by SWJ Editors
Counterinsurgency in Vietnam
Lessons Learned, Ignored, then Revived
by Rufus Phillips, Small Wars Journal
By the end of 1954, coup plotting was foiled so the army could begin seriously considering its pacification assignment. No one knew whether the Vietminh might reinitiate active resistance with stay-behind cadre in the zones they were evacuating so we had to help prepare the army for possible combat as well as for an active pacification campaign to win the support of the civilian population which had only known communist rule. During the first occupation operation we tried to improve troop behavior mainly through lectures. One such lecture was given to army truck drivers to stop them from running over people and their livestock when they passed through villages. After that lecture, I witnessed these same drivers getting back into their trucks only to go off barreling through villages scattering people and chickens right and left. Obviously a few lectures were not going to do the job. The first occupation was a learn-as-you-go affair. Communist resistance was passive not active and the operation went off without serious adverse consequences but without creating a strongly positive relationship between the army and the population.
Consequently, in preparing for the next occupation of a large zone in Central Vietnam containing about two million people, the army leadership with our help undertook much more intensive training in troop behavior and civic action all the way down to the platoon level with skits illustrating good and bad behavior as well repeated lectures. The army as servant of the people and civic action -- actively helping the population -- was instilled as every soldier's duty down to the lowest private. As a consequence, the entire occupation came off without a single untoward incident between the troops and the population. Towards the end of the operation, people were actually coming out of their houses voluntarily offering drinking water to the soldiers. (It was the dry season when daily temperatures climbed over 100 degrees). The popular response in turn generated real pride down in the ranks. While there was no active combat, had it occurred I believe the positive attitude of the army towards civilians would have prevailed. The population's initial fear and indifference turned into active support as the local people began identifying arms caches left behind by the Vietminh (the existence of these caches clearly indicated they intended to return), as well as fingering active Vietminh stay-behind cadre.