Backward," 57-58. (39) See, for example, subjects 148 and 209.
(40) Davison, "User's Guide," 7.
CHRONOLOGY OF VIETNAM WAR
1960. At the beginning of the year, the Diem regime seemed firmly entrenched. Its armed forces occupied the countryside, many peasants had been forced off their lands into barbed wire encampments known as agrovilles (later called strategic hamlets or new life hamlets), while local officials and landlords ruled unchallenged in the villages. But during the year, opposition to Diem began to coalesce, as Viet Minh veterans joined with others in armed resistance. On December 20, various dissident groups formed the National Liberation Front.
In My Tho, the Concerted Uprising began when underground cadres quietly made contact with the villagers. Soon, terror was unleashed against the local Saigon apparatus, and villagers were feeling confident enough to attend meetings for study of the line and policy of the new insurgency.
1961, The revolt spread rapidly. Diem appealed to the United States for more aid, and President Kennedy responded, first with contingents of the Special Forces, then with numerous advisors to bolster the Saigon army and administration. Clandestine warfare against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was also stepped up.
In My Tho, popular associations were set up, and the Front began to develop Local and Main Force military units. Land reform campaign then got underway.
1962, Expanded U, S. aid temporarily checked the NLF advance, with helicopter tactics causing particular problems for the insurgents,
In My Tho, after starting so well, local cadres and guerrillas were thrown into disarray by growing American intervention, But a round of 'supplementary reorientation sessions" helped them to reconsolidate morale.
1963. The NLF surged forward throughout the countryside. Rebellion spread to the cities, with the Buddhist peace movement playing a prominent role. In November, the deteriorating situation prompted American leaders to cast Diem aside and to bring in a new Saigon regime.
In My Tho, the NLF won the battle of Ap Bac (January 2).
Organized by village Women's Associations, "face-to-face" political struggle against Saigon authorities was stepped up.
1964. The NLF threatened to expel its enemies completely from the rural areas, while urban cadres agitated openly in the streets of Saigon. A series of coups further disrupted the counter-insurgency effort. Tied down by an election campaign, the Johnson administration secretly planned drastic counter measures.
In My Tho, strategic hamlets and military posts in great numbers were destroyed. The insurgency was stronger than it had been at any time since 1946. Local cadres put in motion a regular system of taxation and universal conscription to mobilize resources needed to finish off the Saigon regime.
1965. To prevent an NLF victory, the U. S. sent troops to South Vietnam and started to bomb the North. After months of instability, the Thieu-Ky regime was installed in Saigon. U.S. and NLF forces collided in a series of bloody, inconclusive battles.
In My Tho, US-GVN authorities began the systematic bombardment of the countryside. Faced with prospects of prolonged war, and temporarily stunned by the bombing and shelling, local cadres organized another round of supplementary reorientation sessions to pull the insurgency together for the next phase of fighting.
1966, Stalemate on the battlefield. The Americans found that they bad to pour in more troops just to hold their own. The NLF talked of a long war lasting into the next generation.
In My Tho, bombing and shelling intensified, and US-GVN forces launched pacification drives in key villages, especially to the west of the Province Capital City, Among the insurgents, regular military units withdrew somewhat from combat, while guerrilla tactics received renewed emphasis.
1967. In spite of increasing pressure, the NLF seemed to be holding its own, With victory still not in sight, and troop levels soaring up to the 500,000 level, the United States was plunged into a political crisis. The anti-war movement grew. Within the government, a disenchanted Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara secretly organized the "Pentagon Papers" project.
In My Tho, U. S. troops appeared in January, and pacification measures forced the NLF out of a number of villages. Bombing and shelling generated more refugees, Front military recruiting became impossible in many areas, and its tax receipts dwindled. Casualties and defections thinned the ranks of the cadres, but enough insurgents hung in there to keep the NLF presence alive in most villages.
1968. The NLF stunned the world, and demoralized the Johnson administration, with its powerful Tet Offensive (January 30). Striking simultaneously at over one hundred important targets all over the country, the Front hurled its adversaries back into the cities. President Johnson was forced to resign his office. Gestures from the U. S. conveyed the impression that a negotiated settlement was near.
In My Tho, NLF forces participated in the Tet Offensive with an attack on the Province Capital City.
1969-1971. The newly elected President Nixon chose to continue the war. U. S. ground forces were gradually withdrawn, but bombing and shelling escalated to new heights. Invasions of Cambodia in 1970 and Laos in 1971 extended American military commitments throughout Indochina and touched off giant protests at home. An influx of veterans lent authority to the anti-war movement.
In My Tho, the Front lost ground. More bombing and shelling.
1972. Another major guerrilla offensive. Like Johnson in 1968, Nixon worked to persuade the American people that peace is at hand."
In My Tho, the offensive enabled NLF forces to liberate a number of villages, including key strongholds in the Front's 20/7 heartland region.
1973. Paris peace agreements signed in January. But after official withdrawal of American presence, the war went on, with survival of the bellicose Thieu regime dependent on massive U.S. aid.
In My Tho, the political strength of the NLF was intact. In the new 'rice war," its military units repeatedly threatened to cut the Indochina Road.