PSYOP OF THE STRATEGIC
SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)
Note: Images from this article were requested by an officer of the Italian Army, a researcher for the Military Centre of Strategic Studies. The author of the book: Unimagined Community: Imperialism and Culture in South Vietnam requested and received permission to use images from this article.
A Typical Vietnamese Hamlet
When the British fought the insurgency led by Chinese Communists in
Malayafrom 1948 to 1960, one of their weapons was to place the Malayans in fortified villages that could be guarded around the clock and thus separate the people from the guerrillas in the jungle. That was one very successful way to fight Mao Tse-Tungs concept that The guerilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.
Under the direction of the retired Lieutenant General Sir Harold Briggs, the shortcomings of the government were identified. These included the lack of population control measures. From these considerations, the Briggs Plan was formulated. The guerrillas would first be separated from the civilian population that sustained them, and then defeated through coordinated civil, military and police action.
The first part of the Briggs plan called for the large-scale resettlement of about 500,000 squatters in the jungle fringes to New villages. These subsistence farmers were the main source of food for the rebel army. Started in June 1950, this program resettled 423,000 Chinese squatters in 410 new villages by 1952. These new villages had a defense perimeter to ensure controlled entry and exit. The government gave every family five months' worth of provisions and all the materials needed to build a house. This gave the squatters an immediate sense of ownership. The communists were now forced to come out of the jungle and into the open to search for food. It made them vulnerable to attack and ambush. In 1951 the British introduced the food denial program called Operation Starvation. This program was designed to stop the smuggling of excess food to the Communists. The measures included ration reduction, punching canned food at time of purchase, strict checks by the guards on all personnel moving in and out of the villages, and forbidding meals from being brought to work areas. Communal cooking of rice was encouraged to prevent any private ownership of uncooked rice that might be smuggled to the Communists. The guerrillas were now forced to come further out of the jungle to meet their suppliers, who could be identified, turned, and used as a source to set up additional ambushes.
Sergio Miller mentions these new villages in Malaya the Myth of hearts and Minds. He says:
The Briggs Plan that involved the forcible transplant of as many as 500,000 Chinese and other ethnic groups into New Villages was a success because it was basically a sound economic and social plan (500,000 is the commonly quoted number. A high figure of 600,000 is quoted by Barber, N. The War of the Running Dogs, 1971, p. 118) The transplanted communities recognized that they were getting a good deal, not least because the policy increased employment (Eventually, 582 new villages were constructed, of which only 6 were judged to have failed). The keys were: title to land, better quality of life, material and physical support, mutual support, and effective defense The new villages included schools, clinics, and electricity, a novelty for many poor Chinese.
Building a Strategic Hamlet Bamboo Barrier
Andrew R. Molnar
Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in Insurgencies
During the Vietnam War, the
had the same problem. Large numbers of Communist Viet Cong were able to enter villages and take food either voluntary or as a tax by armed collectors. Republicof Vietnam
Midshipman Jason Thomas Chaput defines the hamlet problem in his 2000 thesis, The Chieu Hoi Program and Perceptions of Reality:
During the 1960s, the political and military cadres orchestrated a mass seizure of hamlets from the Government of
across the country. Hamlets were clusters of homes, where several hamlets constituted a village. With the aid of superior intelligence gathering and lethal tactics such as abductions, forced indoctrinations, and even executions, the Viet Cong removed any obstacles presented by the supporters of the Government of Vietnam in the hamlets. Vietnam
In the battle for the hamlets, the use of ambushes and the destruction of vital bridges and roads by the Viet Cong effectively cut off the Government of
and its military forces from many villages. Once the Government of Vietnam abandoned a village, the population gave up hope of overcoming the Communists, and the VC needed only to execute a few important villagers to win the individual hamlets. By organizing large political groups in the villages, the cadres succeeded in getting thousands of young males per month to join the local Viet Cong guerrilla forces. Vietnam
Using the British tactics, and in some cases British advisors, Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem first implemented a Rural Community Development Program (also called Agroville) in 1959. Through direct force and/or incentives, peasants in rural communities were separated and relocated into large communities called "Agrovilles". By 1960, there were twenty-three of these Agrovilles, each consisting of many thousands of people.
Kevin Ruane says in the Vietnam Wars, Manchester University Press,
Manchesterand : New York
A precursor to notorious Strategic Hamlets, the so-called Agroville program began in 1958-1959. It was designed to relocate the peasantry in area where the army could protect them from Viet Cong terror and propaganda, and the
Saigongovernment sought to make it attractive by providing the new communities with schools, medical facilities and electricity. But the peasants deeply resented being forcibly removed from their homes and from the lands which contained the sacred bones of their ancestors. The Agroville program was eventually abandoned, but only after it had spawned tremendous rural discontent with the government.
Seth Jacobs says in Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of
Americas War in 1950-1963: Vietnam
Diem's insistence that the peasants build the agrovilles themselves in forced labor gangs, no less, and without compensation did nothing to improve his reputation in South Vietnam, but even more counterproductive was the fact that the peasants grouped into agrovilles had to abandon their ancestral lands. In a culture like
s, where people were deeply attached to home and village, such uprooting was traumatic, and many South Vietnamese resented it. Vietnam
A Senseless death
This is the earliest American leaflet I have seen that mentions the hamlets. It was printed by a Special Forces advisory team in 1964. It is so early that it does not bear a code. It depicts a Bell UH-1 Iroquois Huey helicopter firing a rocket. The text on the front 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.
This leaflet uses threats to encourage Vietnamese civilians to move to the strategic hamlets. It depicts their old village occupied by the Viet Cong and bombed, while their new hamlet is safe and protected by the Army of
. 100,000 leaflets were printed by the 246th PSYOP Company and disseminated by aircraft. The back is all text and says in part: Vietnam
To protect your lives and properties, you must move immediately and resettle in new life hamlets in the secure areas of Ben Cau, Can Giang, and Ben Keo. Your present hamlets will be bombed and fired on every night to destroy Viet Cong installations in your area The Government of Vietnam regrets that you have to leave your rice fields and gardens, therefore, you will be allowed if requests are submitted to the District Chief to return to your homes and work on your rice fields and gardens, take care of your property, and return to the new location at night...
This leaflet printed just weeks later also uses threats to encourage Vietnamese civilians to move to the strategic hamlets. It depicts their old village aflame and shows all the material waiting for them in the hamlets. 100,000 leaflets were printed by the 246th PSYOP Company with the theme of Warning and targeted the people of Duong Minh Chau. The leaflets were disseminated by aircraft. Text on the front is:
The Duong Minh Chau area is a Viet Cong hide-out.
When you move to a secure area you will be given food, shelter and medical care.
The back is all text and says in part:
To the people living in the Duong Minh Chau area:
To protect your lives and properties, you must immediately move out of the Duong Minh Chau area and resettle in the New Life Hamlets or in any resettlement area of Phuoc Ninh and Phu Khuong Districts.
This area will be bombed day and night; thousands of fire bombs will destroy the Duong Minh Chau area. Death is threatening this area .
This is a fairly early JUSPAO leaflet that depicts a massive attack by U.S. aircraft on the Viet Cong occupying a village at the left, and the fleeing villagers being welcomed by the Vietnamese Army at the right. It does not specifically mention the Strategic Hamlets but that is surely the next place these fleeing refugees will be sent. The text on the front is:
Operational Area / Bombing Zone
Move out of here immediately to avoid danger
Protect your life and your family's life.The back is all text:
Viet Cong bandits have chosen this place for their battlefield. You must immediately move out of here and contact the Government. Hesitation will put your life and your family’s safety in danger.
The Government will wholeheartedly receive and assist you. Move out now! Come to the Government safe zones. Do not delay.
This leaflet depicts a peaceful Vietnam at the left, and a village being destroyed by the Viet Cong and NVA at the right. The text on the front is:
Which scene do you prefer?”
The Republic of Vietnam pacification and development programs have brought security and prosperity to the people living 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 along their path.
Which of the two scenes do you prefer?
This is a fairly early Joint United States Public Affairs Office leaflet. The code number places it from very early 1966. I dont have the original data sheet because this is before the 7th PSYOP Group started saving them. I cannot tell the front from the back. It has no text so one would almost believe it was written for illiterates. At first glance it seems to mean that the Vietnamese feed their people but the Viet Cong steal the food. That could be correct, but the bags the Vietnamese are receiving is marked Fertilizer. On the other side, (which could be the front or the back) the Viet Cong are stealing the food and apparently burning New Life Hamlet 2. Normally, the Americans wanted to "sell" the idea of the fortified hamlets, telling the people how safe they were. It might be that since the fertilizer bags bear the flag of the Republic of Vietnam and the officer looks Vietnamese, perhaps they designed the leaflet and had the Americans print it. To the Vietnamese, attacking the Viet Cong might have been far more important than building up the hamlets. Many Vietnamese did not support the foreign concept which was pushed by the Americans and came from the British experience in Malaya.
A similar threatening leaflet was prepared by the Vietnamese Army. At the right we see safe and happy Vietnamese living within a protected hamlet. At the upper left, a Viet Cong with machete hides behind a bush and stalks an unarmed farmer. The text is:
You will be terrorized by the Viet Cong if you live by yourself.
Gathered together you will have a good life.
Text on the back says that the Viet Cong have been beaten but small bands of them are dangerous. The people are encouraged to go to the hamlets:
Gathering in one place the Army and the Government will protect you. The Viet Cong dare not come and terrorize your life; and your property is protected. To live in peace and prosperity, dear countrymen, you have to gather in a large group. The Army and the Government are ready to help you and insure your safety.
Stanley Karnow devotes seven pages to the Strategic Hamlet program in Vietnam A History, The Viking Press, N.Y., 1983. None of his comments are complimentary and almost all of them echo the same complaints heard from other critics. Some of Karnows comments on the agroville program are:
Another blunder at the time was the creation of Khu Tru Mat, known as agrovilles, farm communities designed mainly to isolate the rural population from the Communists The agroville near Vi Thanh looked magnificent Flanking a canal, it was enclosed by a bamboo fence, and neat rows of thatched-roof hits had been laid out. Its director showed me the school dispensary, and power plant He boasted that he had completed the project in fifty days on Diems personal instructions.
In reality, it was a disaster peasants assigned to the agroville had been uprooted from their native villages and ancestral graves, and their traditional social pattern disrupted, for reasons they could not fathom. Worse still twenty thousand peasants were mobilized to construct a project that could only hold six thousand. Thus, fourteen thousand men and women had been compelled to abandon their crops and work without pay for others.
Ngo Dinh Diem
We should take just a moment to mention
s first President Ngo Dinh Diem. He authorized the Strategic Hamlet Program and took much of the blame for its failure, although it is doubtful that anyone could have made it work in a country where the land is sacred and removing one from it, even for the best of reasons, is bound to cause controversy. He was attacked for nepotism and his administration for corruption. Certainly there was corruption, but there were also the constant verbal and written attacks from Vietnam and the Communist bloc nations so it is difficult to say what was real and what was propaganda. He was also attacked for his pro-Catholic beliefs in a nation that was largely Buddhist. The government was regarded as being biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions. Another problem that will seem strange considering that North Vietnam called Diem an American Lackey, was that he simply would not take orders from his American advisors. They wanted him to act a certain way and to fight the war in an approved American manner. He wanted to do it his way. Much of the problem might have been caused by his fear of a coup and his desire to keep the generals weak and divided, but the result was that he nourished the very coup d'état that he fought on a daily basis. He thought that the generals were out to get him and he was right. Diems reputation eventually was tarnished enough that the North Vietnam washed its hands of him. Although there is no smoking gun to show that any United States agency took part in his overthrow and murder, there is reason to believe that the Vietnamese generals were assured that American funds would not be cut if he was murdered. On 1 November 1963 Diem was overthrown and the generals told him he could leave the country safely to live in exile. Instead, they murdered him. Diem had been a strong anti-Communist and Ho Chi Minh allegedly said when hearing of the coup: U.S.
I can scarcely believe the Americans would be so stupid.
The North Vietnamese Politburo was even more surprised:
The consequences of the 1 November coup d'état will be contrary to the calculations of the
imperialists...Diem was one of the strongest individuals resisting the people and Communism. Everything that could be done in an attempt to crush the revolution was carried out by Diem. Diem was one of the most competent lackeys of the U.S. imperialists The coup d'état on 1 November 1963 will not be the last U.S.
The independent researcher and author
Phong had this to say about Diem: Nguyen Ky
Diem was not the best but he was much better than his predecessors, especially emperor Bao Dai. He also stood out among his contemporaries as an incorruptible, unapproachable anti-French patriot. His ascension to power was neither based on his relation with the colonialists or any power, at least before he was appointed Prime Minister by Bao Dai with American and French consent. While many Vietnamese national leaders indulged in the privileges that accompanied their positions, President Diem did not. He lived a life of an ascetic.
He did have weaknesses. His dependency on his brothers and parochial and religious associates was too great to allow him to make an independent and realistic assessment of the actual situation in
. He traveled from time to time to visit his subjects, but some believe that the people he met were told what to say and how to act. There were reports that his three brothers used his name to build financial and political influence for themselves. Governmental and Civil Service procedures were not followed or enforced by the president, which caused grave discontent and distrust within the rank and file of civil servants. Certain military officers were promoted due to their wealth, family or connection with the president's staff or family. The position of Secretary of Defense was not filled until the final days of the regime. The position of Presidential Advisor was delegated to the president's brother (Ngo Dinh Nhu) without the consent or advice of the senate or any authoritative government agency. During the length of his presidency Diem was unable to fend off accusations of nepotism, cronyism and favoritism. Vietnam
The question of what might have happened if President Diem was left in power, is difficult to answer. There were two earlier attempts to overthrow Diem. The abortive November 1960 coup d'etat should have been a warning to Diem but he failed to react or order any reform to appease the opposition. Could the Diem regime have survived had the United States not acquiesced to a coup to replace him? Would he eventually have changed his course, replaced his many yes-men and overhauled his entire administration? And, even if he were to do all that, would
have survived the relentless and determined attacks from the Communist North? Diem was not allowed to live so we will never know might have happened. South Vietnam
An aerial view of a fortified Vietnamese hamlet
This 1963 photograph from the Associated Press had the accompanying caption:
A Lab for war. A strategic hamlet, surrounded by barricades and engulfed by the jungle of South Vietnam, is one of the new concepts of community defense developed during the guerrilla war in the Southeast Asia nation. By gathering scattered families and residents of small living units into a better fortified village, the government is better able to protect peasants from night attack by the Viet Cong.
John R, Campbell, a civilian psychological warfare advisor in
from 1965 to 1967 mentions Diem and the strategic hamlets briefly in Are we Winning? Are they Winning: A Civilian Advisors Reflections on Wartime Vietnam , Author House, 2004: Vietnam
An early attempt was made to emulate the British experience and success in Malayan post World War II Communist insurgency. This was the forced transfer of scattered populations into fortified villages called strategic hamlets where passage in and out was controlled. This was making some positive headway under the firm dictatorial hand of President Ngo Dinh Diem, but it was allowed to lapse even before his abrupt and violent departure from the scene in 1963. The political wisdom of the early 60s was that the fortified village plan was too oppressive and prison-like for acceptance by either the general public in
Vietnamor in . In retrospect, they would have been doing both themselves and the rural population a favor to have them just grumbling at their protectors rather than shooting at each other as turned out to be the alternative. America
After Diem, there was a parade of leaders none as strong or as able to lead the nation in its war against the Communists. He is still reviled in the press to this day, but many Vietnamese believe he was the only man that could have led the country to ultimate victory against the North Vietnamese.
This leaflet was prepared to convince the people that leaving their home villages were a worthwhile action. Two farmers are cutting wood to build a house on the front. The text is:
WE WOULD RATHER LEAVE OUR BIRTH PLACE THAN LIVE UNDER THE COMMUNISTS.
The text on the back says in part:
The slogan speaks for itself. The people would rather leave their birth place and live in freedom rather than under Communist rule. The Government of
is helping the refugees in My Ca to build their new homes and start life again in freedom. Vietnam
This mass resettlement created a strong backlash from peasants and forced the central government to rethink its strategy. One critical report stated:
Tens of thousands of people are being mobilized to take up a life in collectivity, to construct beautiful but useless agrovilles which tire the people, lose their affection, increase their resentment and most of all give an additional terrain for propaganda to the enemy.
Song Sheet 1685 - Let us build up the New Hamlets
This Marching is song designed to inspire the Rural Development Cadre to develop the hamlets as a means of serving the people and help in transforming the nation. Printed by the Joint
Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) U.S.
In 1961, the government of Government of South Vietnam (GVN) along with several U.S. advisors and the head of the British Advisory Mission to South Vietnam, Sir Robert Thompson, began reforming the Agroville Plan into what was to become the Strategic Hamlet Program (Ap Chien Luoc) later revitalized as the New Life Hamlet (Ap Doi Moi) and finally revised into the Secure Hamlet (Ap Tan Sin). The new plan called for smaller communities (less than a thousand residents) erected on both existing and newly developed settlements. The GVN wanted to create a new infrastructure with the intention that the Vietnamese peasants would come to identify Diem and his regime as the legitimate government.
Thomas Ahern mentions the arrival of Thompson and the CIA attitude toward the Strategic Hamlets in his declassified secret Center for the Study of Intelligence publication: CIA and the Rural Pacification in
. Ahern adds: South Vietnam
By the end of 1961 Diem acquired a foreign counterinsurgency adviser of his own - Sir Robert G. K. Thompson, who had participated in the British campaign against the Chinese Communist insurgents in
Malaya. Thompson called first for the eradication of the insurgents, then for social and economic improvements to consolidate the improved morale he expected this to evoke. Nhu and Colby CIA), continuing to affirm the Strategic Hamlet's "essentially political core," accepted Thompson's order of priorities, in which the completion of security arrangements; moats, perimeter fences, a militia, etc. - preceded political reforms and economic development.
Except where the GVN could quarantine the population with a barrier of troops, the success of this approach depended on the active participation of villagers who shared the perception of the Communists as an oppressive, alien presence. The difficulty was that many villagers had from childhood viewed things "through the prism of Viet Cong ideas, beliefs, and prejudices." Indeed, there were families that had supported the Viet Minh and its successors for three generations.
The only direct CIA support to Strategic Hamlets came in the form of training and weapons for some of Ngo Dinh Nhu's Republican Youth, who were used to bolster hamlet defenses. As of November 1962, 1,625 such cadres had been issued weapons upon completion of what the Station called "advanced" training; no reporting on their deployment or subsequent service has been found.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Francis Leahy says in Why did the Strategic Hamlet Program Fail:
had already started strategic hamlets, and the government had some experience with pacification through the Agroville scheme. But, as Diem struggled with the problems of insurgency, he turned to other countries in an attempt both to learn from their experiences and, more particularly, to gain moral, material, and financial support. Diem sought advice and assistance from both the South Vietnam Philippinesand Malaya, as well as from the countries that had supported them. This included British advisers from Malaya and U.S.advisers from the . Philippines
Although the experiences in Malaya and the
Philippineswere unique, there were many similarities with the situation in the . Both Malaya and the Republicof Vietnam used pacification as a major component of their strategy to defeat their insurgencies. As Diem considered his options, it was natural that he should look at these experiences. Philippines
This leaflet shows a new housing area open to Vietnamese citizens. The text on the front is:
The Government of
builds; The Communists destroy Vietnam
The back is all text and says in part:
TO BUILD FOR THE PEOPLE
the government has built an extremely good compound which includes more than 1500 apartments with all the conveniences like electricity and running water. The housing compound has a school, kindergarten, hospital and several administrative buildings. This undertaking shows the real concern of the Government of
for the poor citizens and its continual efforts in raising the standard of life of the people. Vietnam
In 1962 the general plan was to build 11,000 to 12,000 hamlets, enough to shelter the entire population. 7,000 hamlets would be completed in 1962, the remainders to be ready for occupation by early 1964. In late 1962, President Diem stated that 7,267,517 people lived in strategic hamlets. These numbers do not correspond with any figures provided by the Allies and probably were exaggerations forwarded to the President by his aides.
A fortified village protected by sharpened bamboo stakes
According to a 1963 American State Department document entitled Strategic Hamlets, the aims and objectives of the strategic hamlet program:
Is to achieve the widest possible popular response to the governments counterinsurgency effort by providing the peasants with an increasing decree of physical security from Communist intimidation by enacting social, economic, and political reforms meaningful to the peasants in the context of their own traditions and expectations. It should be noted in a country such as Vietnam, which has emerged only recently from almost a hundred years of colonial rule and where popular concepts of government have been locally rather than nationally oriented, the very fact that the national government would seek to serve and protect the citizenry might itself be considered revolutionary.
The immediate security objectives of the program are two-fold: first, to sever Communist communication and control lines to the rural populace and this deny the Communists the local resources (manpower, food, intelligence and weapons) necessary to their operations; and second, to promote a nationwide self-defense effort at the rice-roots level by providing the peasant with weapons and other defense facilities.
Sketch of Model Strategic Hamlet
Department of State Research Memorandum - 1 July 1963
The document goes on to describe an average strategic hamlet:
The strategic hamlet is essentially a fortified hamlet. A fence of bamboo and barbed wire is built around the entire hamlet, and a ditch or moat is dug around the fence. The ditch or moat, in turn, is encircled by an earthen mound. The area around the village is cleared to permit fields of fire and to avoid giving guerrillas and terrorists hiding places close to the hamlet.
Inside the strategic hamlet, there are one or more observation towers, guard posts, and a defense post for the storage of arms. An alarm system, either of the most rudimentary type (a bell, gong, or bamboo drum) or of field telephones, alerts the community to Communist attack.
The Research Study Series publication The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia adds:
Two types of strategic hamlets were planned. One, designed for use in areas dominated by guerrillas, called for physical relocation of the population to well-secured areas, surrounded by a wide ditch, a mud embankment with bamboo spikes, and barbed wire. These hamlets differed from the agrovilles both by housing fewer people and by being situated closer to the rice fields. This type went into operation in Binh Duong and in the delta. The other, for use in more secure regions, was built by simply enlarging and fortifying already existing villages. Some thinly inhabited sections would have no strategic villages at all, but would be shielded only by militia stationed in strategically located stone watchtowers.
Leahy mentions three types of hamlets:
The first type was the heavily fortified hamlets found in the contested areas around
Saigon. In these hamlets much of the area was surrounded by extensive earthworks, including a ditch, about five feet deep and a rampart ten feet wide at the top. Both the ditch and rampart were studded with bamboo spears. Outside the ditch there was generally a fence of bamboo, wooden pickets, thorn hedges, or barbed wire.
In the second type, observed in
, which had less of a security problem, the hamlets were divided into defensive blocks which comprised most of the residential areas. These blocks were afforded defense by bamboo spears embedded in the ground, thorn hedges portable steel spike boards, and a few hand grenades p1anted as landmines. Vinh Long Province
The third type, observed in
was the least heavily defended. In these, the fortifications and defensive devices were usually limited to the military post. Kien Hoa Province
In all the comments about the strategic hamlets a common thread is that the people must be trained to protect themselves and their hamlets so the army can get about its business of fighting the Communists. Leaflet 3781 depicts members of the trained Civil Self Defense Forces. On the front armed members are depicted on patrol, on the back they march in a parade. The text says in part:
CIVIL SELF DEFENSE FORCES
As of now, three million people have participated in the Civil Self Defense Forces throughout the country. Among them, 1.5 million members have received training and have been armed with weapons. In 1970, over 40,000 more will be armed.
This is an effective force to defend the security of villages and hamlets, and is ready to crush every terrorist attack of the Communists to insure a peaceful life for the people.
There were also a large number of posters prepared to glorify the Peoples Self-Defense Program. I have copies of these posters in both green and red. Poster 2857 depicts marching armed Self-Defense volunteers at the top and below they are seen working in a village. Two stretchers are being carried so perhaps they are practicing medical skills or even providing medical services to the people. The text is:
THE PEOPLE UNITE TO DEFEND THE COUNTRY
The goal of the People's Self-Defense Program is to make our general mobilization policy more efficient and to make full use of the nation's resources in all areas so that our fight is not adversely affected by impeding other efforts and so that our rear area can make a positive contribution to supporting the front lines.
It is absolutely essential for every citizen, male and female, young and old, to voluntarily support the People's Self-Defense Program, a responsibility that has no time limit.
Join the People's Self-Defense Program for the best interests of all of our people.
This poster is very similar to the one above, and uses the same general propaganda text to build up the Peoples Self-Defense Program. A rally is at the op of the poster and a military ceremony at the bottom. The text is:
THE PEOPLE UNITE TO DEFEND THE COUNTRY
The goal of the People's Self-Defense Program is to mobilize the entire population to participate in the fight.
The people will defend the rear area, will carry out production work, and will support the front lines.
Our entire population must units to defend our just cause in the political struggle against the enemy.
This leaflet depicts a number of Vietnamese men who have joined the popular forces to defend the hamlets and the nation. The text on the front is:
IT IS EVERYBODYS RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT THE NATION
The back is all text and discusses some of the purposes of the Peoples self-defense plan. The text is:
a. To mobilize the entire population for participation in the war.
b. To create a force to defend our villages and cities in order to increase the availability of troops to the armed forces at the front.
c. To unify the peoples will to defend the National Righteous Cause in the political struggle against the enemy.
d. To create a popular force which supports the voices of the nation at the international conference table.
e. To support every aspect of an all-out long and difficult war in order to advance towards self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and self-determination.
f. To make general mobilization a reasonable policy by utilizing the national potential equally in all fields of activity. This will permit the fighting to be carried on without impeding national production because the rear echelons are actively supporting the fighting men.
Let us join together to protect the nation.
Leahy states that in the early 1960s the Self Defense Corps numbered about 60,000 and provided the military basis of the strategic hamlet system. The Corps was responsible for security within the hamlet and the area immediately around it. They performed tasks such as guarding public buildings and bridges, escorting village officials in unsafe areas and patrolling the village area.
Leaflet 3064 depicts a hamlet being built. The back is all text and says in part:
ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS
This is the declaration of Lieutenant Colonel Vu The Quang, Mayor of Can Ranh From 12 and 20 December 1968, more than 191 families have been resettled at My Ca Village, 15 kilometers from Cam Ranh City. This resettlement shows that the righteous cause of the Government of
has beaten the dictatorial regime of the Communists. Vietnam
We dont know much about the NTD leaflets. There seem to be only about a dozen of them and for the most part they seem, because of their odd wording, to be an American/Vietnamese project. They seem mostly to be in support of the government and telling the people of the benefits of the government. This leaflet depicts the President of Vietnam distributing land titles on the front. The back shows bags of rice and flocks of ducks for the people. The text on the front of the leaflet is:
While the Republic of Vietnam carries out policy-making, the people become the owners. The Communists implement the plan of impoverishing the people.
The President of the Republic of Vietnam distributes land titles to farmers
The land titles guarantee each farmers ownership
This rather rare Vietnamese leaflet depicts both a New Life Hamlet and Vietnamese troops helping to build a home. The back depicts two ralliers farming the land. Text on the front is:
REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM PACIFICATION PROGRAM
to Lowland, New Life Hamlets bring back security to the citizens. Highland
The Armed Forces of the
helps the people to build homes. Republicof Vietnam
The newly pacified hamlets have a bright future.
Text on the back is:
Two ralliers participate in the farming to rebuild a new life.
Curiously, the same leaflet was also disseminated as NT4/A/TD-1. There is a minor change in the text on this leaflet.
PACIFICATION PROGRAM REPUBLICOF VIETNAM
down to the Lowland, the New Life Hamlets bring back security to the people. Highland
helps the people the build houses. Republicof Vietnam Army
Ngo Dinh Nhu was the younger brother of President Diem and placed in charge of the Strategic Hamlet program. He wanted the peasants in the hamlets to take personal charge of their lives and protection. He asked them fight to defend the hamlet, and to contribute labor and money. He said in 1962:
The regime inside the strategic hamlet should be revolutionary, but the revolution should be within each individual. There will be a system of guerrilla fighters within the hamlet. Everyone inside will participate in combat except the young, old and infirm.
Participation is considered a citizens duty. There is no reason for not participating. Contributions will also be necessary, to take the form of five to ten days of labor and from fifty tone thousand piasters from each citizen over the age of 18.
This leaflet does not have a strong picture. By that I mean it shows a Vietnamese man but does not really explain where he is at or what he is doing. The text on the front is:
WHY DID MR. HO HUU NGAN PARTICIPATE SO EAGERLY?
The back is all text:
BECAUSE OUR NATION HAS MADE SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS
Mr. Ho Huu Ngan, chief of Trung An hamlet, An Giang Province, has seen the progress made in schools, road infrastructure, and power plants, medical and maternity clinics, thanks to the new initiatives made by the Republic of Vietnam Government at the Hamlet to improve living conditions of the countryside. In a conversation with provincial officials, he observed that “not only have they listened to suggestions, but they have also concurred with constructive recommendations.” Contrarily to images of constructive efforts by the Republic of Vietnam government, he still vividly remembers the destruction of his house when set on fire by the Viet Cong: its remainder is a sad memory that will never fade away.
You will also benefit from the usefulness of the advancement that is brought about everywhere in the countryside of Vietnam, this very development that Mr. Ngan and his neighborhood have benefited. Please come back to the Republic of Vietnam Government’s side and contribute to the gigantic construction that is developing the whole country.
I like this leaflet because it depicts a normal Vietnamese family in their peaceful home. No bombs, fireworks, explosions, or evil Viet Cong attacking, just a normal home. You seldom see that on propaganda leaflets. It is hard to say exactly what is the theme of this leaflet. One major theme during the war was to support the government of the Republic of Vietnam. This leaflet does that. It also could be a Chieu hoi leaflet since the last line mentions “return,” but we do not know for sure if he was Viet Cong or just left the area for a while. It also could be a Strategic Hamlet theme since it mentions land and a new house and safety. But the house could have been awarded as a gift for returning to the government. So, we are not sure exactly what the leaflets’ main theme is, perhaps all three. The text on the front is:
WHY DOES MR. TRAN VAN VI'S FAMILY FLOURISH?
The back is all text:
BECAUSE THE LAND IS MAKING GREAT PROGRESS
Mr. Tran Van Vi and his family have escaped the Viet Cong's terror. Once in safety, they have been provided a 50 meter by 30 meter land parcel by the Government of Vietnam, as well as a sum of $5,900 for the construction of a house. His rice crops would suffice for the next six months, and he is planning on buying a few pigs. He is also going to grow bananas and potatoes.
You too can benefit from the great progress that has taken place in rural Viet Nam, the same progress that has brought happiness and safety to Mr. Tran Van Vi's family. Promptly return to the side of the Government of Vietnam and contribute to the country-wide great construction
This leaflet shows a Vietnamese man smiling broadly. He is clearly very happy. The text is:
WHY IS MR. PHAN NHO SO HAPPY?
The back is all text:
BECAUSE THE HOMELAND IS MAKING GREAT PROGRESS
Mr. Phan Nho, 71 years old, who had left his Ba Canh hamlet to flee the Communists, has come back after the authorities announced the safety in his hamlet was restored. Now he is helping people to rebuild the hamlet. A team of government officials has helped the villagers to build a school, a bridge, a dyke, a road, and handcraft workshops. Working closely with the people, Mr. Nho said "I should leave something to my children, and it is my last opportunity...
You too can also benefit from the ubiquitous progress in the rural areas of Vietnam, a progress that has brought happiness and security to Mr. Phan Nho and his fellow villagers. Return to the Republic of Vietnam side and take part in the great country-wide construction.
It would be easy to write thousands of words on the program; its successes and its failure. Interested readers should study the Pentagon Papers, which go into this program in great detail. For the purposes of this article, we will just give a brief introduction to the program, and then discuss the psychological operations (PSYOP) that was used in an attempt to sell the concept to the Vietnamese people. Unfortunately, the program was doomed to failure because of the great love of the Vietnamese people for their hereditary land and their freedom. Any program that removed the people from their traditional lands and inhibited their freedom of movement was destined for failure from the start. Everyone had a different motive and saw the program as a way to achieve different aims. To the Americans it was a way to remove the Viet Cong from the population and starve them out. To Diem it was a way to control his own people and gain support for his government. For the peasants and farmers it meant a lack of movement and removal from the lands that held the bones of their ancestors. Finally, for the Viet Cong it was a propaganda bonanza where they could claim that the American and Vietnamese governments were building concentration camps to hold innocent Vietnamese farmers and peasants in confinement.
Communist guerrillas study a mock-up of a
strategic hamlet before a scheduled attack.
Some of the Communist reaction to the strategic hamlets was vitriolic, claiming that the hamlets were:
Concentration camps into which the Vietnamese government will forcibly herd 14 million rural, urban, and mountain people to trample upon the life customs, habits, democratic freedom, and the most common sentiments and interests of human beings and ultimately to annihilate the Vietnamese people. Resist the program and destroy hamlets wherever they exist.
The Communists also went to great pains to try and place agents and propagandists within the hamlets. A classified document from a South Vietnamese military intelligence agent known as H-414 dated 29 May 1967 says in part:
As of 23 May 1967, the Giong Trom District Committee instructed village parties to set up studies on revolutionary policy for cadre members party groups and civilians. Following studies, participants were to be recruited by village civil affairs sections to operate overtly in New-Life Hamlets and disseminate Viet Cong propaganda.
An anti-Hamlet National Liberation Front poster by the artist
Huynh Van Gam. It depicts an NVA Bayonet through a U.S. Army Helmet.
Notice the Barbed Wire. It implies that the Strategic Hamlet is a Prison instead of a Refuge from the Viet Cong
6,000 copies of a 1962 booklet entitled Let us Develop the Fighting Spirit to destroy the Americano-Diem Strategic Hamlets were published by the Communist Liberation Printing Office at Bac Lieu as anti-strategic hamlet training material for party members and cadre. Some of the comments are:
This plan is the last card of the selling and invading regime of the Americans and Diem, having to fight passively the high revolutionary movement of the people. The enemies consider the failure of the strategic hamlets as the failure of their decaying regime
Angry with the cruel enemy plot, the brave and unyielding South Vietnamese people continuously rise up and destroy almost all of their strategic hamlets In just 20 days last September, 72 hamlets in 42 villages in
Central Vietnamwere destroyed. The enemies build the hamlets; we destroy them until they abandon the project. Some strategic hamlets have been destroyed 12 or 16 times
As everyone knows, the so-called Strategic Hamlet is used as a jail with all the necessary characteristics, not only with barbed wire fences and guard towers, but also with an oppression machine inside it. That is the highest and most inhuman cruelty of the Americans and Diem .
Viet Cong Anti-Government Poetry Booklet
This 24-page Viet Cong booklet depicts a Viet Cong guerrilla holding ripped-out barbed wire from a liberated strategic hamlet, standing over a caricature of an American soldier and a Vietnamese with a dollar sign on his shirt showing that he had been purchased by the Americans. In the background we see a burning strategic hamlet that the Viet Cong have raided to free the prisoners inside. The entire booklet is filled with patriotic and anti-Government poems. It was brought home by a Special Forces Captain who was part of an advisory A Team in 1964. The text on the front cover is:
Poetry Volume: STEEL FLAME
Issue No. 2, My Tho Artists Group
Boycott the Pacification Teams
This anti-Hamlet Communist propaganda leaflet was brought back by a retired Colonel who served as an Captain in Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Advisory Team 55 at Rach Gia, Kien Giang Province, V Corps, in 1968. The leaflet is printed on one side on a crude yellowish paper. The text is:
BOYCOTT THE PACIFICATION TEAMS
Resolutely kill the pacification team members and boycott the New Life hamlets. The pacifiers are the Number One enemies of our people. They carry out the orders of the American imperialists and their lackeys, actively implement their schemes of terrorizing, attacking, and destroying villages and hamlets, and of conducting pacification programs that force the people into the so-called "New Life Hamlets," which are just a disguised form of the Diem-Nhu regime's old strategic hamlets, and are in fact prison camps. Their objective is to steal our population, steal our resources, prolong the war of aggression, and murder our compatriots.
Resolutely combat the enemy to protect yourselves and to protect the lives and the property of our compatriots. Every citizen should do everything he or she can to resolutely resist letting the enemy quarter soldiers in their homes. In addition, our people should dig solid bunkers to protect themselves from the bombs and shells of the American pirates.
Rach Gia Province
Another Viet Cong leaflet is simply labeled slogans. It is hand written and so faded from the heat and moisture of the jungle that it really cannot be seen well. There are four slogans written on the leaflet and number 4 is:
Dissolution of strategic hamlets and areas, prohibition of acts forcing the people to gather, forcing them to leave their homes and robbing them of their property and land.
The VCS code was used by American Intelligence. Troops in the field would find these enemy leaflets, make a written report on a Propaganda Work Sheet and then forward them to Intelligence. This is interesting because two leaflets were given the same code, probably because they were found at the same time. It is also very early in the war. Americans were just appearing in 1962. The report says in part:
Found at map location YT 420042. They were probably disseminated within the past half hour. Written by hand several shots were fired Saturday 25 August 1962 0900 picked up by G-2. Not very effective picked up within an hour after distributed. 1st Lieutenant, Armor, Long Khanh Detachment.
This small leaflet has a straight-forward message apparently for the soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam:
Dear soldiers, if you do not carry out orders from the United States/Diem, forcing people to do work building Strategic Hamlets, you are contributing in the struggle against the United States/Diem
To give an example of how the Viet Cong feared the Strategic Hamlets we need only look at a catalog of VC leaflets disseminated in 1962 and filed in a United States Information Service booklet entitled National Liberation Front Propaganda. A brief look at some of the enemy leaflets discloses: A news bulletin describing the large number of strategic hamlets burned down by those forced to live inside and claims some hamlets have been burnt down four times; a book of poetry entitled slash the barbed wire that tells of Vietnamese cutting their way out of the hamlets; a leaflet that says the hamlets are concentration camps; A leaflet that urges the people to destroy the hamlets; A leaflet that compares the joyful life of children in the liberated areas to the countless suffering of children in the hamlets; and a leaflet which compares the Strategic Hamlets to Strategic jails.
The South Vietnam National Front leaflet was found in Vinh Long and forwarded to U.S. Intelligence in July 1966. The title is U.S. AND ALIEN OFFICERS AND MEN BEING SENT TO SOUTH VIETNAM BY THE U.S. IMPERIALISTS. For the purpose of this article I only mention the propaganda on the back which mentions the the strategic hamlets. Notice this run-on sentence with 70 words without a period:
Oppose the direct taking part in the instigating, coercing, encouraging of the raids of terror, repression, massacre of the South Vietnamese people, the raping of women, killing of children, the concentration into camps so called strategic hamlets, the setting fire of peoples houses more particularly opposing the U.S. imperialists use of noxious chemicals to destroy the peoples crops and property and generate death, wounds, infirmities to the South Vietnamese population.
The SP in the code tells us that this was a very early leaflet. The Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office used the SP for Special Project early in the war, but later removed it. This leaflet dates from December 1963. The propaganda wants to encourage the people to go to the hamlets, but does not say so in a straight-forward way. Instead, it talks about all of the education available in the hamlets and the construction of new schools and free books available to children and tools from America for adult workers. It is a nice back-handed way of advertising the Strategic Hamlets. The leaflet says that the local Province Chief, Major Ly Troung Nhon, will present hamlet students with gifts from the new government. The pictures show: a school girl in Ap Dau Giong with new textbooks; 32 kinds of tools given by the Americans for the hamlet workers; school children at a newly built school with their new textbooks; and school children in O Trau New Life Hamlet given copybooks at the dedication of a new 51-room school.
This December 1968 poster is entitled Revolutionary Development Harmony. It depicts a farmer in one of the hamlets and a member of the civilian defense force watching over the planting of rice. The text is:
The Revolutionary Development Program of the
promotes harmony in society. Republicof Vietnam
In 1962, the Strategic Hamlet program was introduced. Similar to the Malayan fortified village structure, the peasants were moved voluntarily or forcibly into new villages in areas under the control of the South Vietnamese army. A stockade was built around the village and these were then patrolled by armed guards. In many cases the peasants did not want to move and so the South Vietnamese army often had to apply force. This increased the hostility of the peasants towards the government. There were numerous problems with the strategic village concept. For one, the peasants were angry at having to travel longer distances to reach their rice fields. There was also the religious factor; with some inhabitants believing that it was vitally important to live where their ancestors were buried. There were numerous complains. One observer stated:
Peasants resented working without pay to dig moats, implant bamboo stakes, and erect fences against an enemy that did not threaten them but directed its sights against government officials.
This October 1969 poster depicts armed Vietnamese civilians protecting their hamlet. Notice that it is identical to poster 2602 below except for a change in the message. The text is:
THE PEOPLES SELF-DEFENSE FORCES FIGHT THE ENEMY AND PROTECT THE HAMLET
The Peoples self-defense forces organize the hamlets to fight so that the people can have a bright, new, secure life.
In theory, the hamlets were to be heavily fortified and guarded by both residents of the communities and national patrols. Each hamlet was to have its own radio transmitter for communication as well as supply lines and medical and educational programs. Unfortunately, these programs never materialized for most of the hamlets.
By September 1962, 4.3 million people were housed in 3,225 completed hamlets with more than two thousand still under construction. By July 1963, over 8.5 million people had been settled in 7,205 hamlets according to figures given by the Vietnam Press. In less than a year, both the number of completed hamlets and its population had doubled. Given this rapid rate of construction, the GVN was unable to fully support or protect the hamlets or its residents, despite the immense funding by the
government. Communist insurgents easily sabotaged and overran the poorly defended communities, gaining access to the South Vietnamese peasants. United States
Cartoon Book 2554
This May 1968 comic book is entitled New Life Development. It tells the story of Hoa Dong Hamlet and how the unsophisticated villagers and the Revolutionary Development Cadre worked together to build a new school, market, and other projects.
I believe that this leaflet was prepared by the Vietnamese to be used by PSYOP troops in
. It is very early from about 1963 and the code is not one that the Americans used. The leaflet is found in an undated booklet entitled Leaflet Catalog Psywar Training. The front depicts happy Vietnamese citizens ridiculing a frightened Viet Cong facing an armed Vietnamese soldier outside the wire of a strategic hamlet. The text is: Vietnam
Building up strategic hamlets in the Republic to realize true peace and to bring joy and tranquility to every family.
The back has additional cartoons of Vietnamese farmers under the control of the Viet Cong or inside a strategic hamlet. The text is:
North Vietnamese Communist: People are always herded to work in labor camps and die in thick forests.
: Our countrymen live comfortably and happily. The army and the people are as one mind. South Vietnam
A similar leaflet, probably printed by the Vietnamese Government and coded 1042/7 is all text. This leaflet was produced about 1963-1964. I quote some of the text:
To the Entire Population in Rural Areas
The cruel Communists have performed countless atrocities in their aggression on South Vietnam such as plundering and killing good people and destroying various achievements realized by the Government and the Republic of Vietnam for the people.
In order to protect rural areas and encircle the enemy, the national scheme of establishing strategic hamlets has been carried out throughout the country. The strategic hamlet will be a solid wall to obstruct any Communist aggressive plot and will be guarded by rural basic forces.
From now on, the Viet Cong will be completely isolated and will have to struggle against the people because of the peoples voluntary participation in the establishment of the strategic hamlets in order to protect their own lives and properties from the Communists who on various occasions have tried to take possession of them.
Down with U.S. Imperialists
I really should have added these in a separate section called Enemy Leaflets at the end of this article. However, since I started here I will add another very interesting Viet Cong leaflet depicting an American soldier pulling another soldier out of a pit where he has been killed by punji stakes. The text is:
Down with U.S. Imperialists
Pitfalls and Nail Ditches are Graves of U.S. Enemies
Strategic Hamlets are disguised concentration camps and prisons which President Diem and the Americans intend to put our fellow countrymen in.
Let us prevent the construction of enemy strategic hamlets.
Let us attack and destroy strategic hamlets.
Dont supply the enemy with bamboo and logs so that they can build fences around the hamlets.
When fences are burned down, dont let them be rebuilt.
A third Vietnamese leaflet coded D.S.V./63/11 depicts Vietnamese civilians and soldiers working together and a farmer stabbing a Viet Cong terrorist. The back shows Army medics taking care of injured civilians. The drawings are rather crude cartoons and the text is flowery and not something that is normally found on American leaflets. Text on the front is:
The Army and the People are like fish in the water!
The Army and the People side by side build up STRATEGIC HAMLETS.
Determined to destroy Communists
Lovingly take care of one another.
Bringing good rice, warm clothes and affection
What is most amazing about this text is the mention of the Army and people like fish in the ocean. This seems to have been stolen from Maos quote wrote in Aspects of China's Anti-Japanese Struggle (1948).
The people are like water and the army is like fish
The program is discussed in The Pentagon Papers, Beacon Press,
, 1971. Some of the comments are: Boston
By early 1962, however, there was apparent consensus among the principal participants that the Strategic Hamlet Program, as it came to be called, represented the unifying concept for a strategy designed to pacify rural Vietnam (the Viet Cong's chosen battleground) and to develop support among the peasants for the central government.
The Strategic Hamlet Program was much broader than the construction of strategic hamlets per se. It envisioned sequential phases which, beginning with clearing the insurgents from an area and protecting the rural populace, progressed through the establishment of GVN infrastructure and thence to the provision of services which would lead the peasants to identify with their government. The strategic hamlet program was, in short, an attempt to translate the newly articulated theory of counter-insurgency into operational reality. The objective was political though the means to its realization were a mixture of military, social, psychological, economic and political measures.
The problem with the apparent consensus which emerged early in 1962 was that the principal participants did view it with different perspectives and expectations. On the
side, military advisors had a set of preferences which affected their approach to the Strategic Hamlet Program. They wanted to make RVNAF more mobile, more aggressive, and better organized to take the offensive against the Viet Cong. They were, consequently, extremely leery of proposals which might lead it to be tied down in strategic defenses. U.S.
President Diem--unsurprisingly--had a very different view. His need, as he saw it, was to get the
U.S.committed to (and to his administration) without surrendering his independence. He knew that his nation would fall without South Vietnam U.S.support; he feared that his government would fall if he either appeared to toady to wishes or allowed any single group too much potential power-particularly coercive power. The Strategic Hamlet Program offered a vehicle by which he could direct the counterinsurgent effort as he thought it should be directed and without giving up either his prerogatives to the U.S. or his mantle to his restless generals. U.S.
A number of contributory reasons can be cited for the failure of the Strategic Hamlet Program. Over-expansion of construction and poor quality of defenses forms one category.
Having said this, it does not automatically follow that the program would have succeeded even if Diem had met
demands for change. To point to the causes of failure is one thing; to assume that changes of style would have led to success is quite another. It may well be that the program was doomed from the outset because of peasant resistance to measures which changed the pattern of rural life--whether aimed at security or control. It might have been possible, on the other hand, for a well-executed program eventually to have achieved some measure of success. The early demise of the program does not permit a conclusive evaluation. The weight of evidence suggests that the Strategic Hamlet Program was fatally flawed in its conception by the unintended consequence of alienating many of those whose loyalty it aimed to win. U.S.
Strategic Hamlet Information Cards
Two sets of cards were prepared that were designed for use by the American advisors in the field. They were coded SP-38 and SP-39. Both cards were for the advisor who needed to know pertinent military, sociological and economic information. Once filled out, the cards also served as a historical record of vital information for succeeding generations of American advisors.
The first card lists security and military information in a hamlet such as the nearest helicopter pad, nearby roads, communication facilities, status of defense forces, etc. It also provided for recording of Viet Cong activities against the hamlet as well as measures planned and undertaken to improve security and defense./p>
The second card lists basic categories of sociological and economic information such as education, health and sanitation facilities and social services. It also provides for recording status and progress of self-help projects.
The idea for the cards originated with the G-5 (Civil Affairs) advisor to the 5th Division (Vietnam). Two sets of 1,500 copies of each card were printed by USIS. Samples were distributed in IV Corps and they were made available to units in other Corps areas.
Problems with the Strategic Hamlet Operation
Most historians today agree that the Strategic or New Life hamlet program was a failure. We must therefore ask why it was so successful in Malaya and so unproductive in
. The Malayan Communists were a Chinese minority among the Malayans, and many were despised by the ethnic Malay, so putting them behind wire probably did not bother the vast majority of the populace. Rice was scarce in Vietnam Malayaso putting the farmers into the hamlets forced the enemy into the open. is a breadbasket, and even with a vast number of the population behind ditches and bamboo the Communists were still able to find food. Also, the Malayan Communists were not constantly supported by the Vietnam Soviet Unionand Red China as the Vietnamese were. There was no vast public outcry over the Chinese placed in protected villages in Malaya, while the left-wing press in both the Soviet-bloc nations and even the called the Vietnamese hamlets concentration camps and depicted American GIs burning Vietnamese huts saying, We had to burn the village to save it. We should also point out that the Malayan Chinese, many being recent arrivals to Malaya, were not tied to the land in the same way the Vietnamese, who could often trace their ownership back 1000 years. It has been said that the strategic hamlets generated refugees because they destroyed those social arrangements which gave form to the lives of the villagers. Everyone was tied to the land. As one defector explained: United States
A piece of property in the village, however big or small it was, represents the results of hard work and savings through many generations, and the villagers were very reluctant to leave it behind for an unknown future.
General Cao Van Vien and Lieutenant General Dong Van Khuyen mention a Vietnamese view of the problems with the Hamlet Program in an Indochina Monograph published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, titled “Reflections on the Vietnam War.” The book was translated by Phillip Tran.
The major flaw of this undertaking stemmed primarily from the methods and spirit with which local government officials implemented the program. Driven by overzeal and a desire to please President Diem, these officials failed to work out basic plans designed to prepare the local people psychologically for the event and elicit their voluntary participation. In the complex and difficult political situation of South Vietnam at that time, this process required patience and persuasive skills. The first step that would have paved the way for success was to explain how the program would benefit hamlet residents and those who had to resettle in terms of security and protection against Communist insurgents. This step was important because South Vietnam was a free country, and the people should be given time to weigh these benefits and decide for themselves to accept sacrifice. But instead of doing this, local governments had acted in a most mischievous manner, conducting for example swift cordon operations to round up people and move them against their will into designated hamlets where resettlement facilities did not exist. Often, hamlet people were also forced to perform maintenance on Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps outposts or to clean them, which provided an opportunity for local officials to claim efficiency and popular support.
The result was that instead of voluntary participation, a primordial condition for this national policy to achieve success, the strategic hamlet people found themselves living in a state of repressed feelings, suspicion, and frustration. Under such circumstances, enemy propaganda and criticisms directed against the government surely combined to edge these people into confusion and disaffection. In the meantime, strategic hamlet residents were yet to see for themselves what the Government of Vietnam had brought them in terms of socio-economic upward mobility. For all practical purposes, the Government of Vietnam also seemed to fail in this regard; its promises could not be honored because of the limitations in support resources available.
The fact that the Communists were giving top priority to disruptive efforts Designed to dismantle the strategic hamlets testified to the partial success of this program. Technically, the program had indeed succeeded in controlling the hamlet population and isolating them from parasitic Viet Cong agit-prop agents and guerrillas. It also won over a large segment of rural society to the national cause.
Major James M. Higgins discusses the various problems encountered by the Strategic Hamlet program in his 2001 U.S. Army Command and General Staff College thesis entitled The Misapplication of the Malayan Counterinsurgency Model to the Strategic Hamlet Program. The author says in part:
President Diem viewed the insurgency as a military problem. He realized that he had to separate the rural peasants from Viet Cong influence. His approach was to secure areas of the countryside and physically control the population. Above all, the Americans wanted Diem to adopt a clear, national counterinsurgency strategy eventually; this national strategy became known as the strategic hamlet program In his quest to maintain a level of perceived autonomy from the
US, Diem requested the British government send a team of experts to advise him on a counterinsurgency strategy Thompson drew on his experience in Malayaand developed a plan for Diem in November 1961. The Delta Plan, as it was known, called for securing the rural populated areas.
President Diem agreed with the overall concept of strategic hamlets and in February 1962 established the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Strategic Hamlets The South Vietnamese government with MAAG support began the Strategic Hamlet Program on 22 March 1962 with Operation
money and equipment, construction was often slipshod and corrupt administrators withheld money from the peasants. The breakneck pace of the resettlement program caused inefficiency. These problems were not an accident. It was later discovered that the man chosen by Nhu to oversee the program was a communist agent (Albert Pham Ngoc Thao ) who intentionally directed the program to maximize peasant animosity US
On 1 November 1963, with US knowledge and implied approval, several of key Diem senior officers staged a coup. On 2 November 1963, coup members executed Diem and Nhu in the back of an armored personnel carrier. The death of Diem and Nhu marked the end of the strategic hamlet program as the national counterinsurgency strategy.
It was understandable that the South Vietnamese and Americans would try to learn from the British experience in
Malaya. However, the three parties failed to understand that the differences in Malaya and South Vietnammeant that the strategic hamlet program was destined to failure when applied in . The population, insurgency, and bureaucracy in South Vietnam combined to create a set of conditions that favored the insurgents, not the government. Vietnam
Karnow says about the strategic hamlet: Stanley
Diem and Nhu saw the strategic hamlet program as essentially a means to spread their influence rather than a device to infuse peasants with the will to resist the Viet Cong The program surged ahead; the regime announced with dubious precision at the end of September 1962 that 4,322,034 people, or 33.39 percent of the population, were in strategic hamlets, with more schedule to move.
RAND researcher John Donnell later called the figure statistical razzle-dazzle of the kind that pleased McNamara In reality the program often converted peasants into Viet Cong sympathizers Interestingly, Nhus chief lieutenant in carrying out the strategic hamlet program was Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, the secret Communist operative had deliberately propelled the program ahead at breakneck speed in order to estrange South Vietnams peasants and drive them into the arms of the Vietnam. Nhu had been duped.
Earl Young, the senior U.S. representative in Long An province reported in early December 1963 that three-quarters of the two hundred strategic hamlets in Long An had been destroyed, either by the Viet Cong or by their own occupants.
In Military Review, March-April 2005, Dr. Montgomery McFate discusses problems of the Strategic Hamlet in an article entitled Anthropology and Counterinsurgency: The Strange Story of their Curious Relationship. He says in part:
Gerald Hickey, who went to Vietnam as a University of Chicago graduate student and remained throughout the war as a researcher for the RAND Corporation, found that their deep knowledge of
Vietnamwas frequently ignored by military leaders who increasingly adopted a conventional-war approach as the conflict progressed. U.S.
Hickey, who wrote Village in
Vietnam, was recruited by RANDin 1961 to produce a study of the newly established Strategic Hamlet Program that sought to consolidate governmental authority in pacified areas through a defense system and administrative reorganization at the village level. Central to the study was the question of how highland tribes could be encouraged to support the South Vietnamese Government. Hickeys research indicated that the strategic hamlets might be successful if farmers saw evidence their communal labor and contribution of time, land, and building materials actually resulted in physical and economic security. Although Hickeys observations were probably correct, his views were often dismissed as too pacifistic. When Hickey debriefed Marine General Victor Krulak, the general pounded his fist on his desk and said, We are going to make the peasants do whats necessary for strategic hamlets to succeed! As Hickey noted, peasants have many methods of passive and active resistance, and force is often counterproductive as a motivator. Disliking the results of the study, the Pentagon pressured RAND to change the findings and, in the interest of impartial research, RANDrefused. In the end none of Hickeys findings were implemented, and the Strategic Hamlet Program was a failure.
Edwin Roberts says in The Psychological War for Vietnam, 1960-1968: University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, 2018:
Albert Pham Ngoc Thao impressed Diem with his ideas on counterinsurgency warfare. As a result, Diem sent him to Malaysia to study the counterinsurgency techniques that had been used so successfully against the Communist guerrillas there. It was Thaoin actuality an underground Communist agent who convinced Diem to expand the Strategic Hamlet Program rapidly in hopes of ensuring failure, and that under his supervision the strategic hamlets created even more hostility among the peasants than had the Agrovilles before them. At the time, Thaos connection with the Communists was not known to the administration in the South. He served Hanoi as a source for news on how he was subverting the Strategic Hamlet Program.
Hanoi hated the Strategic Hamlets and constantly attacked them, although I doubt any of their claims were near truthful. Roberts mentions many such cases. He points out that Radio Hanoi first claimed that the Viet Cong had already destroyed hundreds of these strategic hamlets. In 1962, Radio Hanoi claimed credit for the destruction of 1,436 strategic hamlets. By 1963, the number rose to 3,300. They seemed to be claiming to have destroyed them as fast as they could be built.
We see story after story about all the problems of the strategic hamlet, and yet according to Professor Duy Lap Nguyen’s THE UNIMAGINED COMMUNITY: IMPERIALISM AND CULTURE IN SOUTH VIETNAM, Manchester University Press, 2022, the hamlets were quite successful despite all the propaganda calling them concentration camps:
This account of the increasing success of the Strategic Hamlet Campaign is consistent with both North Vietnamese sources and assessments by US intelligence. According to the official military history of the People’s Army of Vietnam, the strategy had created “a network of intelligence agents and informants to expose our followers [driving our] guerrillas away, pushing our armed revolutionary forces back into isolated areas where they could be destroyed.” In a report on their fact-finding mission, presented to President Kennedy in October 1963, Robert McNamara and Maxwell Taylor noted “unanimous agreement that the strategic hamlet program is sound in concept, and generally effective in execution.” It was “the view of many military commanders consulted that success could be achieved by the end of 1964.
According to Albert Fraleigh, moreover, one of the few American specialists who played a significant role in the program, the effectiveness of the program as a counterinsurgency measure was matched by its success as an instrument of social revolution. The program had quickly
“Decentralized Vietnamese government and brought rapid political, social and economic progress throughout the rural areas by early 1963.” As Fraleigh noted, however, this “fact was never well reported by the news media which preferred sensational war stories. Owing to the lack of publicity, the perception of the Strategic Hamlet Campaign, in the international media as well as among South Vietnamese in the cities, was directly at odds with intelligence studies and official reports on the program.
By 1962, the success of the program (which would earn Nhu recognition as “the only serious theorist of the guerilla warfare in the noncommunist world”) had compelled the Communist Party to pursue a political settlement. During a national radio broadcast, Ho Chí Minh publicly hinted at the possibility of an end to the war with the South. “There was one thing they [the Communists] were afraid of, the Strategic Hamlet Program.” According to the writer Minh Vo, the Strategic Hamlets were in fact “more successful than American bullets
and bombs” in pushing the North to consider a truce.
After the assassination of Diem and his brother and fearing that supporters of the former regime would oppose their illegitimate power, the generals, then, proceeded to destroy the network of autonomous organizations that Nhu had created through the Strategic Hamlet Campaign. The political apparatus was not only deprived of its leadership after the coup; it was purposely dismantled as a sign of the break with the past. Some of its physical aspects remained, but the Strategic Hamlet lay gutted politically and organizationally after November 1963.
It is clear that there were problems with the Strategic Hamlet program. The uncoded leaflet above was prepared by the 244th PSYOP Company for the Vietnamese 12th Division Tactical Area in
. The leaflet explains that the people are expected to supply labor for the hamlet and the army will take harsh measures against anyone they suspect of sabotage. Some of the all-text leaflet is: Quang Ngai Province
In order to insure expeditious resettlement of the population in Duc Pho and Mo Duc Districts,
Quang Ngai Province, the Army of the is determined to carry out the rural pacification process Republicof Vietnam
The population has the responsibility of supplying some of the labor for this reconstruction and for guarding the roads and bridges once they are repaired In order to be of service to the population and the poor people of the hamlets, it is necessary for the army to take very harsh measures with any who would sabotage the work. Villages near areas sabotaged by the Viet Cong will be destroyed by artillery and air attacks and saboteurs will be shot on the spot This is the last notice appealing to the people. Anyone not following the requests of the army will have to suffer the consequences
JUSPAO printed an entire series of products all with the theme of supporting the strategic hamlet program. There were 11 posters in the set, each with a different theme. Some of the images are rather dark and that is because they are from very old archived files. Perhaps over time we will find better specimens. I depict only the one that still retain some resolution. All of the posters were prepared in 1968 and all are 17 x 22-inches in size.
Looking through some old folders I found three more very colorful leaflets in support of the South Vietnamese Regional Forces (Ruff Puffs). This one was created in May 1968 and depicts the Vietnamese peacefully working in a New Life Hamlet under the flag of the Republic of Vietnam. The text is:
ONE OF THE OBJECTIVES OF THE NEW LIFE HAMLETS
The road system is being repaired and improved to be suitable for the activities of the compatriots.
This poster was developed in April 1968 in support of the New Life Hamlet with the theme of the development of farming. We see a woman by a water pump, a man irrigating a rice crop, a farmer tilling, and what is most interesting is a man with a pump filled with an unknown spray. Americans would probably assume it was some kind of insecticide, but it might have been used to support the American spraying of defoliants which were always said to be harmless. It might have a PSYOP value in the poster to assure the Vietnamese that the defoliants were safe and helpful to their way of life. The text is:
ONE OBJECTIVE OF THE NEW LIFE HAMLET
The development of farming aims at providing people with the necessary means so their income and standard of living shall be raised.
This poster was developed in May 1968 in support of the New Life Hamlet with the theme of land reform. It depicts people being paid for their crops at the left, and farmer with a water buffalo at the left and center. The text is:
ONE OBJECTIVE OF THE NEW LIFE HAMLET IS TO INITIATE LAND REFORM AIMING TOWARD:
Improvement of tenant farmers conditions
Logical distribution of lands and fields to accomplish:
FARMERS HAVE MORE LAND TO TILL.
This May 1968 poster has the theme of eradicating illiteracy. It depicts a group of Vietnamese adults in a New Life Hamlet classroom being taught the alphabet. The text is:
ONE OBJECTIVE OF THE NEW LIFE HAMLETS IS
Eradication of illiteracy in order to bring progress and knowledge to the people
This poster was developed in May 1968 with the object of combating disease. It was distributed by the Vietnamese Information Service and American MEDCAP teams. It depicted various scenes of sanitary habits in the New Life Hamlets: burying waste products; giving children inoculations against disease; and not using some local shaman prescribing roots and herbs. The text is:
ONE OBJECTIVE OF THE NEW LIFE HAMLETS IS TO COMBAT DISEASE
To provide guidance in the maintenance of public and family sanitation
To provide facilities to help prevent and cure diseases
To counter superstitious treatment of patients
This is another poster that features Vietnamese in a New Life Hamlet. This one shows numerous member of their civilian guard force protecting the hamlet. At the right a citizen bangs on an alarm which brings out the Vietnamese like Minute-men to protect their homes. The text is:
ONE OBJECTIVE OF THE NEW LIFE HAMLETS IS TO ORGANIZE THE PEOPLE TO ENGAGE IN THE ANTI-COMMUNIST STRUGGLE
Motive the people to organize combat hamlets to maintain security so that people can build and enjoy their new bright life.
This poster has an image that is seen on dozens of leaflets. The image is always a bit different but a Vietnamese farmer or child spots some Viet Cong, or a rocket, or a mine, and goes to tell the authorities and receives a reward. This June 1968 posters object is to impress on the general population the importance of identifying the Communist Infrastructure which is a fancy way of saying Informing. The poster is named Eradicate Underground Communists. The image depicts a young boy watching a Viet Cong take a basket of food from a farmer. The text is:
ONE OBJECTIVE OF THE NEW LIFE HAMLETS IS TO ERADICATE UNDERGROUND COMMUNISTS
A factor that brings about victory over the Communists is to separate them from the people through tracking down the Communist grass-roots structure until their complete destruction.
This poster shows the people in the hamlet working together to build a house, armed villagers starting a patrol and a group democratically talking together. The text is:
ORGANIZE THE PEOPLE AND ESTABLISH A DEMOCRATIC ORGANIZATION
One objective of the New Life Hamlet is to organize the people and establish democratic institutions in order to facilitate the defense and reconstruction of villages and hamlets according to democratic systems.
The poster above mentions democracy. This leaflet is one of several that asks the people living in the hamlet to vote in the election of a hamlet council. 300,000 copies of this leaflet were printed for Quang Nam in I Corps. This is democracy in action. The text on the front is:
ELECTION PROCEDURE FOR THE HAMLET COUNCIL
The election begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. The ballot is made of white paper, and on every ballot there is the name of a candidate and a special sign in the upper right corner. The voter will vote for a certain number of candidates for his hamlet. The voter will choose the ballots in a private room, put them in an envelope, and bring the envelope to the ballot box. Vote must go to vote themselves; they cannot delegate that duty to anyone else.
This poster depicts the Vietnamese working together at the left, voting in the center and studying defensive tactics being taught by a solider at the right. The text is:
TO BUILD A NEW SPIRIT
One objective of the New Life Hamlets is to build a new spirit.
That is the spirit of unity to create a community force, openness that leads to mutual understanding, morals that heighten the virtues of humanity, integrity, civility, intelligence and trustworthiness, nationalism to preserve the nations qualities, a scientific mind for advancement, and responsibility to utilize the rights of citizenship.
This December 1967 handout is entitled Eleven Objectives of New Life Hamlets. It bears the emblem of the Fatherland of the People at the top right, and then goes on to explain all 11 objectives of the new life hamlets. The explanations are very detailed, so I will only mention the eleven headings:
- Eradicate underground Communists.
- Eradicate tyrannical and corrupt officials.
- Build a new spirit.
- Regiment civilian ranks and establish democratic institutions.
- Organize the people to engage in anti-Communist struggle.
- Eradicate illiteracy.
- Combat diseases.
- Initiate land reform.
- Develop agriculture and handicrafts.
- Develop communication means.
- Grant proper treatment to the combatants.
The handout ends with the comment that a powerful countryside builds a prosperous nation. It compares the old gloomy life against the new bright life. It concludes with the guiding concepts in the Revolutionary Development Program.
The Vietnamese People's Self Defense Corps Fights the Enemy.
Although this South Vietnamese poster is really a recruiting tool for the Peoples Self Defense Force and not about the strategic hamlet at all, I think the artwork of the poster and the scene of the peaceful hamlet makes it worth adding to this article. Notice the RVN flag over the village and the men racing to defensive positions, probably alerted to a Viet Cong attack.
The Republic of Vietnam Officially Commemorates the Strategic Hamlet
Program in October 1962 with a Patriotic Set of postage stamps.
The Viet Cong produce their own anti-Hamlet stamp
The Vietnam Postage Stamp Collection of the Armed Struggle for the Fatherland says about this stamp in slightly stilted English:
The People Destroying the Strategic Hamlet
The strategic hamlets were truly the concentration camps of the people. From 1961 till 1965, there were 100 millions of times/persons to struggle, destroying more than 6,000 among the totality of 8,000 strategic hamlets.
Viet Cong Leaflet that mentions the Strategic Hamlets
VCS49 - Pitfalls and nail ditches…
This cartoon leaflet depicts an American soldier who has fallen into what we called a punji trap, a hole camouflaged and filled with pointed sticks dipped in feces or something that makes them very dangerous. A buddy tries to pull him out as the rest of the squad moves forward. The American file code for this leaflet is VCS49. The text is interesting in the use of its words. It says:
Down with US Imperialism
Pitfalls and nail ditches are graves of our American enemies
The back is five lines of text:
Strategic hamlets are distinguished concentration camps which President Diem and the United States intend to put our fellow countrymen in.
Let’s prevent the enemy from constructing strategic hamlets.
Let’s rise and destroy strategic hamlets.
Don’t supply the enemy with bamboo trees and logs that are used to fence in hamlets and villages.
When a fence is burned, struggle against re-fencing.
Chinese Strategic Hamlet Propaganda.
I hate adding Chinese propaganda because although they did not come into the open and fight, they produced thousands of propaganda posters, handouts, comics, booklets, etc. In other words, they acted as if they were part of the war but their support to the Vietnamese was always hidden and out of sight. One dealer who sells this material says about the secret Chinese support:
From June 1965 to August 1973, China sent over 320,000 people to aid North Vietnam, including anti-aircraft artillery, engineering, railway, mine clearance, and logistics troops. The highest yearly commitment totaled over 170,000 people. China also published numerous leaflets, posters, books, and other propaganda, in support of the war effort.
The Chinese produced a propaganda series called, Vietnam Will Win and the U.S. Will Lose. One of the 8 x 10-inch propaganda handbills depicted Viet Cong burning a hamlet and "rescuing" happy Vietnamese people. The text is:
Destroy the "Strategic Hamlet"
The Vietnamese People's Liberation Army destroyed the "strategic hamlet", the cornerstone of many enemy plots to rule the Vietnamese people and liberated most of the people inside. The "strategic hamlet" was a fighting village.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Francis Leahy discusses the failure in his Master of Military Art and Science paper entitled: Why did the Strategic Hamlet Program Fail? He wrote well over a dozen pages, but we will just touch on his conclusions.
The assassination of President Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu did not bring about the sudden end of the Strategic Hamlet Program. The end of the program had been coming for some time. By mid-1963, attacks had been increasing against the hamlets, especially in the populous Mekong Delta area, and many previously secure hamlets had been lost to the Viet Cong. Now with the death of the President and his brother, and the haste of the new regime to disassociate itself from anything to do with Diem's regime, the Strategic Hamlet Program simply fell apart. This study of the Strategic Hamlet Program while identifying some limited success, has cataloged the overall failure of the program to bring about pacification in South Vietnam over the period 1961 to 1963.
In the chaos and confusion that followed the coup in November 1963, there was little time for the Strategic Hamlet Program. Officials at all levels of government were unsure of how to proceed. Those who replaced President Diem had no prepared policy and took too long to make decisions on the future of the strategic hamlets. Most provincial and local officials were replaced and over the next few months there were frequent and repeated changes to these appointments. A paralysis of policy and action continued as governments changed throughout 1964. In this environment, both government officials and the peasants were reluctant to commit themselves to a program associated with the discredited Diem regime and a program that was clearly falling apart.
The Strategic Hamlet Program failed for a great many reasons. Primary among these were inadequate planning and coordination, inadequate resources, a totally unrealistic timetable, problems with siting and construction, and inadequate and false evaluation.
Inadequate Planning and Coordination. The strategic hamlets were inadequately planned and poorly coordinated. This was due to the desire to complete the program quickly and to the absence of a sufficient number of administrators with the knowledge and experience to implement a program of this magnitude.
Inadequate Resources. At the start of the Strategic Hamlet Program. South Vietnam lacked the necessary financial and material resources to implement and support the strategic hamlets. Financial assistance was eventually provided by many countries, such as West Germany and Australia. But the majority of assistance was provided by the United States through the United States Operations Mission in Saigon.
Unrealistic Timetable. As if the problems of inadequate resources and poor planning and coordination were not enough, the implementation of the strategic hamlets was further complicated by the pace of construction demanded from Saigon. Faced with an increasing threat from the Viet Cong, Diem's government made a deliberate decision to complete the Strategic Hamlet Program at an accelerated pace.
Whatever the problems with the program, I was informed by an official in Afghanistan in 2011 that this article has been read for reference, so perhaps they see some factor that might be used in the present conflict. Another official informed me that Armed Propaganda Teams as mentioned in my Vietnam article were presently being trained in Afghanistan:
We are currently training Afghans to engage in the information domain and making them part of their Special Ops and Afghan National Army units. It is called the Afghan Information Dissemination Operations (AIDO) and the program is getting its legs.
At least two American military units have used my article on the Vietnam Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program to motivate the Taliban to rejoin the National Government in Afghanistan.
I guess the old saying What comes around goes around is absolutely accurate.
As always, the author encourages discussion and asks readers to send their comments to the author at email@example.com.