Behind the Phoenix Program

Behind the Phoenix Program by Edward Miller – New York Times Vietnam '67 Series

In late December 1967, the government of South Vietnam announced a reorganization of its war effort against the country’s Communist insurgency. Effective immediately, all South Vietnamese counterinsurgency activities became part of a new program known as Phuong Hoang, a reference to a magical bird associated with royalty and power in Vietnamese and Chinese cultural traditions. In response to the South Vietnamese move, American officials in Vietnam began referring to their own counterinsurgency coordination efforts by the name that they deemed the closest Western analogue to the mythical creature: Phoenix.

The Phoenix program would become one of the most controversial aspects of America’s war in Vietnam. Sponsored by the C.I.A., Phoenix used paramilitary teams to target undercover Communist operatives in villages throughout South Vietnam. Witnesses claimed that members of the program’s teams and their American advisers routinely carried out torture, murders and assassinations, accusations that American officials denied.

To date, the debate over Phoenix has focused mainly on the roles played by the C.I.A. and individual Americans in the program. But a vast majority of Phoenix personnel — soldiers, interrogators and analysts — were Vietnamese. Exploring the South Vietnamese role in Phoenix offers alternative perspectives on its origins and significance…

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