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1967 - Pacification

As Communist insurgency swept the Republic of Vietnam, one of the South Vietnamese government's key responses was a "pacification" program. Along with the military effort to suppress the insurgency, the United States provided advice and support for the pacification effort, but for over ten years that assistance was provided by a number of agencies without central coordination. To remedy this situation, President Lyndon B. Johnson on 9 May 1967 directed formation of an organization, to be composed of both civilian and military members, to provide American advice and support to the South Vietnamese pacification program. The organization's title, Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support-CORDS -- combined the names of two separate staffs then providing support for pacification : a civilian Office of Civil Operations and a military Revolutionary Development Support Directorate. (To denote changed emphasis, the title was altered in 1970 to Civil Operations and Rural Development Support.)

CORDS embraced all American agencies in South Vietnam dealing with pacification and civilian field operations with the exception of covert operations conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It was an element of the American military headquarters-the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)--and was thus under the military commander, General William C. Westmoreland and later General Creighton W. Abrams.

Pacification is an imprecise term. The Oxford English Dictionary states that to pacify is "to reduce to peaceful submission, to establish peace and tranquility in a country or district." Although the Americans, like the French before them, saw pacification in the broadest sense of those terms, both usually thought of pacification as a specific strategy or program to bring security and political and economic stability to the countryside of Vietnam. But there was never agreement among Americans in Vietnam on just what pacification was and how it might be achieved. Some saw it as controlling the population; others as winning the people's allegiance. Some viewed it as a short-term military operation aimed at quashing opposition; others as a long-term process of bringing, in addition to security, economic, political, and social development to the people.

A semi-official study of pacification in South Vietnam provided one of the most comprehensive definitions: ". . . an array and combination of action programs designed to extend the presence and influence of the central government and to reduce the presence and influence of those who threaten the survival of the government through propaganda, terror, and subversion. The pacification process incorporates a mix of programs and activities that may vary in composition and relative emphasis from time to time and from place to place . . . The program mix comprises two broad, types of activities. They are designed on the one hand to establish and maintain a significant degree of physical security for the population and, on the other, to increase the communication and ties between the government and the people through a variety of selected non-military programs."

Was the war primarily military, to be fought with essentially military means, or was it basically a political struggle? Although the U.S. government never formally resolved that question, the resources and emphasis devoted to the military side constituted a de facto policy decision in favor of a military solution. Indeed, such a "security first" approach to pacification may have been, after the first few years of the 1960s, the only realistic path. The South Vietnamese people by that time had seen too many programs and too many governments; they had been prey too often to the ebb and flow of struggle in their villages to put their trust in anybody who was unable first to protect them. Yet despite the emphasis on security, pacification continued to founder for lack of sustained security; and what was in effect two wars, military and political, flowed in parallel but separate streams.

Ambassador Komer developed the concept for CORDS, but Ambassador William Colby institutionalized it in MACV and synergized its activities with Ambassador Bunker. In doing so, Ambassador Colby prevented major conflicts among civilian and military leaders that might have trickled down and complicated collaboration in the field.

During 1968, there was to be little of the debate between the MACV search and destroy strategy of attrition and the emphasis on pacification that marked the Marine stance toward the war. There were of course several reasons for this, not the least of which were the Tet offensive and the Mini-Tets in May and September. At that time there was no difficulty in finding either the NVA or VC. As Ambassador Komer of CORDS later observed, the attrition strategy appeared to work during the offensives because the enemy "abandoned his hit and run strategy" and more or less met the allies on their own terms. Through at least the first nine months of 1968, pacification took a back seat until the Communists apparently reverted to their concept of protracted war at the end of the year.

In their November 1968 report, while in general praising the Combined Action Program, DOD analysts also pointed out some of the basic weaknesses of the program. Although not accepting the Komer and Westmoreland argument that one needed to place a Combined Action platoon in every hamlet in Vietnam, the analysts showed that the Marines had not met even their more modest goals. To a large extent, most improved the security within the hamlets and the village. Some even won the begrudging loyalty and perhaps even affection of the villagers. But few were able to attain the loyalty of the people to the Government of South Vietnam.

Still, many questions remained. One was the transformation from the stationary or compound CAP to the mobile CAPs. Instead of providing protection for the hamlets, the CAPs in effect became guerrillas themselves. In the view of some Marines, the CAPs "had to maintain a demonstrably visible presence in commitment to the hamlet. It had to be an alternative to the guerrilla, as well as a tactic against the guerrilla." Others rejected that argument, stating that the compounds were usually outside of the hamlets and, moreover, they were sitting targets for the VC and NVA. Almost all of the Marines agreed that going to the mobile concept probably resulted in fewer casualties.

With the petering out of the last phase of the enemy "Tet" offensive from August into October, the allies began to take the offensive in pacification operations. MACV, CORDS, and the South Vietnamese inaugurated a new campaign, called Le Loi in Vietnamese and the Acceleration Pacification Campaign in English. The campaign was to last from November through January 1969. Country-wide it had five objectives : to upgrade at least 1,000 contested villages to relatively secure ratings on the Hamlet Evaluation Scale; to disrupt the Viet Cong command and control system by identifying and capturing if possible 3,000 members of the infrastructure for the next three months; to set a goal of 5,000 Hoi Chanhs a month under the Chieu Hoi Program ; to continue the organization and arming of the South Vietnamese Self Defense units ; and finally to mount a propaganda campaign to the effect that the Government of Vietnam "has seized the initiative and is moving rapidly toward the end of the war." Each Corps area was given its quota in this multi-faceted effort.

The US won the counterinsurgency war. After the Vietcong infrastructure was exposed during Tet '68, "Blowtorch Bob" Komer's Accelerated Pacification Program, the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) "Phoenix" (highly regarded by the North Vietnamese), and other operations literally shut down the insurgency. After that, it was only the North Vietnamese army (NVA) that had the capability to topple the Saigon regime.

When General Creighton Abrams became the commander of the war in Vietnam in 1968, he put an end to the two-war approach by adopting a one-war focus on pacification. Although this came too late to regain the political support for the war that was irrevocably squandered during the Westmoreland years, Abrams' unified strategy to clear and hold the country-side by pacifying and securing the population met with much success.

With the effective elimination of the Viet Cong, pacification proceeded apace. By the end of 1968, 76 percent of villages in South Vietnam were declared "relatively secure," which augured well for the success of pacification. In 1969, a bicycle race took place from the northend of the country clear down to the south end. This would have been unimaginable prior to Tet. By the end of 1969, thanks to active American and Vietnamese pacification programs, 92 percent of the population and 90 percent of the villages and hamlets were pronounced secure or relatively secure.

The Accelerated Pacification Campaign began in November 1968,and by late 1970 the government of the Republic of Vietnam controlled mostof the countryside. The "other war" - pacification - had essentially been won. Four million members of the People's Self-Defense Force, armed with some 600,000 weapons constituted a powerful example of the commitment of the population in support of the Republic of Vietnam and in opposition to the enemy.

By 1970 the government efforts known as Revolutionary Development or as the pacification program was not so much a single program as a concept, alternative generic terms covering a whole host of specific programs, which ranged over the entire social, political and economic spectrum in Vietnam. This included the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) amnesty program; organization of the People's Self-Defense Force, which is a new village defense group, static in concept, composed chiefly of youth under draft age and of old men; the local election program under which the villagers chose the people who run affairs in their villages through a council; economic development in the rural areas, chiefly through improved methods of rural credit and marketing as well as introduction of innovations in agricultural technology; and finally, increased communication efforts with focus on better two-way communication between leaders and led, between the village and Saigon.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 14:05:44 ZULU