Aviable political settlement in South Viet Nam will reflect and give some legitimacy to the balance of political, military and social forces produced by a decade of internal conflict and five years of large-scale warfare. A successful settlement can also inaugurate a process of political accommodation through which the various elements of Vietnamese society may eventually be brought together into a functioning polity. American objectives and American expectations of what can be achieved at the conference table and on the battlefield should, correspondingly, be based on the realities of power and the opportunities for accommodation.

Much of the discussion of Viet Nam in the United States, however, has been couched in terms of stereotypes and slogans which have little relation to the political forces and social trends in Vietnamese society. Critics of the Administration often tend to glorify the Viet Cong and the National Liberation Front and to magnify the extent of their support. They see the war as a popular uprising against a military-landlord oligarchy dependent upon foreign military support. Hence they see little need for, or basis for, accommodation: if the United States withdrew, it is held, the Saigon régime would quickly collapse, and a new, broadly representative government would come to power under the leadership of the NLF but drawing support from Buddhists, workers, students and other groups.

Spokesmen for the Administration, on the other hand, have in the past underrated the strength of the Viet Cong and have ascribed to the Saigon Government a popularity which had as little basis in fact as that which the critics attributed to the NLF. They have bolstered their case with statistics on kill rates, infiltration rates, chieu hoi (defection) rates, hamlet pacification categories and voting turnouts. These figures may be reasonably accurate but they are also often irrelevant to the conclusions which they are adduced to support. At times key figures in the Administration have made statements which at least seemed to predict the imminent collapse of the Viet Cong. The misplaced moralism of the critics has thus confronted the unwarranted optimism of the advocates.

The realities of the situation in Viet Nam will not please the extremists on either side. If properly perceived and accepted, however, they may provide some basis for accommodation and an eventual compromise settlement. The military strengths and weaknesses of each side are manifest in each day’s news reports and will no doubt shape the outcome of the negotiations. The success of that outcome, however, may well depend on the extent to which it reflects the political and social strengths and weaknesses of both sides. These are less obvious but more fundamental than the military factors.


The overall proportion of the population that is more under Government than Viet Cong control has risen rather strikingly in three years from a little over 40 percent of the total to 60 percent or more. This change, however, has been largely, if not exclusively, the result of the movement of the population into the cities rather than the extension of the Government’s control into the countryside. The two most important facts which an accommodation will have to reflect are, first, the continuing role of the Viet Cong in the countryside and, second, the declining role of the countryside in South Viet Nam as a whole.

Viet Nam is a plural society, whose regional, ethnic and religious differences are now widely recognized. But there is another sense in which there are at least four South Viet Nams, each of them present in every geographical region and in almost every province. The first consists of the urban population, which is now perhaps 40 percent of the total and which lives under more or less continuing control by the Government. The other three South Viet Nams divide the rural population in approximately equal shares: the rural communal population, roughly 20 percent of the total, who belong to a religious or ethnic minority and who at present are aligned with the Saigon Government against the Viet Cong; the hard-core Viet Cong, again perhaps 20 percent of the total, who in some rural areas have lived under Viet Cong control for many years; and the remaining 20 percent, which constitutes the population of the most heavily and continuously contested rural areas.

These proportions are very rough and, moreover, they refer to population control, not political support. Discussion of Viet Nam often revolves about the question: “Whom do the majority of the people really support?” This is a reasonable and practical question to ask in a stable Western constitutional democracy. For Viet Nam, however, it is unanswerable and, in large part, irrelevant simply because it is quite clear that no government or political grouping has been able to win widespread popular support—or seems likely to do so. The most one can realistically speak of is the relative ability of the Government and the VC-NLF to exercise authority and to control population. And even here, as the allied sweeps through hard-core Viet Cong areas and the Tet offensive amply demonstrate, each side’s authority is nowhere beyond at least temporary challenge by the other side. In addition, an underground Viet Cong organization presumably exists in many areas where Government authority is normally exercised.

The crucial characteristic of the heavily contested rural areas is the absence of effective social and political organization above the village level, if even there. The strength of the Viet Cong is its ability to fill this vacuum of authority; the weakness of the Government has been the failure of its pacification programs to generate self-sustaining local organizations.

It is often said that the war in Viet Nam is a “political” war, and that consequently winning the war requires the Government to appeal to “the hearts and minds of the people” by promoting rural development, land reform, education, official honesty and other specific and usually material benefits. In fact, however, there is little evidence to suggest that the appeal of the Viet Cong derives from material poverty or that it can be countered by material benefits. The one systematic study of this question, focusing on land tenure, indeed came to precisely the opposite conclusion. Government control was found to be greatest in those provinces in which “few peasants farm their own land, the distribution of landholdings is unequal, no land redistribution has taken place, large French landholdings existed in the past, population density is high, and the terrain is such that accessibility is poor.”[i] This seemingly perverse product of statistical analysis is bolstered by other substantial if less systematic evidence for Viet Nam as well as by much experience elsewhere. The appeal of revolutionaries depends not on economic deprivation but on political deprivation, that is, on the absence of an effective structure of authority. Where the latter exists, even though it be quite hierarchical and undemocratic, the Viet Cong make little progress.

Since the late 1950s successive Saigon governments have attempted to meet this need by a variety of pacification programs. None of these has been successful, with the partial exception of the current program of “Revolutionary Development,” which was interrupted by the Tet offensive. Governmental control can be produced either by a massive military and administrative presence or by effective local political organization. In the past, forces have been inadequate to provide a substantial presence in a significant portion of the countryside for a significant length of time. The current pacification effort was mounted on a scale which dwarfs the earlier ones, but like them it has attempted to achieve security by the extension into the countryside of the military and administrative apparatus of the Central Government. In some cases, the successes of pacification can be seen in quite striking fashion. Voter turnout in the 1967 presidential election as compared with the 1966 constituent assembly election increased by 50 percent in Binh Dinh province, 23 percent in Phu Yen, 22 percent in Hau Nghia and 20 percent in Binh Duong. These changes were undoubtedly the result of the strong pacification efforts made in those provinces.

Yet these same provinces also illustrate the limits of pacification. When military forces were withdrawn from Binh Dinh and Hau Nghia, security rapidly began to deteriorate. The fragility of the whole pacification effort was reflected by the extent of its at least temporary collapse during the Tet offensive, despite the fact that the offensive was directed at the cities rather than the pacification cadres. The acid test of pacification is whether a locality develops the will and the means to defend itself against Viet Cong attack or infiltration. With a few exceptions, mostly among the communal groups, the current pacification effort has not as yet met this test. In some cases, the intrusion of national governmental authority from the outside may undermine the authority of the local village leaders; when the agents of the national Government move on, they may leave the situation worse than it was before they arrived. In those instances, the Government prepares the way for the Viet Cong.

It thus seems unlikely that the current pacification program will significantly change the pattern of political control—or lack of control—in the contested areas in the immediate future. If a cease-fire led to reductions in either the Government’s military-administrative presence or U.S. forces in these areas, the way would be opened for the Viet Cong to move in and extend its control through political means. The only practical alternative, available in some instances, would be for the authority vacuum to be filled by some other social-political group with roots in the locality.

The security of that one-third of the rural population which is under a relatively high degree of Government control is in large part the product of communal—ethnic or religious—organizations. It is commonly assumed that rural security is the product of identification with and loyalty to the Government, which, in turn, is the product of the extension of governmental presence into the villages. In much of South Viet Nam, however, the sequence has not been: governmental control, national loyalty, internal security. It has been, instead: communal organization, internal security, governmental control. The exercise of governmental authority has resulted from internal security produced by other factors. Governmental authority is, in fact, most effectively exercised in those rural areas where the Government has come to terms with the local power structure and with ethnic or religious groups.

The relationships between these communal groups and the Central Government have typically evolved through four phases. First, the group develops social and political consciousness. In due course, the evolution of the group produces a challenge to central authority and a confrontation between the group and the Central Government, as with the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao during the 1950s or the Montagnard uprisings against more recent governments. Defeat by the Central Government leads to the group’s withdrawal from the national political scene. Finally, however, there is a renewal of ties and an accommodation is worked out. At present, all of the rural communal groups—Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Catholic, Khmer and Montagnard—have reached such accommodations with the existing system, stimulated no doubt by shared hostility toward the Viet Cong.

The relationship between communalism and governmental authority in South Viet Nam today is thus almost precisely the opposite of what it is in most other Southeast Asian countries. In Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and elsewhere the ethnic and religious minorities are the principal sources of opposition to the political system. In South Viet Nam, in contrast, the religious and ethnic minorities are centers of support for the system, and the relatively unorganized rural majority—the ethnic Vietnamese with Confucian, Buddhist and animist religious beliefs—is the principal source of alienation and disaffection.

Rural areas which have been continuously secure are those organized by religious or ethnic communities. The most secure province in South Viet Nam is An Giang, in which there have been no major U.S. or Government combat units. The security of An Giang results from the political control of the Hoa Hao. The Hoa Hao in the surrounding provinces have achieved similar areas of security, as have the Cambodians elsewhere in the Delta. Catholic and Cao Dai villages tend to be more scattered geographically and hence more vulnerable to attack. None the less, many isolated villages belonging to one of those faiths remain relatively secure in otherwise highly insecure areas, simply because the Viet Cong know that they will be tough nuts to crack.

The ethnic and religious communities have thus played a crucial role in extending Government control into rural areas. They have done this despite the suspicion and hostility of at least some elements in the Government. After a cease-fire, these are the principal groups which will be able to compete with the Viet Cong in the political organization of the peasantry.

The remaining third of the rural population lives in “hardcore” Viet Cong areas, some of which have been almost continuously under Viet Minh and Viet Cong control since the 1940s. They include the Camau peninsula, much of the Delta coast, the Plain of Reeds, War Zones “C” and “D” north and west of Saigon, and portions of Binh Dinh and Quang Ngai in the central part of the country. In some villages an entire generation has grown up under communist rule. In some of these areas the VC-NLF has been able to develop a well- organized structure of government at the village and even district level.

To eliminate Viet Cong control in these areas would be an expensive, time- consuming and frustrating task. It would require a much larger and more intense military and pacification effort than is currently contemplated by Saigon and Washington. Consequently, effective Viet Cong control of these areas is a political fact which does not seem likely to change for some while, if indeed it ever does. In a politically reintegrated South Viet Nam, there would probably be a fairly steady population drain from them into more prosperous rural and urban localities. The achievement of such political reintegration clearly will depend, however, upon the recognition and acceptance of Viet Cong control of local government in these areas. It is here that accommodation in the most specific sense of the word is a political necessity.

The most striking feature of these varied patterns of rural political control—contested, communal and Viet Cong—has been their resistance to change. The French, Diem, the post-Diem régimes, the Viet Minh and Viet Cong have all tried, without significant success, to produce permanent changes in them. The huge current pacification program has been another effort to bring about a political revolution in the relations between the Government and the countryside. It may succeed where the others have failed, but as yet there is no conclusive evidence of this. On the other hand, the massive American effort is producing a social revolution in the Vietnamese way of life which will be of far greater consequence to the future of the country.


The most dramatic and far-reaching impact of the war in South Viet Nam has been the tremendous shift in population from the countryside to the cities. In the early 1960s it was still accurate to speak of South Viet Nam as 80 to 85 percent rural. Today, no one knows for certain the size of the urban population, but it is undoubtedly more than double and perhaps triple what it was a few years ago. A reasonable current estimate of people in cities of 20,000 or more would be about 40 percent of the total, or 6,800,000 of a total of 17,200,000. By this standard South Viet Nam is now more urban than Sweden, Canada, the Soviet Union, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and Italy (according to early 1960s data). Apart from Singapore, it is easily the most urban country in Southeast Asia. The image of South Viet Nam as a country composed largely of landlords and peasants—an image still prevalent among many Vietnamese intellectuals who continue to quote the 85 percent rural figure—has little relationship to reality.

The movement of people into the cities during the past four years is a nationwide phenomenon. In 1962 Saigon’s population was estimated at 1,400,000. Today it is at least twice that, and the population of the Saigon metropolitan area is probably about 4,000,000, more than 20 percent of the entire country. The increases in population of cities like Danang, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, Pleiku, Kontum and Ban Me Thuot have been even more spectacular. Smaller cities and towns have also had extraordinary growth rates, with many provincial capitals doubling or tripling their population in two or three years.

The principal reason for this massive influx of population into the urban areas is, of course, the intensification of the war following the commitment of American combat troops in 1965. About 1,500,000 of the total increase in urban population is accounted for by refugees, half still in refugee camps and others settled in new areas. At least an equal number of people have moved into the cities without passing through refugee camps. The social costs of this change have been dramatic and often heartrending. The conditions in the refugee camps, particularly in I Corps, have at times been horrendous, although some significant improvements are now taking place. Urban welfare and developmental programs require increasing priority from the United States and Vietnamese Governments.

The immediate economic effects of urbanization are somewhat more mixed. Those who were well-off in the countryside often suffer serious losses in the move to the city. The rural poor, on the other hand, may well find life in the city more attractive and comfortable than their previous existence in the countryside. The urban slum, which seems so horrible to middle-class Americans, often becomes for the poor peasant a gateway to a new and better way of life. For some poor migrants, the wartime urban boom has made possible incomes five times those which they had in the countryside. In one Saigon slum, Xom Chua, in early 1965 before the American build-up, the people lived at a depressed level, with 33 percent of the adult males unemployed. Eighteen months later, as a result of the military escalation, the total population of the slum had increased by 30 percent, but the unemployment rate had dropped to 5 percent and average incomes had doubled.[ii] In several cases urban refugees from the war refused to return to their villages once security was restored because of the higher level of economic well-being which they could attain in the city. The pull of urban prosperity has been a secondary but not insignificant factor in attracting people into the city.

In the long run urbanization will create major political problems. Typically, the second generation—the children of the slums, not the migrants to the slums—provides participants for urban riots and insurrections. After the war, massive government programs will be required either to resettle migrants in rural areas or to rebuild the cities and promote peacetime urban employment. In the meantime, while the war continues, urbanization is significantly altering the balance of power between the Saigon Government and the Viet Cong.

More than anything else urbanization has been responsible for the striking increase in the proportion of the population living under Government control between 1964 and 1968. The depopulation of the countryside struck directly at the strength and potential appeal of the Viet Cong. For ten years the Viet Cong had waged a rural revolution against the Central Government, with the good Maoist expectation that by winning the support of the rural population it could eventually isolate and overwhelm the cities. The “first outstanding feature . . . of People’s Revolutionary War, as developed by Mao Tse-tung and refined by the North Vietnamese in the two Indochina wars,” Sir Robert Thompson argued in a recent issue of this journal, “is its immunity to the direct application of mechanical and conventional power.”[iii] In the light of recent events, this statement needs to be seriously qualified. For if the “direct application of mechanical and conventional power” takes place on such a massive scale as to produce a massive migration from countryside to city, the basic assumptions underlying the Maoist doctrine of revolutionary war no longer operate. The Maoist-inspired rural revolution is undercut by the American-sponsored urban revolution.

The full significance of the Tet offensive becomes clear against this background. This attack on the cities, like the subsequent attacks in May, was less of an offensive than it was a counter-offensive against the fundamental social change taking place in Vietnamese society. The war in Viet Nam is a war for the control of the population. If the Viet Cong are to compete effectively with the Government, they must be able to assert their power in the cities. If they can assert their control over the newly urbanized population in the cities as easily as they were able to assert their control over the rural population and win their support in the countryside, the movement of population will have been only a Trojan horse.

The Tet offensive produced several clear gains for the Viet Cong in Viet Nam, apart from the impact abroad. For the first time they significantly disrupted, albeit very temporarily in all cities but Hue, the security of the urban population, thus diminishing the principal attraction of the city to the country dwellers. With a decline in the differences in the sense of security provided by city and countryside, there may well be a decline in the rate of movement from one to the other. Secondly, before Tet relatively few military forces were committed primarily to urban defense. Most Vietnamese cities were virtually open cities with traffic moving in and out of them freely. The Viet Cong have now compelled the redeployment of U.S. and South Vietnamese forces from other tasks, such as rural pacification, to city protection. Thirdly, the Viet Cong cut many of the transportation and communication routes into the cities in an apparent effort to isolate urban areas from each other and from the surrounding countryside. The most notable action here concerned road and water communication routes between the relatively secure areas of the Delta and Saigon. The weeks following the offensive saw a sharp drop in the previous level of supplies moving over these routes. This caused some economic dislocation in both the farm areas and the cities, but not of either a prolonged or highly threatening character.

These were significant achievements for the Viet Cong, and their impact was notably heightened by their surprise. The real test of their urban offensive, however, is whether they can mobilize and organize sufficient popular support in the cities to substitute their authority for that of the Government. To invade the cities by stealth or by frontal assault is a relatively easy task. To seize and hold urban areas is something else again. It is reasonably clear that this was an objective of the Tet offensive. Viet Cong units moving in from the countryside appealed for a “general uprising” of the urban populace and brought with them the political cadres to set up block committees and a political structure in urban areas. In several cities such as Pleiku and Nha Trang the Viet Cong infrastructure within the city surfaced and was substantially destroyed.

No general uprising took place, however, and the invaders were quickly driven out of all cities except Hue. In several cities the people, in spontaneous and unprecedented fashion, organized themselves to defend their neighborhoods against the Viet Cong. In Hoi An (capital of Quang Nam province) the overwhelming majority of the students in the local high school rallied to the Government, requested arms to fight the enemy and helped to capture most of the Viet Cong cadre which had entered the city expecting to set up its own administration. Similar responses by students, labor-union members and civil servants elsewhere produced a rallying of support for the Government which had not been equalled since the early days of the Diem régime. The weak spot was not in the people’s lack of hostility toward the Viet Cong but in the suspicion of many Government officials toward the people.

In the past the Viet Cong could expect to win the war simply by preventing Saigon from extending its control in the rural areas. This the Viet Cong can still do but it is no longer sufficient to achieve victory. Increasingly the Viet Cong must also demonstrate their ability to win support and to exercise authority in the cities. So far, they have been even less successful in these efforts than the Government has been in winning support in the countryside. In this sense, history—drastically and brutally speeded up by the American impact—may pass the Viet Cong by. Societies are susceptible to revolution only at particular stages in their development. At the moment the rates of urbanization and of modernization in the secure rural areas exceed the rate of increase in Viet Cong strength. At a time when the South Vietnamese Army is beginning to show signs of being able to operate on its own, the Viet Cong are becoming increasingly dependent on North Viet Nam for manpower as well as supplies. A movement which once had the potential for developing into a truly comprehensive revolutionary force with an appeal to both rural and urban groups could now degenerate into the protest of a declining rural minority increasingly dependent upon outside support.

In an absent-minded way the United States in Viet Nam may well have stumbled upon the answer to “wars of national liberation.” The effective response lies neither in the quest for conventional military victory nor in the esoteric doctrines and gimmicks of counter-insurgency warfare. It is instead forced-draft urbanization and modernization which rapidly brings the country in question out of the phase in which a rural revolutionary movement can hope to generate sufficient strength to come to power.

Time in South Viet Nam is increasingly on the side of the Government. But in the short run, with half the population still in the countryside, the Viet Cong will remain a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the constituency continues to exist. Peace in the immediate future must hence be based on accommodation.


During the past three years the pattern of the military conflict has been largely determined in Hanoi and Washington, which are also playing the dominant role in negotiations. The stability of the political settlement which eventually results in South Viet Nam, however, will depend primarily upon the extent to which it reflects the social and political forces within that country rather than on external influences, either military or diplomatic. Hence, there is good reason to encourage the early inauguration of a political process within South Viet Nam in which all significant political groups can participate and to allow that process rather than a diplomatic conference to have the lion’s share in determining the future of the country.

It is often argued that this process should begin with the creation of a coalition government. There are, however, many disadvantages to such an approach. Neither the NLF nor Saigon wants a coalition with the other, and it is difficult to envision how the existing leaderships could work together. From the viewpoint of the Government such an arrangement would, as one moderate Vietnamese leader put it, simply allow “the wolves into the chicken pen.” More specifically it would surrender to the Viet Cong a major share in the exercise of authority in urban areas, which is precisely what they have been unable to win through military means.

Conversely, it would be difficult for the NLF to enter into association with a group of men whom it has repeatedly denounced as puppets and traitors. Even if external pressure from the United States, Hanoi and the Soviet Union produced something in Saigon which could be labeled a “coalition government,” it clearly would not be a coalition government in fact. A “coalition” implies sustained coöperation between autonomous groups. If there was a reasonable balance of power within the Government, however, it would be a government divided against itself, a temporary expedient which neither side would expect to endure; each side would be busily organizing its military and political forces for the final showdown. Alternatively, pressure from Moscow and Hanoi plus impatience in Washington might lead to a coalition weighted on the side of the communists. In this case, the “coalition” would not only be temporary, it would be a sham, with the political outcome a foreordained conclusion.

The rural-urban division of the country and the mixed pattern of political control in rural areas suggests that the process of political accommodation should start at the bottom and work up rather than the reverse. Some forms of local accommodation have, of course, existed for some time in parts of the country, particularly in the Delta. Most frequently they have involved “live-and-let-live” arrangements among local military commanders. To some extent they have also involved mutual tolerance of each other’s revenue- raising activities. On the Government side, the weakness of its forces and the natural desire to remain in the towns and avoid the efforts and dangers of combat have provided incentives to accept these arrangements, while for the Viet Cong it has been a general war-weariness among local cadres, especially in the Delta. To expand these local accommodations substantively and geographically will entail many difficulties. None the less, this is the way to start a political process which will reflect the actual balance of forces within the society.

In some respects this pattern of accommodation would not be very different from that worked out between Saigon and the Hoa Hao. It would mean that the Viet Cong would as effectively dominate its hard-core areas as the Hoa Hao and Catholic organizations do in their villages and districts. To be sure, the indigenous Viet Cong clearly differs in important respects from the religious sects and the nationalist parties, but it also shares many characteristics with them. Up to a point, the evolution of relations between the Viet Cong and the established political system paralleled that of the sects and other parties. Like them, the Viet Minh developed organizational and political consciousness in the 1930s; it then came into conflict with the French and their puppet authorities; after 1954 it in effect withdrew and, like the other sects and parties, went underground during the period when Diem was attempting to centralize authority and eliminate local centers of power.

Unlike the other parties and sects, however, the Viet Cong began in the late 1950s to receive significant reinforcements in the form of returnees and supplies from North Viet Nam. Consequently, at that point the Viet Cong broke the pattern of evolution which it had shared with the other groups—consciousness, confrontation, withdrawal—and instead instituted a renewed period of confrontation. After 1963 the other groups reached varying degrees of accommodation with the Government while the confrontation between the Government and the Viet Cong intensified. Yet it is not unreasonable to assume that when it becomes clear that this confrontation cannot succeed, the indigenous Viet Cong will again move into a phase of withdrawal, which conceivably could then be followed by accommodation and incorporation into a restructured and expanded political system.

Initially, the practical needs for and benefits from accommodation are likely to be greater at the local than at the national level. Differing patterns of control will be possible in different areas, and concessions in one area can be traded for comparable concessions in other areas. If the cease-fire arrangements divide the country into military zones of control, political control in a village will in most cases be determined by the zone in which it is located. A large number of districts and the majority of provinces, however, will undoubtedly be divided between zones. At these levels, consequently, the functioning of government will require some coöperation between, and eventual integration of, local NLF and Saigon governmental structures. One means of accomplishing this would be to elect province chiefs and/or enlarged and strengthened provincial councils. Elections at the provincial level are likely to encourage political candidates and groups to appeal to both rural and urban voters and to promote coöperation among non-communist groups. They would give the VC-NLF the legitimate opportunity to enter the political process and to demonstrate their ability to win power at the grass-roots level. Provincial elections could also be suitably staggered so as to permit more effective supervision by outside observers and international bodies.

If accommodation worked in a majority of provinces, the way would be opened for its extension to the national Government. The next step would be the election of a new constituent assembly, perhaps in part by universal suffrage and in part by the provincial councils, to devise new basic laws and choose a new Central Government. If as a result of this process the VC- NLF secured control of the Central Government, the United States would obviously regret the outcome but could also accept it and feel under little compulsion to re-intervene.

In the interests of promoting widespread access to the Government and accommodation among groups, it would be wise for the constituent assembly to shift some authority from the Central Government to provincial and local governments. Centralization of authority in the national Government simply complicates the problem of accommodating Viet Cong and noncommunist forces. If all power resides in the Central Government, the struggle for control is all the more intense; coöperation becomes nearly impossible. Political integration from the bottom up will facilitate the loosening up of the political structure, and the loosening of the political structure will at the same time promote political accommodation, particularly at the national level.

Any suggestion for greater decentralization of authority in Viet Nam is always met with the charge that it will encourage “wardlordism,” to which a strong Central Government is the only antidote. In actuality, however, as the earlier history of China, Viet Nam and even Western Europe amply demonstrates, warlordism is the product not of efforts to provide a structured decentralized authority, but rather of efforts to maintain a narrowly based, centralized authority where it is inappropriate to the situation. Warlordism is the illegal, disruptive and violent way in which a centralized system is adapted to the realities of dispersed power. Warlordism is the alternative to the formal decentralization of authority, not a product of it.

In the recent past, the French, Bao Dai, Diem, each in different ways, attempted to perpetuate centralized authority, and in every case they weakened it. To strengthen political authority, it is instead necessary to decentralize it, to extend the scope of the political system and to incorporate more effectively into it the large number of groups which have become politically organized and politically conscious in recent years. Such a system might be labeled federal, confederal, pluralistic, decentralized—but, whatever the label, it would reflect the varied sources of political power. In the recognition of and acceptance of that diversity lies the hope for political stability in Viet Nam.

[i] Edward J. Mitchell, “Inequality and Insurgency: A Statistical Study of South Vietnam,” World Politics, April 1968, p. 438.

[ii] Marilyn W. Hoskins and Eleanor M. Shepherd, “Life in a Vietnamese Urban Quarter,” Carbondale, III.: The Graduate School, Southern Illinois University, 1965, (updated in 1966 as a U.S. AID memorandum).

[iii] Sir Robert Thompson, “Squaring the Error,” Foreign Affairs, April 1968, p. 447.

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  • SAMUEL P. HUNTINGTON, Professor of Government and Chairman of the Department of Government, Harvard University; formerly Assistant Director, Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University; author of “The Common Defense,” “Changing Patterns of Military Politics,” and other works
  • More By Samuel P. Huntington