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Forced Urbanization

The "forced urbanization" strategy in Indochina consisted of the saturation bombing of the rural areas which forced millions of peasants to leave their ancestral homes and move to the cities or "strategic hamlets," a misnomer for concentration camps. Deliberately emptying the countryside with bombing and shelling generated millions of refugees. Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington later on called this "forced urbanization," and described it as a way to win wars of national liberation. As a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (1963-1968), Huntington controversially supported the "forced urbanization and modernization" of rural villages in South Vietnam.

Samuel Huntington, who in 1968 was the chairman of the Council on Vietnamese Studies of the Southeast Asia Development Advisory Group, wrote in Foreign Affairs that "The Vietcong is a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the constituency continues to exist." And to solve that problem, he urged the "direct application of mechanical and conventional power... on such a massive scale as to produce a massive migration from countryside to city". This idea was adopted as the "forced urbanization" policy.

By one account, "Huntington's 'forced urbanization' concept legitimized a level of bombing unparalleled in human history advocating (14 million tones of explosive dropped on tiny Vietnam, compared to 2.5 million tons used by the United States in all of World War II. One out of 30 people in all of Indochina ended up dead; nearly three million of those killed were Vietnamese)."

In the South, neocolonial economic development was followed by local and special wars with US interference. In contrast to the North, this led to a forced urbanization process. The urbanization rate in the South reached its highest level at about 40 percent in early 1970s. The consequence of both trends of abnormal urban development in this period had major repercussions in the following decades. Besides the Army, the CIA under the direction of Robert Komer was the civilian deputy in charge of pacification. Komer believed that forced urbanization of the country peasant to the city would deny peasant support to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong and, thus, hamper their ability to live off the countryside. Westmoreland supported Komer's pacification efforts as an alternative to the Marine Combined Action Platoons [CAP] pacification efforts.

The modern practice of counterinsurgency was developed during the Vietnam War, first by the French, who carried these practices from Southeast Asia to North Africa, and then by the Americans, who reinvented everything already known by the French. French agrovilles became "strategic hamlets," but the idea of engineering what Harvard professor of government Samuel Huntington called "forced urbanization" was the same, and it ended with equally disastrous results.

The United States used torture widely and immoderately during the Vietnam war. After inheriting "tiger cage" torture cells from the French, the Americans went on to build even more brutal tiger cages of their own. South Vietnam was laced with a gulag of prisons, while the countryside was defoliated, napalmed, and emptied of peasants who were forced into concentration camps, euphemistically known as "strategic hamlets" or "community development projects."

U.S. Army counterinsurgency doctrine was predicated on the partisan model and the scenario dictated that the partisan forces must be dependent on (or an extension of) the regular forces and/or base areas of support by the external supporting country. This also reinforced Cold War notions of the conspiratorial style that the communist nations and movement were known to practice. What was needed to defeat or otherwise contain the partisan threat was to cut the lines of supply and communications between the partisans and their host country, including air forces. Pacification was largely reduced to questions of population control, such as identification checks, isolation of partisan forces from the population centers, and forced resettlement.

Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), spearheaded by the State Department's "Blowtorch" Bob Kromer, was a serious effort to address the political and economic causes of the insurgency. The Marine Corps' Combined Action Program (CAP) was an innovative approach to population security. However, these efforts are best described as too little, too late. Innovations such as CORDS and CAP never received the resources necessary to make a large-scale difference.

In a country at war for ten years, homeless persons were a constant problem, and refugee disposition was a major part of the pacification effort. At one time or another between 1964 and early 1971, some 25 to 30 percent of the 17,500,000 people of South Vietnam had been homeless. In more specific terms, approximately 5,300,000 South Vietnamese had been disrupted by the war. This figure included, three and a half million refugees who had been displaced from their homes; one and a half million "war victims" who had been temporarily displaced, but were able to return to their homes; and over 200,000 South Vietnamese who had fled from Cambodia when the war spread there in 1970. By the beginning of 1971, the Republic of Vietnam, with US assistance, had paid refugee benefits to roughly 5,900,000; some received benefits more than once.

The refugee problem could never be completely solved as long as the war continued, for the fighting produced additional displaced persons. Although the decline in the intensity of the combat in 1969 and 1970 had brought some leveling off of the flow of refugees, the refugee program remained an important element of the 1971 Community Defense and Local Development Plan. Under the title "Brighter Life for War Victims," the 1971 plan ambitiously called for the permanent resettlement or return to their villages of the refugees remaining at the end of 1970 as well as those who became homeless during 1971-an estimated total of 430,000 persons. In addition, the Republic of Vietnam hoped to complete permanent resettlement of the remaining refugees from Cambodia.

During 1971, the Republic of Vietnam gave the refugee effort greatly increased emphasis, budgeting triple the amount of the previous year for this purpose. From 1 March to 31 December 1971, about 260,000 refugees received full "return-to-village" allowances while some 127,116 others, who were unable to return to their original homes, received RVN assistance in settling elsewhere. Despite this progress, displaced persons remained to be settled at the end of 1971 as new refugees were generated in the continuing fighting. Over 60,000 resulted from the U Minh Forest Operation in MR 4 during late 1970 and early 1971, and 65,000 persons, including 50,000 Montagnards, were relocated to safer areas in MR 2.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 14:05:42 ZULU