SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)
1LT Rick Caplin
This photograph of Rick Caplin was taken in the summer of 1964 outside of Vinh Loi, the village where his Special Forces Detachment was located. He wears his Green Beret, Leaf camouflage fatigues and zippered jungle boots.
This is a story about propaganda leaflets that should not exist. The United States has always kept tight controls on leaflets and one of the constant complaints we read from PSYOP commanders from WWII to the present is how long it sometimes takes to get approval. During the Vietnam War, leaflets usually had to be approved by higher headquarters; sometime the Joint United States Public Affairs Office, sometimes Ft. Bragg, sometimes the U.S. Embassy and on rare occasions, the White House. In this short story we will talk about a Special Forces team that very early in the war, before PSYOP units were on the ground, just went ahead and printed its own leaflets with no oversight or supervision.
Special Forces Insignia
Special Forces Detachment A-321, November 1964
United States Army First Lieutenant Rick Caplin had been a Psychology major at the University of Oklahoma and graduated with a Psychology degree in May 1962. He took the Army officers course at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and was assigned to a PSYWAR unit on Okinawa in late December 1962. He then volunteered for Vietnam and was assigned to a six-month tour in June 1964 as Executive Officer of Special Forces Detachment A-321 commanded by Captain Edward Rybat.
His orders, dated 19 June 1964, list 14 men (Three officers, eleven non-commissioned officers) ordered to Vietnam. He will fly from Kadena AFB on Okinawa, is authorized to read secret documents, will secure a visa, is authorized to wear civilian clothes and carry firearms, and may parachute from foreign aircraft if required.
The unit operated in the Mekong Delta and War Zone D. Caplin told me:
I believe that the 1st Special Forces Group was the first to embed PSYOP and Civil Affairs personnel on a team. No other Special Forces team had the capability to do what we did at that time. We were the only Special Forces A team in 1964 that had PSYOP personnel on it. Being in a village gave us access to equipment not found in traditional Special Forces camps. In fact, I don't remember seeing any PSYWAR materiel created by the PSYOP Sergeant First Class on the other half of our team. They were in an A camp in the boonies.
Having read a great deal of information about the conduct of PSYWAR in previous conflicts, he thought that he fully understood what kind of operations worked and what did not. He believed that unsuccessful propaganda lacked an understanding of the target audience. As an example, almost all of the Vietnamese Government propaganda was in written form which could not be read by many of the people because of the low literacy rate in that country. As a result, Caplin resorted to pictures; cartoons, and the old American adage KISS, (Keep it simple stupid).
We find pretty much the same sort of comments in Shelby Stantons book Special Forces at War, Zenith Press, 2008. Although this book mostly covers the time period from about 1965 on, there is a comment on leaflets that is similar to what Caplin says:
A Tribal combat cartoon booklet, printed in December 1965, used pictures to communicate with the largely illiterate natives
Winning Hearts and Minds
Here Caplin wins the friendship of the local Vietnamese by giving each family a canister of powdered milk. Note the ARVN Officer standing close by. Although it cannot be clearly seen, directly behind them is a white truck with loudspeakers on top to welcome the local people.
Caplin told me that at that time there was little in the way of psychological warfare support being offered by the American authorities in Saigon. His team received support from the Central Intelligence Agency and reported to the Special Forces B team in Saigon. He had little supervision in the field and believing in the value of psychological operations, began printing his own leaflets without official approval. This was radical at the time. Within just a few years everything would be tightly controlled and require approval. He told me:
There was no support from Saigon. I set everything up myself and never cleared any leaflets with higher authorities! If an action took place, I had leaflets ready to be disbursed within a day.
It is easy to understand Caplins dilemma if you know your PSYOP history of Vietnam. Although some U.S. forces were in that country as advisors as early as 1962, the first PSYOP units started to trickle in about late 1965 when a small unit of the Okinawa-based 7th PSYOP Group arrived in Saigon. In July 1965, the 24th PSYOP Detachment was formed from personnel of the 1st and 13th PSYOP Battalion assigned to the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Fort Bragg, NC. The unit, consisting of six officers and 24 enlisted, was formed, trained and deployed to Vietnam in just two weeks. The detachment arrived in Vietnam in September 1965 and was assigned to support the 1st Cavalry Division G5 Section at Anh Khe. By early 1966, Army psychological operations were being carried out by the 6th PSYOP Battalion stationed in Saigon. On 10 February 1966, three companies were formed within the 6th PSYOP Battalion to provide tactical propaganda support. So, it is clear to see that if the Special Forces wanted propaganda leaflets in 1964, they were on their own.
As I read Caplins story, I could not help thinking of Captain Willard talking about Colonel Kurtz in the motion picture Apocalypse Now:
October, 1967. On special assignment, Kontum Province, II-Corps...Kurtz staged Operation Archangel with combined local forces. Rated a major success. He received no official clearance. He just thought it up and did it. What balls...
There were a select few other Special Forces officers who were trained in PSYOP and sent to Vietnam in 1963-1964. Prior to that time, the combat role in Vietnam was mainly the responsibility of Special Forces. In late 1963 and early 1964, the Special Forces expanded their role by including PSYOP and Civil Affairs personnel on a few teams. They were the forerunner to the eventual buildup of the PSYOP and Civil Affair companies and battalions that would soon be such a prominent part of the Vietnam War. One of the earliest might be Lieutenant Paul Aust, assigned to Vietnam from the 18th PSYOP Company to a Special Forces A Team in late 1963. Later, First Lieutenant Alan B. Harriman (S-5 PSYOP) was part of a Civil Affairs and PSYOP Augmentation Team deployed on 26 March 1964 to the 1st Special Forces Group on a Special Forces B Team, overseeing A teams in the field. Promoted to Captain, Harriman was killed in August just a few weeks prior to his date of estimated return from overseas (DEROS).
Caplin designs a propaganda kite with the South Vietnamese Flag
As part of his PSYOP effort to win the support of the local Vietnamese people, Caplin had kites made with the South Vietnamese flag on them. He and local Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) soldiers put them together to be given out as gifts. The one problem was that the Vietnamese troops were quite found of them too, and as a result many of the kites never made it to their intended audience.
USABVAPAC Leaflet Catalog
This catalog of Training Leaflets was available as early as May 1964. A memo routing slip that came with my copy says:
Attached are two documents ordered from USABVAPAC [Okinawa] and designed here...The catalog is a collection of leaflets found effective to assist the leaflet writers in the field with future copy. This is an excellent piece of work. It appears, however, to contain many leaflets that are not up to date.
I asked Rick Caplin if he had ever used the catalog and he said that he did have one, but:
Mine is untouched from the day I got it and haven't any idea how it came into my possession nor if I ever referred to it.
Comparing Caplins leaflets to those in the catalog I see no evidence of influence and no comparison of images or text.
The catalog bears the emblem of the Vietnamese Army Political Warfare Training Center. The Vietnamese had their own PSYOP units just as the Americans did. They worked closely together. For instance, later in the war the Vietnamese 10th Political Warfare (POLWAR) Battalion worked in I Corps with the U.S. 7th Psychological Operations Battalion. They shared the same compound in Da Nang and their printing facilities were integrated. Each PSYWAR Company contained five Civic Action teams, one intelligence team, and one indoctrination team. The first priority of the POLWAR Battalion was command information; informing and indoctrinating friendly military forces. The second priority was winning over the civilian population, and the third was PSYOP efforts aimed at the enemy. My catalog is evenly divided with about 35 Vietnamese leaflets and 35 U.S. leaflets. We can assume that the Vietnamese and Americans worked closely in preparing this booklet.
Speaking about his general mission Caplin told me:
My mission on the team was to conduct PSYOP and Civil Affairs. Prior to Vietnam, I was with the 18th PSYWAR Company on Okinawa whose headquarters was the U.S. Army Broadcasting and Visual Activity - Pacific (USABVAPAC) led by a full bird Colonel.
I dont recall having any formal training in PSYOP. I taught myself by reading and studying books detailing psychological operations in WWII, Korea, Malaya, etc., and world-wide counter-insurgency operations. I read countless books on Vietnam trying to gain an understanding of the culture and the principal players. I thought I had a really good feel for the strength and weaknesses of the South Vietnamese government's propaganda effort and those of the opposition.
A Special Forces Loudspeaker Mission
Notice the loudspeakers directly in front of the door gunner. The gunner holds a smoke grenade in his hand to identify ground fire locations to his armed choppers escorting the PSYOP chopper for protection.
In addition to designing and printing leaflets, I also directed day and night loudspeaker operations. I had no oversight from the Military Assistance Command Vietnam [MACV], or anyone else for that matter. I was free to do what I thought was most effective. My Chieu Hoi and weapon reward leaflets garnered results and kept our intelligence gathering operations humming.
I cannot give you an accurate count as to how many Viet Cong responded to my Chieu Hoi leaflets nor quantify the number of weapons that were turned in. Those became trading fodder with chopper pilots and supply sergeants for items we needed along with captured Viet Cong flags and those I had locally made. All I know is that we had quite a few Viet Cong that we interrogated and eventually remanded them to South Vietnamese Army [ARVN] custody.
The Caplin Leaflet Dissemination chute
Speaking of choppers, I actually tried to invent a more efficient dissemination system for leaflets.
The problem with dripping leaflets from a chopper is the wash from the blades blows leaflets all over and inside the chopper. I thought about this and devised a delivery system that I thought would solve this problem. It worked beautifully when attached to a jeep! Unfortunately, a jeep is not a helicopter. The real test came when we attached our leaflet chute to the skids of a helicopter. Once over the target area, I took a bunch of leaflets and dropped them down the funnel only to have them blow right back into our faces and the chopper. Great idea, but poor execution! Once we landed, we had leaflets all over the helicopter and we were laughing hysterically along with our pilots.
The Viet Cong knew me. I heard there was price of 10,000 piasters on my head, dead or alive!
Once we left the Mekong Delta for War Zone D [AKA Tactical Corps Zone III - on the densely populated alluvial plain surrounding Saigon], my PSYOP efforts ended and we turned our main attention to combat operations. Ben Cat province was a hotbed of action and when not out on operations we spent most of our time training the Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group. We didn't go anywhere without an armed Nung mercenary shadowing each one of us.
Eventually, we came under oversight of MACV and were pushed out of our encampment and into an ARVN compound. This really caused me to resent the MACV command structure.
As for who paid for my leaflet and other operations, intelligence gathering, improving infrastructure, and other useful activities, I believe the money came from the Central Intelligence Agency. Accountability for it was lax at best.
THE SPECIAL FORCES LEAFLETS
A Senseless death
Caplin designed this leaflet and had it printed using local Vietnamese printers. It depicts a Bell UH-1 Iroquois Huey helicopter firing a rocket. The image of the helicopter was clipped from an infantry magazine and Caplin superimposed the rocket himself. The translation is:
A Senseless Death Awaits You.
The back of the leaflet is all text and says:
To Our Friends Fighting in the Ranks of the Viet Cong
If you attack the Army of the Republic of Vietnam or if you attack the New Life Hamlets, you will die horrible deaths as the result of the fire of the weapons that are carried by this helicopter. It will appear whenever and wherever you launch an attack.
In order to avoid a pointless, needless death, you should leave the ranks of the Viet Cong and bring your weapons with you to return to the arms of the Republic of Vietnam. The government will give you a reward and will ensure your safety and the safety of your families.
The people, your relatives, your families, and your wives and children are waiting for you.
Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin Speech
This 1964 leaflet depicts U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. The text is extremely long; consisting of nine paragraphs. I will not translate it all, but the theme of President Johnson's speech is the Tonkin Gulf attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats which is still debated today, but did serve to escalate the American attacks on North Vietnam. This served as an American warning that the kid gloves were coming off and the United States was willing to use the full force of its military might in Vietnam. Some of the text is:>
U.S. PRESIDENT JOHNSON'S SPEECH ON VIETNAM
5 AUGUST 1964
The following is a translation of President Johnson's statement on Vietnam that was broadcast on the radio and television on 5 August 1964.
My fellow Americans:
As President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.
The initial attack on the destroyer Maddox, on August 2, was repeated today by a number of hostile vessels attacking two U.S. destroyers with torpedoes. The destroyers and supporting aircraft acted at once on the orders I gave after the initial act of aggression. We believe at least two of the attacking boats were sunk. There were no U.S. losses
If you do not want your sons
The leaflet above depicts Communist troops stealing food and beating a family of Vietnamese farmers. Although they seem to be dressed as North Vietnamese regular soldiers, they are called Viet Cong. In the second picture, South Vietnamese troops come to the rescue and drive away the thieves to the joy of the family. The leaflet depicts ARVN soldiers because Caplin did not have any US forces other than the Special Forces split A Team of seven men. The text is:
If you do not want your sons to be kidnapped by the Viet Cong...
Then you should help the Army of Republic of Vietnam as it tries to defend you.
Which road will you take ?
A third leaflet depicts Communist troops heading toward a graveyard. At the left, several dead Vietnamese are in a wagon and at the right two soldiers drag another dead Vietnamese. This propaganda is quite different from what we would see later in the war. At first glance I thought the dead were innocent civilians killed by the Viet Cong, a common theme in the late 60s, but the text states that they are dead Viet Cong being brought to a burial ground after a battle with the South Vietnamese. That is odd because we usually indicated that the VC were left to rot on the ground or thrown into unmarked graves. This is probably the first American leaflet to use the theme of the wandering soul although he does not use that term. Later this theme would be used over and over; the threat that if a guerrilla dies and is not returned to his home for burial, his soul will walk through the underworld forever. I asked Rick how he came up with this idea years before the U.S. Army with all its psychologists and experts did. He said:
The wandering soul was an easy one since I had a pretty good understanding of my target audiences prior to stepping a foot on Vietnamese soil. Why wouldn't I have used it knowing what I did? I also used helicopters and special tapes. I don't recall where the tapes came from but I had loudspeaker choppers, at night, playing eerie music and commentary along the banana groves and waterways where the 514th Viet Cong Battalion was entrenched.
Once again we see the South Vietnamese soldiers taking credit for the victory and not U.S. forces. The text is:
Which road will you take when you return home to your families?
The back is all text and says:
To members of the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam
How will you return home to your families?
-It is very possible that your comrades will have to drag your body back home just like you dragged home the bodies of your friends last week
-It is very possible that your body will be piled into an oxcart along with the dead bodies of our comrades.
Do you want to die in such a heart-rending manner? Certainly not!
-Dont let this happen to you. You can live in peace so that in the future you can die in a more worthy manner. FRIENDS:
-Seize this opportunity to avoid misfortune in your life.
-Bring your weapons to our camp. We will receive you warmly.
-Seize this opportunity before it is too late.
The Army of the Republic of Vietnam
This Viet Cong Mine
This fourth leaflet fits right into the more recent insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan and like the previous leaflet is ahead of its time. Though it is not clear to see on a 50-year-old leaflet exposed to sun and rain, the front of the leaflet depicts two arms removing dirt from a hole and exposing a command detonated improvised explosive device (IED) that the Viet Cong had planted. Catlin told me:
We became explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) experts out of necessity and, on one operation, employed an armored-up bulldozer (with a mounted .30 caliber machine gun) to clear a road.
The text on the front is:
This Viet Cong mine might well have killed you or your friends.
The back is all text:
The Viet Cong planted a mine on this stretch of road but soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam rendered the mine ineffective, just as everyone hoped that they would.
These kinds of mines have killed and wounded countless numbers of innocent civilians, and naturally the Government of the Republic of Vietnam does not want that to happen to you.
The government is trying to protect you and your loved ones, so you should help the government just as the government is helping you.
Caplin holds an improvised explosive device
Here is a photo of the sort of thing we often dug up. We usually found them on the roads, (sometimes command detonated). I often stopped traffic while protected by CIDG soldiers, to hand out leaflets. The IEDs were in different shapes and sizes. The one I am holding weighed several pounds and was command detonated. While on an operation, we pushed out security to forestall an ambush and to look for wires and or signs leading to them. My demolitions sergeant took care of their disposal.
Was he a murderer ?
The leaflet above shows a dead Vietnamese civilian, assassinated by the Viet Cong. The text on the front is:
Was he a murderer or just an innocent civilian?
Photograph of Nguyen Van An, also known as Giao, after he was brutally killed by the Viet Cong with five bullets fired from a Russian gun.
The text on the back is:
ANOTHER BRUTAL ACT BY THE COMMUNIST BANDITS
On the night of 15 August 1964 the Viet Cong took Nguyen Van An, also known as Giao, out and murdered him in Binh Nhi Hamlet, Vinh Binh Village.
An was an honest, conscientious citizen who simply worked year-round to support his family, but these bloodthirsty, brutal, inhumane people murdered him with five shots from a Russian gun. The evil hands of these communist lackeys have shed too much Vietnamese blood. As in so many other innocent families, Ans death leaves behind a widow and a number of fatherless children.
The communist thugs who murder innocent people must pay for their crimes against the people.
All of the residents of Vinh Binh Village are angered by the barbaric acts of these communist bandits and they will rise up to defend themselves and to avenge the death of An, also known as Giao.
The language and specific wording in many places seems to be copied straight from communist propaganda leaflets and propaganda statements, with the only changes being to make the communists rather than the "puppets" the accused perpetrators of this crime. The Vietnamese who read this leaflet probably noticed the similarities in language.
The Actual Photograph of the dead Vietnamese man
The image on the leaflet is not very clear due to the fact that the leaflet is almost 50 years old. Here we show the actual photograph that was used on the leaflet.
Tran Van Set and Tran Van Nhung
This is an interesting leaflet because the paper is bright red and the image depicts two front-line Viet Cong fighters with all their gear to include weapons. Most of Caplins leaflets were black and white but he used color in this case to catch the attention of the Viet Cong. He told me that he printed this leaflet in several sizes in bright orange, red and green. This concept of bright colors was probably first used by the British in Malaya when they used bright orange and yellow paper to assure that the leaflets stood out on the green jungle floor. What is surprising is seeing the Guerrillas holding their weapons. In later years, American PSYOP units would always depict the Hoi Chanh (AKA defectors, returnees or ralliers) smiling in a class or learning a trade; never in a threatening pose with weapons. I asked him what he was thinking at the time and he said that he was working on a weapons reward leaflet and that was probably why he left the rifles in the hands of the enemy guerrillas. The text on the front is:
Tran Van Set and Tran Van Nhung rallied on 26 August 1964 with three rifles, 75 rounds of ammunition, three grenades, and documents.
The message on the back of the leaflet is:
To all of our friends in the Viet Cong ranks:
We are Tran Van Nhung, Chief of Doa Dong Districts Reconnaissance Cell 470, and Tran Van Set, Chief of the Binh Long Village Military Intelligence Office
We would like to give our friends a few words of advice:
Like you, we joined the Viet Cong because we believed their false propaganda claims. In reality, the Viet Cong used us and pushed us into committing crimes such as stealing from the people and murdering the people. We woke up, realized our mistake, and became certain that if we wanted to save our nation we had to join the ranks of the Nationalists in order to annihilate the Viet Cong traitors who are really just lackeys of Russian and Chinese Communist Imperialism.
We rallied to the cause of justice on 24 August 1964 and the Go Cong Government and Armed Forces greeted us warmly. We will be give work to do commensurate with our capabilities with the goal of helping to build our nation.
A promising future awaits you if you will follow our example by quickly leaving the Viet Cong zone to join with our entire population in destroying communism to save the nation. We hope to be reunited with you after you join the ranks of the Nationalist Government.
Go Cong, 27 August 1964
An Actual Photo of the Two Viet Cong
This leaflet uses the term Chieu Hoi and may be one of the first leaflets to do so. I wrote about this subject in the past and pointed out that the Open Arms campaign was probably the single most expensive American propaganda campaign during the Vietnam War. Notice that this leaflet also mentions that the defectors were paid rewards for weapons. I also wrote about the subject of monetary rewards in Vietnam and it is still a popular theme of Allied leaflets today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Chieu Hoi Program began in 1963. At first, there was little American involvement, yet the number of Viet Cong defectors was over 11,000. Another 10,000 rallied in 1965 as the first American ground troops began to flow into South Vietnam. As the ground war gained momentum in 1966, Chieu Hoi brought in over 20,000 defectors. Jerald W. Berry says in Psychological Warfare leaflets of the Vietnam War:
American officials had already realized that the Chieu Hoi Program had the most potential as an effective pacification program and had the most favorable cost/benefit ratio of any other existing pacification program. The average cost of processing, retraining, and resettling a returnee was $14 in 1963. This cost rose to $250 in 1967, to $350 in 1969 and to $500 in 1970. Even the increased cost seemed minuscule to the United States, especially when considering the military cost in lives and equipment to eliminate each one of these as enemies.
In this leaflet we see the same two Viet Cong defectors as in the previous leaflet. The text is:
Tran Van Nhung and Tran Van Set, guerrillas from Binh Luong Dong and Binh Long Hamlets, brought weapons with them when they turned themselves in to Government Forces in Hoa Dong District on 26 August 1964.
The Vietnamese Government gave them both monetary rewards, and with this money they will be able to begin to live better lives.
Safe Conduct Pass
The Americans always produced numerous safe conduct passes in various formats. This style appears with signature blocks from Major Nguyen Ngoc Xinh, Chief of Long An Province; Colonel Doan Van Quang, Commander 9th Division, etc. The leaflet above depicts the colors of the flag of the Republic of Vietnam at the left and the text:
Safe Conduct Pass
Civilian, Governmental, and Military Authorities at all levels are requested to provide aid and good treatment to the bearer of this pass and to take the bearer to the nearest Chieu Hoi Center.
Lieutenant General Nguyen Khanh
Chairman of the National Chieu Hoi Committee
In 1964 Lt. General Nguyen Khanh was the Prime Minister of South Vietnam.
Many leaflets depict the American Red Cross, usually with a message telling the Viet Cong not to shoot at vehicles or aircraft bearing this symbol because it is unarmed and on a mission of mercy. I have even seen Australian leaflets to the VC showing Huey helicopters with a red cross. Naturally, the Viet Cong ignored such messages. The text on this leaflet is:
Why Must You Continue to Suffer?
Why Are You Letting Your Wounds Slowly Kill You?
That is unnecessary. Help is waiting for you. Doctors want to help you. Medicine is ready and waiting for you.
Do not wait any longer. Do not be afraid. Come to the camp [base] of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. You will be greeted warmly. You will be given medicine and excellent care. If you bring a weapon with you, you will receive a reward.
Do not hesitate any longer. Do not wait to die for no reason.
The Army of the Republic of Vietnam
This leaflet is extremely interesting. President Diem was disliked by many of his own people because he was Catholic in a Buddhist country and a very strong anti-Communist not willing to compromise. The Americans often were annoyed by Diems refusal to follow their suggestions. The Vietnamese Army plotted to assassinate him and perhaps with the acceptance of the U.S. Government, murdered him. Many Vietnamese believe that was the beginning of the end, since no leader after Diem ever was so strongly anti-Communist and determined to win the war. The United States printed a number of leaflets that attacked their old ally, some from the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office and coded SP-40, 42, 48, 52, 53, 55, 57, 58, 62, 65, 67 and a number of others. This was not propaganda that the United States should be proud of. They showed no loyalty and attacked an old ally that they had supported from the start. The leaflet above bears no code so we think it was prepared by Caplins printers, probably at the request of the Revolutionary Council. The leaflet is dated about nine months after Diems assassination in November 1963 and both the Catholics and Buddhists have taken to the streets and South Vietnam is in chaos. The text is:
ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE REVOLUTIONARY MILITARY COUNCIL
The Revolutionary Military Council, meeting on the morning of 25 August 1964 at the Headquarters of the Joint General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam, has made the following decisions:
First: To rescind the 16 August 1964 Constitution
Second: To quickly convene a Congress of the Revolutionary Military Council to organize an election for the Leader of our Nation.
Third: After a new national leader is elected, the Revolutionary Military Council will be disbanded and its members will return to their positions to devote themselves exclusively to the task of leading the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam in combating Communism, Neutralism, Colonialism, and all forms of traitorous dictatorship.
Fourth: The new national leader who wins the election will be responsible for convening a National Citizens Congress to set up a national structure that is appropriate to meet the desires of our entire population to follow a policy of opposing Communism, Neutralism, Colonialism, and all forms of treasonous dictatorship in order to build our country in freedom and democracy.
Fifth: During the interim period, the current government will be responsible for governing the country.
Saigon, 25 August 1964
For the Revolutionary Council
The Executive Committee
This 48-page Allied booklet features a bloody hammer and sickle on the front and photographs of Viet Cong atrocities on the front and back. Text on the cover is:
Crimes Committed by the Viet Cong in their Plan of Aggression against South Vietnam
THE VIET CONG RESPONSE
National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) Flag Leaflet
This lovely little hand-made leaflet has no text and may have been meant to keep as a motivational souvenir. The maker took a piece of blue construction paper and glued it to a piece of red construction paper. He then cut out a little gold star and glued it on top. It is a lovely piece of primitive art and would look really good in a bamboo frame. When I discussed this with an individual that is very knowledgeable about Vietnam he said:
I can only assume that it was something the VC planned to paste up or to leave somewhere to mark "their area," like a dog does when he urinates on a fire hydrant. In 1973 at the time of the signing of the Paris Cease-Fire Agreement, both sides went around putting up flags on trees and in front of buildings and painting or pasting the flags of their own side on houses/huts to "demonstrate" which side controlled the area in question. Maybe this was something along those lines?
The Paris Agreement called for a stand-still ceasefire between the South Vietnamese government and the "Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam". The military units of the two sides were to remain in place, wherever they were at the time the ceasefire went into effect. The International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS), which was made up of Poland, Canada, Hungary, and Indonesia, was to inspect the implementation of the ceasefire and investigate any violations. Both sides (the South Vietnamese government and the communists) engaged in what was called the "war of flags" to assert control over areas by putting up their flags on houses, buildings, trees, fence-posts, or anything else they could think of. Many battles were fought when one side tried to remove the flags of the other side and put up their own flag in its place.
While I was in Vietnam, the Government of Vietnam restricted the sale of red and blue cloth in order to try to keep the Viet Cong from being able to make flags. I recall an incident in the early 1970s when it was found that VC flags were being made in an American advisory compound in the Mekong Delta and that the flags were being sold to the VC. It caused a lot of embarrassment.
Frank Snepp, Decent Interval (Random House, New York, 1977), says:
...the North Vietnamese did not engage in much offensive military activity during the first year of "peace." Immediately before and after the cease-fire there was the so-called "war of the flags" during which their forces attempted to snatch disputed territory on the fringes of their enclaves, both along the western border and on the central coast. Government forces retaliated immediately, however, and within three weeks the Communists had lost most of what they had gained. ..."
This all text leaflet is fascinating. In it, the Viet Cong claim that because of the bad behavior of an American officer, Vietnamese troops killed a large number of their American allies. This sounds almost like the green on green attacks that were so common in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. The text is:
Two Paratroopers and one Republican Guard Second Lieutenant in Soc Trang Kill 12 American Aggressors and 24 of Diems Officers and Enlisted Men and 25 others are Severely Wounded.
-On 15 May two paratroopers at the Soc Trang Airfield who were angry at being forced by the American aggressors to participate in a sweep operation against our people threw four hand grenades and then opened fire with sub-machineguns, killing six American aggressors and four Diem Army officers and seriously wounding 25 other enemy personnel. In order to cover up this incident, the U.S.-Diem clique hauled these two paratroopers away and made them disappear.
-On the morning of 16 May a second lieutenant assigned to a Republican Guard battalion in Soc Trang went to the airfield to meet with the Americans to protest the fact that the Americans were forcing Vietnamese soldiers to conduct sweep operations that killed innocent civilians. The American commanders arrogantly cursed him and threatened to punish him.
Unable to contain his anger at the arrogant American attitude, the Republican Guard second lieutenant drew a revolver and fired at the American commanders. The Americans fired back and ordered that the lieutenant be arrested. Republican Guard soldiers immediately opened fire to support their lieutenant. In this incident six American officers and enlisted men and 25 Diem Army officers and enlisted men were killed.
This means that in just a two-day period (15 and 16 May) a total of twelve American aggressors and 24 Diem Army officers and enlisted men were killed and 25 other enemy personnel were wounded.
Dont massacre innocent children
The Viet Cong did not just stand by and accept the continual propaganda from the American and Vietnamese government forces. They often responded with their own propaganda, left along trails or wherever Americans might congregate. We depict two such Viet Cong leaflets that ask U.S. soldiers not to kill Vietnamese civilians and not to die for warlords and imperialists.
Do not die for the benefit
We are not sure what or who the Khanh Hoan above represents, but we suspect it was Nguyen Khanh who was a South Vietnamese general who served in various capacities as head of state and prime minister of South Vietnam while at the head of a military junta from January 1964 until February 1965. The timeline is right. He was involved in or against many coup attempts, failed and successful, from 1960 until his defeat and exile from South Vietnam in 1965. Khanh lived out his later years with his family in exile in the United States.
There must be True Peace
Here is a similar Viet Cong propaganda leaflet hand-written in Vietnamese. The message is short and demands true peace and independence, which in reality means that Ho Chi Minh should rule the entire nation. The text is:
There must be true peace, neutrality, and independence in South Vietnam
Slogan Slip Punji Stakes
The Viet Cong produced leaflets in both English and Vietnamese. The latter targeted the Republic of Vietnam Army and neutral civilians. Caplin had about a half dozen such pieces. One type of Viet Cong propaganda is called the slogan slip. JUSPAO Field Memorandum Number 14, 9 February 1966 says:
A tool in the Viet Cong communication armory is the slogan slip. This is a small piece of paper (sometimes as small as two by three inches) which contains a short message expressing one idea. The most terse, for example, might read "Down with US-Lackey Clique." Slogans could be written on paper, on wood panels, carved into tree trunks and also lettered on walls or on large banners to be hung over roads leading into villages. Most of the slips I saw were just standard writing paper cut into about one inch stripes with handwritten text on them.
A longer version of such a slip is depicted in Rogue Warrior, Richard Marcinko, Pocket Books, NYC, 1992. This hand-printed scrap of paper bears a message on each side. The text on one side is:
Award of 50,000 piasters to anyone who kills First Lieutenant Dick Marcinko, a gray-faced killer who has brought death and trouble to the Chau Phu Province during the Lunar New Year.
Caplin had two Slogan slips. The first could be a legitimate warning implying that the Viet Cong dont want to kill their Vietnamese brothers, or could be an attempt to slow down an Allied advance in to their area. We depict it above. It says:
Punji Stake Pits - Soldiers! Go No Further
A second slip implies that when the Americans lose and retreat home they will take President Diem with them. So, why die for the Americans and Diem? It says:
When the Americans lose, they will go back to the U.S.
When Diem loses, he will go back to the U.S.
So what do you think about that, Soldiers?
VIET CONG ANTI-GOVERNMENT BOOKLET
This 24-page Viet Cong booklet depicts a Viet Cong holding ripped-out barbed wire standing over a caricature of an American soldier and a Vietnamese with a dollar sign on his shirt, obviously their concept of a collaborator. In the background we see a burning building and this would seem to be a strategic hamlet that the Viet Cong have raided and freed the prisoners. The entire book is filled with patriotic and anti-Government poems. The text on the front cover is:
Poetry Volume: STEEL FLAME
Issue No. 2, My Tho Artists Group
Letter from Ton Duc Thang
This small 8-page Viet Cong booklet is 94 x 124 mm in size and dated 1962. It contains a New Year's letter sent to all the people of Vietnam by North Vietnam's Vice President Ton Duc Thang. The title is:
Letter from Ton Duc Thang to the People of our Entire Nation
on the Occasion of the New Year
As the Viet Cong got more used to the Americans presence in their country and received help from fellow-travelers, American leftists who the Communists liked to call useless idiots and the Com-bloc nations, the propaganda text got much longer, more complex and political, depicting anti-war activists and politicians as well as peace demonstrations back in the United States.
This short story shows that even without massive monetary and psychological warfare expert support, a dedicated soldier steeped in the knowledge of psychological warfare can run his own very successful campaigns against a dangerous enemy. Rick Caplin was far ahead of his time and the leaflet themes that he designed and printed in 1964 have been used over and over again in numerous wars by American troops over the past 50 years. The concepts that he came up with would be used by American PSYOP Companies and Battalions in Vietnam for the following eight years. I am happy to recognize his efforts and his ingenuity.
The author is always interested in hearing from anyone who has comments on these stories. Please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.