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Insurgency, Counterinsurgency, And The Marines In Vietnam
AUTHOR Major Frank D. Pelli, USMC
CSC 1990
                   EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
     The war in Vietnam continues to be hotly debated.  Why
the United States lost the war has been a key question
surrounding the debate over its involvement.  One of the most
important points  to recognize is that it was an insurgency.
My purpose is to evaluate what an insurgency is, what is
required to defeat it, and what the Marine Corps' concepts
and actions were to counter the insurgency in Vietnam.  The
Marine strategy for Vietnam contained many of the important
elements necessary to effectively conduct a counterinsurgency
     Mao is considered to be the primary influence in
guerrilla warfare.  He recognizes the importance of the
people in the success of the war.  Well organized guerrilla
units are encouraged by him to take the initiative, applying
hit-and-run tactics, fighting in the enemy rear and
establishing bases for popular support and for spreading
their influence.  He warned that guerrilla warfare is
protracted and becomes conventional only as it approaches
     General Giap parrots much of Mao's philosophy.  His war
with the Japanese and French was an ideal test for the
precepts of Mao and as result Giap reinforces much of what
Mao offers in terms of guerrilla tactics.  Giap's sound
defeat of the French provides a clear illustration of an
efficacious insurgency.
     Not every insurgency has been a success, however.  The
counterinsurgency conducted by the Malayans and the British
in Malaya is an excellent example from which to draw lessons
for success.  The security of the people is essential.  Once
this is provided the police, who provide the intelligence on
the enemy, and the military, who engage the guerrillas in
small-unit combat, can join with the government to develop a
strategy and oprational plan to defeat the guerrillas and
their infrastructure (the link to the people).
     Throughout its history the Marine Corps has learned to
defeat guerrillas.  They applied their knowledge in Vietnam
with a strategy and tactics that parallel the Malaya
counterinsurgency. They focused on the people and the link
between the peasant and the guerrilla. Several effective
programs, i.e. Combined Action Platoons, COUNTY FAIR
operations and GOLDEN FLEECE operations, were conducted in I
Corps in Vietnam.  I believe that the Marines had the right
formula to defeat the Viet Cong but for victory all of
Vietnam needed to its application.
THESIS STATEMENT.  The Marine strategy for Vietnam contained
many of the important elements necessary to effectively
conduct a counterinsurgency war.
     E. BASES
     C. BASES
     B. POLICE
     The war in Vietnam has been debated and discussed in
scores of books and articles from the 1960's until today.
Questions about the morality of the United States presence
there, whether it could have ever succeeded, and if the
strategy was right will probably continue to be answered in a
number of ways for many years to come.  Probably the most
basic question is why did the U.S. lose?  Was it a loss of
national will, a failure to enter the war with the intent of
winning, or did the Nation just fail to recognize the type of
war it was and apply its might accordingly?
     Andrew F. Krepinivich, Jr. in The Army and Vietnam
writes a scathing indictment of the U.S. Army for failing to
fight the Vietnam war as the situation dictated.  Throughout
his book he accuses Army leaders of failing to properly apply
the stategy and tactics of counterinsurgency.  "Deeply
imbedded in the service's psyche, conventional operations
held sway over the Army... "(5:164)  He maintains that the
Army intended to fight an attrition war and "...gambled that
it could attrite insurgent forces faster than the enemy could
replace them..."(5:177)  The Marine Corps on the other hand,
conducted a war based upon its previous experience in
fighting insurgents.(5:172)
     Two of the key Marine Corps leaders, Major General Lewis
W. Walt and Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, did have a
clear view of how to conduct a counterinsurgency war.
Krulak, as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Pacific,
wrote several letters to senior administration officials
outlining Marine programs and emphasizing the necessity of
conducting counetrinsurgency operations.  He also was a
staunch supporter of Gen Walt, then Commanding General Of the
Third Marine Division and III Marine Amphibious Force (III
MAF) in Vietnam, when he was conducting a number of programs
to defeat the Viet Cong (VC) in I Corps in northern South
Vietnam.  It is impossible to determine if the strategy of
the Marines could have won the war.  Certainly , without
similar efforts by the Army in the rest of Vietnam, I Corps
would have been an oasis of counterinsurgency in a desert of
attrition warfare.  This does not negate the Marine strategy.
The Marine strategy for Vietnam contained many of the
important elements necessary to effectively  conduct a
counterinsurgency war.
Mao Tse-tung is often viewed as the father of modern
insurgency.  His treatise, Guerrilla Warfare, provides
detailed philosophy and principles for the conduct of war by
the people for reasons of nationalism and ideology.  To come
to an understanding of guerrilla warfare in general and the
war in Vietnam specifically, it is important to review the
principles that Mao advocates.  These principles are the key
to guerrilla strategy and can serve as a basis for
highlighting the strategy of counterinsurgency.
     Guerrilla Warfare was written in 1937 as a guide for the
communists in China to wage a war against the Japanese.  Mao
considers this to be a war of national liberation from the
oppression of the Japanese and generally avoids the usual
communist rhetoric.  He does , however ,emphasize that a
guerrilla war cannot be prosecuted separately from politics.
Everyone must understand that the goal is political-freedom
for the Chinese people.  This is important because the
guerrillas come from the people and are supported by the
poeple.  To gain their support and active participation they
must see and accept the political goal for which they are
     In his introduction to Mao Tse-tunq on Guerrilla
Warfare, S.B. Griffith provides some of his own insights into
Mao's guerrilla philosophy.  Griffith says that there are
three phases in a guerrilla war, phases which are which are
fairly indistinct, flowing and intermingling among one
another.  Phase one is a period of establishing the movement
and developing its viability.  It seeks to develop the
support of the people who can provide it with men,
intelligence and logistical support.  Phase two is more
military oriented, with guerrillas seeking to covertly
eliminate opposition, spread the movement's influence and
attack government outposts for arms, ammunition, and other
military necessities.  Local militia units are also organized
to eliminate resistors at the local level.  In phase three
the guerrillas begin to band into more conventional military
units to attack and destroy the enemy and achieve victory for
the movement. (13:20-23)
     Mao says that the guerrillas are formed into two basic
units:  combatant and self-defense units.  Combatant units
are organized from platoons up to regiments.  At the company
level and above each has a military and political hierarchy.
The units are located within military areas which are divided
into districts which are further divided into counties.
Several platoons or companies exist within each county.
Additionally  a battalion is also formed at the county level.
These units generally function and are controlled at their
county level but may be tasked to assist in operations in
other counties.  Regiments are formed from these county
battalions and brigades  are occasionally formed from these
regiments.  Although Mao does not address it, one can assume
that the regimental hierarchy exists at the district level
and brigade hierarchies at the area level.  The second type
of unit is formed for self-defense.  They operate at the
local level for defense, local intelligence collection, and
police, and they may occasionally provide combat service
support for the combatant units.
     Emphasizing decentralization of control, Mao states that
guerrilla units should be allowed to operate on their own.
There should not be an attempt to coordinate the efforts of
the individual units. However, their efforts should be
coordinated with forces conducting conventional war,
specifically of a mobile type.  The guerrilla must maintain
the initiative.  Mao says, "Dispersion, concentration,
constant change of position-it is in these that guerrillas
employ their strength."(13:102)  To apply these situationally
the guerrilla must have freedom of action.  He must choose
when to attack and should defend only as a precursor to
attack.  Only in this way can he avoid defeat  Mao says.
     Building on the need for initiative, Mao calls for
guerrilla forces to surround the enemy, concentrating on weak
enemy forces, and destroy them.  He also requires them to
operate on exterior lines of communication (because they are
encircling).  As Griffith offers, "The enemy's rear is the
guerrilla's front; they themselves have no rear...The enemy
is the principal source of weapons, equipment, and
ammunition,"(13:24)  (Certainly one can see that operating on
exterior lines can be effective when relying on the enemy's
rear for support!)  Mao emphasizes the importance of small
bands who can operate everywhere but remain unseen in the
enemy's rear.  Griffith says that the guerrilla remains
dispersed which gives him strength because it  appears that
he is everywhere.(13:25)  Griffith goes on, "Guerrilla
tactical doctrine may be summarized in...`Uproar (in the)
East; Strike (in the) West.' fix the enemy's attention
and to strike where and when he least anticipates the
blow."(13:26)  With dispersion Mao calls for guerrillas to
harass main forces and destroy small units when the
opportunity arises but only when success is assured.
Further, this prevents the enemy from concentrating his
forces which prevents him from taking advantage of his
     Mao sees guerrilla war as a protracted effort, a long
duration war.  Guerrilla operations cannot bring about
victory by themselves.  Ultimately, the third phase of
guerrilla war must be reached, the war of conventional
forces.  Conventional forces must be established to conduct
war along conventional lines, using both mobile and position
tactics.  Conventional war is conducted alongside small-unit
guerrilla efforts,  Both types are essential.  Mao says that
guerrillas have specific roles in assisting conventional
forces.  They provide intelligence and security to the main
forces and harass the enemy's rear.  By disrupting his rear
"... the enemy will never stop fighting.  In order to subdue
the occupied territory, the enemy will have to become
increasingly severe and oppressive."(13:107)  (Obviously this
would play into the hands of the guerrilla because the people
would then see him as their savior.)
     While Mao calls for the guerrilla to function without a
rear, he does recognize that they must have a base from which
to operate.  (One can only assume that he does not view these
bases as a true rear area because of their location in the
enemy's rear and their individual lack of permanence and
importance.)  He provides a detailed explanation of bases and
guerrilla areas.  Areas exist only when guerrillas are
located within them and he stresses the need to either
control these areas or keep them contested and not allow them
to remain solely in enemy hands.  (This obviously ties in
with the need to keep small units operating everywhere.)  He
goes on to discuss bases in the mountains, plains and
     Bases provide essential support functions and Mao
highlights two key issues concerning them.  First is the
importance the people in these areas play.  These bases serve
as a means to politically convert the people to the movement
and to arm and train them for self-defense and guerrilla
units.  Secondly, the local economy at these bases provide
food and money from the people to the guerrillas.  These
bases serve a tactical function as well.  When the enemy
attempts to surround them the guerrillas attack individual
units and defeat them one at a time.  These occur in consort
with attacks on the enemy's rear and with harassment forays.
He again warns that these should be on a small scale and only
when success is assured.  Mao sees these successes as
garnering the support of new people who, in turn, would join
the cause.  This allows the guerrillas to expand into the
cities, further encroaching on weak enemy lines of
     Here, then, are some of the basics of guerrilla warfare
from Mao Tse-tung.  Vo Nguyen Giap, another practitioner of
guerrilla warfare, provides reinforcement for Mao's basic
     General Vo Nguyen Giap in People's War People's Army
presents a detailed account of the philosophy and strategy of
the Vietnamese in their war against the Japanese and French.
This account of the Vietnamese victory and strategy and Mao's
concepts serve as a reasonable foundation to explore the
Marine response to the guerrilla war conducted by the Viet
Cong (VC) against the Government of Vietnam (GVN) and the
United States in the late 1960's.  Giap obviously learned
much for the writings of Mao and applied them accordingly.
His writing helps to clarify and enhance many of the points
Mao addresses in Guerrilla Warfare.
     Giap views guerrilla war as a protracted effort and
cites the wars against the Japanese and French as examples.
He calls for patience and the realization that success is not
rapid.  He says that they slowly "nibbled" away at the
Japanese and French strength while the Vietnamese slowly
gained strength.  He offers, "... our strategy and tactics
had to be those of a people's war and of a long-term
     Referring to the defeat of the French, Giap says,
"People's war, long-term war, guerilla (sic) warfare
developing step-by-step into mobile warfare, such are the
most valuable lessons of the war of liberation in
Vietnam."(4:49)  Giap breaks guerrilla warfare into three
phases:  defense, equilibrium, and offense.  Initially, the
guerrillas are involved  at a low level struggle with the
enemy,  As the guerrillas rise in strength a level of balance
between forces is reached.  Finally, when the guerrillas have
reached a level of superiority in forces, they go on the
offensive in a conventional, mobile scenario of ever
increasing proportions.  While there is a slow evolution from
guerrilla activity to mobile, large-unit operations, Giap
contends that guerrilla activity is still useful to support
conventional operations in this last phase.  However, he,
like Mao, recognizes that only through mobile conventional
warfare can the enemy be destroyed.
     Giap presents only subtle differences from Mao in the
organization of forces, basically dividing them into
guerrilla forces, regional forces,and conventional forces.
He advises that under certain circumstances conventional
forces can be used to conduct guerrilla operations.  The
guerrilla defends and polices his local village, operates in
the enemy's rear, provides logistical and intelligence
support to main forces.  He also establishes new bases to
expand the support from the people and provide fresh recruits
for the main forces.  Here lies another important point for
Giap; he says, "... our Resistance War must be the work of
the entire people.  Therein lies the key to victory."(4:43)
Emphasizing the close relationship of the army with the
people, he goes so far as to use Mao's analogy of the fish
and water, the fish being the army and the water being the
     Like Mao, Giap emphasizes the importance of establishing
bases for support from the people and bringing the people
together under a common (political) cause.  These bases are
established in both "free" areas and in the enemy's rear.  He
calls for the initial development of guerrilla bases in rural
areas and for their use as springboards for attacks into more
populated areas.  Remaining in rural areas allows guerrillas
to preserve their strength and to slowly wear down the enemy.
Giap sees the slow encroachment of guerrilla control over the
people and land as small, individual pockets which slowly
increases in number and gradually unite.  He also emphasizes
the importance of what he calls "self-reliance", i.e. small
units supplying themselves locally and from what they can
capture from the enemy on the battlefield and in the his
     From the political standpoint of pushing the cause of
communism Giap sees the initial need to emphasize the
eradication of the foreign oppression, i.e. the Japanese and
French.  For the local peasant this meant land
redistribution, reduction of taxes  etc.  Both Mao and Giap
used the defeat of the oppressor as the first goal and
rallying point for the people- the establishment of communism
would come later one can assume.
     Giap (and Mao) believes in the importance of allowing
local initiative under the umbrella of centralized control.
He says that the guerrilla must operate at the small unit
level, being both elusive and ubiquitous.  The guerrilla
fights small battles when success is guaranteed and so slowly
attrites the enemy. He never allows the enemy to mass his
forces against a lucrative guerrilla target.  The guerrilla,
however, should mass into conventional forces when the
situation presents an assured destruction of the enemy.
Giap's focus is on the enemy; the destruction of his forces
is paramount.
     When fighting the French Giap says that he sought to
force them to disperse their forces into small units.  He
accomplished this by creating the appearance that Vietnamese
guerrillas were everywhere.  These small French units then
became ideal targets for the guerrillas to mass against and
destroy.  With ever increasing success at this level Giap
says he was then able to expand the guerrillas into
conventional mobile forces.  So while the French were forced
to slowly disperse into smaller, relatively weak units, the
Vietnamese were able to build their strength.  One can see
that Giap had the initiative; he was in control of the French
and had placed them in a no-win situation.  Giap says that if
the French massed themselves many areas were left open to
free movement and action by the Vietnamese and this left
small outposts vulnerable.  If they dispersed this left
insufficient troops to create a mobile force to meet
conventional communist forces, according to Giap.  Giap's
eventual strategy:  "Our position pin down the
enemy's main forces in the fortified camps, while choosing
more favorable directions for our attack."(4:167)
     Having considered the principles and strategy of
guerrilla warfare provided by two successful guerrilla
commanders and theoriticians, one is now faced with the
delemma of how to defeat an insurgency.  While history is
replete with insurgency success stories, there have also been
counterinsurgency victories as well; Malaya is an excellent
     Brigadier Richard L. Clutterbuck in The Long Long War
provides a detailed account of the insurgency in Malaya and
the actions taken by the British and Malayan governments to
counter this insurgency.  There are certain key points that
Clutterbuck emphasizes in the British strategy to defeat the
communists.  Protection of the people and the government
structure is essential.  An extensive police force at the
village level is also required, he says.  The police are
necessary to control the population and to gain intelligence.
Throughout his book Clutterbuck clearly shows the necessity
of having detailed information concerning the enemy.  For the
military their responsibility rests on providing security to
the police and attacking guerrilla combatants.  Finally, he
emphasizes the development of a close working counsel,
consisting of civil government, police and military leaders
operating in a coordinated manner to defeat the insurgents.
     Clutterbuck states that the initial effort in Malaya was
to reestablish local government control in the villages.
This was accomplished by substantially increasing the number
of police and instituting strict controls over the
population.  Controls included registration of the people and
issue of identity cards, curfews, food rationing, etc.  He
says that the population was to be convinced that strict
constraints would remain in effect until their support of the
insurgency ceased.  Concomitant with these restraints is the
need to provide security to the people, the government, and
the police in an insurgency.  Support provided by the
peasants through guerrilla coercion continues until the
people feel safe from the guerrillas.  Popular confidence in
the government comes from this security as well.  Clutterbuck
also states that the police must be protected from
assassination and coercion in order to effectively do their
     The communist insurgency in Malaya consisted of
basically a two-pronged establishment according to
Clutterbuck.  There were combatant guerrillas and a guerrilla
infrastructure.  This political infrastructure provided
intelligence and logistic support to the combatants and also
served to control the local population.  The logistics
support actually came from the people through this political
arm of the guerrilla movement.  It was up to the local police
force to counter this political arm.  Clutterbuck is emphatic
in his discussion of the importance of the police.  They are
the ones who live in the village , know the people and can
control them.  It is up to them to enforce the controls
established by the government.  The police in Malaya
conducted daily searches of the people looking for rice being
smuggled out to the guerrillas and made identity card checks
which could indicate who were strangers to a village.  Also,
they would be tasked with enforcing curfews to prevent night
forays into the jungle by guerrilla supporters attempting to
make contact with the political and combatant guerrillas.
     Clutterbuck makes it quite evident that the police had
the primary role in ferreting out the political arm of the
guerrilla movement.  At the lowest level the police were in
an ideal position to locate the communist political cells
(masses executives) in the village.  By developing
intelligence through interrogation and investigation they
were able to identify the members of these cells, couriers
for the guerrillas, suppliers, etc.  By turning these people
into what Clutterbuck calls "police agents", the local police
were able to gather significant information about the
location of Malayan Communist Party branches which controlled
guerrilla activities around and within several villages.
These branches, says Clutterbuck, provided detailed
information and logistical support to the combatants as well
as providing political insurgency within the villages.
     According to Clutterbuck, probably the most important
role for the police was the responsibility for intelligence
gathering.  This was not nor should it be a task assigned to
the military, he says.  Because of their continuous presence
in the village, their search of the populace prior to daily
departures to the fields or jungles, their identity card
checks, etc., the police were ideally suited to gain
intelligence.  When they identified suspicious people, they
could be interrogated, followed, etc.  Once the police had
reasonable assurance that these individuals were guilty of
supporting the guerrillas, intense but humane interrogation
followed.  Clutterbuck says that most of these people would
provide important information when assured of government
protection and rewards.  Many of these people continued to
provide information out of fear of reprisals by the
guerrillas.  His chief hope would be that his continued
information would result in the guerrillas being captured,
destroyed or driven off.  Even captured guerrillas provided
significant information because of generous rewards,
disillusionment with the communist movement, and/or
recognition that the government was winning the
     The government's role in the conduct of the
counterinsurgency was significant.  Clutterbuck identifies
the Emergency Regulations that it instituted to maintain
control over the population.  The counterinsurgency was not
purely a military operation.  Controls such as identity
cards, food rationing, etc. all contributed to the
coordinated effort of the government, police and military.
The government participation in and chairmanship of the War
Executive Councils for the conduct of the counterinsurgency
assured their control over all operations.  These councils,
consisting of government, military, and police
representatives, were the controlling bodies for combating
the guerrillas at the state and district levels.  Also,
monetary and land rewards provided by the government for
surrendering guerrillas and collaborating supporters of
guerrillas greatly aided in the intelligence effort by the
     Brigadier Clutterbuck provides superb documentation of
the military effort in defeating the insurgents.  The
information he provides concerning the tactical and
operational facets of the counterinsurgency are invaluable.
From the foregoing, one can obviously see that Clutterbuck
sees the military as playing only a portion of the role in
the counterinsurgency.  This portion, however, is
significant.  It is the military which provides the security
for the village police.  The military accomplishes this and
the destruction of the guerrillas by small unit patrolling
and ambushes.  Clutterbuck says that the military learned
that large unit operations simply will not work against small
units of guerrillas in jungle environments.  Large units are
far too slow to react to guerrilla attacks and "broadcast"
their movements as they break through the jungle.  By
utilizing police intelligence, small units of platoon size
can quietly move to guerrilla camps forcing the guerrillas to
quickly move and become ambushed along trails as they
withdrew from these camps.  Clutterbuck notes Mao's principle
that guerrillas should not allow themselves to be
attacked-they should withdraw.  This type of action lends
itself to ambush, he says.
     By making use of intelligence concerning the location of
guerrilla camps and attacking them and by intensive
patrolling, Clutterbuck says the British forced the
guerrillas to stay on the move.  At the same time this was
happening the police were putting pressure on the political
infrastructure which provided logistic' support,
intelligence, and recruits to the guerrillas.  This pressure
reduced the support capability of the infrastructure.  This
is the first element for defeating the guerrilla-deny him
food, according to Clutterbuck.  He sees the result of this
movement and loss of logistics as resulting in the breakup of
guerrilla units into smaller organizations for survival.  He
argues that constant patrolling and ambushes by small
military units are the key.  British infantry companies used
the village as their patrol base, not turning it into an
armed fortress but simply using it as a rest area.  The
result was constant pressure on the Malay guerrilla and the
breakdown of his forces into small platoon size units.
     The closely coordinated effort by the police, military
and government at the local level as Clutterbuck describes it
brought about a successful counterinsurgency in Malaya.  Sir
Robert Thompson, a renowned counterinsurgency expert, has
also used the Malaya war as a backdrop for discussing
counterinsurgency with a somewhat different approach.
     Defeating Communist Insurgency by Sir Robert Thompson
presents a broader perspective on counterinsurgency.  Of
particular interest are three of the six principles he offers
as essential for defeating the guerrilla.  He says the
government must develop a plan that covers all facets of the
insurgency, i.e. social, political, administrative, police,
and economic.  He stresses the importance of addressing all
of these facets in a mutually supporting way.  Of particular
note is his emphasis on the need to ensure that after
military operations have been conducted in a specific area,
civic action programs are initiated.  If they do not, he
warns, the military action will be of little value.  Another
important principle is the need for the focus of effort to be
on the political subversion.  He emphasizes the need to
isolate the entire insurgent organization (political and
guerrilla) from the population.  Also, the guerrillas must be
separated from their own political infrastructure.  The
political infrastructure, he says, must maintain contact with
the people in order to secure supplies, intelligence and new
recruits.  Once separated the political insurgents will be
forced to expose themselves in an effort to reestablish
contact with the population.  When this occurs the police
should be prepared to arrest or kill those insurgents they
can identify.  In turn, the guerrillas must be separated from
the political infrastructure.  This is where they get their
support.  Also, as the infrastructure begins to lose
personnel the guerrillas will be forced to provide
replacements within the infrastructure.  Guerrillas will also
be forced to attempt to make contact with the population for
support.  So, they too will be forced to expose themselves to
make contact, resulting in open combat with government
forces.  Once contact is prevented, Thompson explains, the
guerrillas will be forced away from populated areas and will
break down into smaller units in order to survive because of
the paucity of support.
     The last principle of Thompson's to be addressed is the
establishment of base areas for the government.  These base
areas must be secure areas from which the government can
branch out.  This process begins in the more populated and
developed areas.  These areas are of the most importance to
the government and Thompson says these are much easier to
control.  Because these areas are relatively easy to secure,
the initial efforts will be successful, which develops
confidence in the counterinsurgency from the people and the
government.  The rural areas which are less populated and
developed cannot be addressed initially.  He warns that the
government may have to accept guerrilla control in these
areas.  The government's influence and counterinsurgency
efforts can then slowly spread in small increments from these
base areas.  The insurgents begin to lose areas of influence
and are slowly pushed away from their life's blood, the
people, into less and less populated areas.
     Thompson, like Clutterbuck, calls for the police to
serve as the primary intelligence agency.  He notes their
proximity to the people and the pervasiveness of the police
throughout a nation.  He also believes that their focus
should be where the local infrastructure among the people
meets the combatant guerrillas.  In terms of the military his
thinking mirrors Clutterbuck's.  The military provides
security and attempts to keep the guerrillas on the move and
organized only in small groups.  He calls for company and
platoon operations as opposed to grand scale operations.  The
military's place is in the field engaging guerrillas, not in
the populated areas.
Thompson describes several points concerning
counterinsurgency operations.  He says,".. .there will be four
definite stages...clearing, holding, winning and
won."(18:111) In clearing, the military and police force the
guerrillas out of the area to be secured.  Next, hold
operations are conducted to eliminate the political
infrastructure and to keep the guerrillas from the people.
Imposition of population and movement controls occur at this
point.  Once the government has reestablished itself, the
winning phase begins.  At this point, Thompson says, the
government must begin strong efforts to provide an improved
social and economic environment, i.e. schools, agricultural
improvement, clinics, etc.  The won phase occurs when the
support of the people for the government is instated and the
guerrillas have been pushed well away from the area.
     Thompson, a recognized expert on counterinsurgency, had
marked impact on one senior Marine, Lieutenant General Krulak
and Marine activities gear this out
     Neil Sheehan in his book, A Bright Shining Lie, shows
the Marine predisposition for fighting an insurgency war when
he says:
          There was a school of pacification strategists
          within the upper ranks of the Marine Corps
          because of its institutional history.  The
          decades of pre-World War II pacifying in Cen-
          tral America and the Caribbean, codified in the
          Corps' Small Wars Manual, were a strategic pre-
          cedent which ruled that wars like Vietnam were
          wars of pacification.  The Marines had adopted an
          approach that emphasized pacification over big unit
     The Marine Corps defined pacification as "..the
military, political, economic and social process of
establishing or reestablishing local government responsive to
and involving the participation of the people."  It provided
security, destruction of the guerrilla infrastructure,
popular involvement in government and
self-sustainment.(2O:195-196)  Clearly, the Marine Corps
understood the war it was fighting and the manner in which it
needed to be prosecuted.  Lt. Gen. Krulak readily admits that
Sir Robert Thompson's concepts had a significant impact on
his thinking and believed that every Marine needed to
understand them.(6:18O)  In a 1965 letter to Secretary of
Defense McNamara, he told of Thompson advising President Diem
to conduct a counterinsurgency war in the Delta region, and
Krulak goes on to advise McNamara that the U.S. must do the
same to the guerrilla:  "...root him out, and separate him
from the people...clean the area up a bit at a time."(8)
     Krulak preached counterinsurgency to the highest levels
of the U.S. Government.  In a 1966 letter to McNamara, he
told him that the Marines had 4 tasks in I Corps.  The first
task was to defend the air bases at Da Nang and Chu Lai.
Second, Marines must attack communist main forces in order to
take pressure off South Vietnam's army, protect populated
areas and attrite Viet Cong men and material.  The third was
an almost text book description for counterinsurgency
measures.  He calls for the eradiction of the political
infrastructure and the isolation of the guerrillas from the
people.  This, he says, would prevent them from gaining
supplies and recruits which were essential to the guerrillas
and Main Force Viet Cong.  The fourth task provided for
pacification, creating a viable social climate and a local
self-defense force where the Viet Cong had been
     By 1966 the Marine Corps had a detailed plan for the
conduct of the war in I Corps.  It was divided into three
main areas:  counter the guerrillas by destroying them,
conduct large unit operations to destroy both the Viet Cong
and North Vietnamese Army main forces, and conduct
pacification to rebuild South Vietnam.  To specifically
counter the guerrillas they would kill them and destroy their
infrastructure by ambushes, patrolling, conducting COUNTY
FAIR operations and collecting intelligence from civilians.
Additionally, they would train local security forces for
defense of the villages.  The conduct of large unit
operations were predicated on reconnaissance to locate main
enemy units and then conduct search and destroy missions.
     Pacification had five important programs.  The first was
to develop village security by training local forces,
establishing a local intelligence net and providing
information to the people.  Next was the establishment of
village government with Marine assistance in the conduct of a
census, establishment of local officials, providing security
to those officials and keeping close relations with them.
Third was the improvement of the local economy by creating
local markets, improving lines of communication and
protecting crops during harvests.  Improvement of public
health was the fourth program; this was accomplished by
direct medical treatment and training, feeding those in need
and evacuating the seriously ill.  Finally, improvement in
public education through Marine efforts to provide support to
students, teach English, assist in school construction and
provide vocational training.(11)
     Krulak knew that much in the realm of pacification
should have been accomplished by the South Vietnamese through
the rural construction program, but he says, "They do not
have the resources, nor do they yet have the integrity or the
compassion to administer what resources they have."(11:4)
William R. Carson, throughout his book, The Betrayal,
reinforces Krulak's perception.  Corson holds nothing back in
his derision of the Vietnamese government concerning their
inability and lack of real desire to effectively conduct
pacification.  He says,"...the United States has chosen to
support the GVN's grotesque pacification efforts through a
massive outpouring of material assistance while ignoring the
graft and corruption this assistance has produced."(3:155)
He later says that United States programs designed to improve
the lot of the people "... were clearly opposed to the
interests of the very officials... we asked to conduct and
support these programs."(3:159)  Even commanders in the field
recognized the inefficiency of the GVN efforts in rural
development and saw these efforts as denegrating the success
achieved by combat action.(11:43)
     In 1965 Operation STARLITE and other such operations
were conducted to attack VC main force units.  The success of
these operations caused the guerrillas to return to small
unit actions.  The Marines responded in kind, conducting
significant numbers of ambushes and patrols.  In October of
1965 over 5000 of these operations were conducted, and by
December the total had risen to over 7000.(17:42)  For all of
1965, it was estimated that there were 2500 VC killed through
patrolling and ambush by Marines.(14:572)  This coincides
with Clutterbuck's experience and recommendations as a result
of the Malaya war.  Large unit actions force the guerrillas
to break up; they will not fight unless assured of victory.
They cannot keep themselves supplied and protected when
constantly on the move in relatively large units.  Therefore,
they break down into small units to maintain viability.
     Pacification and countering the guerrilla go hand in
hand.  The Marines recognized the importance of providing
security to the villagers in order to gain their support and
stop them from supplying the VC.  Corson says, "Krulak and
Walt knew that military-civic action was the direct key to
the whole pacification effort."(3:176)  Civic action was a
specfic means for the Marines of I Corps to relate military
force to the support of the "...political, social, and
economic reconstruction of the GVN."(17:13)  It obviously
played a key role in pacification. As CG, III MAF, Gen Walt
also served as the Special Area Coordinator of Da Nang which
made him "... responsible for liaison with local military and
civilian leaders concerning matters involving U.S. military
personnel."(17:20)  He created an I Corps Joint Coordinating
Counsel with representatives from the GVN and U.S. military
and civilian agencies.(17:20-21)  The intent was to
coordinate Marine civic action efforts with those of the GVN
because Gen Walt recognized that to be successful in
defeating the VC the local GVN must be firmly in control and
the people must see the efforts of the government to improve
their lives through rural construction.  This council does in
some ways reflect similarities with the War Executive Council
that the British used in Malaya.  There was an attempt by Gen
Walt to coordinate the efforts of the military and civilian
agencies in behalf of the people and the counterinsurgency.
Civic action by the Marines of I Corps was conducted in a
variety of ways, some of which will be addressed here.
     GOLDEN FLEECE operations were first conducted in the
fall of 1965 at the request of the peasants (17:38)  This
first effort resulted in 870,000 pounds of rice beginning
harvested and denied to the 350O VC it could have fed.(6:191)
It was estimated that this prevented the VC from gaining some
90% of the rice they would have normally acquired. (17:38)
Obviously, such a denial would have a significant effect on
the guerrillas.  As previously discussed,  the guerrillas
must rely on the peasants for food.  By denying this support
to them, the Marines could force them out of the area.  One
can certainly expect that such efforts at protection would
certainly enhance the peasants' views of the Marines and the
GVN which they were there to support.
     Another important counterinsurgency operation that was
conducted was COUNTY FAIR.  Gen Krulak explained the concept
of COUNTY FAIR in a letter to Mr. Robert Komer, Special
Assistant to the President.  The idea was to focus on one
village, a village that still contained some VC.  He warns
that the surrounding villages must be under government
control to preclude the guerrillas from entering a nearby
village.  The intent was to clear all of the VC from the
village and to begin a pacification program and conduct civic
action.  South Vietnamese civilian and military personnel
would conduct the activities in the village.  Popular Forces
(Vietnamese self-defense units), Combined Action Platoons,
Marine units, or Army of Vietnam (ARVN) forces would remain
behind after the actual operation to provide security to the
village until all of the VC had been killed or driven
     COUNTY FAIR operations aimed at both the guerrilla and
his supporting infrastructure in the selected village.  The
technique consisted of Marines rapidly forming a wide cordon
around the village.  This was to prevent any VC from
escaping.  Subsequently, GVN personnel would enter the
village to check the identity of the villagers and to
interrogate them.  Searches were conducted for arms, VC, food
caches, tunnels, etc.  While this was occurring entertainment
and lectures were also provided.(17:74-75)  The 9th Marines
Command Chronology provides some amplification on COUNTY FAIR
operations.  These operations were normally of approximately
two days duration.  During this time the Marines maintained
the cordon while the GVN personnel interacted with the
villagers.  This government interaction was a key point
because an important purpose in these operations was
developing the confidence and a positive attitude in the
people towards the government and local officials.(20)
     In his book, U.S. Marine Corps Civic Action Efforts in
Vietnam, Capt Russel Stolfi emphasizes the importance of
security in civic action.  He says that civic action played a
significant role in efforts to destroy the VC; it brought
important intelligence information about enemy activities
from the peasant.  But, he goes on, this results not so much
from humanitarian civic action as from the security Marine
presence provided.  Stolfi is adamant that without security
Marines could not expect to get assistance from the peasants.
According to him, while Marines and ARVN units were
conducting large unit operations against VC units and civic
actions and rural construction were occurring, there was a
marked lack of security at the village level.  The
establishment of the Combined Action Platoon (CAP), he says,
filled this gap.
     Sir Robert Thompson had high praise for the CAP and its
effectiveness.(5:174)  Basically, the CAP consisted of a
Marine rifle squad combined with a platoon of Popular Forces
(PF), a local self-defense force.  The PF came from the
village in which the Marine squad operated.  This Marine/PF
unit, lived, trained, patrolled, and defended the village,
together.  The mission of the CAP was:
     (1)  Destroy the Viet Cong infrastructure within the
          village or hamlet area of responsibility.
     (2)  Protect public security and help maintain law
          and order.
     (3)  Protect the friendly infrastructure.
     (4)  Protect bases and communications axes within the
          villages and hamlets.
     (5)  Organize people's intelligence nets.
     (6)  Participate in civic action and conduct pro-
          paganda against th Viet Cong.(3:184)
    If one can assume that the results of the Malaya
counterinsurgency contained the recipe for success, then
certainly the CAP had most of the ingredients.  Because of
their proximity to the people and the security they provided,
the units were ideal for attaining intelligence on the enemy
from the people.  Also, their frequent small-unit patrols met
the requirement of Brigadier Clutterbuck.  Thompson's call
for civic action was one of the missions of the CAP.
Isolating the guerrilla from the people and infrastructure
was attainable by the mere presence of the CAP.  The hold
phase of Thompson's counterinsurgency concepts were surely
accomplished by this combined force as well.
     Gen Krulak was especially concerned with the PF units
and the need to properly train them. He considered them to be
the key to pacification and "...the most important force in
the rural construction effort."(8)  The CAP was continually
conducting training with the PF units.  While the CAP program
may not have been the sole solution to the counterinsurgency,
it obviously was an important facet in the counterinsurgency
war.  It is important to note that CAP units accounted for
7.6% of enemy killed while representing only 1.5% of the
Marines in Vietnam.(14:602)  Certainly, the effectiveness of
the CAP Marines and their PF allies was a potent force and
one can only guess at the results if these forces had been
expanded in numbers and used throughout Vietnam.
     Whether the Marine Corps concept for winning the war in
Vietnam would have resulted in victory can only be left to
conjecture.  Gen Walt believed that the lessons he learned in
his early career from the veterans of the "Banana Wars" were
still applicable to this modern insurgency in Vietnam.(19:29)
Surely, there are parallels in its concepts and the concepts
applied in the counterinsurgency in Malaya.  In his paper on
the strategic concepts for Vietnam, which he wrote in 1965,
Gen Krulak says " being counterinsurgency war, control
of the population and control of the great resources are
cardinal."(7)  Mao and Giap both understood that the people
and the supplies they can provide are essential for an
insurgency.  Thompson and Clutterbuck understood as well,
recognizing the need to isolate the guerrilla from the people
and their resources.  Hanoi also realized where their
greatest concern should rest.  In a 1966 letter to Mr.
McNamara Gen Krulak refers to a DIA report which stated that
North Vietnam's greatest concern was that the guerrilla
infrastructure not be lost.(9)  He told McNamara in 1967 that
he believed that the guerrillas were attempting to give the
appearance that they were shifting to large unit operations
in order to disguise their efforts to get back to the
     The Marine Corps, too, understood what needed to be
done:  "Put the primary emphasis on pacifying the highly
populated South Vietnamese coastal plain...protect the people
from the guerrillas so that they will not be forced to
provide the enemy with rice, intelligence, and sanctuary."
(6:197)  While statistics can tell as many lies as truths,
one statistic bears consideration.  At the end of 1969 the
Marines of I Corps reported that 93.6% of the population was
considered secure. (16:294)  Had the war in the remainder of
Vietnam been conducted as the Marines envisioned for I Corps
the result of the conflict may very well have been decidedly
1 .  Clutterbuck, Richard L., Brigadier.  The Long Long War:
        Counterinsurgency in Malaya and Vietnam.  New York:
        Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1966.
2.   CO, 9th Marines ltr to CMC, in 9th Marines ComdC, Jun 66
        (MCHC, Washington, D.C.)
3.   Corson, William R. The Betrayal.  New York:  W.W. Norton
        & Company Inc., 1968.
4.   Giap, Vo Nguyen, Gen. People's War People's Army.
        Washington, D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1962.
5.   Krepinevich, Jr., Andrew F. The Army and Vietnam.
          Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
6.   Krulak, Victor H., Lt. Gen, USMC (RET).  First to Fight:
        An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps. Annapolis:
        Naval Institute Press, 1984.
7.   Krulak, Victor H.  "A Strategic Concept for the Republic
        of Vietnam", dtd June 1965 (PC 486, Collections
        Sec, MCHC, Washington, D.C.)
8.   Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak ltr to Robert S. McNamara dtd
        11 Nov 1965 (PC 486, Collections Sec, MCHC,
        Washington, D.C.)
9.   Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak ltr to Robert S. McNamara, dtd
        9 May 1966 (PC 486, Collections Sec, MCHC,
        Washington, D.C.)
1O.  Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak ltr to Paul H. Nitze, dtd 12
        July 1966 (PC 486, Collections Sec, MCHC,
        Washington, D.C.)
11.  Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak ltr to Robert W. Komer, dtd
        29 Aug 1966 (PC 486, Collections Sec, MCHC,
        Washington, D.C.)
12.  Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak ltr to Robert S. McNamara, dtd
        4 January 1967 (PC 486, Collections Sec, MCHC,
        Washington, D.C.)
13.  Mao Tse-Tung.  Mao Tse-Tung On Guerrilla Warfare.  TR
        Samuel B. Griffith, Brig. Gen, USMC.  New York:
     Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1961.
14.  Millet, Allan R. Semper Fidelis.  New York:  Macmillian
        Publishing Co., Inc., 198O.
15.  Sheehan, Neil.  A Bright Shining Lie:  John Paul Vann
         and America in Vietnam.  New York:  Random House,
16.  Smith, Charles R. U.S. Marines in Vietnam.  Washington,
        D.C.:  History and Museums Division, Headquarters,
        U.S. Marine Corps, 1988.
17.  Stolfi, Russel H., Capt USMCR.  U.S. Marine Corps Civil
        Action Efforts in Vietnam:  March 1965 - March 1966.
        Washington, D.C.:  Historical Branch, G-3 Division,
        Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1968.
18.  Thompson, Sir Robert.  Defeating Communist Insurgency:
        The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam.  New York:
        Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1966.
19.  Walt, Lewis W. , Gen, USMC.  Strange War, Strange
        Strategy:  A General's Report On Vietnam.  New York:
        Funk & Wagnalls, 197O.
20.  U.S. Marine Corps.  NAVMC 2614 Professional Knowledge
        Gained From Operational Experience in Vietnam
        1968:  Washington, D.C., Headquarters, Marine
        Corps, 1969.

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