SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

Warning - Some images are very graphic in nature depicting death and serious injury are not appropriate for all viewers. This article was written for adults and may be too intensely emotional for children.

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The very meaning of “atrocity” has changed over the years. Early definitions contained comments like “an appalling or atrocious act, situation, or object, especially an act of illegal cruelty inflicted by an armed force on civilians or prisoners.”

In the Twentieth Century the word took on a new meaning. During World War Two the Germans murdered about 14 million people; at least six million of these were Jews whom the Nazis regarded as less than human. When the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia in 1975 they murdered close to two million of their own people. In 1994, about 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda. And, this is just a brief look at the murder of innocents by an armed force. Other “holocausts” occurred in Armenia, Stalin’s Russia, Nanking under Japanese occupation, and the turmoil in what was once Yugoslavia.

In this article we will discuss the smaller or “personal” atrocity. This is not a government murdering a population; instead, it is a small group of people, sometimes called “insurgents,” “guerrillas” or “terrorists” murdering civilians in an attempt to topple a government.

I first came across this concept back in the Cold War years when we studied Communism and one of the books considered to be important was The War of the Flea, Robert Taber, Citadel Press, 1970. The author made the point that for insurgents to be successful they need never win a single battle. They simply must survive and continue to kill innocent people, sabotage businesses and in general cause confusion and fear among the population. They cause so many problems for the government that it eventually overreacts, controls the people’s ability to travel, communicate and do business and so antagonizes the general population that it eventually rebels against the government. Author Taber explains:

This fact makes governments extremely vulnerable to a sort of war – guerrilla war with its psychological and economic weapons – that their predecessors could have ignored, had such a war been possible in the past.

They are vulnerable because they must, at all cost, keep the economy functioning and showing a profit or providing the materials and markets on which another, dominant economy depends. Again, they are vulnerable because they must maintain the appearance of normalcy; they can be embarrassed out of office. And they are triply vulnerable because they cannot be as ruthless as the situation demands. They cannot openly crush the opposition that embarrasses and harasses them. They must be wooers as well as doers.

The counterinsurgent seeks a military solution: to wipe out the guerrillas. He is hampered by a political and economic impediment: he cannot wipe out the populace, or any significant sector of it. The guerrilla, for his part, wishes to wear down his military opponent and will employ suitable tactics to that end, but his primary objective is political. It is to feed and fan the fires of revolution by his struggle, to raise the entire population against the regime, to discredit it, isolate it, wrecks its credit, undermine its economy, overextend its resources, and cause its disintegration.

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The bodies of 2 boys and a man lie in the street following a Viet Cong grenade attack that killed 7 persons and wounded 47. The grenade was tossed into a helicopter on display at Saigon City Hall on Republic Day, Oct. 26, 1962

It becomes clear why insurgents such as the Viet Cong committed atrocities during the Vietnam War. They murdered their own people, bombed shopping centers, and were quite merciless toward their own citizens. By doing so, they disrupted the daily life of the people and caused them to lose all confidence in the Republic of Vietnam’s ability to protect its citizens. In addition, as the government moved the people to protected hamlets or drafted them to fight in their armed forces, they began to actively dislike and fear the authorities. The communists, even though they were doing the killing, promised a peaceful and secure life once the government was overthrown, and this was enough to lead many people to follow them into antigovernment actions. We see the same thing today in Iraq and Afghanistan where insurgents bomb markets and mosques, knowing that eventually the people will turn on the government and the Americans for being unable to protect them.

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Injured Vietnamese are treated as they lie on the street after a bomb explosion outside the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, Vietnam on 30 March 1965. Two Americans and several Vietnamese were killed in the bombing - AP Photo/Horst Faas.

Many captured Viet Cong leaflets show how these atrocities were made to look legal by various proclamations, all written to appear to make the murders legitimate. For instance, a Viet Cong document captured in December 1970 in Long An province says in part:

Determinedly punish [with the fully extended arm] all puppet installations, organizations at provincial, district, village levels, including the offices of the puppet administration, the services and branches of police, Security, Open-Arms, Pacification systems, the so-called Village People’s Council, Civil self-defense organizations, The Security spies network [Phoenix], including all kinds of wicked tyrants, hooligans owing a blood debt to the people, retreating in villages and hamlets to tip off the enemy and carry out their assassinations, arresting and threats to the people.

Severely punish all wicked, stubborn henchmen who are working in the puppet administrative organs and reactionary political organizations. All armed and semi-armed forces of all local levels, guerrillas, special forces, armed security forces and the entire people are directed to thoroughly and seriously carry out this order.

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Death Sentence

Here is a Viet Cong Death sentence form from the Saigon area. It sounds very legal and says in part:

In accordance with the judgment and resolution of the Fourth Precinct, People’s Revolutionary Council…A death sentence has been pronounced on…The culprit has been found to be a cruel tyrant who has committed the following crime…A collaborator of the country-grabbing pirates and U.S. Thieu-Ky-Huong country-selling lackeys who have arrested, killed, harmed our compatriots and opposed the revolutionary undertaking of our entire people…All military, civilian, administrative authorities are required to carry out this sentence.

The United States military has always been “officially” against the depicting of atrocities on propaganda leaflets. It has long been known that the people of a nation are disgusted by the sight of their fellow citizens dead or disfigured. For instance, Robert W. Chandler says in The War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1981:

Another attempt to reinforce the enemy's fear of death that went awry was the use of brutally macabre leaflets. Photographs and sketches of a head torn from a body, a mass grave, or a skull roasting in flames were used to scare Communist troops into giving up. Others depicted battlefield dead with flies crawling over them and grotesque corpses with twisted limbs showing advanced stages of rigor mortis. As early as 1967, however, it became evident that these appeals failed to impress the enemy and had little effect on their decision to rally (defect). In fact, a reverse or 'boomerang' effect resulted from the use of such leaflets: Many Hoi Chanh (Viet Cong who had already defected to the national government) felt that these grisly pictures reflected unfavorably on the Republic because the government seemed to be gloating over the deaths of fellow Vietnamese…Death themes were repeated over and over in virtually all enemy-oriented communications.

In October 1946, The U.S. Army’s Propaganda Branch published a report entitled A Syllabus of Psychological Warfare. It mentions the dangers of atrocity propaganda and warns:

It may lift morale momentarily, but its long-range effect is not favorable to morale…It has been found that atrocity propaganda begets atrocity. An audience subjected to atrocity propaganda will react in the normal human way and will effect reprisals in kind if the opportunity offers, so that the outcome is an auction of cruelty, each side seeking to excel the other in wantonness without achieving any respectable military goal.

If this comment is true, then the use of such propaganda would actually hurt other large-scale programs like Chieu Hoi. The report implies that American or South Vietnamese soldiers seeing such propaganda would kill Viet Cong insurgents rather than accept their surrender.

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Leaflet 2448

JUSPAO leaflet 2448 is exactly what Chandler talks about when he says that some of the gruesome leaflets prepared for use against the Communist forces do more harm than good. In this American propaganda leaflet the handsome Communist officer has become a rotting corpse after being hit directly in the face. American propagandists were told that these photos actually caused sympathy for the dead communist and many of the viewers believed that the Americans were bragging about their ability to kill Vietnamese. From the American or “Western European” standpoint this is acceptable propaganda, but it may have been less coercive to Eastern or Asian peoples. The text on this leaflet is:

The Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces has completely crushed the Viet Cong's general offensive against the cities.

From 30 January 1968 to 15 February 1968, over 34,000 North Vietnamese Regulars and Viet Cong soldiers paid for their crimes. Among them was Major General Tran Do, who was killed in an action at 46th Street in Cholon in the outskirts of Saigon City.

The death of Tran Do, Tran Van Tra and Nguyen Chi Tranh proved that the Communist aggressive policy to take over South Vietnam has severely failed. It was not their inability or incompetence, but the Communist adventurous acts that cause their deaths.

Why do you still hesitate? Try to find an opportunity to return to the National Community and rejoin your families, as tens of thousands have already done.

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The Original Photograph of Tran Do

Brigadier General Tran Do, (real name Ta Ngnoc Phac), a deputy commander-in-chief of the so-called "Liberation Army of South Vietnam," (the Viet Cong Armed Forces), and a Major General in the North Vietnamese Army, as well as Alternate Member of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party (formerly Indochinese Communist Party). This photo is believed to have been taken in South Viet Nam. It was discovered during Operation "Junction City" in War Zone "C" (Tay Ninh Province), in March 1967.

The same image was used on leaflet 96 dropped during the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. Some of the text on that leaflet is:

Dear Fellow Citizens in North Vietnam

Major General Tran Do was killed at the corners of Nguyen Tieu La and Trieu Da Streets in Cholon (on the outskirts of Saigon) while he was personally commanding the “general offensive” against Saigon and other cities in South Vietnam during the recent TET holiday.

Together with the death of General Tran Do, from 30 January to 29 February 1968, over 42,000 North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong were killed, 7,000 others captured, and over 12,000 pieces of assorted weapons seized.

Fellow citizens: He who sows the wind reaps the tempest! The deaths of Generals Nhuyen Chi Tranh and Tran Do and the recent heavy casualties on the Communists constituted a blow of the Republic of Vietnam people and Army, and revealed the complete failure of the Communist plot to take over South Vietnam.

Fellow citizens, be determined to thwart all the attempts of the North Vietnamese Communists who aim to send poor children to die foolishly in South Vietnam.

Under the two photos are the captions:

Photograph of Lieutenant General Tran Do taken last year. The photograph was captured in February 1967 in South Vietnam.

The body of Lieutenant General Tran Do after the battle in Cholon during the attack of the Viet Cong on the occasion of Tet.

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General Tran Do in Hanoi in 1993

In December 2010, I was contacted by artist Marcelino Truong who told me that he had interviewed General Tran Do in Hanoi in 1993. The general was still alive even though he had a price on his head throughout the war and had been reported killed during the Phoenix program. It seems that the wily old general had fooled the Americans and the South Vietnamese. Since the face of the victim in the leaflet above was totally destroyed, it is easy to see how such a mistake could have been made.

The Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) Guidance Number 7, dated 17 July 1965 is entitled “Exploitation of Communist Atrocities.” Some of the policy guidance is:

Continue our full-scale effort to obtain maximum international exploitation of atrocities perpetrated by the communists in Vietnam…Exploit those atrocities whose victims are unmistakably common folk and can be clearly identified as such…All exploitation of communist atrocities should link Viet Cong brutality to the system the VC seek to impose on the Vietnamese people, i.e. the communist system.

The Viet Cong…commit acts of atrocity primarily in order to influence and control people’s behavior…People normally react to atrocities with a sense of revulsion. Revulsion tends to generate fear and hostility. The basic task of the psychological operator is to assure that enemy atrocities generate more hostility than fear.

To the extent that Viet Cong atrocities are part of a calculated strategy of terror, they are designed to demonstrate Viet Cong power, Government of Vietnam and U.S. impotence, and the advisability of complying with Viet Cong dictates. There is danger that the exploitation of Viet Cong atrocities among Vietnamese audiences contributes to the enemy’s objectives.

The last two paragraphs are very interesting. They warn American propagandists that although it is important to point out the atrocities of the Viet Cong in order to create hostility toward them, the depicting of terror attacks might backfire and cause the people to fear and follow the guerrillas. It appears that the psychological warfare specialists had a very narrow road to walk in these operations that featured the atrocity theme.

We find atrocity propaganda mentioned again in JUSPAO Field Memorandum 42 dated 13 December 1967, entitled “Lessons Learned from Evaluation of Allied PSYOP Media in Vietnam.”

Do exercise extreme caution when dealing with the subject of Viet Cong atrocities. “Bounds of good taste” may be difficult to determine when presenting photographs of atrocity victims, but in general, it should be remembered that a nauseated audience is not necessarily a receptive audience. Extremes in goriness (e.g. close-ups of decapitated victims, disemboweled women in advanced pregnancy, etc.) may simply induce an avoidance reaction rather than the desired emotional reaction. The most effective use of atrocities is when they can be tailored to appeal to sentiments, such as depicting an innocent child whose leg was blown off by a Viet Cong mine – and the stump should be bandaged. The audience can easily see the point (which can also be made verbally in the text) that here is a young child, who could have harmed no one, and now must go through life minus a limb.

The United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) says in Directive 525-203 dated 15 August 1969 and entitled “Military Operations – Psychological Operations Policy – Counter-actions to Communist Terrorism.”

Indiscriminate acts of communist terrorism in the Republic of Vietnam will be exploited in order to build public hostility toward the enemy and motivate the populace to actively support Government of Vietnam programs…The use of terrorism can also cause problems for the enemy. Terrorism can instill fear and sometimes bring about obedience; it can also alienate the people. Growing popular disaffection with the Viet Cong reportedly is based partly on revulsion toward terrorist tactics. Skillful use of PSYOP can help kindle this revulsion, increase public hostility toward the enemy, and direct public reaction into support for Government of Vietnam programs.

Harry D. Latimer discusses atrocity photographs in U. S. Psychological Operations in Vietnam - a Monograph on National Security Affairs, Brown University, September, 1973:

Do exercise extreme caution when dealing with the subject of VC atrocities. “Bounds of good taste” may be difficult to determine when presenting photographs of atrocity victims, but in general, it should be remembered that a nauseated audience is not necessarily a receptive audience. Extremes in goriness (e.g. close-ups of decapitated victims, disemboweled women in extreme pregnancy, etc.) may simply induce an avoidance reaction rather that the desired emotional reaction. The most effective use of atrocities is when they can be tailored to appeal to the sentiments, such as depicting an innocent child whose leg was blown off by a VC mine – and the stump should be bandaged. The audience can easily see the point (which also can be made verbally in the text) that here is a young child, who could have harmed no one, but must now go through life minus a limb.

Atrocity propaganda is mentioned in the JUSPAO November 1968 publication Communicating with Vietnamese thru Leaflets:

Use care in exploiting atrocities. Some atrocity leaflets simply reinforce the widespread feeling that the VC are all-powerful, that they can strike when and where they please, that there is no way to escape, and that the people had better accept VC rule.

Field testing reveals that, in atrocity exploitation, it is possible to be too gory. Vietnamese people tend to turn away from photos of decapitated or horribly mutilated bodies; and in many cases these tend to have negative rather than positive results.

Chandler is against atrocity images in general. Lattimer feels that the use of atrocity photographs showing the results of Viet Cong terrorism might be worthwhile.

In fact, the United State produced hundreds of leaflets showing dead Viet Cong bodies during the war. These are in direct disagreement with policy. It also produced a few dozen leaflets showing Viet Cong atrocities. They are fewer in number but some were quite good and it is possible that some people did realize that the Viet Cong were the cause of their problems and the terror that existed all around them.

In this article we will depict and translate some of the leaflets that were prepared in an attempt to convince the Vietnamese that the Viet Cong were guilty of murder and terrorism and should be condemned.

The Death and Injury of Children

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Vietnamese child hit by Viet Cong Mortar

This formerly classified photograph is of a young Vietnamese boy who took a direct hit from a Viet Cong mortar on 20 July 1964. The Viet Cong attacked the Army dependent’s housing area in Cai Be and killed seventeen women and twenty-three children

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Leaflet P-07

This leaflet is one of the most horrific images prepared by the Americans. It bears the code letter “P” which indicates the leaflet originally targeted the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), now called the “NVA,” that were inside South Vietnam. The leaflet depicts a destroyed motor scooter at the left and two dead bodies at the right, one of a young child. The text is:


On 14 February 1966, 10 kilometers west of Tuy Hoa, units of the Liberation Front exploded mines against a passenger bus and a Trilambretta to prevent the peasants from harvesting their rice.

These heroic attacks of your comrades in the Liberation Front aimed at innocent peasants and their children resulted in 49 persons killed and 5 wounded.

The above fact shows us the meaning of the “Liberation” of the South. You are a fighter, but not a murderer. YOU DISHONOR YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY in supporting the bandits of the Liberation Front who kill innocent people and children.

Immediately quit the ranks of those murderers and bandits. Use the safe conduct pass to come to the Republic of Vietnam or Allied forces. You will be respected and well-treated.

Perhaps because the picture of the naked young child at the right of this leaflet was considered too awful, a second version of this same leaflet exists. In the second P-07 the Trilambretta is depicted on the front, and on the back there is a photograph of three dead Vietnamese.

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Leaflet 10-153-68

This leaflet was prepared by the 10th PSYOP Battalion in 1968. This leaflet was one selected by the Department of Defense to be evaluated for effectiveness by a test group of about 1,757 Vietnamese civilians, Hoi Chanhs (former Viet Cong who had defected) and North Vietnamese and Viet Cong prisoners of war. The leaflets were judged as very effective, moderately effective or ineffective in a publication entitled The Effectiveness of U.S. PSYOPS Leaflets: A Scale for Pretesting published 7 January 1969. This leaflet was judged very effective. The text is rather long so we will translate just a small part of the total message. The test on the front is:

The Viet Cong offers the people’s dead bodies as “Tet” donations to the Communist Party.

The back says in part:

Nobody is unaware of the Viet Cong’s killing innocent people and creating tragedy in Vietnam for the last 20 years. But nothing is as painful as the attack on hamlet 7, An-Truong Village, where the blood-thirsty VC killed many innocent civilians including 11 children, 16 men and women and wounded 35 others in their beds….The tragedy made the people perceive clearly the false intention of the Viet Cong of the so-called “National Liberation Front.” They rob and kill innocent people and their clique was proud of its “great success.”

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Leaflet 2638

Leaflet 2638 depicts a child standing in front of a wrecked village. It is one of a series of leaflets that show different scenes of Viet Cong atrocities but with almost identical text. The back is all text and says in part:


People in the Capitol and Provinces were deeply disappointed witnessing the destruction and killing done by the Viet Cong in their second offensive. The Communist have often propagandized that they are fighting for the welfare of the people but alas, what happened was a war against the people and the people both fear and hate it…

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Leaflet 3132

This leaflet depicts an injured Vietnamese child at the left and a group of injured civilians and children at the right. The text below the pictures is:


The text on the back in part is:


On 22 February 1969, the Communists fired hundreds of mortars and rockets into the cities and town of South Vietnam. These bloodthirsty actions of the Communists have caused much suffering and mourning to innocent people.

What have these children done to deserve such suffering and punishment inflicted by the Communists?

Friends, you are urged to stop shooting at innocent people. Don’t listen to the flowery words of the Communist cadres…

My copy of Leaflet P-06 is so faded and torn that it cannot be depicted here. Should any reader have a good example of this leaflet, I would appreciate a scan of it. The text is strong enough that I think it should be mentioned. The leaflet depicts an injured naked baby on the front. The text is:


The back is all text and says in part:

On 14 February 1966, 10 kilometers west of Tuy Hoa (Phu Yen Province) units of the South Liberation Front exploded mines against a passenger bus and a trilambretta to prevent the peasants from harvesting their rice.

These heroic attacks of your comrades aimed at the innocent peasants and their children resulted in 49 persons killed and 5 wounded.

The above fact shows us the meaning of the “Liberation” of the South. You are a fighter, not a murderer. YOU DISHONOR YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY in supporting the bandits of the South Liberation Front who kill innocent people and childre n…

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Poster 2860

A series of September and October 1968 JUSPAO posters depicted a Viet Cong rocket, injured children and a propaganda text in Vietnamese or Chinese. The poster was designed to solicit the help of the Chinese and Vietnam population in Gia Dinh and the Saigon/Cholon metropolitan area. The messages are identical and the only difference is the Chinese version is printed in green. 20,000 copies of this poster were distributed. The text is:


If a person had information about the Viet Cong unit that launched this rocket on 22 August 1968 and had informed the police, children like these would not have been wounded.

It is the duty of every citizen to immediately warn the authorities when they have information about Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communists’ installations or their weapons caches.

Those citizens who give information on the presence of the Viet Cong or the locations of their mortar or rocket sites, car receive rewards of from 50,000 to 1 million piasters. The identity of these people will be kept secret.



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Poster 2812

This poster depicts injured children and women from a Viet Cong attack. The text is:


At dawn on 22 August 1968, the Viet Cong, Servants to the Northern Communists, fired rockets and mortar rounds into the city of Saigon-Cholon. No military target was hit; instead only women and innocent children were killed by shrapnel while sleeping

Doctors, nurses, officials and many other volunteers scrambled to save the wounded victims, as well as to bury the corpses of those unfortunately killed. The efforts to comfort the victims were no less difficult. First of all, the victims were women and children


The Death and Injury of Women

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This official propaganda photograph was released by the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Political Warfare Directorate and depicts a dead mother and child killed by the Viet Cong in Long Dien Village, 3 August 1961.

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Leaflet 2637

 Leaflet 2637 depicts a Vietnamese woman standing in front of a destroyed village, a haze still in the air from fires. The back is all text and says in part:


People in the Capitol and Provinces were deeply disappointed witnessing the destruction and killing done by the Viet Cong in their second offensive. The Communist have often propagandized that they are fighting for the welfare of the people but alas, what happened was a war against the people and the people both fear and hate it…

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Leaflet 2791

This leaflet works two themes at once. Not only does it show a Vietnamese woman injured by a Viet Cong attack, it also points out that American nurses aid in her recovery. The text says in part:

A Vietnamese doctor and an American nurse are caring for an old woman who was the victim of the Communist aggressors’ attacks.

The Death and Injury of Civilian Men

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Leaflet 2742

Leaflet 2742 depicts two dead Vietnamese men on the street. Text on the front is:


The back is all text and says in part:


Using rockets and mortars furnished by the Soviet Union and Red China, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers killed 433 civilians and wounded 3,660 in the Saigon – Gia Dinh areas between 5 May and 17 June 1968.

Your leaders claim that they fire at military installations only. The fact is, only one soldier has died as a result of these attacks. Most of the victims have been civilian Vietnamese men, women and children...

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Leaflet 245N-35-67

This leaflet prepared by the 245th PSYOP Company in 1967 depicts Vietnamese civilians that had been held prisoner by the Viet Cong. On one side a medic checks on a skeleton-like prisoner who was rescued by the 101st Airborne Division. On the other side, five emaciated civilians are depicted. Some of the text is:

This is Viet Cong “Liberation”

These South Vietnamese citizens were found by soldiers from the U.S. 101st Airborne Division on 24 September, near Tuy Hoa in Phu Yen Province. They were being held in a Viet Cong prison camp where they suffered mistreatment, starvation and disease, some for almost two years. This is a good example of the “glorious liberation” promised by the Viet Cong “National Liberation Front.” This is how the Viet Cong treat their countrymen.

Support your government against the Viet Cong. Help stop Viet Cong “Liberation.”

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An uncoded Assassination Leaflet

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The Original Photograph

Former Special Forces First Lieutenant Rick Caplin who was in Vietnam in 1964 told me:

We were the only Special Forces A team in 1964 that had PSYOP personnel to it. The assassination leaflet above is not too clear but is the only one I have. We produced the leaflet at the time, some early PSYOP.

The text on the leaflet 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.

Destruction of Property

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Tam Ha Canal Slaughter

On 25 December 1965, the Viet Cong massacred 25 unarmed workers who were helping build a government canal. They were sleeping in a Buddhist pagoda when the Viet Cong attacked. The same thing occurred in My Tho, but in that case those that survived the initial onslaught were marched 4 kilometers to a public highway and killed in a political act to frighten other Vietnamese workers and citizens.

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Leaflet 2635

Leaflet 2635 depicts a burning business area and people fleeing the scene. The back is all text and says in part:


People in the Capitol and Provinces were deeply disappointed witnessing the destruction and killing done by the Viet Cong in their second offensive. The Communist have often propagandized that they are fighting for the welfare of the people but alas, what happened was a war against the people and the people both fear and hate it…

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Leaflet 3133

Leaflet 3133 depicts firemen attempting to put out fires in Vietnamese shops. The back is all text and says in part:


The Communist masks have been put down and their true face has been revealed because of their savage actions.

While people were enjoying the Ky Dau spring the Communists fired mortars and rockets into populated areas causing much damage and death to the people.

The fruit shops of the working people at Ben Thanh market in Saigon were destroyed by the Communists during the night of 22 February 1969.

Don’t listen to the false propaganda of the Communist cadres. Be enlightened and choose the right way. Don’t sacrifice your youth for a lost cause. Stop inflicting suffering upon your innocent compatriots.

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Leaflet 3149

Leaflet 3149 was printed in March 1969 and depicts two photographs on the front. At the left, a bullet-pocked destroyed home with what appears to be two covered bodies is pictured. At the right, a scene of destruction is shown. The text beneath the pictures is:


The back is all text and says in part:

While the Paris talks are going on, the North Vietnamese Army and the so-called National Liberation front have launched waves of attacks in many places in the Republic of Vietnam. This has caused much damage to property and taken many lives. It is evident that the North Vietnamese appeal to peace was merely a maneuver cloaking its actual act of escalation of the war…

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Leaflet 3150

This leaflet depicts fires, injured Vietnamese and firemen. The text on the front is:


The back is all text and says in part:


On the morning of 3 March 1969 the Viet Cong rocketed the street of Do Thanh Nhon in Saigon. None of their rockets fell on military targets. The only victims of their savage deeds have been innocent people and their property…

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Leaflet 4384

Leaflet 4384 depicts a peaceful Vietnamese village, then a village under Viet Cong attack. It asks the people to choose which one is preferable. The text says in part:

The Republic of Vietnam Pacification and Development Programs have brought security and prosperity to the people in the villages and hamlets. They are now enjoying peace and abundance.

The Communists advocate killing and destruction. Wherever they go homes are destroyed, people are killed, and misery and suffering reign everywhere in their wake.

Which of the scenes on this leaflet do you prefer?

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Leaflet 8(1)9-120-68

The 8th PSYOP Battalion produced 10,000 of these patriotic leaflets showing the flags of South Vietnam and the United States in March, 1968 to inform the people of Viet Cong sabotage. They were handed out at a destroyed bridge. Some of the text on the back is:

You lose time waiting your turn to cross this bridge blown up by the Viet Cong! Your farm products cannot reach the market on time! Your visits to relatives who live far away is delayed or postponed! Government and American engineers are working together to repair this bridge to connect communications routes and to restore your life to normal. You are suffering from this act of Viet Cong sabotage. So, when you have information about the Viet Cong you should report what you know to the government officials…By doing that, you help yourselves and you will receive also receive a reward

The Communists as Ungodly Terrorists

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Catholic nuns after a Viet Cong Attack

The Viet Cong attacked Binh Dinh in September 1972, and several Catholic nuns were kidnapped and forcibly taken to North Vietnam. Some farmers who escaped told of witnessing the Viet Cong “People’s Court” trials and the execution of villagers.

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Catholic Priest Le An

In other anti-Catholic actions, 38-year-old Catholic priest Le An of Xa Chieu Parish, had led refugees to safety during the movement south and as a result was ordered killed by the Viet Cong. Their slogan was “Better to kill one priest than three district chiefs.” The Viet Cong routinely shelled his church, and when American planes were overhead they would fire at them from near the church and then flee, hoping that the aircraft would think the church a guerrilla haven and bomb it.

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Leaflet 4-9-70

Sometimes Allied propaganda attacked the Communists as ungodly atheists in an attempt to gain the trust and support of the Vietnamese Catholics and Buddhists. This 4th PSYOP Group leaflet depicts a Catholic church and a Buddhist temple destroyed by the Viet Cong. The text on the front is:


The back is all text and says in part:

Dear Countrymen,

The atheistic Communist does not hesitate to destroy our sacred churches, temples and shrines. They have killed many religious leaders who have all sacrificed their lives for the people.

The people are not afraid of the Communists. They hate them!

Curiously this was also an American propaganda theme against the Japanese in WWII. I have seen numerous leaflets depicting Japanese soldiers slapping Buddhist monks with accompanying text stating that the Japanese had no respect for godly people.

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Leaflet 4-8-70

This 4th PSYOP Group leaflet is very old and worn and the image is not clear, but it shows a boy weeping. The caption to the right of the boy is:


The back is all text and says in part:

Dear Countrymen,

The Communists are cruel, atheistic and cowardly. When they are surrounded by Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces, they don’t let you run away, instead, they use you to deflect their bullets. They live by the principle, “It is better to kill some innocent people by mistake than not to kill those who should be killed.” Then the Communists burn your homes to provide themselves a way to escape…

Atrocity Photograph Public Relation Disasters

In this section we will show two of the most destructive atrocity photographs of the Vietnam War. In both cases America was ultimately blamed and the photographs were used by anti-war groups to imply that the United States was murdering Vietnamese civilians and children.

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General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing
Viet Cong Nguyen Van Lem in Saigon
Photograph by Edward T. Adams

This photograph of a South Vietnamese General and National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan in civilian clothes was taken during the Tet offensive of 1968. Over 30,000 Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars attacked during a holiday truce and killed thousands of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers. South Vietnamese sources said that Lem commanded a Viet Cong assassination platoon that had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers and their families. Allegedly, Lem was captured near a ditch holding thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives. General Loan was devastated and distraught at the loss of his friends and shot the leader of the murderous Viet Cong squad on the spot. All that the American public saw was a South Vietnamese officer murdering a person that they believed to be a civilian in cold blood.

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Kim Phuc, a nine-year old girl running naked and
severely burned on her back by a napalm attack
Photograph by Huynh Cong Ut

The United States was even more innocent of this tragedy. This young girl was burned after a bombing attack by a pilot of the Air Force of South Vietnam. Once again anti-war organizations used this photo to attack the United States and implied that it was an American pilot that dropped the napalm.

Kim Phuc was a resident in the village of Trang Bang, Vietnam. On 8 June 1972, the South Vietnamese Air Force attacked the village, which was invaded and occupied by enemy North Vietnamese Army forces. Kim Phuc joined a group of civilians fleeing from the town and a VNAF pilot mistook the group for the enemy and attacked it. After the photograph went world-wide, Kim was a celebrity for many years and the communist government would bring her out on occasion for a photo opportunity. In 1985, she was feted when the foreign press corps flocked to Ho Chi Minh City to cover the tenth anniversary of Vietnam's “Liberation.” Meanwhile, Kim quietly waited until the right moment to escape from Vietnam. In 1992, she asked for political asylum in Canada and is now a Canadian citizen.

Black Anti-Communist Atrocity Rumor Campaigns

The United States may have used atrocity propaganda in an attempt to motivate the Vietnamese to fight on after the Americans left. Some data on this black program is found in the papers of Donald Rochlen. The actual data is an article from the Communist newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan (The People’s Army Newspaper). It states that Rochlen had done some work for the CIA and later headed a United States Information Agency group and acted as a PSYOP advisor to JUSPAO in Vietnam. When the Republic of Vietnam lost the battle of Ban Me Thuot, it seemed that the North Vietnamese Army could not be stopped. Rochlen allegedly developed a rumor campaign to terrify the southerners and encourage them to fight on. Some of the rumors were:

There would be a blood bath. All of Vietnam, and Saigon in particular would be a sea of blood. Heads would be shaved and spread with lime. Pliers would be used to pull out fingernails and toenails. Collective graves would be dug for hundreds of thousands of people. Long nails would be driven into the heads of people who collaborated with the Americans [to save bullets?]. Buddhists would be immolated. In Hue, the moats around the inner citadel were mass graves for tens of thousands of people. The prettiest girls were forced to marry crippled Communist soldiers. In Danang, 738 officers had rocks tied around their necks and were thrown into the sea. The Communists would kill 10 regular troops for every one they spared and the police would all be killed and their skin used to make shoes.

We don’t know if such a plan existed or is simple disinformation by the Communists. We do know that you can never go wrong with a good rumor, and if it is about an atrocity, all the better.

About a decade after I wrote this article, I heard from one of Don Rochlen’s aides in Vietnam during 1970 and 1971. Captain Robert Turner was the “Assistant Special Projects Officer” in the North Vietnam Army/Viet Cong Division at the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office. He told me:

Don Rochlen was in Saigon briefly in April 1975. He was not assigned there, but he returned on his own to try to help people who he knew were in special danger because of their work with us to get out during the evacuation. I was with him in the office of a mutual friend in the Embassy when the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand called and yelled at Don to get his butt back to Bangkok. Don responded that the connection was not good, the Ambassador was breaking up, and “please say ag…” and hung up the phone. He then went about doing the good he had come to do.

Many of us who had studied Vietnamese Communism warned that a Communist victory would lead to a “bloodbath,” not as a disinformation propaganda campaign but because we knew it to be true. I left Vietnam and the Army at the end of 1971 and became a Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, where I wrote the first major history of Vietnamese Communism in English and published several articles warning of a bloodbath.

I am not familiar with everything Don did in 1975 (by then I had left the Army). I stumbled across Don in Saigon and during the final days of April 1975 we both slept on the floor of a mutual friend’s apartment in Saigon—but I would be surprised if he was involved in a disinformation program as claimed by the Communists. We knew that Hanoi and the Viet Cong were aware of our office and were not fond of us (especially of Don, who had been there for years and was very effective), but anything Don did to warn of a bloodbath came from the heart. And the reality of what happened after “liberation” certainly persuaded me that a bloodbath had occurred—with millions of dead throughout Indochina.

In a New York Times story dated 15 October 1972, Robert Turner mentioned the “land reform” program in North Vietnam after the Viet Minh victory in 1954 as an example of what could happen after a Communist victory in South Vietnam and said:

Whether the actual bloodbath was 300,000 or 500,000 —it is quite clear that a major purge did occur and that the casualties numbered in six digits.

The story is just a short look at those leaflets that point out Viet Cong atrocities to the people. There are certainly many more such leaflets and I will add more from time to time as I run across them. Readers with comments or suggestions are encouraged to write to the author at