SGM Herb Friedman (Ret.)
The Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) was one of the main proponents of American propaganda during the Vietnam War. They produced thousands of leaflets and posters that were printed and disseminated over the enemy in the millions. I usually place these posters in my regular articles along with leaflets on the same general themes, but the posters are big and bulky and I thought perhaps I should also give them their own article. Many of the posters I depict here were printed by the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa. They had the manpower and printing presses to support the various PSYOP units in Vietnam during the war.
The United States Archives mentions Vietnam War propaganda posters and says in part:
We list 438 posters produced by the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) for use in psychological warfare activities supporting the Government of South Vietnam (GVN) during the Vietnam War. The poster themes and designs reflect the fierce competition between the two Vietnams, North and South, to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese public. Posters are grouped under ten main themes reflecting JUSPAO propaganda priorities.
The theme with the largest poster concentration is "Support Social and Economic Accomplishments," comprising one third of the total item count. This category highlights the activities of the government's Revolutionary Development program to work alongside rural Vietnamese in building houses, medical centers, roads, wells, bridges, schools, markets, and in making other infrastructure improvements. Many of the rural communities featured were the New Life Hamlets.
Another well-represented theme is Encourage the Goals of the Chieu Hoi Program, referring to the South Vietnamese government program designed to encourage and facilitate the defection of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers back to the Southern cause.
The Explain American Presence in Vietnam grouping illustrates the activities of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam, with the purpose of assuring the rural people of the South of the friendly intentions of the United States. Several posters in this category feature South Korean forces engaged in similar activities. A small number also feature the activities in Vietnam of other allied forces from Thailand, New Zealand, the Philippines and Australia.
Another large category, Exploit All Military Victories, publicizes military victories won by Popular Forces, Regional Forces and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces against the Viet Cong.
The Exploit Viet Cong Vulnerabilities highlights the depredations and atrocities committed by the Viet Cong in the South. Pictures show dead and wounded atrocity victims, funerals of victims, captured Viet Cong perpetrators, buildings damaged and destroyed in Viet Cong attacks, the hardships imposed on the people by Viet Cong actions, and anti-Viet Cong protest rallies. A few posters also relate the story of the Viet Cong defector, Nguyen Van Be, shown holding North Vietnamese newspapers that erroneously announce his sacrifice of his life for the sake of the Northern cause.
The smaller-volume categories feature messages on public health issues, Vietnamese armed forces recruitment, and a broad miscellany of subjects that include the U.S. Apollo 11 lunar mission, Vietnamese public security, and the inauguration ceremony for South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu.
The extent of the Allied propaganda effort in Vietnam is told by James William Gibson in The Perfect War- Technowar in Vietnam, The Atlantic Monthly Press, NY, 1986:
From 1965 through 1972 over fifty billion leaflets were distributed in South and North Vietnam and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia; this vast sum was the equivalent of more than 1,500 leaflets per person in both the north and the south. In 1969 the military and civilian propaganda apparatuses produced over 10.5 billion leaflets, 4 million pamphlets,60,000 newspaper articles, over 24.5 million posters, and nearly 12 million magazines.
There is also a record of a PSYWAR Bureau. A mention of this organization is found in Monthly Historical Summary, April 1966 (Declassified) Appendix II, from the Commander, U. S. Naval Forces Vietnam. There is a long list of operations that were Civic Action or PSYOP. We cant tell in most cases which were Vietnamese and which was American, but in some specific instances the Vietnamese are identified:
The PSYWAR Bureau issued 22,900 magazines, 52,400 posters, and 91,500 leaflets to Vietnamese and U.S. units for further distribution. In a special project in conjunction with JUSPAO, the Vietnamese PSYWAR Bureau produced 10,000 special posters depicting the new Rung Sat Special Zone and Long Tau River security regulations. These were distributed to the Rung Sat Special Zone and the four surrounding provinces for posting.
JUSPAO prepared a number of posters showing Nguyen Van Be. 1774, developed February 1967, and measures 17 x 22 inches in size. 50,000 copies of this poster were printed. There are three photographs on the poster. One shows Be holding a newspaper featuring his picture (the same photo used on several leaflets), another shows Be in profile and the third shows a statue of Be. The text is:
HOW COULD SUCH A STRANGE THING HAPPEN?
THE LATE "HERO" NGUYEN VAN BE READS ABOUT HIS OWN DEATH.
For many months, the communist newspapers in both North and South Vietnam have been telling everyone the fantastic story about the supreme sacrifice of the hero Nguyen Van Be. Communist youth throughout Vietnam have been urged to emulate him. According to the communist story Be was captured on 30 May 1966 after fighting like a tiger to defend the arms and ammunition he was helping to transport along a canal near My An. Supposedly he was later forced to explain how a new mine worked, and seizing the opportunity he exploded it with his own hands against an armored vehicle. The communists claimed that be gladly gave his life for the cause and killed 69 Americans and ARVN troops. A heroic act indeed!
This photograph of a statue built in honor of the late hero was published on the front page of the Hanoi newspaper Van Nghe on 6 January 1967. It is supposed to show Be at the moment he sacrificed his life.
But, read what Mr. Be has to say: We were convoying ammunition along a canal in the My An district. When I heard the Government of Vietnam shots, I plunged into the canal. I was captured after I jumped into the water. I never did any of the things they say I did. Why would the Front say such things? Look at this: Here is the dead hero alive and well. He is reading about his own death in the important Hanoi newspaper Tien Phong that carried the fantastic story on the front of the 7 December 1966 issue. Similar stories were broadcast over Radio Hanoi and Liberation Radio, and many poems and songs were written about the late hero Nguyen Van Be.
Poster 2077 was 17 x 22-inches in size and prepared in July of 1967. It was part of the JUSPAO theme 2 Chieu Hoi. The poster was entitled Dai Doan Ket, National Assembly Building. It depicted a building on top of a number of blocks, each of which was labeled. The Dai Doan Ket campaign targeted high ranking Viet Cong and offered them more money, training, and better jobs trying to get the leadership to defect to the Government of Vietnam.
National Heritage Democratic Harmony
National Community National Concord National Progress
Doan Ket to Build the Country
This 17 x 22-inch poster was developed in October 1967 to explain the American presence. It says in part:
WHAT DO THE AMERICANS WANT HERE?
DO THE AMERICANS WANT OUR RICE AND LAND?
America is rich and powerful, and every year grows more food than her people can eat. She has surplus rice and other grain which she gives to other countries around the world, including Vietnam. She has no need for our land or food.
DO THE AMERICANS WANT OUR MARKETS FOR THEIR GOODS?
The billions of dollars that America has spent to support our fight against Communism and to provide things that the people of Vietnam need ? schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and the like ? could not be repaid from Vietnams ecoonomy for many decades?
DO THE AMERICANS WANT MILITARY BASES IN VIETNAM?
America has many times solemnly reiterated its pledge to remove its troops from the bases they occupy in Vietnam as soon as our peace and freedom are assured. America has plenty of bases throughout the Pacific, from Hawaii to the Philippines, to assure its own security. America does not want or need bases on Vietnams land.
THEN WHAT DO THEY WANT HERE?
Americas help to Vietnam, like that of 30 other free nations comes at the request of the Vietnamese government. They have asked for help to defend their country against Communist aggression .
Leaflet 2738 mentions American military aid:
The United States Secretary of Defense stated We intend to give preference to the ARVN forces, all ARVN forces, even at the expense of our own forces. We will issue every ARVN an M-16 rifle just as soon as we can.
Australian Private Ian Botham of their 1st PSYOP Unit prints a poster to be distributed in the area north of Nui Dat. The poster urged people to stay indoors at night, and warned children about the dangers of handling old ammunition they may find.
Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
Many of the posters prepared by JUSPAO for the South Vietnamese people encouraged patriotism and love of country. This very colorful poster is a map of the Republic of Vietnam showing all the provinces, the province capital, and the products found in that province. The poster was printed in May of 1988 in the size of 10 x 14 inches as 2514A, and also as 17 x 22 inches code numbered 2514.
This poster depicts the return of a former Viet Cong who has accepted the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) amnesty offer, and other pictures imply that his family has also returned or at least rejoined him. The Chieu Hoi symbol is at the bottom of the poster. The text is:
MORE THAN 140 VIET CONG CHOSE TO LIVE
Embracing freedom, these returnee brothers were warmly greeted and conscientiously assisted by the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. Now they are highly confident in the return policy and being processed for interim settlement at the returnee center.
Mr. Tran Huy Nho, a Viet Cong platoon leader, has returned.
This 12 year old little boy has returned and now is joyfully talking with a woman.
This JUSPAO poster was printed in September 1968 and features U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. The text is:
WE WILL NOT FAIL
WE WILL NOT TIRE
WE WILL NOT RETREAT
On 7 April 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson solemnly promised to help the people of the Republic of Vietnam to the end. The Government of the Unite States will always respect this promise to the people of South Vietnam.
I absolutely believe...that the first requirement for the other side to change its attitude is to do something to show that our position is strong and firm and that we are determined that we will not abandon our promises regarding the independence and the national right to self-determination of the South Vietnamese people.
24 October 1964 - U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson
Statement at the Manila Summit
If the negotiating effort is unable to restore peace, peace will come when Hanoi understands that our resolve will not be altered and that our power is unmatched.
President Johnson's statement
To the American people - 31 March 1968
This JUSPAO poster was printed in September 1968 in color and features President Johnson and President Thieu. The text is:
THE UNITED STATES AND THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM RESOLUTELY OPPOSE COMMUNIST AGGRESSION
At the request of President Nguyen Van Thieu, a meeting between the Presidents of the United States and Vietnam was held in Honolulu, Hawaii, on 19 and 20 July 1968. During this meeting the leaders of the two nations discussed important military and political developments in South Vietnam related to the Paris Conference.
The two Presidents also affirmed their resolute opposition to any aggression against South Vietnam. In joint policy statements the President of the Republic of Vietnam emphasized the determination of the Government and people of South Vietnam to defend his nation and the American President promised that the U.S. would continue to help the Republic of Vietnam defend its territory.
There were a series of three posters that used the term Dai Doan Ket, which actually was a campaign to get high-ranking Viet Cong to defect through the Chieu Hoi Program. However, these posters have text involved more in the self-defense than in Viet Cong coming over to the Government of Vietnam. There were two major civilian self-defense groups, the RF and PF. Regional Forces and Popular Forces, or Rough Puffs and PF's as they were often called, fought a major share of the War in Vietnam at the rice-roots level. Comprising about 50 percent of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces, they operated in all the provinces by the end of the war. The men in these first three posters seem to be just local militia; males older than 16 that were expected to join this force and stand guard in their local hamlets, patrolling the area. Leaflet 2838 is in blue and depicts a ceremony with the men in civilian clothes and a second one with the men in uniform being congratulated by some civilian official. The text is:
THE PEOPLE UNITED IN THE DEFENSE OF THE HOMELAND
The goal of the "Civilian Self-Defense" program is to mobilize the populace to actively participate in combat.
The people shall defend the rear, produce and support the front.
THE WHOLE POPULATION SHOULD UNITE IN WILL TO DEFEND OUR
JUST CAUSE IN THE POLITICAL STRUGGLE WITH THE ENEMY
This official military photograph dated 8 October 1969 depicts a member of an Armed Propaganda Team placing JUSPAO propaganda poster 2680, Where is the Truth, to a hut in a small hamlet near Phan Thiet in southern II Corps. The faces on the poster are all former high-ranking VC officers who returned to the government under Chieu Hoi.
Sometimes defectors or informers who received a large reward for their information appeared on JUSPAO posters. This 17 x 22-inch October 1968 poster depicts three photographs and text that says in part:
CAPTURED VC WEAPONS WORTH ONE MILLION PIASTERS REWARD TO
Two former Viet Cong recently reported the location of a Communist weapons factory to the Government of Vietnam and were rewarded 1,000,000 piasters by the officials of Bac Lieu Province on 19 August 1968. The factory was about 200 kilometers southwest of Saigon. It contained more than 200 weapons, including a 70 mm cannon, a 105 mm mortar, and five anti-aircraft machine guns, I addition to more than 10 tons of ammunition and explosives which were destroyed by the local Government defense forces.
Nguyen Van Ben, former VC Director of the weapons factory, and Nguyen Van Truong, former VC artillery commander, received the reward after disclosing the hidden Communist installation to the Government. Both men became disillusioned with the VC because it failed to achieve promised victories and did not provide them with food and clothing.
This JUSPAO poster was printed in September 1968 in full color, the size 21 x 33-inches. There are six photographs of civilian and paramilitary forces. The text is:
PEOPLE DEFEND THE NATION
People take charge of defending the rear.
This is a self-defense unit at Tan Tru District, Long An Province.
Mr. Huynh Van Dao, of the Prime Ministers Office, congratulates a self-defense unit at Tan Tru that fought to protect the lives and property of the people.
Women participate in medical aid work.
The purpose of the People's Self-Defense force is to mobilize all the people to destroy the Communist enemy.
This JUSPAO poster was printed in September 1968. This poster has three larger photographs. The theme is The Government of Vietnam Image. 50,000 copies were prepared for dissemination all over the country to the civilian population. The text is:
THE GOVERNMENT OF VIETNAM HELPS THE PEOPLE IN RECONSTRUCTION
During the Tet attack in Hoc Mon the Viet Cong destroyed this bridge. Government soldiers repaired the bridge.
Besides destroying the enemy on the battlefield, Government soldiers maintain roads for the people.
>Reconstruction of Viet Cong damage helps people to resume their normal lives so that they can enjoy peace and prosperity.
HELP THE GOVERNMENT OF VIETNAM TO DEFEAT THE VIET CONG
JOIN YOUR LOCAL SELF-DEFENSE FORCE
REPORT VIET CONG MOVEMENT TO GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
This poster was printed in green and similar to the one above, certainly from the same program. It is coded 2857 and depicts armed marching men at the top and what appears to be a patrol through a village below. The text is:
THE PEOPLE UNITED IN THE DEFENSE OF THE HOMELAND
The goal of the "Civilian Self-Defense" is to rationalize the mobilization policy, to optimize national resources everywhere so the war is not be impeded by production stagnation and so that the rear can actively participate in supporting the front.
It is necessary for all male and female citizens, seniors and youth to voluntarily participate in the "Civilian Self Defense" program. This duty is not limited by time.
THE WHOLE POPULATION SHOULD UNITE IN WILL TO DEFEND OUR
JUST CAUSE IN THE POLITICAL STRUGGLE WITH THE ENEMY
This poster is in a bright red and coded 2859. It depicts an armed group standing at attention and below they seem to be looking at a home that has been destroyed, perhaps by the Viet Cong. The text is:
THE PEOPLE UNITED IN THE DEFENSE OF THE HOMELAND
The goal of the "Civilian Self-Defense" program is to support all aspects of a difficult and protracted war which would allow self-sufficiency, self-governance and self-determination of our own destiny.
The people organize themselves; the authority provides guidance and support.
EACH CITIZEN SHOULD VOLUNTARILY JOIN AT LEAST ONE POPULAR
This poster is in blue and features a Vietnamese family that has been injured in a Viet Cong rocket attack. The father cares for the wife and a son looks at the camera in tears. It is a very tragic image. The same poster was also made in the Chinese-language coded 2860A. The text is:
IT WOULD BE WONDERFUL HAD SUCH SCENES BEEN PREVENTED!
Had someone in possession of knowledge about the Viet Cong unit which launched their rockets on August 22, 1968 informed the Police, these children would not have been injured.
The obligation of each citizen, upon acquiring any information on the location or weapon caches of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Communists, is to inform the authorities.
Anyone who provides information on the presence of Communists, as well as on their rocket launch sites, shall be awarded from 50 thousand to one million dong. The names of the informants shall remain confidential.
Do inform any Police office or call the phone number 17 (Police emergency number).
Inform any military organization.
YOU ARE A CITIZEN OF THE FREE SOUTH. YOU CAN HELP
STOP THIS ABSURD AND VIOLENT LOSS OF LIFE AND PROPERTY.
This large leaflet (22 x 17 inches) pink-purple poster has six photographs on the front, all of which show injured Vietnamese that have been hurt in a Viet Cong attack. Some show older people; most show children. The text is:
ARE THEY THE ENEMY OF THE VIET CONG?
At dawn on 22 August 1968, the Viet Cong, lackeys of the Northern Communists launched rockets and fired mortar rounds at the City of Saigon-Cho Lon. No military target was hit. Instead only innocent women and children were killed in their sleep.
Doctors, nurses, clerks and many other volunteers swiftly commenced the rescue of injured victims and the burial of the unfortunate dead. The funeral services for the victims were no less difficult as they were women and children.
HOW DOES THE VIET CONG, LACKEYS OF THE NORTHERN COMMUNISTS, EXPLAIN THIS CRUEL ACTION?
Poster 2853 is full-colored and large at 21 x 33-inches. It has six photographs of daily life in Vietnam; hamlets, houses, bridges and oxen. The text is:
THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM GOVERNMENT ASSISTS THE PEOPLE IN
The recent Viet Cong attacks in the Hoc Mon County in Gia Dinh province. Many schools, houses and people's properties were destroyed or damaged.
The government helped reconstruct the Administration office of the Trung My Tay ward in Hoc Mon County.
The Government also helped the people rebuild an orphanage in the Tan Thoi Hiep ward in Hoc Mon County, Gia Dinh province.
Many houses, schools, and orphanages were rebuilt with assistance by the Government.
This bridge was destroyed by the Viet Cong. The Army of Vietnam has repaired it and is protecting it.
Thanks to the efforts by the Government, the people's life was restored to normal and their movement facilitated.
LET'S COOPERATE WITH THE GOVERNMENT IN ELIMINATING THE ENEMY
JOIN THE PEOPLE'S SELF-DEFENSE FORCE
IMMEDIATELY INFORM THE AUTHORITIES ABOUT ANY PRESENCE OF THE
The American Trung Sisters Propaganda Poster
Because the Trung sisters were national heroes in Vietnam, they were often placed on PSYOP leaflets and posters. The Trung Sisters led the first resistance movement against the occupying Chinese after 247 years of domination. Many temples are dedicated to them and their death is commemorated each year. A Fifteenth Century poem says about the sisters:
All the male heroes bowed their heads in submission; only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country
The text on the poster is:
Oppose the Communists' aggression in defense of our liberties as descendants of the Hong Lac race.
Do as the two Trung sisters of the Trieu family did.
Note: The sisters renamed their country Hong Lac during their reign.
This is my favorite Viet Nam War poster ever. It was printed by the American 7th PSYOP Group for use in Cambodia. This large 15.5 x 19.5-inch poster coded 13-2-6 depicts the Lord Buddha destroying the Communist Khmer Rouge who are depicted as demons. The enemy is shown with AK-47 rifles, rocket propelled grenades and tanks at the left. On the right they are sinking into the sea; the tanks main gun is bent and broken and their leader is pleading for mercy. Crocodiles and sawfish attack them. Buddha is a God of mercy and moderation so his depiction in this poster is very strange. From a standpoint of color and artistic imagination it would be hard to find a more impressive propaganda poster. Directly beneath the Buddha is the Buddhist Earth Deity, who wrings out her hair, sending a stream of strong water at the drowning Communists. She is known in Cambodia as Neang Kanghing Preah Thoranee. She has other names in Arakan, Burma, Thailand, and Laos, but the names all mean Lady Earth or Mother Earth, She is the Buddha's witness at the time of the enlightenment. According to the mythology of Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha's spiritual authority derives from the Earth Deity.
Pro-Government Army Poster 12-2-19
We show a poster for Cambodia above. Here is one for Laos. Perhaps the most impressive Lao poster in my possession is this 1971 large 21 x 29-inch full-color product printed by the 7th PSYOP Group. A Laotian soldier is seen in the forefront holding his flag while behind him massed Lao civilian wave their flags. It is a very patriotic scene. The text is:
21st Celebration of the Formation of the Army 23 March 1971
The nation exists because soldiers and people are together resolved to fight the enemy.
Army Day expresses the commitment of our brave troops to defend our sovereignty.
The nation endures as the sky and the land because the soldiers and people are strongly entwined together in the struggle.
Nation, honor, discipline, courage, unity, fortitude and sacrifice.
The National Liberation Front Posters
Say no to this war!
The Viet Cong sometimes placed large posters where they could be seen by American servicemen. The Viet Cong did not have aircraft and were unable to drop leaflets on Americans so their best means of disseminating propaganda was the face-to-face message, leaflets left along trails and posters wherever they could be hung. The poster above was found in February 1968 by United States Marines Lance-Corporal John Fedyszn, a forward-observer radioman from C Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, of the 3rd Marine Division. He was on a search and destroy patrol during Operation Dye Marker. The poster was found along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between combat base Alpha 3 and the combat base at Con Thien. This was a free-fire zone where anyone seen in the bush was presumed to be either Viet Cong or North Vietnamese regulars. The full-color poster depicts an American soldier throwing away his M-14 rifle. Text at the left is:
Say no to this war! Go home now alive!
The Entire People
This 10 x 13-inch poster depicts the Vietnamese people throwing out the Americans and President Diem. Some of the fleeing people are President Diem who holds a bag of dollars and is carrying American president Lyndon Johnson on his back. Johnson wears a backpack loaded with bombs. General Maxwell Taylor is also fleeing toward a ship labelled Seventh Fleet. Some of the text on the poster is:
The entire people are determined to smash the plot to invade the south of Vietnam by the American Imperialists and their fellow invaders of the Southeast Asian bloc.
Some of the banners held by the people say:
Ngo Dinh Diem beat it
American imperialism go away
Down with the American Imperialists and the invaders Southeast Asia bloc
We Liberation Army soldiers
This poster is on a cheap wrapping paper, crudely hand-written, and at the top a stick has been placed through the paper and a string which allows it to be hung from a nail or a branch. His was found in Long Xuyen, An Giang province, on 13 November 1963. When handed over to Intelligence it was archived as VCS 476. It is hard to translate but seems to say:
We Liberation Army soldiers earnestly appeal to all Combat Youth, ward chiefs, hamlet chiefs, ward and strategic hamlet personnel, officers of the Surete, policemen, government personnel, and officers and soldiers of the US puppet government in Long Xuyen City to quickly return to the arms of the people and to never again work for the enemy.
In the future, if you work as an enemy lackey, arresting people, forcibly drafting youths into the army, and stealing money from the people, we will absolutely not be able to guarantee the safety of your lives and property.
Because this was such an early leaflet we see terms like Combat Youth and Surete, organizations that would have existed during the reign of Ngo Dinh Diem.
A Vietnam vet told me he had seen similar posters hanging from trees:
Warning notes to enemy comrades were found by soldiers of the 2/7th Cavalry hanging on branches along enemy trails in War Zone D in 1970-71. They were warning others that Americans were in the area.
This is just a very short look at American and National Liberation Front posters used in Vietnam in my collection.
Readers who have similar posters they would like added to this article or who care to comment are encouraged to write to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org