Whatever course the long struggle in Viet Nam finally takes, short of nuclear holocaust, one thing seems certain: the people of Viet Nam still will be there. This is a reminder that war in Viet Nam is a "people's war." As such, it is a constantly recurring phenomenon of this period of man's history. How it is fought and what happens to the Vietnamese people as a result have meanings, therefore, far beyond today or the boundaries of Viet Nam itself. "People's wars" elsewhere will also make demands on the American people to help solve them. Thus, although the hour is late in Viet Nam, terribly so, there is time yet for Americans to consider the war in Viet Nam in its "people" nature, especially as regards what American assistance in these critical months will come to mean to the Vietnamese people in their own future, and to us in ours.

Nearly four years ago now, on December 20, 1960, the Communists set up the political base with which they hoped to win Viet Nam by revolutionary struggle. The base consisted of an idea and of an organization to start giving that idea reality. Both the idea and the concept of the organization were foreign, having traveled the distance in time and space from Lenin in the Soviet Union via Mao in China.

The Communist idea was to gain control of the 14,000,000 people living in South Viet Nam by destroying their faith in their own government and creating faith in the inevitability of a Communist take-over. The organization to do this through a phased series of disciplined actions was called "The National Liberation Front of South Viet Nam." It had a central committee to direct its operations, the beginnings of a country-wide apparatus for political-psychological-military actions, and a wide assortment of member "fronts," manned by small cadres, to appeal politically to mass groupings of Vietnamese people: the farmers, the workers, the youth, the intellectuals, and even the civil servants and military.

Ever since the creation of a Communist political base in Viet Nam, the successive governments of Viet Nam and their supporter and counselor, the United States, with the approval and sometimes the help of other free-world peoples, have given their substance and made their sacrifices to prevent a Communist win. The harsh fact, and one which has given pause to every thoughtful American, is that, despite the use of overwhelming amounts of men, money and matériel, despite the quantity of well-meant American advice and despite the impressive statistics of casualties inflicted on the Viet Cong, the Communist subversive insurgents have grown steadily stronger, in numbers and in size of units, and still retain the initiative to act at their will in the very areas of Viet Nam where Vietnamese and American efforts have been most concentrated.

Most American reactions to this stark fact have fallen within three general categories. Some believe that we should disengage in Viet Nam, preferably by setting up means to end the struggle and bloodshed through international accommodation. Some believe we should plainly identify the struggle as a war and make use of our military proficiency to force the Communist régime in Hanoi to cease its adventure in the south. Some believe we should continue along the present course, but greatly increasing the quantity and effectiveness of what is done so that it eventually smothers and kills the Communist insurgency. The anomaly in these reactions is that each falls short of understanding that the Communists have let loose a revolutionary idea in Viet Nam and that it will not die by being ignored, bombed or smothered by us. Ideas do not die in such ways.

A fourth belief, admittedly in a minority in the free world at present, is to oppose the Communist idea with a better idea and to do so on the battleground itself, in a way that would permit the people, who are the main feature of that battleground, to make their own choice. A political base would be established. The first step would be to state political goals, founded on principles cherished by free men, which the Vietnamese share; the second would be an aggressive commitment of organizations and resources to start the Vietnamese moving realistically toward those political goals. In essence, this is revolutionary warfare, the spirit of the British Magna Carta, the French "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" and our own Declaration of Independence.

For American consideration, this fourth belief might be put another way. It is this. In trying to help the Vietnamese, the United States has been contributing in generous measure those things which it so far has felt most qualified to give and which the Vietnamese may lack-money, equipment and technical advice. In general, though, the United States has felt inhibited about trying to make a contribution in areas in which it feels that the chief responsibility must rest with the Vietnamese themselves, particularly in finding the motivation for conducting a successful counter-insurgency effort. The thesis of this paper is that, due to the extent of our involvement, and because everything depends on that motivation, Americans cannot escape responsibility in this area either.

It will be staunchly maintained by some that no nation can endow another nation with the will to be free, that only an indigenous movement can have genuine popular appeal, that Americans should not interfere in the domestic affairs of another nation, and that the Vietnamese war is now in such a state that political innovations could invite disaster. This makes it necessary to examine the revolutionary solution in some detail.


Two near neighbors of Viet Nam offer examples of countries which were successful in maintaining their freedom when attacked by Asian Communist subversive insurgents. True, the circumstances were not the same as in Viet Nam today. Yet in each case the insurgencies were conducted as "wars of national liberation" by native Communists using a revolutionary political base, and these insurgencies were defeated.

The unconventional methods which were developed and used in the successful campaigns in Malaya and the Philippines are the lessons most often studied and adapted for use elsewhere, including in Viet Nam. They have their importance. However, both of these successful campaigns had one great lesson in common, which the leaders recognized as the single most significant and vital factor in victory. The great lesson was that there must be a heartfelt cause to which the legitimate government is pledged, a cause which makes a stronger appeal to the people than the Communist cause, a cause which is used in a dedicated way by the legitimate government to polarize and guide all other actions-psychological, military, social and economic-with participation by the people themselves, in order to bring victory. In Malaya, the cause was to safeguard the impending national independence from seizure by Communist neo-colonialism. In the Philippines, the cause was to safeguard the Constitution whose true value came to be appreciated as it was made a working document for the people, so that appeals by the Communists to the people to join them in overthrowing the constitutional government by force actually made the Communists a minority against the people's best interests.

These necessarily brief descriptions of two causes cannot convey the strength of their tremendously moving appeal to the people on the two battlegrounds. As with most fundamental truths, their concepts were plain to understand once they were explained correctly. After they were discovered and made effective, they seemed so natural and obvious that many people who had not shared the deep emotions of the insurgent battlegrounds tended to overlook them or under-rate their vital significance, looking elsewhere for more romantic or technical foundations from which the victories might be supposed to have been started.

Of specific interest to those concerned with the problems of Viet Nam, and as a commentary on the frailty of human perceptions, it should be noted that the vital causes which became the rallying points in Malaya and the Philippines were disregarded during years of tragic struggle in those countries. Once they were recognized and given dynamic use by leaders such as Templar, Magsaysay and others, even though this was done after there had been years of indecisive fighting, the climax of each campaign came quickly. If it can be expressed by a formula, the lesson might be stated as: When the right cause is identified and used correctly, the anti- Communist fight becomes a pro-people fight, with the overwhelming majority of the people then starting to help what they recognize to be their own side, and the struggle is brought to a climax. When the pro-people fight is continued sincerely by its leaders, the Communist insurgency is destroyed.

This concept of revolutionary warfare seems to lie close to the heart of American beliefs. In the President's June 23, 1964, press conference, in which he restated our Southeast Asian policy, he said, "This is not just a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity." The month before, the Secretary of Defense explained to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that "the mission of our men in South Viet Nam is the same as of those Europeans [he named Kosciusko, Von Steuben and Pulaski] who came to assist us in our fight for liberty."

Now as already mentioned, the concept that the United States should give advice and counsel on waging revolutionary warfare in the form of a "pro- people fight" involves exporting American political principles, and some see such an export as something improper, or even immoral. Such an inhibition deserves close scrutiny when it is applied to a life-or-death struggle, such as the one in Viet Nam, since it rules out or at least weakens American help in providing the attacked country with a dynamic political answer with which to meet and overcome the foreign ideas introduced by the Communists as the political base of their attack. Lacking such a dynamic answer, the country is left to make do with its own political resources-which, as we have witnessed time after time, often evolve into a one-man leadership with strict control over all national resources, in order to save the country. Americans see this result as a dictatorship and feel a moral inhibition against giving it assistance; some well-meaning people go so far as to attack it. Not surprisingly, the United States thus comes to be looked upon abroad as immature or callous or self- righteous.

Admittedly, great wisdom and sensitivity are required if the United States is to help in the internal political problems of foreign peoples. It would be a drastic change for most U.S. officials to try to satisfy the hesitantly expressed desires of leaders and peoples of sovereign states for political advice with a higher content of American idealism in it. Some might do the task badly, lacking the required perceptivity and understanding of the political backgrounds of either the host country or our own.

Yet the United States has undertaken political tasks of this sort in foreign nations in the past, and the results have brought it considerable honor and prestige. The two most recent examples were Japan and West Germany, defeated nations with which it somehow became "correct" to share the best possible American political thinking. Another example was the Philippines. We tutored the Philippine people and encouraged them in self- government in the same brotherly spirit which elsewhere today could make all the difference in struggles between freedom and Communism. While the Philippines, Japan and Germany are primarily examples of U.S. government efforts, others which have been most useful were private or semi-public, such as the work of American lawyers abroad in helping establish the legal foundation of government. It is not surprising or unseemly that the Constitution of India contains so many provisions based upon decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, that the 1955 Constitution of Ethiopia recognizes so many of the same rights as does the U.S. Constitution, that the 1940 Constitution of Cuba remains the very antithesis of Castro and the eventual return to its observance one of the great hopes of the Cuban people.


The great cause in Viet Nam which last united the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese, both North and South, was "independence." For many of the Vietnamese, including nearly all the Vietnamese leaders with whom we work today in South Viet Nam, "independence" was a goal to be won by revolutionary means against a colonial power. In this aspect, Viet Nam's revolutionary spirit was close to that of the American Revolution.

The tragedy of Viet Nam's revolutionary war for independence was that her "Benedict Arnold" was successful. Ho Chi Minh, helped by Vo Nguyen Giap, Truong Chinh, Pham Van Dong, and a small cadre of disciplined Party members trained by the Chinese and Russians, secretly changed the goals of the struggle. Instead of a war for independence against the French colonial power, it became a war to defeat the French and put Viet Nam within the neo- colonial Communist empire. When they discovered the truth, those patriots who could escaped. It is worth remembering that, after the Geneva Accords were signed in 1954, Viet Minh troops were stoned by the population in Qui Nhon, the farmers of Ho Chi Minh's home province of Nghe An revolted against their Communist overlords, and a million Vietnamese fled from Communist territory.

The national revolution was reborn in South Viet Nam when Ngo Dinh Diem placed the fate of the new nation in the people's hands in 1955. Their secret ballot elected him almost unanimously to become their President, with the mandate to hold further elections for a Constitutional Assembly which would establish a government to govern with the consent of the governed. This was a revolutionary act and the Vietnamese people rallied to the cause. Again, it is worth remembering that soon after this election, which had so roused the people to the cause of freedom, the Soviet Union sent representatives to London to meet with the representatives of the other co-sponsor of the Geneva Accords, Great Britain. The two sponsoring parties agreed to call off the plebiscite which the Accords had scheduled to be held in 1956. An internationally supervised secret ballot in Viet Nam might well have gone heavily against the Communists at that time.

Unlike the American Revolution, the reborn national revolution in Viet Nam lost its momentum. The spirit of revolution began to be replaced by the spirit of "business as usual" and Diem became more and more shut off from the people. The Communists kept up unceasing psychological pressure to weaken the bonds between government and people, both through "character assassination" of government leaders and by means of terror. (Informed observers estimate that more than 6,000 minor Vietnamese officials, such as village elders, rural police and their families, have been murdered by the Viet Cong since 1959.) The forcible overthrow of Diem last November and the later coup in January were revolutionary acts in themselves, but appear to have been outside a national revolution at the rice-roots level, since they put the government largely into the hands of the army and the bureaucracy. While these are sizable, organized groups, they still are not the majority of the Vietnamese, the "people" among whom the Viet Cong hide and get support for their operations.

Widely shared feelings about revolution were summed up ably in a document written by the patriot Dan Van Sung, addressed to other Vietnamese nationalist leaders in July 1963. He wrote:

Emergent nations like Viet Nam are in the midst of a political revolution. They are groping towards a new political and social order. In the process, many ideological schools may be fighting against one another. On the one side are the Communists; on the other side are grouped the Nationalists of various tendencies, each of which is still in need of development. Whether the United States likes it or not, the aid program has to take the local revolution into account because American aid is bound to affect the revolutionary course and direction in one way or another, for the benefit or the damnation of the recipient people. This gives rise to a new responsibility which, while not propounded in the implementation of the Marshall Plan, must be dealt with realistically. Within the framework of American foreign policy, anti-Communism now has a revolutionary context. The American respect for the recipient people's "self-determination" can no longer be guaranteed by a negative policy of "non-intervention" which, practically speaking, may lead to just the contrary. In order to make sure that an emergent people really control their own destiny, the United States is expected to make positive efforts helping them develop control of themselves. In other words, American aid ought to be devised so as to help their legitimate aspirations come true through the achievement of their political revolution. This cannot be done without getting to the bottom of the revolutionary situation and taking sides in it, not only for anti- Communism but also for democracy. . . . By emphasizing anti-Communism rather than positive revolutionary goals and from lack of a better adaptation to the local situation, the United States has reduced its anti- Communist efforts in Viet Nam to the maintenance of an administrative machine and of an army. . . . The way out, to our mind, is not by an abandonment but, on the contrary, by going deep into every local revolutionary problem and helping solve them using principles of justice and freedom, and perhaps in fusing them with the revolutionary spirits of 1776.


The foregoing leads to the final question of the feasibility of American help in banding the leaders, the military, the civil servants and the people of Viet Nam into a united force for freedom. This was tried by edict in the emergency national mobilization of August 1964. Yet, the sovereign Vietnamese people, even in such a time of stress, are unlike the defeated Japanese and Germans who had no choice but to submit to a rule by edict, supported by massive American advisory help throughout all echelons of government. In a revolutionary or peoples' war, such as the war in Viet Nam, where the enemy is embedded within the population, the lasting quality needed for a win is the voluntary action of the population in joining together with the government forces, and with the American influence coming from respect and trust earned by the spirit in which individual Americans give their help.

There is no short-cut, no magic formula, to be used in engineering a great patriotic cause led by some universally loved Vietnamese of American selection. This type of puerile romance should not be attempted in real life. Nor does it seem probable in the light of Viet Nam's recent history, despite the cheering urban crowds in all too brief moments of great emotion, that the Vietnamese themselves will find quickly and easily any revolutionary solution which will carry them all the way to victory.

At this point in time and experience, perhaps the most valuable and realistic gift that Americans can give Viet Nam is to concentrate above everything else on helping the Vietnamese leadership create the conditions which will encourage the discovery and most rapid possible development of a patriotic cause so genuine that the Vietnamese willingly will pledge to it "their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor." Among the attributes of such a cause are that it shall give hope for a better future for each Vietnamese, that it shall provide a way for all Vietnamese to work for it, and that it shall have such integrity that it will induce Vietnamese leaders to start trusting one another. A number of actions can be undertaken, step by step, to create the conditions required. Some of them will now be suggested.

Foremost among the specific actions open to the United States is one to help the Vietnamese stabilize their government, even in its caretaker status, so that its leaders can afford to pay less attention to protecting their backs and more to the future. It is reported that there are several Vietnamese proposals about how to do this among the present leadership. It should not be too difficult for the United States to influence the adoption, as a matter of urgency, of the proposal most acceptable to Vietnamese leaders. Its success should be ensured through American advisers counseling individual Vietnamese on how to make the project work most harmoniously for the good of all, while being alert to curtail intemperate moves toward a coup or studied disobedience.

Another important need is to help the Vietnamese make the present caretaker government just that, a temporary caretaker, in accord with the government's own expressed desire. It would seem premature to set a precise day to hold elections, such as those announced for late in 1964. The Viet Cong subversive insurgents dominate too many villages for truly free universal elections. It would seem more realistic to say that an election will be held on the date when a simple majority of the population can vote by secret ballot, free of any threat.

If democracy is ever to become established in Viet Nam, as Vietnamese patriots hope, then political leaders and political parties need encouragement to gain experience and strength. They cannot do this on the political sidelines. Some new place should be found in the government for political leaders not now included, perhaps in a new Assembly of Notables which would fill the void left by the abolition of the consultative Council of Notables. A truly practical task for such an Assembly might be for it to send out committees to check on the situation in hamlets and villages, to certify when conditions become favorable for holding a free popular election for hamlet and village officials, and then to help organize such an election. As a next step, similar procedures could open the way to elections for district chief, then province chief, and, when a majority of provinces are freed, to national elections. This program would provide a practical short-range political goal, give hope that a longer-range goal is attainable, stimulate a healthy growth of political parties and start giving people their own government at the rice-roots in direct confrontation to the Communist idea.

Americans could add to the attractiveness of these political goals by designing our local aid program to increase social and economic progress at a more rapid pace in villages where elections have been held. The incentive of a system of reward of visible material benefits along with the political benefits of freedom should be a dynamic instrument for accelerating progress. If rewards are given when conditions are stable enough to merit them, rather than in an attempt to buy the loyalties of the people, word of this will spread rapidly throughout the country; and they will not only become a brake on Communist recruiting efforts but also put the American presence in a most favorable context.

A Vietnamese provincial official told an American friend in August that the country would be saved if each of Viet Nam's leaders "acted as though each day were his last day to live." Some form of spirited and selfless motivation for all Vietnamese in positions of authority does seem to be required. Perhaps it could be achieved through a Declaration of Liberty or other pledge to serve the country, signed in blood and providing strong penalties for failure to honor it. In any case, American advisers in all echelons, who are in daily association with Vietnamese in positions of responsibility, can encourage loyal patriotism by paying them proper respect. When American advisers express contempt for the fighting quality of the Vietnamese, as reported in our press this summer, it is a sign of the failure of such advisers to help develop the inherent quality of the Vietnamese. They might note and remember that the well-motivated "Sea Swallow" troops of Binh Hung, under Father Hoa, have fought against great odds, and that in almost constant engagements from the end of 1960 to the summer of 1964, 189 of them have been killed in actions in which 2,272 Viet Cong were killed.

The most urgent military need is to make it the number one priority for the military to protect and help the people. When the military opens fire at long range, whether by infantry weapons, artillery or air strike, on a reported Viet Cong concentration in a hamlet or village full of civilians, the Vietnamese officers who give those orders and the American advisers who let them "get away with it" are helping defeat the cause of freedom. The civilian hatred of the military resulting from such actions is a powerful motive for joining the Viet Cong.

If American leaders in Viet Nam are to make this war "a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity," and if the Americans with them are to become today's Kosciuskos, Von Steubens and Pulaskis in spirit, they should keep fresh in mind what happened in the hamlets of Tay Ninh province earlier this year, as an affront to every American doctrine, civilian or military. In Tay Ninh province, which is on the Cambodian border and not far from Saigon, two Viet Cong battalions had entered a cluster of six adjoining hamlets. They fought their way in, overwhelming and destroying the Civil Guard post, whose men stood to the last in defense of the hamlets. Once inside, the Viet Cong announced that they were going to stay for 72 hours. Then at noon the next day, A.R.V.N., the Vietnamese Army with its American advisers, arrived. A.R.V.N. deployed along a half perimeter and for 18 hours poured into these six hamlets all the firepower it could, from the ground and from the air. Meanwhile, of course, most of the Viet Cong had slipped out of the unguarded part of the perimeter, not waiting to become targets. Many of the men, women and children of the hamlets had to stay there and take it. Afterwards, survivors said they were grateful to the Viet Cong, who had made them dig foxholes.

American bounty, whether in the form of military-civic action or economic aid by U.S. civilians, cannot make up for such mistakes. Nor can it buy the friendship of the Vietnamese people. However, the U.S. military can give a major boost to the political effort simply by upgrading the importance they assign to military-civic action and to guiding the Vietnamese military into accepting it as a basic soldierly quality in this war, just as the Viet Cong do. Civic action means more than giving economic help; it is an attitude of behavior, an extension of military courtesy, in which the soldier citizen becomes the brotherly protector of the civilian citizen. The Viet Cong practice it, under severe penalties for misbehavior, as Point 9 of their Military Oath of Honor, which General Giap adopted from the 8th Route Army code of Mao Tse-tung known as the "Three Rules and the Eight Remarks." This code implemented the concept of the people as the water where the troops live as the fish. It must be puzzling to Communist observers to note that Americans in Viet Nam usually initiate "civic action" in the form of public works by special A.R.V.N. units and not as a performance expected of every soldier. Observers who are most experienced in insurgent warfare believe that the Viet Cong will not be defeated until A.R.V.N. catches the spirit of civic action and practices it through all ranks.

Viet Nam is predominantly an agricultural nation, and what happens in the countryside may well determine the outcome of the war. The Communists are short of food, and the countryside is the prize which they seek above all. When American fertilizers increase by 100 percent the rice production in one season in one region, the prize becomes all the more tempting to the Communists (however galling must be the comparison with North Viet Nam, where Chinese agricultural advisers have had so many failures). But this must not impede the process of economic development. The Americans have also introduced a rudimentary coöperative method in pig raising in the northerly provinces of South Viet Nam; if it is recognized and developed to its fullest politico-economic potential, it could be the start of one of the biggest changes in Vietnamese life yet seen. The pig-raising project has brought about the formation of farmers' associations, to handle the paddy-farm end of agrarian credit from the government as well as the distribution of piglets and feed. These farmers' associations are a new form of social unit in Viet Nam. If they are encouraged to grow, and become an economic success, and begin having a voice in national affairs, strong bonds will have been created between people and leaders. This operation deserves the attention of the best American political thinking, along with American economic help.

The foregoing are just a sample of actions which Americans can undertake to create favorable conditions for the emergence of a powerful Vietnamese "cause." If devotion to a true revolutionary cause can bring the struggle in South Viet Nam to a favorable climax, its revolutionary appeal might eventually spread to the people of North Viet Nam, wounding Communism at its most vital point-Communism's control of the masses.

Whatever course the war in Viet Nam takes, Americans will do well to remember the importance of "Nguoi Thuong Dan," the symbolic Vietnamese. It is the name the Vietnamese give to "the man in the street," the rice-paddy farmer, the shopkeeper, the artisan-the citizen. He is the key piece in the whole war in Viet Nam, both its subject and its object, the pawn and in an ultimate sense the decider. There is still time for Americans to help him determine rightly the fate of his country.

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