Helion's Hunting the Viet Cong
|$29.95 MSRP from Casemate|
96 pages, softcover, over
The conflict in Vietnam was complex to say the least. After the Viet Minh ousted the French in the mid 1950s, the nation was divided into the communist north and the more democratic south. However, South Vietnam was never really a democracy as it was ruled by one strong man after another. In the eyes of the US, it was more democratic than the north so the mounting insurgency of the Viet Cong was seen as a threat to the region. This was in an era when the 'domino theory' held sway in US foreign policy.
The US had a very small number of advisors in the country in the late 1950s, but this grew in the early 1960s. The idea was to infuse the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) with equipment and to provide logistical support in an effort to defeat the insurgency. In addition to training the South Vietnamese Army in modern techniques, the US took a cue from the British success in Malaya. This involved a 'hearts and minds' campaign with the peasants in rural areas, hoping they would side with the ARVN in disclosing the whereabouts of the VC, thus helping to eradicate VC influences.
In addition, a program of strategic hamlets, where villages would be relocated into what were small armed camps was started. It was hoped that if the VC did not have access to villagers for food and indoctrination, that it would be easier to defeat them. The thing is, that this sort of program actually worked. While not getting rid of the VC entirely, large areas of the nation were considered safe enough for people to live a more normal life.
One thing this did was cause the VC to get more desperate and this increased the number of terror acts, such as kidnappings, destruction of government facilities and abuse/killing of villagers who resisted. This also tended to turn villagers against the VC, where in the past they had been fairly neutral.
Of course it was a lot more complex than what I've laid out. The author has taken a very detailed look at the overall situation in the early years of US involvement, as one can see by the multiple pages of references that have been provided at the end of the book. It shows how very close the US and South Vietnam came to eradicating the VC influence in the country. It is a book that should be read by everyone who has an interest in this conflict. It should change some perceptions of the war in Southeast Asia. Well worth picking up.
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