THE NGUYEN TRAI PSYOP CAMPAIGN

SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)\

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Nguyen Trai

Nguyen Trai (1380–1442) was an illustrious Vietnamese Confucian scholar, a noted poet, a skilled politician and a master tactician. He was at times attributed with being capable of almost miraculous or mythical deeds in his designated capacity as a close friend and principal adviser of Le Loi, Vietnam's hero-king, who fought to free the country from Chinese rule. He is credited with writing the important political statements of Le Loi and inspiring the Vietnamese populace to support open rebellion against the Ming Dynasty rulers. Beside historical heroic letters, Nguyen Trai also left more than one hundred poems. Nguyen Trai is not only a great person in Vietnamese history, but he is also a hero, an idealist, a poet, and a highly cultured man in Vietnam.

JUSPAO Field Memorandum No. 43 of 11 December 1967 adds:

Nguyen Trai heeded the advice and devoted all his energies to organizing a resistance movement against the Chinese invaders. In his travels throughout the country, he met Le Loi, a landed squire from the mountain region of Lam Son and convinced him to put himself at the head of the resistance movement against the Chinese using his private fortunes and his personal followers as the core of the movement.

Nguyen Trai was a skillful early master of PSYOP. Knowing popular superstitions, he secretly traced the characters: Le Loi, Emperor, Nguyen Trai, Chief Counsellor, on large leaves in the forest with a brush dipped in fat. Ants soon nibbled along the path of grease revealing the message as if placed in the leaf by divine hand. News of the omen spread like wildfire and followers flocked in large numbers to join the Le Loi forces.

During the ten years of fighting (1418 - 1428), Nguyen Trai rendered distinguished services in the successful pursuit of the war. After the victory, he was entrusted by Le Loi with the mission of writing a proclamation to the people entitled: Proclamation of victory over the Chinese. Later, he was made a Marquis, and Prime Minister but Soon retired to his villa at Con Son to devote his remaining years to the arts and literature.

The opening of Nguyen Trai’s statement:

Representing Heaven to educate the people, His Majesty the Emperor proclaims:
The spirit of humanity and justice consists of assuring the people's peace,
And wars must be carried out only for punishing the tyrants,
Our Country, the Dai Viet has for long been a civilized country.
Our boundaries regarding China have been fixed,
And our manners and habits are different from those of the Chinese.
The dynasties of the Trieu, Dinh, Ly and Tran have established the independence of Vietnam.

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Le Loi

Vietnamese general and Emperor Le Loi declared himself the “Prince of Pacification” and in 1418 led a series of revolts aimed at removing the Chinese masters from his country. He won back Vietnam's independence from China in 1428, founded the Le dynasty, and became a Vietnamese hero of the medieval period. Also among this achievements were land reforms to help the peasant class.

The Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) prepared a series of leaflets, handouts and posters from February 1967 to June 1968 that depicted Le Loi. They are all numbered 1668, and variations include those that have the alpha characters “a” which is 8 x 10.5-inches in Vietnamese, “b” which is 10.5 x 16-inches in Vietnamese, and “c” which is 8 x 10.5-inches but in the Cambodian language. All of the propaganda items depict Le Loi in armor at the head of a Vietnamese peasant army. The text in Vietnamese is usually:

Follow the example of Hero Le Loi. Promote the unyielding spirit of the Vietnam people in the destruction of the Communists and the salvation of the country.

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Book Cover 1762

It was not only leaflets that were used to influence the Vietnamese people. Here, JUSPAO has printed an 11 x 9.5-inch book cover that children can carry to school and constantly be reminded of their police force and national hero. The theme of this book cover is “The National Police Serve the People.” This item was released in April 1967 and pictures the Vietnam national hero Le Loi on the front. The text on the front is:

LE LOI, THE NATIONAL HERO AND LEADER OF THE NATION

Now that we know the importance of the Vietnamese heroes Nguyen Trai and Le Loi we can understand why a propaganda campaign was prepared that used their heroism and reputation to catch the attention of the Vietnamese people and especially the enemy Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

The declassified 1969 report Employment of US Army Psychological Operations Units in Vietnam said about the Nguyen Trai Campaign:

Nguyen Trai I campaign plans began in August 1968 for implementation during the period 15 October 1968 through 31 January 1969. The basic objective of the Nguyen Trai campaign was to induce maximum defections from high and middle ranking communist cadres, VC forces, and the NVA in RVN. It was also designed to encourage families in the VC-controlled areas to aid in the defection effort. This campaign, named after a historical figure of the Le Dynasty, was initiated by the GVN. However, PSYOP assets of the US and Vietnamese Air Force were used to support the campaign. During the campaign, 1.16 billion leaflets, of which 61 percent were printed by US PSYOP units, were distributed as of 31 December 1968. The leaflets were air-dropped, passed out by intelligence agents, and hand-delivered by troops operating in the field. Six thousand hours of aerial loudspeaker operations were conducted in addition to ground loudspeaker operations. The campaign was effective, resulting in a total of 8,776 ralliers and 561 assorted weapons. The overall accomplishments surpassed the returnee goal by 30 percent.

The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter of October 1968 said about this campaign:

The Nguyen Trai campaign commenced in August for implementation during the period 15 October through 15 December 1968. This campaign, named after a historical figure of the Le Dynasty, is being conducted by the Government of Vietnam. PSYOP/PSYWAR assets of the media and Free World forces are being used to support the campaign. The basic objectives of Nguyen Trai are to conduct an intensive, total media, nationwide PSYOP/PSYWAR campaign to induce maximum defection from high and missile ranking communist cadres, the Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese Army forces in the South. It is also designed to encourage families in Viet Cong controlled areas to aid in the defection effort.

This campaign just seems to have gone on and on. They continually added more time to the program. They really wanted those mid-rank Viet Cong. In the December 1968 issue I see:

The Nguyen Trai campaign has been extended until 31 January 1969 considering the great success it has achieved to date throughout South Vietnam and particularly in the IV Combat Tactical Zone. Recently captured enemy documents attest to the widespread defections initiated in response to the Chieu Hoi appeals made under this program. The dramatic increase in Chieu Hoi rates has been achieved by the heightened campaign being waged under Nguyen Trai.

The issue of June 1969 tells us that they have extended the dates again:

The Campaign began on 1 June and will terminate on 15 October 1969. The mission of the campaign is to obtain 9,000 ralliers during the three-month period of 15 June to 15 September Nguyen Trai II complements the pacification and development program and has been timed to exploit the current enemy position. Loudspeaker operations, leaflets, family contact, publicized prisoner-of-war release, and civic action are being utilized. The U.S. is supplying 61,000,000 leaflets and 300,000 posters for the campaign and is assisting in the distribution of these materials.

The July issue takes a moment to brag about the results:

The goal to receive 9,000 ralliers in three months may seem overly ambitious. However, in the first 6 weeks of the campaign more than 5,700 ralliers were welcomed by the Government of Vietnam. As a result, the Chieu Hoi numbers have continued to soar. By 26 July, the Government of Vietnam had received 25,540 Hoi Chanh in the 1969 Chieu Hoi campaign. This figure averages to 120 ralliers per day.

By October they are listing the results:

The following are statistical results covering the entire implementation phase:

Loudspeaker flights:     4,822.
Loudspeaker hours:      5,390.
Leaflet flights:              4,822.
Leaflets distributed:     1,870,779,000.
Ralliers:                       14,393.

On April 1970 Nguyen Trai III was activated, scheduled to end 16 August. The goal was 12,000 ralliers. The campaign was then extended to 16 October, then to 16 December 1970. As of 11 November, there were 15,672 Hoi Chanh, bringing with them 717 individual weapons and 14 crew-served weapons. There were 3,648 loudspeaker missions which totaled 3,510 hours, and 5,010 leaflet missions which dropped 865,400,000 leaflets.

As impossible as it seems, the Nguyen Trai IV campaign was still active and being conducted from 15 April 1971 to 30 November 1971. Once again, the target was 9,000 ralliers. The campaign would be divided into six phases. The United States was requested to print 420,000,000 leaflets and 300,000 posters. By February 1972, Nguyen Trai IV was extended to 15 December 1971. During that period, 567,423,000 leaflets were dropped, 250,000 posters were printed and distributed, and 4,818 hours of aerial speaker broadcasting were flown. The total number of ralliers were 3,842 military personnel and 4,413 political personnel. There were a significant number of high-ranking ralliers. Battalion Commanders and four Deputy Commanders rom four units rallied during this period. Nguyen Trai V will commence 15 April 1972 and terminate 15 December 1972. The goal of the campaign is 8,00 ralliers.

A Senior Officer Debriefing Report in III Corps Tactical Zone in 1969 added:

The Nguyen Trai Campaign was a highly successful campaign which was aimed at the intermediate and high level VC cadre. It began on 15 October 1968 and was originally scheduled to end on 15 December 1968. However, because of its success, it was extended until 31 January 1969. A total of 229,833,000 leaflets were distributed by the ARVN and the USAF in III Corps in support of this campaign. This intense campaign brought significant results. There were over 300 ralliers in each of the four months encompassed by the campaign, which was a marked increase from the first eight months of the year.

The Vietnamese must have thought it was a success because they then implemented an Nguyen Trai II campaign. The Political Warfare (PSYOP) section of the Vietnamese Army published an Implementation of the Nguyen Trai II Campaign in June 1969. It is over 5 pages long so I shall just mention some of the comments:

SITUATION: The enemy is being placed in an unfavorable situation, from a military, political and psychological viewpoint. The number of enemy KIAs, WIAs, POWs, and ralliers is increasing. There is dissension in the enemy leadership. We know that when the situation on the battlefield becomes tense and unclear, PSYOP efforts have proven very productive.

MISSION. To undermine the morale of enemy leaders and soldiers who are fighting against overwhelming odds. To encourage the enemy to rally in larger numbers.

OBJECTIVE. Reduce the fighting spirit of the NVA Communists and auxiliary forces in Vietnam.

GOALS. Convince 1,100 enemies to rally. Double the number of sorties for aerial broadcasts and leaflet drops reported for January 1969. Conduct two 15-minute PSYOP radio broadcasts per day; conduct one half-hour PSYOP TV program a week; conduct PSYOP on each military operation. Each soldier should distribute 5 leaflets; each battalion should prepare 30 slogans for each operation.

EXECUTION. The campaign is aimed at intermediate and high level enemy cadre as well as enemy soldiers. Overwhelm the enemy with leaflets and broadcasts. PSYOP support will include ground broadcasts, aerial broadcasts, waterborne broadcasts, and ground and aerial distribution of leaflets.

A report was to be forwarded each day that showed the number of broadcasts, leaflets printed and dropped, and their targets. The number of ralliers was also required as well as their rank and category.

A target list was provided that showed where all the enemy units were believed to be located. 33 such locations are on one document and for instance, the 814th enemy battalion was in Quang Tri and the T.87 Sapper Battalion was in Quang Nam.

15 million leaflets were dropped each week for four weeks from 16 June to 16 July 1969. The 1969 Leaflet Catalog of the 7th PSYOP Battalion in Danang lists four Nguyen Trai leaflets though it gives no further information. They are: 7-519-69, 7-520-69, 7-522-69 and 7-528-69.

The Operations Report of the I Field Force Vietnam ending 31 Jan 69, States that:

130,000,000 leaflets were disseminated in support of the Nguyen Trai campaign.

These were probably just the activities of the 8th PSYOP Battalion. Other comments in the report state that:

390,000,000 leaflets were disseminated in support of II Corps Tactical Zone operations. The 8th PSYOP Battalion locally produced 30,538,980 leaflets while the remainder was acquired from JUSPAO, 4th PSYOP Group, Saigon and the 7th PSYOP Group, Okinawa.

Apparently, there was also an Nguyen Trai campaign III and IV. The Washington D.C Embassy of Vietnam reported in the Vietnam Bulletin, 12 October 1970:

As of 20 September 1970, 12,500 Red cadres rallied to the national cause at various Open Arms centers throughout the country, responding to the Nguyen Trai III Campaign launched last April. Sources from the Central Polwar Agency said the returnees including 378 regular force and 430 regional force combatants, 7,371 guerrillas and 1,389 cadres, turned-in 14 crew-served and 611 individual weapons.

Besides, since the launching of Nguyen Trai III campaign, the Psywar Agency performed 2,977 air broadcasting missions and dropped 727,405,300 leaflets over enemy infested areas throughout the country.

The Vietnam Bulletin reported in the issue of 24 November 1971:

Within the scope of the "Nguyen Trai IV" Campaign, Open Arms services throughout the country last week welcomed 2,563 communist cadres who rallied to the national cause. The figure included 2,296 communist prisoners-of-war authorized to enjoy returnees' status.

We find a very short comment in the report prepared by the Rand Advanced Research Projects Agency entitled The Chieu Hoi Program in South Vietnam, 1963-1971 by J. A. Koch:

Support the Joint General Staff, ARVN (Department of Political Warfare) in the conduct of PSYWAR and Chieu Hoi campaigns, such as the Nguyen Trai Campaign, against the enemy.

Why was there a need to convince the intermediate and high level Communist leaders and cadre to defect? Certainly they had more information of a higher quality that would have been of great interest to the Government of Vietnam and its American allies. Unfortunately, the great majority of enemy soldiers that came over to the government side were low level foot soldiers that generally had little worthwhile intelligence.

There had already been an earlier similar campaign known as Dai Doan Ket with the same general objectives. The Dai Doan Ket Policy (National Reconciliation Policy) was promulgated by the Prime Minister of Vietnam on 19 April 1967 in order to extend the Chieu Hoi program to leadership levels of the enemy. The policy pledges reconciliation for all enemy soldiers and cadre who rejoin the national community. What I found curious is that although there is adequate information about Dai Doan Ket, there is almost nothing found in most Vietnam reference books about the Nguyen Trai campaign. It was clear that there would be little in the way of leaflets although we know millions were dropped. The problem would be to find Allied leaflets that clearly stated they were part of this latter program. Reading my files carefully, it seems that the Dai Doan Ket was an American campaign, tied to the Chieu Hoi program, but looking for higher ranking members of the Viet Cong Infrastructure. Once the United States started leaning toward Vietnamization and giving more duties and responsibilities to the Vietnamese, they seem to have taken on the Nguyen Trai campaign as a replacement. As a result, many of the later leaflets still use the American “Dai Doan Ket” label, although they were certainly used by the Vietnamese in their campaign. So, for the purposes of this article we will consider the two the same. Millions, perhaps billions of leaflets were in storage, and I am sure that there was no intention of wasting them when there was still need for Viet Cong Hoi Chanhs.

The North Vietnamese did take note of this campaign. The North Vietnamese “Liberation Radio” broadcast to South Vietnam on 9 February 1969:

The "Nguyen Trai II campaign,” which was unleashed in October 1968, was terminated at the end of the year. The 1.8 billion leaflets which the Americans and puppets have boastfully claimed they have dropped have only littered rice paddies, villages, and hamlets…It can be definitely asserted that the U.S.-puppet clique's psychological warfare and open-arms tricks cannot deceive the Vietnamese people, a people who are proud of their history of glorious struggle against foreign aggression. The Nguyen Trai operation and other perfidious operations of the U.S.-puppet clique have failed tragically.

Leaflets

There are no actual leaflets that say “Nguyen Trai.” This campaign dropped leaflets that closely matched the Chieu Hoi leaflets bring prepared daily. Since they would have wanted to appeal to a more highly educated Communist cadre or Commissar, the leaflets would offer jobs, monetary rewards and basically a better standard of living. We add a few here that were dropped during the various operations and were surely meant as part of the Nguyen Trai campaign.

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Leaflet 2928

This JUSPAO leaflet would certainly appeal to a high ranking defector. It doesn’t offer a bicycle or oxen to ride. It depicts a brand new car. The leaflet only offers driver training of course, But, I think that casual inspection might lead to the idea that the defector would get a car. Why else learn to drive it? Some of the text is:

YOU SHOULD RETURN TO WORK AGAIN AT A NEW TRADE

In the future driver training will be very useful for the Hoi Chanh once they leave the Chieu Hoi Center. There are many returnees who are working as drivers of Lambrettas, buses, and cars and they are making a good living in the Free South.

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Leaflet 2993

I added this leaflet last because the reader will note that one of the objectives of the program was “to encourage families in the VC-controlled areas to aid in the defection effort.” How do you do that? The answer is simple. You offer major rewards for anyone that takes a part in convincing an enemy leader to defect. There were problems. A lot of Vietnamese civilian, military and government workers had their hands out to a defecting VC offering to claim the reward money and split it with the new rallier. However, at the start of the program this seemed like a good idea. Note that anyone can claim the rewards and look at the astronomical prices paid for high-ranking defectors. Some of the text is:

SPECIAL AWARDS

All citizens of Vietnam, (civilian, military, or government employees) who induce Communist individuals or military groups to rally under the Chieu Hoi program will be paid a cash award. The awards will be paid within three days to the individual responsible for inducing the rallier either at province or district level. The individual who induces ralliers will have his name kept secret.

SAMPLES OF SELECTED AWARDS

Regional Party Secretary - $250,000
Regional Party Commissar - $170,000
Province Party Secretary - $120,000
Province Party Commissar - $100,000
District Party Secretary - $80,000
District Party Commissar - $64,000
Village Party Secretary - $48,000
Village Party Commissar - $40,000

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Leaflet 3647

Perhaps you are a little worried about how you will be treated, or you are suffering from long-term injuries that occurred in the jungle. This leaflet reassures the returnee that he will receive wonderful medical treatment. If he does not want to join the Government, he can go to a camp but still receive that same wonderful medical care. Some of the text is:

WOUNDED PRIONERS RECEIVE THE BEST CARE

Over 140,000 cadre and soldiers have left your ranks and rallied to the people of South Vietnam…Many of you wish to stop fighting and live in safety but do not wish to Chieu Hoi to the Republic of Vietnam. Permit yourself to be captured and receive medical care as a prisoner of war.

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Leaflet 3704

This leaflet tells the returnee that not only will he get a lovely apartment in a protected new building, but he can live with his wife and children or perhaps find a new love. Not a bad offer. Some of the text is:

THE RETURNEE LIVES PLEASANTLY WITH HIS FAMILY IN A CHIEU HOI CENTER

The life of returnees…reflects the policy of the Government of Vietnam, which wipes out hatred and animosity with love and compassion…Over 147,000 returnees have enjoyed a new life with freedom and well-being. They don’t have to hide in jungles and mountains suffering privations, hardships, and constantly facing the threat of death….

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Leaflet 3778

Because they were fishing for high-ranking Communists, money was always somewhere in the background. Many leaflets offer rewards according to rank and the propaganda newspapers always carried stories of returnees receiving cash awards. In this case one of the returnees helped the government and pointed out weapons caches to the government. He is rewarded here and his friends in the jungle are told all about it. Some of the text is:

WORTHY REWARDS TO MERITORIOUS RETURNEES

On 11 April 1970, Chieu Hoi Minister Ho Van Cham handed a reward of $1,348,000VN to returnee Nguyen Van Xang for his meritorious services. Three times he guided government operation forces to seize different kinds of Communist weapons….

Leaflet 4240

This leaflet depicts some happy Hoi Chanhs taking a break at the Chieu Hoi Center. The text on the front is:

Hoi Chanh relaxing at a Chieu Hoi Center

HOI CHANH NOW!

The Back is all text:

RETURN TO FREEDOM

The Vietnamese people in the south graciously offer the opportunity for Communist Cadres and Soldiers (Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army) to join the participants in the growth of the nation and betterment of the opportunity for the people in freedom.

Who is it that cares for you?

Over 177,000 of your comrades has rallied to the Government of Vietnam. They have found the answer for their lives and their families.

Leaflet 4247

We often find requests by the Allies for Hoi Chanh that have found jobs. They want to prove to the Viet Cong that life can exist and be worthwhile after rallying. This leaflet uses that theme and depicts former enemy troops learning to sew so they can find employment as tailors. We might not find that a desirable job, but after a year or two starving in the bush, making a suit might not seem such a bad occupation. The text on the front is:

At Chieu Hoi Centers, returnees receive proper medical care from doctors and nurses.

Sewing machine operator training courses for returnees and their family members at the National Chieu Hoi Center.

The back is all text:

RETURNEES ENJOY FULL RIGHTS OF CITIZENSHIP

This is what all the soldiers, civilians, and Cadre of a Free South Vietnam want to tell Communist cadre and soldiers on the other side of the frontlines, because everybody regards you as blood brothers who have been forced or deceived by the communists to join their ranks.

If you come back to the Great Family of Nation, the Government, the whole people, and the army of the Republic of Vietnam has the responsibility to provide you with assistance and to help you start a new life.

All the people and army of the Free South and 177,000 returnees are awaiting the return of the Communist Cadre and Soldiers to the National Fold.

Leaflet 7-520-69

This 1969 7th PSYOP Battalion leaflet is all text: It says on the front:

A STRANGE NATION

Dear Friends in the Communist Ranks:

To speak out boastfully and to use large meaningless words is still a common practice of the communists. Instead of simply saying “China,” the communists always say, “Invincible China.” If you unintentionally say “China” you will surely be criticized as being inadequately indoctrinated. Do you realize that China is the most extraordinary nation in the world? Communist China is now in lawless disorder because she has no chief of state. President Liu Shao Chi was paralyzed politically by the Red Guards for two years and was ousted by the 9th National Party Conference some months ago.

Some of the text on the back is:

According to the Chinese Communist constitution, only the congress can assign or dismiss the chief of state. The Chinese Communist party has ousted Liu, but it does not dare assign a new president. Why? Because Mao Tse Tung, however totalitarian he may be, cannot extinguish all the political conflict in his party. Is China invincible? Mao is now nearing his end. After his death, there will not only be some reaction, but a continuous flow of wrath all over China. North Vietnam is now depending on the “illusion of invincibility" of Chinese Communism. That illusion is evaporating little by little and it will be the cause that collapses North Vietnam. What will your future be if you do not rally like Colonels Tran Van Dee and Huyen Cu and more than 100,000 of your comrades have done? Rally! It is the honorable way to save yourselves.

Leaflet 7-522-69 looks much the same and attacks the North Vietnamese friendship with China. It says in part:

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNISM IS BANKRUPT

Dear Friends in the Communist Ranks,

Do you remember when the party chapter used to show the pictures of Mao, Ho, and Stalin every time there was an official ceremony? This does not happen anymore because Stalin's sepulcher was destroyed by Khrushchev and because Premier Kosygin is continually being insulted by Mao. Ho does not follow either China or Russia for fear of losing the support of one side. The slogan, “Long live the Viet-China-Russia Friendship” becomes a bitter irony. Has the communist block cracked? No, it has collapsed. In fact, the two communist giants have openly declared war against each other over the boundary disputes. Thousands of Chinese and Russian soldiers have been killed.

Poster 10-570-68

The 10th PSYOP Battalion poster is an odd size at 5.25 x 16-inches. The printers call it a “banner,” but I think that is open for discussion. 30,000 copies were printed and distributed by hand. It targets the people of An Giang Province and says:

STRIVE TO ACQUIRE MERIT AND WELCOME THE NGUYEN TRAI CAMPAIGN

This is clearly just a quick look at this unknown PSYOP program. I could add a hundred more leaflets but this gives the reader an inside look at what was offered to the VC and NVA bosses in the bush and swamps. The reader should remember that these leaflets were not dropped alone. Leaflet batches are usually made up and there would be some Chieu Hoi, some Reward and perhaps some other themed leaflets combined together and dropped in numbers that often were greater than 1 million. People are different and what motivates them to take action can be very different, so you want a number of different messages trying to find that perfect one that makes a Viet Cong think: “It is time for me to go Hoi Chanh and join the National Government.”

Readers who would care to talk more about this subject are encouraged to write the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.