MIND GAMES: ‘The Chieu Hoi Program’, Col. Edward Lansdale’s Vietnam “Psy-War” (Archive)

Source – pjmedia.com

– “…Ten billion leaflets were dropped in South Vietnam by The Fourth Psychological Warfare Group at Bien Hoa. In short, the Chieu Hoi program achieved positive results – the average cost to cause one Viet Cong defection was $125 which was significantly lower than the average cost of $400,000 to kill one”

Communist Aggression – Before President Johnson officially dispatched the first U.S. combat troops to Da Nang in March, 1965, the U.S. government had prepared the country for the war in Vietnam for a long time.  The “Domino theory” coined by President Eisenhower in 1954 could be seen as the first propaganda effort to justify U.S. assistance for South Vietnamese government.

The theory emphasized on the strategic importance of South Vietnam in the effort to prevent the spread of communism throughout the world. It assumed that if South Vietnam fell to communism, Southeast Asia then New Zealand, Australia and even Japan would follow and thus Communism would soon become a threat to the national security1.

At a time when the Cold War tensions were high, the theory was perfectly fit in the situation. The picture of “democratic” South Vietnam was threatened by the aggression of Northern communists quickly dominated the public perspective. As a matter of fact, the “domino theory” laid the foundation for U.S. involvement in Vietnam as both President Kennedy and Johnson used it to justify their increasing  assistance for South Vietnam and eventually the commitment of U.S. armed forces in 1965.

Passage to Freedom

Along with the domestic efforts to gain support for the war, the U.S. government soon began many psychological operations to assist the new government of South Vietnam.

In 1954, Col. Edward Lansdale, chief of covert action in the U.S. Saigon Military Mission, was assigned to oversee the early U.S. propaganda effort in Vietnam2. Initially, he began the “Passage to Freedom” Operation, a cooperative operation between the U.S. and French forces, in order to relocate as many persons as possible to  South Vietnam under the protection of Diem regime.

In that operation, Lansdale’s “psy war” team used a number of gimmicks to swell the ranks of the refugees. South Vietnamese soldiers dressed in civilian clothes were sent North to spread unfavorable rumors such as two Chinese divisions allowed by Viet Minh had circulated throughout North Vietnam and Washington intended to launch an offensive to liberate the North after the last anti-communist Vietnamese had moved south3. These rumors were aimed at all Vietnamese north of the parallel.

Lansdale also paid a special attention to Northern Vietnamese Catholics who were opposed to communism. In fact, many propaganda efforts made use of religious sentiments to impress them. Thousands of fliers advertising that “The Virgin Mary Has Gone to the South” were distributed by Lansdale’s men throughout North Vietnam. In addition, large numbers of posters were pasted in Hanoi and Haiphong depicting communists closing a cathedral and forcing people to pray under a picture of Ho Chi Minh4.

Under extensive U.S. propaganda efforts &  Diem’s encouragement, most North Vietnamese priests were keen to comply. They preached that a possible communist government would mean an end to freedom of worship and the only choice they had was to escape to the South where Diem – a fellow Catholic were running a prosperous regime.  As a result, more than 60 percent of 1.5 million North Vietnamese Catholics joined the refugees5. The propaganda campaign and the exodus came as a godsend to Diem as it provided him with hundreds of thousands of people who trusted and were willing to support his government.

Chieu Hoi Program

In 1961, as President Kennedy decided to escalate the U.S. role in Vietnam, they also increased their involvement in Saigon’s propaganda operations. In early 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem, in cooperation with the U.S., launched a major initiative to encourage defections from the Viet Cong to the side of the government called “Chieu Hoi” (Open Arms). Defections were often urged by leaflets dropped by aircraft over Viet Cong territories. These leaflets would serve as “safe conduct pass” to return back to government.

According to a ballpark estimate conducted by The Fourth Psychological Warfare Group at Bien Hoa, a total of 10 billion leaflets were dropped in South Vietnam6.

When a Viet Cong returned to the government, he was offered amnesty, cash, medical treatment, food, education. An estimated 20 percent of the returnees then volunteered for military service and regularly operated in the same area where they had operated as Viet Cong. The others, tired of the rigors of military life, just tried to reintegrate into the normal life of the country7.

In short, the Chieu Hoi program achieved positive results. The average cost to cause one Viet Cong defection was $125 which was significantly lower than the average cost of $400,000 to kill one. From 1963 to 1971, it was estimated that some 150,000 Viet Cong and NVA defected to South Vietnamese government8.

U.S. Propaganda in the Vietnam War


“Ho Chi Mihn was Inspired by the United States Constitution”

President Obama hailed hard-core communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh today as a pretty open guy who was actually inspired by the Founders.

Obama took a break from his jobs-pivot speeches to meet Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang at the White House. The pair held joint remarks in the Oval Office afterward.

Obama said their first bilateral meeting “represents the steady progression and strengthening of the relationship between our two countries.”

“Obviously, we all recognize the extraordinarily complex history between the United States and Vietnam. Step by step, what we have been able to establish is a degree of mutual respect and trust that has allowed us now to announce a comprehensive partnership between our two countries that will allow even greater cooperation on a whole range of issues from trade and commerce to military-to-military cooperation, to multilateral work on issues like disaster relief, to scientific and educational exchanges,” he added.

After meeting with the leader of a country that persecutes and imprisons bloggers and priests, suppresses media and any form of political dissent and uses forced labor, Obama said they “discussed the challenges that all of us face when it comes to issues of human rights.”

“We emphasized how the United States continues to believe that all of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly,” the president continued. “And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain.”

The visit by Sang, he said, “signifies the maturing and the next stage of the development between the United States and Vietnam.”

Obama said Sang concluded the meeting by sharing “a copy of a letter sent by Ho Chi Minh to Harry Truman.”

“And we discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson. Ho Chi Minh talks about his interest in cooperation with the United States. And President Sang indicated that even if it’s 67 years later, it’s good that we’re still making progress.”

Sang said the pair “had a very candid, open, useful and constructive discussion.”

“In a candid, open and constructive spirit, we have come to agree on many issues.  We will strengthen high-level exchanges between the two countries. We will consider in order to continue our — to upgrade the mechanism of cooperation at the high level, as well as take the best use of the existing mechanism of cooperation.  Particularly, we will continue regular dialogue at the highest level as possible,” the Vietnamese leader continued. “I believe that this is the way in order to build a political trust for further development of our cooperation in all areas.”

Sang invited Obama to come pay a visit. “And President Obama has accepted our invitation and will try his best to pay a visit to Vietnam during his term,” he said.

From a 1968 Reader’s Digest piece on the rule of Ho Chi Minh:

The terror had its real beginning when Red dictator Ho Chi Minh consolidated his power in the North. More than a year before his 1954 victory over the French, he launched a savage campaign against his own people. In virtually every North Vietnamese village, strong-arm squads assembled the populace to witness the “confessions” of landowners. As time went on, businessmen, intellectuals, school teachers, civic leaders — all who represented a potential source of future opposition — were also rounded up and forced to “confess” to “errors of thought.” There followed public “trials,” conviction and, in many cases, execution. People were shot, beheaded, beaten to death; some were tied up, thrown into open graves and covered with stones until they were crushed to death, Ho has renewed his terror in North Vietnam periodically. Between 50,000 and 100,000 are believed to have died in these blood-baths — in a coldly calculated effort to discipline the party and the masses. To be sure, few who escape Ho’s terror now seem likely to tempt his wrath. During the 1950s, however, he had to quell some sizeable uprisings in North Vietnam — most notably one that occurred in early November 1956, in the An province, which included Ho’s birthplace village of Nam Dan. So heavily had he taxed the region that the inhabitants finally banded together and refused to meet his price. Ho sent troops to collect, and then sent in an army division, shooting. About 6,000 unarmed villagers were killed. The survivors scattered, some escaping to the South. The slaughter went largely unnoticed by a world then preoccupied with the Soviet Union’s rape of Hungary.




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