The Furtive War by Wilfred Burchett
To prepare public opinion for direct U.S. intervention in South Vietnam and to put pressure on other Western governments to join in, or at least give their blessing to foreign intervention, the U.S. government released a "Blue Book," entitled A Threat to Peace—North Vietnam's Effort to Conquer South Vietnam It was offered to the world by Secretary of State Dean Rusk at a special White House press conference on December 8, 1961. As a diplomatic document it must rank among the most primitive of its kind and it must be taken as a sign of the times that the State Department would lend its name to such a spurious effort.
There was nothing subtle in the explanation as to why it was published. It was to cover up U.S. intervention and to put pressure on the International Control Commission to adopt a report based on the book. Asked how the United States intended to justify open violation of the Geneva Agreement, Dean Rusk replied: "It is no violation of an agreement to protect oneself against the other party's breach." Three days later U.S. "anti-violation violations" in South Vietnam reached a new phase with the landing of the first U.S. combat units in Saigon.
The book itself seems to have been knocked together by psychological warfare experts and the sort of soap-advertisement publicists that the White House uses for such occasions. It may appear convincing to the usual targets of these experts but to anyone who knows anything about Vietnam it is a clumsy hotch-potch of half-lies, forgeries, and false deductions. An Introduction states that the report "relies on documentary and physical evidence and on the confessions of many captured Viet Cong personnel." As additional proof of the objectivity and authenticity of the work, the reader is informed: "Officials of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam gave unselfishly of their time and their expert advice." (P. 2.)
The case of Tran Thi Nham and scores of other victims of the Diemist torture squads, confirmed by ICC investigations, are sufficient commentary on the value of "confessions of captured Viet Cong personnel." In every case of scores which I personally investigated, the aim of torture was to get a signature on a typed document, similar to those presented in the "Blue Book" appendix. In most of them, as with Tran Thi Nham, the purpose was to produce a confession that the victim had been "planted" in the village as an agent from the North. The amount of blood spilt in trying to compile enough confessions to lend credibility to the "Blue Book" must have been fabulous.
When I visited the 17th parallel, fishermen from the north bank of the Ben Hai complained about one of their boats with a crew of six aboard which had been seized by a Diemist patrol, on June 5, 1961. It had been with the others at a fishing ground off the Ben Hai estuary when a patrol vessel hove to alongside, Diemist agents boarded the little junk, and then towed it off. The fishermen learned later that two of the crew members had been tortured to death, the rest were in Tourane prison. The crews of several other boats washed ashore a few hundred yards south of the demarcation line during a typhoon a short time later were also imprisoned.
In the "Blue Book" much is made of the "An Don" case—the first one cited to prove "infiltration of agents." On June 5, 1961, as a Diemist patrol boat "approached a junk, one of the inspectors saw a familiar face. The inspector knew the young man's mother and knew that he had been missing for some time. Under questioning, the young man, Truong Van Hao, confessed. He and his four companions were taken into custody. It was an important arrest." (P. 25.) "Confessions" are then cited to the effect that the fishermen were really engaged in transporting agents to the South. It is certainly the same case related to me by the Ben Hai fishermen, despite the discrepancy of numbers aboard. Diem's torture squads transformed simple fishermen into "trained agents" after an act of sheer piracy.
Documents of "confessions" published in the appendix would be thrown out of any court of law. They are all long, typed statements with a photograph of the person concerned in one corner and a signature or thumb mark at the bottom. Names and terms are twisted around in the "Blue Book" to back up the main thesis on which intervention is based—namely that Vietnamese are foreigners in their own country and Americans from 10,000 miles away are the real masters of the land. Thus the Front of National Liberation, which was formed in South Vietnam after the November 1960 officers' coup, becomes "Front for Liberation of the South" in the "Blue Book" (p. 10) with the inference that it is an organization formed in the North to liberate the South. There is frequent reference to a "Committee for Supervision of the South" (pp. 18-19) with its headquarters in Hanoi. There is no such committee, but by the persons named as heading it, it becomes clear that for psychological warfare purposes the State Department has invented its own name for the "Committee for National Reunification" set up in Hanoi immediately after the ceasefire to watch over the correct implementation of the Geneva Agreement. Various officers are named as having been sent to the South to head "subversive" armed groups there. I checked on several of these and in most cases found they were no longer in the army. One was running a state farm; another was in the State Planning Commission; another had become a war historian. But the State Department has them located in the South.
This attempt to whitewash in advance U.S. intervention in Vietnam falls to pieces completely when it gets on to political ground:
It was the Communists' calculation that nation-wide elections scheduled in the Accords [1954 Geneva Agreement] for 1956, would turn all of Viet-Nam over to them. With total control over the more populous North in their hands, the Communists assumed they would be able to promote enough support in the South for their cause to win in any balloting. The primary focus of the Communists' activity during the post-Geneva period was on political action—promoting discontent with the Government in Saigon and seeking to win supporters for Hanoi.
The authorities in South Vietnam refused to fall into this well-laid trap. (P. 3.)
The State Department did not deem it necessary to explain that the "well-laid trap" was prepared by the closest allies of the United States. It was contained in an important international document drawn up after three months of negotiations and to which all the great powers—except the United States—affixed their signatures. A document known to the world as the 1954 Geneva Ceasefire Agreements on Indo-China, a key provision of which was that there would be general elections held by July 1956 to unify the country. Although the U.S. government refused to sign the agreements, it gave a pledge to respect them.
The Diem authorities, continues the "Blue Book," were convinced that "under the circumstances there could be no such thing as a completely free and democratic expression of opinion in the North. There was no satisfactory provision for effective general and impartial supervision of the proposed balloting. There was no assurance that the people would have a chance to hear any free discussion of the issues at stake." (P. 3.) As a bit of hypocritical double-talk, this is hard to beat. The sort of provisions the State Department was talking about were laid down in the Agreements. Details were to be arranged in preliminary discussions between the two sides, one year before the elections. First the French, then the Diem regime, refused to take part in these discussions. The ICC tried many times to bring the two sides together. North Vietnam pushed hard to get such talks started. The government in Hanoi had no reason to fear either free discussion or impartial supervision, but Diem and the State Department did.
"Moreover," continues this extraordinary document, "the Government in the South had never signed the Geneva Accords and was not bound by their provisions." (P. 3-4.) The authors seem to believe the old adage of "one law for the rich and another for the poor" can be carried into international diplomacy, because they go on to state that the "Blue Book" is partially based on reports published by the Diem government (July 1959, July 1960, and May 1961) which list alleged "violations" of the Geneva Agreements by the Communists. The Diem regime in other words can violate the Geneva Agreements at will and is in no way bound by them, but the world must go to war for alleged violations of these Agreements by the North. A very strange logic that might be acceptable to the CIA but is rejected by all normal people. The whole purpose of the book is to prove violations of an agreement to which the authors and their proteges say they are not bound. In any case, up to the time the "Blue Book" was published, no violations had been registered by the ICC against the North while scores had been chalked up against the South.
In case State Department officials were in any doubt as to the real feelings of the Vietnamese, they could have been guided by the choice of those living in New Caledonia and Thailand. From the time of the ceasefire agreements, about 90,000 Vietnamese in Thailand and 6,000 in New Caledonia had been demanding to return home. In Thailand, the government of which is Diem's closest friend in Asia, they were subject to constant propaganda and other pressures from the Thai government and Diem embassy officials to return to South Vietnam. Eventually a plebiscite was held and 98 percent voted to go to North Vietnam, two percent to the South. By mid-1962 about 40,000 had returned to the North and not a single family to the South. In New Caledonia, Catholic priests and Diem agents also did their best. But plebiscite results showed five percent wanted to stay, two percent to go to the South, and 93 percent to the North. This is the attitude Diem and the U.S. government really feared inside the country—not any lack of "free discussion or impartial supervision" in the North.
What is clear is that had the U.S. government and the Diem regime permitted the 1955 discussions, election conditions could have been agreed on to satisfy the most scrupulous Western definition of "genuinely free and democratic" balloting. And what is equally clear is that had the elections themselves taken place there would be no such situation as now exists in South Vietnam. The whole country would have settled down to peaceful reconstruction, to the same peace and stability that now reigns in North Vietnam. The "threat to peace" arose specifically from U.S.-inspired frustration of the vital clauses of the Geneva Agreements, and the American-imposed dictatorship in Saigon.
An Indian diplomat from the ICC put it to me this way: "I have not delved much into internal affairs here, but I do see that in Hanoi, President Ho Chi Minh walks around everywhere without even a bodyguard as far as I can tell, while even a vice-minister of the Diem government coming to our National Day reception this year (1962) was escorted by eight jeep-loads of police and two armored cars."
The main burden of the "Blue Book" argument is that, having been frustrated in their hopes for reunification by peaceful means, Vietnam "Communists" have gone over to armed action, with troops and arms pouring from the North, although it admits that "the weapons of the Viet Cong are largely French or U.S.-made or hand-made on primitive forges in the jungles." The total strength of the "Viet Cong" "elite fighting forces" is given as "8,000 or 9,000 organized in some 30 battalions. An additional 8,000 or more troops operate under the leadership of regular Viet Cong officers at provincial or district level." (P. 10.) It is against these 16,000 or 17,000 that 300,000 Diemist troops and police, 7,000 U.S. "advisers," and U.S tanks, planes and warships were ranged in mid-1962. And this was only the beginning of foreign intervention. The State Department was calling for much more.
Ending on a slightly hysterical note for a government document, the "Blue Book" appeals to:
other friendly countries. ... to work out cooperatively the kind of assistance program likely to prove most effective. ... A government or a people who now think that "Vietnam is so far away from us" may well discover that they are the South Vietnamese of tomorrow. Then they may wish they had done more now. But then it will be late, very late, perhaps too late! (P. 53.)
And with that final burst of eloquence, the State Department closed its case and got down to the business of helping Diem kill his own people more efficiently.
Participation by the United States in killing Vietnamese has a long history. In 1950-51, U.S. dollars paid 15 percent of the cost of France's "dirty war" in Indo-China. In 1952 this rose to 35 percent; in 1953 to 45 percent and in 1954—until the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu put an end to it—the United States was putting up 80 percent of the cost. John Foster Dulles did not want Dien Bien Phu to put an end to it. In fact he fought most vigorously—as Anthony Eden reveals in his memoirs —to keep the "dirty war" going by still dirtier methods. Dulles used the Geneva Conference and the period immediately preceding it to try and transform the Indo-China war into an international war on the Korean pattern. During the first days of the Geneva Conference, he took advantage of the presence of foreign ministers of countries which had taken part in the Korean war to sound them out on how many battalions each country was prepared to contribute to help the French. As an earnest of U.S. intentions, a U.S. task force, including an aircraft carrier with nuclear weapons aboard, was despatched to the Baie d'Along off the north coast of Vietnam. Only two countries responded to Dulles' demands at that time, Australia and South Korea. But after Korea, the United States did not want to go it alone in Indo-China.
One might be inclined to write that off as history were it not for the fact that what the late John Foster Dulles failed to bring off in 1954, President John Kennedy brought off in 1962—direct U.S. participation in a war against the South Vietnamese people. 
The thousand-odd police dogs, being trained outside Saigon in mid-1962 to get used to the smell of Vietnamese flesh —part of the U.S. "Aid" program; the chemicals being sprayed to destroy crops and trees; American eyes on the bomb sights that send napalm to destroy Vietnamese homes and roast the peasant occupants—all this is the development of a process that started a dozen years previously when the U.S. government decided to back France against the Vietnamese people. No "Blue Book" is necessary to prove this. The South Vietnamese people have been on the receiving end of American bullets and bombs almost ever since the end of World War II.
One of the questions in many minds (especially those who have followed events in Asia like the routing of Chiang Kai-shek, the defeat of the French in Indo-China, and the outcome of the Korean war) is how the U.S. government envisages this new intervention ending. This was a question I put to the Cambodian Chief of State, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, a leader experienced in Asian affairs and with a specially sharp eye on what is going on across his own frontiers in South Vietnam.
"The deliberate intervention of U.S. forces alongside those of the Saigon dictatorship," he replied, "is not only dangerous but unrealistic. It is an action that has not the slightest chance of rallying any public support...
"What do they expect to gain? Think of the forces the French employed there. And what was the result? The French knew the country intimately, had certain roots there after 80 years, and despite all their armed strength and knowledge of the country, they were defeated in the end. What do the Americans think they can do? They can massacre the population. They can destroy the villages and cause terrible suffering. They can ruin the forests. Yes, monsieur," he said with his customary vigor: "They even make war against the trees now." He went on to repeat the dangers and hopelessness of American intervention and expressed the view that the best solution was a conference aimed at securing the neutralization of South Vietnam.
The expression "war against trees" was one that stuck in my mind and in subsequent interviews with refugees and other travellers from South Vietnam, I paid special attention to this. The picture that emerged is horrifying. Wide-scale spraying of chemical agents from planes has been used not only against trees but against food crops with the deliberate intent of starving the peasantry into entering the "prosperity zones" and "strategic villages." Food-killers have been sprayed on areas outside the concentration zones to destroy all surrounding vegetation and further back still to destroy all crops and orchards apart from those grown behind barbed wire.
The South Vietnamese people have now become guinea pigs for testing out new types of weapons, types developed by the U.S. government for the sort of "local wars" which Pentagon ideologists like Henry Kissinger had been urging on Washington for years previously.
From experimental tests on plots of about 10 acres carried out in August 1961, chemical spraying was begun early in 1962 over areas of several hundred acres at a time. Apart from the insane attempt to destroy a mile-wide strip of trees along South Vietnam's borders with Laos and Cambodia, air-sprayed chemicals have been used to clear swaths alongside roads and rivers, to create buffer zones around the "strategic villages," to clear the jungle from the Hants Plateaux region—the highlands home of many of the ethnic minorities. From the 17th parallel demarcation line down to the southernmost tip of South Vietnam, chemical warfare has been waged against forests, plantations, orchards, and food crops.
An account, typical of dozens of others I heard, was that given by Pham Tri Thach, a fragile, middle-aged peasant woman from Phuoc Tan village in Bien Hoa province. I met her at the 17th parallel, shortly after she had floated across the Ben Hai river at night, clinging to the stout trunk of a banana palm. She had made her way across from one of the southernmost provinces, hitching rides where she could on trucks and boats, but for hundreds of miles she had slogged it out on foot till she reached the Ben Hai.
"Planes came over on several mornings between January 12 and 18," she said. "Not only over our village but the nearby ones of Tarn Phuoc, An Loi, and Tarn An. I saw them the first time on the 12th. I was on my way to market when a plane came down quite low with what looked like whitish smoke coming out of its tail. There was another one about the same height half a kilometre away. When the 'smoke' drifted over me, I thought at first I was going to choke. My chest started to burn. All the way to market I had difficulty in breathing. I had to keep stopping to sit down. After a while my nose started bleeding. When I got to the market I found some other women suffered the same thing. Two of them were bleeding from the mouth as well. Others had burning pains in the chest.
"Everyone talked about it at the market. We thought it must be some new thing to kill insects. But afterwards, on the way home I noticed all the young rice plants had shrivelled up. Leaves on the banana palms were hanging limply alongside the trunks. There was something peculiar about the leaves on papaya and other trees.
"When I got back to the village, I found that one of my neighbors, a woman of my age, was paralyzed. She had also had severe nose bleeding and vomiting. She was paralyzed for several hours. By evening she was able to move about alright, but had severe pains in the chest and difficulty in breathing. She had been hoeing in the fields and started to run when the plane came right over her head. She and others who were in the fields said the plants shrivelled up five minutes after they had been sprayed.
"Next day the banana palms were dead and the leaves had fallen from all the fruit trees. They died afterwards too. From the other villages we heard that several other people had been temporarily paralyzed and many others had chest pains."
A wizened up old fisherman, with a face like a ripe walnut —one of a group which had fled north in a flimsy raft-like boat of lashed bamboo poles—told of how planes at the end of the previous December had sprayed a ten-mile stretch of coastal land.
"Two planes came," he said, "and sprayed up and down just as if they were ploughing a field. We were fishing just off the coast and wondered what they were up to. By the time we got ashore, the banana palms were dead and the leaves of other fruit trees were hanging limp. The folk ashore were complaining of pains in the chest. Afterwards the leaves dropped off all the trees. Some of them died but on others the leaves grew back again. The worst affected were the fruit trees, bananas, papaya, mandarins, and others. They all died."
The worst report came from two villages, along strategic Route 15, which leads from Saigon north to the 17th parallel. On January 14 and 15, planes systematically sprayed rice fields, plantations, and orchards. The result, according to a former minor functionary of the Diem administration now an exile in Cambodia, was the destruction of 230 acres of rubber trees —two whole plantations—50 acres of citrus trees, 190 acres of other fruit trees, 35 acres of coffee, 287 acres of rice fields, and 87 acres of vegetable gardens.
"Thousands of days of work and many years of growth destroyed in two days by American planes," said the former functionary who must be nameless as his family remains in South Vietnam. "The official reason was that vegetation must be destroyed to protect the road from Viet Cong attacks, to deny them a hiding place. But the real reason was to destroy the people's livelihood so they would be forced to abandon the villages near the road and move back into the so-called 'prosperity zone'."
A similar action to clear a half-mile wide strip each side of the road between Saigon and Cap St. Jacques, resulted in the destruction of several hundred acres of mainly French-owned rubber plantations. The French and Vietnamese plantation owners in this case created a big scandal, demanding heavy compensation, and the "war against trees" was halted for a time—at least in that area. But according to reliable reports the Americans have stocked sufficient chemicals to spray an area 1,500 miles long by six miles wide. Normal procedure is to photograph the target area from helicopters before and after spraying, presumably to verify the results.
The chemicals used against vegetation are only one of a number of new types of warfare the Americans are trying out —Asians as usual on the receiving end.
As to what is being used—and prepared for future use— there was a revealing article in Newsweek of August 21, 1961. Among the new weapons and equipment being shipped to, or designed for Southeast Asia, writes Newsweek, are:
A "microjet" rocket, a tiny projectile about an inch long, that can be fired from a plastic tube no bigger than a drinking straw. The needlelike nylon rocket has a range of 4,000 yards, a velocity of 4,000 feet per second. The weapon in effect is a modern adaptation of blow-gun darts, and by mounting a cluster of straws together, a Gatling gun effect can be created. "It's almost a silent killer and it's the deadliest little weapon I've ever seen," says a guerilla expert...
An explosive gas that could be released over the enemy. Hugging the ground, the gas is set off by any spark in the same way that dust in a grain elevator ignites. "In a fraction of a second," say a researcher, "the stuff goes boom and it pulverizes everything in sight."
Canadian made de Haviland "Caribou" transport planes that can be effectively used from improvised airfields for close support of troops. The Caribou carries 24 paratroopers or three tons of cargo at speeds up to 200 mph or as slow as 70 mph. Vietnam is getting some of the first off the assembly line.
Among other types of chemicals that Newsweek did not mention is one sprayed from a plane or fired in artillery shells. A sort of gas hovers a few feet above the ground and ignites with explosive effect at a spark or grenade explosion. Another kind, sprayed in combat areas, lies like soap suds on the ground and explodes at a grenade burst or if a tracer bullet is fired into it. A variant of the anti-vegetation chemical is one which when sprayed on ponds or lakes kills the fish and ducks and other birds that feed on the fish.
From descriptions by eye-witnesses from many different parts of South Vietnam, the general effect of the anti-vegetation chemicals seems to be the following. Within a few hours of being sprayed, plants like rice and maize are completely dried up; root crops like sweet potatoes and manioc deteriorate markedly within 24 hours; quick-growing vegetation like banana palms and papaya trees die wthin 24 hours, the banana palm simply collapsing on the ground. Forest trees and some of the hardier fruit trees lose their leaves and bark after a few weeks, but unless the same trees are sprayed several times in succession, the leaves grow again. There seems to be a difference in the strength of the chemicals used, as some accounts spoke of leaves of rice plants shrivelling up within a matter of minutes, others in hours. Also some of those I spoke with thought the chemicals that killed the fish and ducks were the same as those used against vegetation.
On March 16, 1962, Agence France Presse (AFP) carried the following despatch from Saigon:
The first American attempts to wipe out the thick vegetation along the main communication routes in South Vietnam by means of powerful chemical agents does not seem to have given the expected results. Two months after the beginning of these experiments, only the upper foliage of the forests have been "killed"; the leaves burned a brownish hue have still not fallen, while under the big trees, the jungle which offers a much-sought cover for the Viet Cong, remains as thick and vigorous as ever. Officially, one is merely told that the experts have not finished evaluating the results of the first attempts and that there is no reason to believe that the experiment has been conclusive.
Further attempts will doubtless be made, it is added, when the experts' recommendations are known. The main aim of the operation, it is recalled, is to try and free the main communication routes and also, if possible, create a vast stretch of territory denuded of all vegetation along the frontier between South Vietnam and Laos.
AFP sets the beginning of the experiments about January 14 and 15, the time of the two attacks on the two districts mentioned earlier and made in a region difficult to conceal. With the extremely tight restrictions on Saigon correspondents, it is possible that the earlier experiments and the scale of the chemical warfare have been kept secret from them. It is not an operation that American military chiefs are very interested in publicizing. War against trees and food crops, and experiments in chemical warfare against Asian peoples are not the way to win friends anywhere in the world. Especially not in Asia where the overwhelming majority of the people live so close to the soil. The battle to fill the family rice bowl is too intense for any Vietnamese peasant to feel anything but raging fury towards those who perpetrate such acts. To wage war against nature as well as against the Vietnamese people adds macabre elements to U.S. intervention. Using Asians as victims for tests of new weapons fits into an all too-familiar pattern which stretches from Hiroshima to the nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific.
Chemical warfare is of course only one sidelight of U.S. military activities in South Vietnam. The new phase of direct involvement started with the visit of Vice-President Lyndon Johnson to Saigon in May 1961 with a letter from President Kennedy offering stepped-up U.S. aid. A communique issued on May 13, after three days of talks between Johnson and Diem, mentioned eight points, although press despatches said the program included 15 items. Some were kept secret. In the rather evangelical language of the communique, it was stated that both governments had agreed to step up existing military and economic aid programs "and to infuse into their joint actions a high sense of urgency and dedication." The United States would finance additional armed forces, and would provide "Military Assistance Program support for the entire Vietnamese Civil Guard forces." The two governments "should collaborate in the use of military specialists," and "the assistance of other Free Governments... against Communist guerilla forces would be welcome." More financial aid was of course promised and it was agreed that both sides "would discuss new economic and social measures to be undertaken in rural areas, to accompany the anti-guerilla effort."
Other points not mentioned in the communique, but leaked to the press, included the despatch of U.S. "guerilla experts"; more "advisers" to train troops and police; U.S. engineers to repair guerilla-wrecked bridges and to build roads and airstrips; more cash to add another 20,000 men to Diem's army.
Following Johnson's visits, U.S. military experts started swarming on Saigon like vultures on a dead cow. By November 1961 there had been no less than 44 military missions visiting South Vietnam, expert in everything from 55 methods of silent killing to tightening the stays in bullet-proof vests. The two most important were those headed by Dr. Eugene Staley in July and by Kennedy's special military adviser, General Maxwell Taylor in October.
Staley himself is almost the personification of the central figure in Graham Greene's famous book, The Quiet American. A mousy sort of person, with trim grey moustache, an economist who likes to pass for a "liberal," he emerged on the South Vietnamese scene with missionary-like fervor to "save the country from communism." With clinical efficiency he set to work to draw up a plan of which a Hitler or an Eichmann would have been proud to have dreamed up. Details of this scheme so meticulously prepared by the "liberal" economics expert have not been announced officially, but the most monstrous provisions, which have little to do with either economics or liberalism, are well known.
Apart from calling for an intensified effort to form concentration camp villages, mentioned earlier, Staley's plan provided for:
Pacification of South Vietnam within 18 months and intensified sabotage in North Vietnam by air-dropped spies and commando groups.
Following pacification, to build up the army on a regular, modern basis, intensify sabotage in the North, and organize commando bases in the North for future action.
Develop the economy of the South and attack the North.
To carry out the first stages, Staley recommended: (a) increasing the regular army from 150,000 to 270,000, the militia from 68,000 to 100,000, and gradually transform the militia into regular forces; increase the police from 45,000 to 90,000 and develop various local guard and militia units to free the police for mopping up and regular military operations, (b) to organize a network of "strategic villages" and "prosperity zones" with a series of "no man's lands" to isolate South Vietnam from her neighbors and the "prosperity zones" from each other; (c) to launch a series of military actions to destroy the resistance movement.
The plan was accepted, and to carry it out President Kennedy stepped up military allocations for South Vietnam for 1961 from the original $125,000,000 to $216,000,000 and for 1962, to $400,000,000. No peasants anywhere in the world had so many dollars per capita lavished on their extermination.
General Maxwell Taylor was sent from October 19 to 25, to work out supplementary details of the Staley Plan in view of a decision taken a few days earlier by the National Security Council (which directs military policy in Washington) on direct U.S. intervention. Taylor's proposals called for:
(1) Diem's army to be reorganized structurally and placed under direct U.S. control. The powers of lower echelons would be increased and units would obey the orders of American "advisers" of the MAAG (Military Aid and Assistance Group) without reference to Diem's own Headquarters staff.
Small units of the U.S. army would gradually be transferred to Vietnam.
The number of U.S. "advisers" would be increased. Deliveries of arms, including various new types would be stepped up to re-equip the Diem army.
After the frontier between South Vietnam and Laos was sealed off with the "no man's land" as provided by Staley, troops would be stationed along the frontier and then a corridor would be established linking South Vietnam with Thailand through Laos. There would be a single command embracing Thailand, Laos, and South Vietnam; Cambodia would then be completely isolated and subject to increased pressures.
This program was approved by President Kennedy and the National Security Council on November 15. The "Blue Book" was hastily knocked together for release a few weeks later, and on December 11 the first U.S. combat units—still technically classed as "advisers" and "instructors"—arrived in Saigon.
During the latter part of November and early December, large quantities of war material, including helicopters and fighter-bombers, started arriving in South Vietnam, unannounced by Washington or Saigon but reported in the world press. The correspondent of the London Times, for instance, reported on December 8, that supplies delivered by the United States within the previous few weeks "range from fighter-bombers aircraft to trained dogs for hunting down terrorists." Four days later, the New York Times reported the arrival of two U.S. helicopter companies comprising "at least" 33 helicopters with 400 U.S. pilots and ground crew. These would be "assigned" to Diem's army but would remain under U.S. control and operation. American combat troops, from December 11, 1961, were thus directly involved in combat operations in an undeclared war against the South Vietnamese people.
From 2,000 U.S. "instructors" at the beginning of 1961, the number went up to 7,000 by mid-1962. Apart from training Diem's troops, U.S. military personnel work out operational plans, direct combat operations, fly the fighter and bomber planes that protect such operations, release the bombs and fire the machine-guns, transport Diem's troops by helicopter to carry out terror raids against recalcitrant villages, and hunt down guerillas with German police dogs. The latter had been requested by Diem after U.S. experts carried out a demonstration in which two dogs—the sort the Nazis used to force their victims to quicken their pace into the gas chambers—had discovered eight "Viet Cong" in a refuge 30 miles northwest of Saigon. Robert Trumbull reported in the New York Times of December 6, that "high South Vietnamese government officials who witnessed the demonstrations" were so "highly impressed with this performance, the South Vietnamese government has asked the United States to provide 1000 dogs." One wonders what sort of training a dog has to receive to distinguish between a peasant and a "Viet Cong"! In fact these dogs are to be used as American slaveowners used bloodhounds in the past to track down their runaway slaves—to hound down any peasant who lives or moves outside the concentration camp villages.
Intervention was formalized on February 8, 1962, with the establishment of a U.S. Military Command in Saigon, headed by General Paul Donal Harkins—also an old Korean hand —Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Pacific area. Harkins set up a headquarters staff big enough to handle three combat divisions, according to the U.S. press.
All the moves preceding the setting up of the Command and much of its actual activities were shrouded in secrecy. What little was known of what was going on was pried out of tight-lipped Pentagon planners—including the President — by congressmen and journalists anxious to know if Kennedy was pushing the United States into another Korea.
Such anxiety was expressed in many U.S. periodicals. The Christian Century of April 25, 1962, for instance, accused President Kennedy of concealing the facts about South Vietnam just as Senator Kennedy accused President Eisenhower eight years previously:
Give us the truth Mr. President [the Protestant weekly said in an editorial]... What justification has the President for sending U.S. troops, reported to number nearly 5,000, plus ships and planes to a country 10,000 miles away?
According to the Geneva Convention of 1954, South Vietnam can have no more than 685 military advisers from a single nation and it is forbidden to import military personnel from any foreign country.
A nice question arose for Washington when the first Americans were wounded. The elaborate pretense that no Americans were engaged in combat had to be maintained. On the other hand, the wounded were demanding their Purple Heart medals. But these are awarded only to those wounded in action "against an armed enemy of the United States." The first sergeant to have been wounded in action was denied his medal, because as the New York Times reported on April 24, "Washington does not recognize this as a combat zone for Americans." The report went on to say that "Eight of twenty planes of the United States Light Helicopter Company have holes from Communist bullets. The crews cannot follow the subtlety of State Department thinking and are indignant." A few days later, Washington overcame its legal scruples and decided to award the medals. In the same quiet, furtive way in which the whole intervention operation has been handled, the South Vietnamese people are now classified as an armed enemy of the United States.
Lest there be any doubt as to the direct U.S. participation in the furtive war, there was an interesting despatch from the Agence France Presse correspondent in Saigon, on March 16, 1962:
American instructors sent to South Vietnam within the framework of U.S. military aid to this country sometimes take part in combat operations against the Viet Cong. According to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, this does not at all imply that it is the United States that wages or directs the war in South Vietnam. Their role, as set out in official State Department directives to their U.S. Embassy in Saigon, is solely to provide material aid and logistics support to the Vietnamese armed forces, to train and advise them...
However it is recognized unofficially that it is sometimes difficult actually to distinguish between "pure training" and "active participation" in combat operations. Training, it is stressed, is not always done on the training ground but sometimes also on the battlefield. Thus certain instructors may be led to advise a commando unit in actual combat. It is the same thing in the huge project for training pilots. It happens that planes leave on combat missions with an American pilot-instructor at the controls and a young Vietnamese pilot. In such a case the instructor has to carry out his task to advise, by showing in fact how to do it.
On the same day Reuter quoted U.S. Defense Secretary McNamara at a Washington press conference as saying that two-seater training planes have now replaced single-seaters in the Vietnamese Air Force. "Such training," said McNamara, "occasionally takes place in combat conditions." Asked whether American pilots actually use the machine-guns or drop bombs on Communist guerillas, McNamara is quoted as replying: "Americans have received instructions not to fire unless they are attacked." Pressed to say whether this applied to planes as well, the U.S. Defense Secretary said "yes," the firing to which he referred applied to planes as well as to forces on the ground.
In other words before the pilot strafed or napalmed a recalcitrant village, he should enter into the plane's log that he had been receiving "ground fire"—that is, if he really believed the scruples of McNamara or the Pentagon. To ensure better efficiency was not the only reason for U.S. pilots at the controls. As the AFP despatch pointed out, "the training results have not been at all bad if one judges by the accuracy with which the rebel pilots recently bombed the Presidential palace." But because Diem feared to let any Vietnamese pilot at the controls of a plane loaded with bombs and rockets, the twin-seater combat planes were introduced within a matter of weeks after the bombing of Diem's palace.
Another interesting sidelight on the cloak-and-dagger nature of U.S. intervention was the arrival in Saigon on April 15, 1962, of Allen Dulles, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency. He came as a member of a Pentagon "study" group to check up, among other things, according to the New York Times, as to whether "The approximately 6,000 U.S. military personnel... really know why they are here and what they are doing."
For a typical account of "what they are doing," Dulles could look up the New York Times. Under the headline, "US 'Copters Aid Attack on Red Force in Vietnam," he could gladden his heart and pride with the following despatch, date lined Cai Ngai, Vietnam, March 9,1962.
United States Army helicopters carried a Vietnamese battalion in a successful raid today against this Communist stronghold near the southern tip of Vietnam. Five helicopters were struck by Communist bullets and one was disabled... [As for what sort of a "stronghold," the despatch continues] Cai Ngai, a clutter of huts along a canal 20 miles southwest of Ca Mau in An Xuyen province, fell easily after a brief fight. Three Communist guerillas were killed in a bamboo thicket at the edge of a village. Strafing by Vietnamese fighter planes killed an estimated 25 more who were seen to flee the encirclement. . .. About 20 suspected Viet Cong guerillas were seized.
But as usual the main enemy force got away. It slipped through the trap even though the airborne attackers had achieved excellent surprise in their vertical envelopment of the village... The Government troops failed to exploit the Viet Cong state of shock. They bunched up and dawdled in drainage ditches and under the shade of coconut trees until an American adviser cried out in exasperation. "Let's move this thing forward!"
To anyone reading between the lines, an attack was made against an ordinary South Vietnamese village. Fleeing peasants were mown down by American piloted fighter-bombers. A few were killed and a few more seized. The South Vietnamese troops were reluctant to take part in further butchery but were prodded into action by an American officer. This is a scene repeated daily over large areas of Vietnam, especially in the Ca Mau peninsula where the most intense U.S.-Diem effort was made in the first half of 1962 to herd the peasants into concentration camp villages. One wonders whether the U.S. "advisers" have no qualms that the day might come when South Vietnamese troops will turn their guns on the foreign officers and make common cause with their intended victims. The French could probably give them a few tips about this. There are signs that this is already starting.
After an attempt had been made—allegedly by students—to assassinate U.S. Ambassador Frederick E. Nolting Jr., in Saigon and several Americans had been wounded by grenades in that city, Saigon has taken on more and more the face it wore at the height of the war against the French. The New York Times reported on May 21, that "buses for servicemen have wire screened windows to deflect missiles. Some restaurants have taken the precaution of installing wire netting across their front windows. . . . The (U.S.) embassy is planning to renew next week its warning against travel outside Saigon." Just like old times, the French colonialists were saying.
In connection with the grenade thrown at the U.S. Ambassador, a brilliant poet and professor of mathematics, Le Quang Vinh, and three students were sentenced to death and eight other students sentenced to from five years to life imprisonment. The grenade incident was used as a pretext to terrorize Saigon students in particular and intellectuals in general. Students had been agitating for some time for the Vietnamese language to replace English and French as the sole languages for instruction in South Vietnam's higher educational establishments. Also they had been demanding that an effort be made to build more schools. In Saigon, highly favored in comparison with other centers, over half the children of school age had no education because there were neither schools to attend nor teachers to instruct. Le Quang Vinh, who had received his higher education in France and the United States, supported the students' demands, a sufficient cause for his arrest.
At his trial before a Saigon "special" court, on May 23, 1962, despite the standard severe tortures he had undergone, he used the court room to denounce in no uncertain terms the fascist nature of the Diem regime and the iniquities of foreign intervention. He and the other 11 accused all denied any knowledge of the assassination attempt.
It was obvious that the U.S. Ambassador only had to lift his little finger to spare the life of Le Quang Vinh and the others. The sentences were monstrous even had they been guilty of the incident, in which no one was injured. To expect humanitarian considerations to move the chief agent of U.S. intervention in South Vietnam, would be unrealistic but one would have thought that political considerations might have moved Ambassador Nolting. The savagery of this sentence united thousands more students and intellectuals against Diem and the Americans.
To emphasize that they had come to stay and to compensate for the privileges denied them by the guerillas of looking for fun outside Saigon, the Americans started to build picnic grounds with barbecue pits, bowling alleys, an "Olympic-sized" swimming pool, tennis courts, radio station, and the like. Trees being planted in 1962 were expected to shade American invasion troops in years to come, but they feel so insecure even in Saigon, despite the U.S. military patrols that prowl the streets of the capital day and night, that it was decided to set up special housing units for the garrison troops and other personnel of the fast-developing new colonialists. This, reported the New York Times on June 21, 1962, "would also ease the extraordinary difficulty of providing security for offices and men now scattered throughout Saigon in converted hotels and apartment blocks. The proposed units would form a compound more easily protected against grenade throwers."
A "threat to peace" there is indeed in South Vietnam, but not, as the "Blue Book" claims, because of any activities of, or from the North. The real threat comes from 10,000 miles away—in Washington's Pentagon building.
The Americans did manage however to pull something off with the "Blue Book." At the press conference at which Dean Rusk presented this dubious document, he said that he was confident that the International Control Commission would take up many of the matters raised in the book. President Kennedy, he said, had raised the question with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during the latter's visit to Washington the previous week. As the United States loudly proclaimed, it had never signed the Geneva Agreements, and indeed encouraged its puppets in Laos and South Vietnam to denounce them as often as possible. Accordingly, it was hardly Kennedy's place to discuss with anyone the work of the ICC (established only to control the application of the Geneva Agreements). Among other demands Kennedy had pressed at the meeting with Nehru was that India immediately send a "strong man" to Vietnam as Chairman of the Commission. Accordingly, Mr. Parthasarathy, whom Nehru had just named India's representative at the UN, was hastily despatched to Vietnam, on what must have been a disagreeable task.
The Americans were impatient. Their intervention had already started and despite the furtive way in which the start had been made, there were raised eyebrows in many capitals normally complacent about any U.S. moves. The New York Times of April 28, 1962, had reported that Washington was "putting pressure" on India to produce a report that would show evidence of subversion, sabotage, and terrorism on the part of North Vietnam.
On the diplomatic front [reported Washington correspondent Max Frankel] the United States is still trying to prod the Indian member of the three-nation International Control Commission to denounce North Vietnamese "subversion" and "interference" in South Vietnam. This, it is believed, would be the best way of combating Communist contentions that the fighting amounts to a civil war between a "reactionary" government and national "liberators." Officials cited this policy to rebut reports that President Ngo Dinh Diem was considering the idea of evicting the commission as ineffective and as a cover-up for Communist activities
Fake a report or get out, the Americans were telling the Control Commission just as Diem later told U.S. correspondents, "Produce paper victories, or get out."
Even if "subversion" and "interference" were at the root of the problem, which they were certainly not, these terms are nowhere mentioned in the Geneva Agreements, the implementation of which the International Commission was in Vietnam to control. But clauses specifically mentioned in the Agreements were being violated day in and day out by the United States itself and by the Diem regime.
Nevertheless, to the discredit of those responsible for its compilation, a majority report, with Poland strenuously objecting, was produced which dutifully rubber-stamped many of the charges made in the "Blue Book." As an example of the quality of the ICC majority report, it is stated that it has been impossible to check the "accuracy" of reports of "alleged" American military aid. The Americans had quite officially spoken of 5,000 "advisers" and the U.S. press by the time the report was published had put the figure at 7,000. But the ICC report, in an outrageous attempt to diminish the importance of U.S. intervention, said its teams from December 3, 1961, to May 5, 1962, had "controlled the entry of 72 military personnel and observed but not controlled, 173 personnel," plus military planes, howitzers, armored cars, etc.
The prestige of the ICC could not but suffer in producing a document so obviously aimed at justifying America's undeclared war against the people of South Vietnam.
1. U.S. State Department, Far Eastern Series, No. 110, December 1961, Washington, D.C.
2. Full Circle: The Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Boston, 1960.
3. As a young senator from Massachusetts, Kennedy attacked Eisenhower and Dulles at that time for concealing the truth about the Indo-China war from the American people. On April 6, 1954, in a speech in the U.S. Senate, he said: "To pour money, material and men into the jungles of Indo-China without at least a remote prospect of victory would be dangerously futile and destructive... I am frankly of the belief that no amount of American assistance in Indo-China can conquer an enemy which is everywhere, and at the same time nowhere; an 'enemy of the people' which has the sympathy and support of the people... For the United States to intervene unilaterally and to send troops into the most difficult terrain of the world... would mean that we would face a situation which would be more difficult than even that which we encountered in Korea.
4. The fact that Canada is a member of the International Control Commission, whose task it is to see that no war material enters the country, does not seem to have bothered the Newsweek reporter.