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Chieu Hoi - Open Arms Program

Two actions that had good results were the Chieu Hoi or Open Arms Program and the Doan Ket or National Reconciliation Program. The former program began as early as 1963 when more than 5,700 Viet Cong accepted the opportunity to return to the government during the initial four months of the declared amnesty period. As additional combat troops took the field against the enemy, the number of enemy soldiers rallying to the government increased. The literal meaning of the term Chieu Hoi is "welcome return." The entire program has been called Chieu Hoi to indicate the spirit or attitude that the government is supposed to hold with respect to the returnee or Quy Chánh (or alternatively, Hôi Chánh).

When a man returned to the government under this program, he was interviewed to determine his sincerity, rewarded for any weapons or equipment turned in, and placed in a re-education program through which he learned the aims and purposes of the government of South Vietnam and the role of the Free World Military Assistance Forces in the war. An added bonus in this program was the fact that an estimated 30 percent of the returnees then served in the government armed forces.

The importance of a viable and effective surrender program as an alternative to continued guerrilla hostilities was demonstrated in the Philippine Huk Campaign of 1946-52 and in the Malayan Emergency of 1948-60. In the Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay's rise to power in 1950 as Secretary of National Defense marked the turning point in the government's anti-Huk campaign. Magsaysay also inaugurated his "Attraction Program," making a clear-cut alternative available to these same Huks for the first time since the conflict had begun. Until then, the government had pursued a narrow, no-alternative policy of military suppression against the Huks. The Malayan Emergency has left many useful points as a legacy for counterguerrilla operations in Vietnam. The relatively small-scale Chinese terrorist (CT) force, estimated to have been on the order of 5000 to 6000 combatants, and the relatively few defectors recovered, about 2700, by differentiating defections from captures, the "prisoner of war" image was generally avoided. Although in both instances the political, military, and environmental elements were unique, some of the lessons learned are proving relevant to the current surrender program of South Vietnam known as Chieu Hoi.

The first official Government of Vietnam (GVN) reference to Chieu Hoi came in former President Ngo Dinh Diem's Tet or Lunar New Year speech of 26 January 1963. An official Vietnamese decree of the following April out-lined the basic elements of Chieu Hoi, which remain, interestingly enough, little changed to this day. The broad purposes of the effort were much like those of the surrender program in Malaya, reflecting the assistance and experience afforded the United States Mission and the GVN by British and Australian veterans of that emergency. Most notable of this group is, of course, Sir Robert Thompson, who has served as a special adviser in Saigon for several years.

Chieu Hoi in the 1963-65 era was plagued by a peculiar set of debilitating circumstances. The Diem regime's well-known no-compromise attitude toward its political opponents did little to infuse in government personnel a sense of "open arms" or forgiveness. Chieu Hoi accounted for some 11,248 returnees in 1963, 5417 in 1964, and 3192 in the first six months of 1965 (up to the June coup that brought the Ky government to power).

Created in early 1965 by order of President Johnson and placed under the overall direction of Carl Rowan, head of the United States Information Agency at that time, Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) was an experiment in psychological warfare. Devoting much of its energy to a revitalization of Chieu Hoi and the Vietnamese psychological warfare effort, JUSPAO has ensured that an alternative to continued guerrilla warfare is available and is widely and readily understood. The policy of eschewing a "prisoner of war" image for returnees and of integrating political and psychological considerations into the information and surrender programs soon began to pay off. During the 1966 Tet campaign, from 1 January to 11 February, some 1882 returnees rallied to the government side, then an all-time high for the program. In a similar period of time the 1967 Tet campaign netted 3456 returnees. 45,259 rallied to the government in 1967 and 1968. Of these, 29,276 were armed military Viet Cong/NVA. That is the same as 95 enemy infantry battalions.

The Armed Propaganda Teams (APT's) represent a means by which selected Quy Chanh ("returnees") may engage in direct contact with families and friends of known Viet Cong guerrillas. (The Special Operational Volunteer Forces, composed of surrendered enemy personnel, had much the same purpose and demonstrated decisively the impact of this type of mission.) Organized into some twenty-four platoons with light defensive armament, APT's are used at the discretion of the province chief in whose area they have been assigned to operate. There have been problems connected with the use of APT's, largely administrative in character, including problems of training, recruiting, employment, command, etc.; but the potential for access to specific individuals within the insurgent ranks is unmatched. Who should know more about the enemy than ex-guerrillas?

The typical Chieu Hoi returnee was from 15 to 25 years of age, had little or no education, and had been a farmer or hired laborer before becoming a Viet Cong guerilla. Most defectors rallied after being with the Viet Cong for less than a year. These returnees were persuaded to surrender to the GVN by various propaganda leaflets generated by the Chieu Hoi Program. Generally, VC morale was low because many of their recruits had been pressed into service. By April 1975, the program had attracted more than 159,000 soldiers and members of the Communist Party underground organizations to rally to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). About 15,000 were from North Vietnam Army (NVA) regular units. This suggests that about 145,000 were Vietcong, that is, about half the total estimated strength of the VC.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:52:20 ZULU