Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990

Tactical Totalitarianism

Population Control

The structures of counterorganization were sometimes established in concert with elaborate police measures outlined in doctrine under the rubric of population control. In the immediate postwar period, secret studies considered the legitimacy of the full range of tactics employed by the Germans in World War II, from hostage-taking to systems of safe-conduct passes.1 The methods of population control prescribed in doctrine were gradually refined to eliminate the more blatantly criminal procedures (hostage-taking was eliminated from published texts rather late). The emphasis remained, however, on cutting the guerrilla off from popular support by methods that were virtually indistinguishable from those of the colonial powers, as set out in the 1961 FM 31-15:

The close relationship between the civil population and the irregular force may demand enforcement of stringent control measures. In some cases Its may be necessary to relocate entire villages, or to move individuals from outlying areas into population centers. It may be necessary to relocate those who cannot be protected from guerrilla attack, and those who arc hostile and can evade control.2

The same manual outlines territorial control measures by which town and country were to be parceled into clearly defined subdivisions, where “police-type measures” were to be implemented.3 No-go areas (“restricted areas”) could be designated to protect lines of communication and critical installations.4 It also recommended a block control system, similar to that used by the French in Algiers, which depended on a local counterorganization:

Block control is the constant surveillance and reporting of personnel movements within a block or other small populated area.... a. Block control is established by dividing each block or like area into zones, each of which includes all the buildings on one side of a street within a block. A resident zone leader is appointed for each zone, and a separate resident block leader is appointed for each block. Heads of households and businesses in each zone are required to report all movements of people to the zone leader; [this is] to include arrivals and departures of their own families or employees, neighbors, and strangers.... b. The cooperation of leaders is secured by appealing to patriotic motives, by pay, or through coercion. C. Informants are established separately within each block to submit reports as a check against the appointed block and zone leaders.5

“Controls and restrictions” included bans on political meetings, registration of all residents, regular inspection of identity documents and passes, restrictions on movement, curfews, censorship, and control of “the production, storage, and distribution of foodstuffs and protection of food producing areas... I and the] possession of arms, ammunition, demolitions, drugs, medicines, and money.”6 Enforcement of the control measures was to be carried out through patrolling, roadblocks, search and seizure operations, and the organization of informant nets at the neighborhood level. These basic ingredients—control of identity, residency, movement, organization, communications, and commodities—remain elements of population control in counterinsurgency in the 1990s.7

The basic elements of population control could be adapted to the various scenarios of counterinsurgency. The relocation of vast numbers of suspect Vietnamese from contested areas was undertaken both through structured resettlement programs and efforts to deliberately “generate” refugees. General William C. Westmoreland described the strategy to clear the suspect population from the countryside in 1965 as a response to “a substantial majority of the population remaining neutral.” The escalation of the air and land war was calculated to

bring about a moment of decision for the peasant fanner. He wild have to choose if he stays alive. Until now the peasant farmer has had three alternatives: he could stay put.... He could move to an area under government control. Or he could join the VC. Now if he stays put there are additional dangers.... If the peasant becomes a refugee he does get shelter, food, and security.8

By 1972, almost a third of South Vietnam’s 17 million people had fled to the refugee camps and cities.”

U.S. doctrine also called for psychological operations as part and parcel of population control. Operations were at minimum to be “designed to influence the attitude and behavior of the civilian population in favor of operations against the insurgents. “10 Psy-war efforts did not extend to the organization of comprehensive indoctrination programs for the uprooted Vietnamese, however, perhaps reflecting what a RAND Corporation author called “the typically short-term U.S. approach.”11 In practical terms, mass indoctrination of captive populations was hardly the United States’ forte: Although the captive populations were available and the idea was acceptable, full-scale psy-war required a kind of long-term commitment at odds with the U.S. counterinsurgent’s conviction that a rapid solution to internal war could be achieved through simple means.

A corollary to the argument that guerrillas won support through terrorism and organizational skills was that governments fell prey to insurgency through no fault of their own. Roger Hilsman, a principal State Department theorist of counterinsurgency during the Kennedy years, for example, emphasized that the guerrilla’s “need for popular support” could be satisfied largely through coercion (a view based in part on his own experience as a “guerrilla” in Burma). Guerrillas achieved support through their methodology, and not because “a government was either popular or unpopular”; thus, the guerrilla could not be defeated by making the government popular, but only through a shrewd combination of political organization and military and police tactics.12

U.S. doctrine on the political dimension of counterorganization differed little from that of the French, although it was the French who practiced the concept most comprehensively. The operative premise was that a suspect or disaffected population could be brought to heel through a combination of indoctrination and the right organizational forms. If the revolutionary guerrilla could oblige collaboration, then so could the counterguerrilla. As Roger Trinquier wrote in his Modern Warfare, the way to influence the population was to organize them in support of your own cause:

the conduct of modern warfare requires close collaboration with the population. We must first assure ourselves of its support. Experience has demonstrated that it is by no means necessary to enjoy the sympathy of the majority of the people to obtain their backing; most are amorphous, indifferent.13

The French used the full range of techniques of psychological warfare on the civilian population in Algeria, with the regroupement as a locus for intensive ideological indoctrination—a measure unimaginable to American counterinsurgents in the 1960s. U.S.-backed counterorganization in Guatemala in the 1980s and 1990s, however, approximates or exceeds the totalitarian nature of the Algerian campaign. French psy-war was geared toward four aims: counter the effect of enemy propaganda on their own forces; attack the enemy’s political network; aid in the destruction of enemy forces; and, most extraordinary, to organize and reeducate the suspect population as a whole—which involved the relocation of at least one million Algerians.

In a 1960 analysis, American historian Peter Paret warned of the extremes to which psychological manipulation and indoctrination— whoever its proponents—can lead, stressing the development of psychological warfare by wartime Germany, and its use by the Chinese and North Koreans on Americans. 14 Paret argues that French psy-war tactics which... have achieved some degree of success in Algeria, seem at first sight unexceptionable, and indeed rather matter-of-fact. However, experience shows that their implementation has brought physical and psychological brutality in its wake. By this is not meant occasional indiscipline in the field, which is unavoidable in war, but institutionalized terror, employed above all in two areas: interrogation and reeducation.15

In a critique that could well be directed in the 1990s at Guatemala’s militarized Indian highlands and “mode! villages,” or Peru’s Andean “Emergency Zones,” Paret warns that the psy-war programs directed at discrete population sectors tend to have a far broader effect. Torture in particular, is characterized as symptomatic of psychological warfare when waged against a captive population, and costly to the institutions responsible for its use. Given the French’s habitual use of torture in Algiers, Paret asks whether “the doctrine of psychological warfare, developed by the European and Asian totalitarian systems, and now in the ascendant in France, does not—all disclaimers to the contrary—necessarily entail torture.” Paret concludes that inflicting “various forms of maltreatment” on a civilian population brings with it a breakdown of relationships of respect and authority “far beyond the small, isolated groups of specialists... until they finally infect the entire society in whose name they are employed.”16

A Counsel of Caution

The mirror-image approach to insurgency was not accepted without some challenge. Some of the more eminent American commentators on the developing counterinsurgency program addressed fallacies underlying the “counterterror” formulation and warned of the practical and political costs that would go with its adoption. Chalmers Johnson in a 1962 article, refutes the arguments of the French theorists of guerre révolutionnaire and Americans like Korean War psy-war specialist Virgil Ney that “the principal tactic employed by [insurgents] in ‘conquering’ the population is terrorism,” or that “counterterrorism” is an effective response:

An emphasis upon guerrilla terrorization of an allegedly passive population leads directly to policy failures. It is supposed that successful counterguerrilla operations involve the use of specially trained commandos who are, in effect, authorized to counter-terrorize the same population....

Unfortunately, neither Mr. Ney nor French Army writers can point to a single case in which the principle of counter-terrorization has been effective m ending a guerrilla war. 17

In discussing the role of guerrilla terror in garnering support—an essential premise of counterterror—the experience of revolutionary guerrilla movements can be contrasted with that of U.S. Army “guerrilla” leaders of behind-the-lines forces during World War II. In Burma, for example, U.S. Army analysts concluded that a successful “guerrilla” effort was possible with the support only of a small ethnic minority, the Kachins, representing less than 1() percent of the population. Similar operations based on the co-optation of ethnic minorities would be put into operation in Laos and South Vietnam. The World War II concept of induced guerrilla warfare would provide an analytical model consistent with the U.S. Cold War doctrine that assumed all communist guerrillas were Soviet-backed agents taking over a hitherto passive population. But, Johnson notes, actual examples of guerrillas winning support through coercion are rare:

There are, to my knowledge, no cases in which guerrilla operations have been successfully based solely on intimidation of the population. When guerrillas resort to indiscriminate terrorism, this indicates they do not have broad mass support, without which their movement flounders. Only a losing or degenerate guerrilla force will risk the loss of all mass supports by forcing civilian cooperation at gunpoint.18

Having challenged the premise that guerillas win support through terror, Johnson concludes that “counterterror” was not effective either in achieving submission or in winning loyalty: The United States’ village-burning and depopulation in the Philippines at the turn of the century, the German occupation in the U. S. S.R., and the Japanese in China during World War II are cited as cases in point.19 State terror, he adds, may tend to generate resistance rather than quell it: “[O]ne can conclude... that anti-guerrilla terrorism will more than likely spread the mass mobilization upon which guerrilla movements thrive....”20

Other theorists agreed that indiscriminate state terror could backfire. Although they distinguished between selective and nonselective counterterror, they argued that state terror was precisely what guerrilla leaders hoped to provoke. In a 1962 article, J. K. Zawodny observes:

[T]he greatest contribution of guerrillas and saboteurs lies in catalyzing and intensifying counter- terror.... This is what sophisticated political leaders of guerrillas may expect. There is no better way to alienate a regime in power from the population than to incite it to apply nonselective terror. Guerrillas and saboteurs serve this purpose eminently.21

Mass counterterror is described as the cement of resistance: When people’s lives are threatened without regard for their allegiances, their guilt or innocence, active resistance ensues. Zawodny argues:

The rate of recruitment is directly related to the intensity of terror applied by the enemy in suppressing the movement. Any counter-terror by the enemy brings to the ranks of the unconventional fighters new recruits who are escaping from the reprisals or who wish revenge.... Unless the guerrillas are also using terror against the population, the more terror the enemy applies, the more fighters he produces.22

Other American writers warned of the moral and political costs implicit in methods of counterinsurgency and psychological warfare involving terror and coercion, and they challenged the assertion that internal war had become indistinguishable from the larger Cold War. Paret, for example, argues: “Although modern war has blurred the dividing lines between internal and external operations, these still exist.”23 And like some British theorists, Paret finds upholding the rule of law (at home and abroad) a tactical and strategic imperative, what he calls “the boomerang effect of extreme coercion” was cause enough for the Western powers to “stick to more conventional psychological weapons.”24 Paret complains:

[I]t cannot be overlooked that techniques of extreme moral and physical coercion... may help defeat certain types of opposition, but it is hard to see how their widespread employment could fail to modify and eventually destroy such institutions as the rule of law on which a free society is based.25

Paret disputes the French army argument that they did not choose terror tactics but were obliged to meet the enemy on his own terms (the same rationale for U.S. counterterrorism): “[O]bviously, subversion and psychological aggression cannot be stopped by machine-guns, on the other hand, while it is sometimes necessary to fight on ground picked by the enemy, no one is ever forced to use the enemy’s weapons.”26

The French, like the Americans, Vietnamese, Guatemalans, Indonesians, and others to come, refused to accept the fact that by adopting the tactics of the enemy, they were essentially no different. The distinction between the two sides, they insisted, lay in their respective intentions. Paret observes:

Psychological warfare officers argue... that an essential difference exists between the aim of their operations and those of their opponents, and that this difference makes the similarity of methods unimportant. As a favorite axiom has it, form and content of psychological warfare—le contenant et la contenue-are distinct and must not be confused.27

Or as Douglas Pike, head of psychological warfare in Vietnam,28 claims in his booklet The Vietcong Strategy of Terror, terror is not unknown on our side, but “there is an essential difference in such acts between the two sides, one of outcome or result.”

Critics of U. S. doctrine also examined the tendency of policymakers to evade responsibility for terror and ignore its consequences. An essay coauthored by the French Indochina expert Bernard Fall, a bitter critic of National Liberation Front terror, and Marcus Raskin eloquently rebutted claims that American terror was somehow accidental (so-called collateral terror), indirect (executed at one remove, by its allies), or in any manner excusable:29

Now that American units arc actively engaged in combat in Viet-Nam, it is specious and immoral to argue that this is not “their” war and that they arc not responsible for the indiscriminate killing or maiming of civilians.... This applies equally to the use of torture and other forceful means of interrogation, and the deliberate killing of captured combatants. 30

Although the United States announced in 1965 that the norms of the Geneva Conventions would be adhered to in Vietnam, Fall and Raskin note that in fact they were not.31 Furthermore, they found the detachment with which American managers ran the war ominous: “There is another point to the sadism and torture. Bureaucracies may involve themselves in such matters almost antiseptically. That is a dangerous trend in government.”32

One of the British advisers to the U. S. effort in Vietnam, Sir Robert G. K. Thompson, also warned that terrorist methods of counterinsurgency were ultimately self-defeating.33 For Thompson, effective counterinsurgency depended 011 the legitimacy of the institutions involved; the role of the counterinsurgent was primarily one of law enforcement. The laws could be as harsh as necessary, “but... each new law must be effective and fairly applied.”34 in Malaya, he notes, where stringent laws and restrictions were enacted to deter support of the insurgents, the laws “were seen by the population to be effective and were applied equally to all. The population knew what the law was, and because the government itself functioned in accordance with the law... the population could be required to fulfil its own obligation to obey the laws.”35

Thompson insists that both the public and the counterinsurgent must remain within the limits of the law. The shortcut of extralegality is, in Thompson’s view, a shortcut to disaster:

There is a very strong temptation in dealing both with terrorism and with guerrilla actions for government forces to act outside the law, the excuses being that the processes of law arc too cumbersome, that the normal safeguards in the law for the individual arc not designed for an insurgency and that a terrorist deserves to be treated as an outlaw anyway. Not only in this morally wrong, but, over a period, it will create more practical difficulties for a government than it solves. A government which does not act m accordance with the law forfeits the right to be called a government and cannot expect its people to obey the law. Functioning in accordance with the law is a very small price to pay in return for the advantage of being the government.36

But wherein lies the legitimacy of the foreign counterinsurgent? The British, like the French and the Portuguese, were fighting insurgencies on territories they claimed as their own and administered on their own authority. U.S. forces were nominally “guests” of counterinsurgency states, while pursing the same ends as their colonialist counterparts. Some of the contrasts—and similarities—of the counterinsurgency doctrines of the European powers and the new U.S. doctrine were, as a consequence, inescapable.

The Decolonization Conundrum

A main thrust of the United States’ post-World War II activism was to devise new means to influence the governments that emerged as the old empires were dismantled. The approach to policing the internal affairs in its expanding spheres of influence departed both from the United States own policy of intervention from 1898 until 1945, as well as from the Imperialism of the European powers. Although it incorporated many of the same tactics and principles employed by the European colonial powers, essential and not always pernicious elements of the colonial equation were absent from U.S. Cold War foreign policy. Lip service was paid to democratic principles, while laws and civil institutions were neglected and conventional armies were frantically raised, as if foreign administration could only be supplanted by strong local armies subject to covert manipulation. The emphasis was on order, not law, and the means to that end was not law but military force.

The Cold War provided the international framework and ideological rationale for the new U. S. role. Counterinsurgency doctrine would provide a substitute for the Europeans’ imperial policies and an alternative to repetition of the United States’ own neocolonial experience in the Philippines and Latin America before World War II. U. S. doctrine presumed that in a world of limitless menace, internal disorder reflected external aggression, and so legitimized an unlimited response. The unilateralism of colonialism would yield to joint action on the invitation of “host” governments, thereby relieving the United States of responsibility for actions taken. The ease with which intervention and illegal action could be plausibly denied, or hived off on the indigenous “host,” encouraged its proliferation.

Because the United States was ostensibly a partner in counterinsurgency, not its unilateral executor, it could not adopt wholecloth the approach of the colonial counterinsurgent. The partnership arrangement had certain advantages over overt colonial domination: It permitted executive military action that the political restraints of the United States’ democratic system would not have permitted under other circumstances. It also masked U. S. colonialist interests under the guise of neighborliness, and so maintained the United States’ image at home as the international good guy, as well as the new international legal order that served as a shining lamp of U. S. postwar policies. Finally, the partnership arrangement cleared the United States of responsibility—or, more correctly, accountability—for actions undertaken jointly with the host government, or unilaterally in all but name.

But as merely a concerned neighbor, the United States could not take overt military action to subjugate the indigenous population as a whole, bring to trial and hang subversives, engage in mass deportations, relocations, or punitive expeditions in its own name—that is, undertake the kind of restrictions and transformations that were the very stuff of colonial policy. Nor could the United States fall back on the law of the land to either guide or justify its actions, because the law was not actually theirs to lay down or to enforce. Indeed, the law of each host government differed dramatically in the countries where the United States became involved.

It was above all this matter of law that distinguished the United States as enforcer of order from its colonial counterparts. U.S. policy provided no consistent framework of law on which to peg the means and end of counterinsurgency—because, unlike a colonial regime, the United States did not presume to govern, or to legislate, but only to advise. While it is true that the law of the colonial powers was that of the conqueror, it nonetheless provided the context within which public order was maintained—a powerful lever for its enforcement—and it stated the objective of counterinsurgency operations: upholding the legal order (not to be confused with justice or democracy). Some observers saw an advantage to the forthright, if brutal, colonial approach. A U.S. officer, writing on the French theory of guerre révolutionnaire, commented that it was particularly problematic that most guerrilla wars would “be conducted inside the border of another sovereign state. The French, at least, were in the position of a colonial power with initial access to the area and some degree of administrative control.”37 Most American observers, however, have preferred to wage counterinsurgency at arm’s length.

The United States’ alternative to blatant colonialism was an assortment of military tactics that were (and are) seemingly lawless, though couched in the ambiguities of democratization. While U.S. assistance was aimed at enforcing the host country’s laws, it was not considered necessary or appropriate to assess, influence, or attach primary importance to the nature of the laws. The law was a matter for the host government; the tactics and norms of counterinsurgency were presumed applicable anywhere, by virtually any government. The rule of law in the new counterinsurgency was secondary to the immediate task, the restoration of order; in American doctrinal writing, law was often described as a barrier to action. The substitute for the imperial promise of order and progress was the American promise of democracy, development, and prosperity. Both promises offered assurances that privilege and repression today would inevitably lead to equality, peace, and prosperity tomorrow. But while the colonial approach was predicated on a long-term view linking the fortunes of the colonized and the colonizers, for the U. S. counterinsurgent, quelling disorder was merely a sideshow to a larger conflict, a cool exercise in geopolitics.

Unlike the European colonial warriors of the past who went clear-eyed into campaigns of subjugation, U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine allowed for intervention only in an international context, in the name of freedom, and, ultimately, self-determination. Thus, counterinsurgency doctrine was conceptually incompatible with the repression of the authentic levée en mass (rising in mass) or the lesser, spontaneous expression of genuine grievances. Douglas Pike illustrates the problem in Vietcong, his 1966 study of Vietnam’s NLF organization. Pike’s explanation that “revolutionary guerrilla warfare should not be confused with older concepts of a similar nature” was necessary to make intervention consistent with U.S. goals, and exemplifies the mindset that informed all aspects of U. S. intervention abroad. Here, he elaborates on the distinction:

[T]he object was not the ordinary violent social protest, nor the usual revolutionary stirrings NVC have seen develop around the world with which we sympathize because they reflect inadequate living standards or oppressive and corrupt governments. Revolutionary guerrilla warfare was quite different It was an imported product, revolution from the outside; its stock in trade, the grievance, was often artificially created; its goal of liberation, a deception. 38

On the other hand, U. S. counterinsurgency doctrines, unlike their colonial predecessors, at least acknowledged a difference between disjointed, short-lived revolts and national upheavals such as the Chinese Revolution. ON the doctrinal level, the consideration of ideology and an appropriate political response suggests an awareness that the TICW revolutionary insurgency was indeed more than a matter of tactics and maneuver, as in the small wars of the past. This attention to the primacy of politics contrasted with the colonial powers’ brute suppression of their subject peoples through coercive violence. U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine introduced the idea that success was contingent upon winning the support of the people in the very process of their suppression.

The counterinsurgency recipe mixed moral and material ingredients: “Moral support” was seen in the same quantitative terms as was material assistance. Specialized manpower units and technological packages were available for any situation. A moral deficiency in counterinsurgency campaigning could be dealt with by the injection of X number of “Civic Action” and “Civil Affairs” teams among the target population; and psychological operations would deal, too, with the morale factor among the armed forces—and the population back home.

United States’ doctrine provided little guidance for the confrontation of the third category of colonial law enforcement: the suppression of intercommunal violence not directed against the government. On the contrary, as noted in the previous chapter, intercommunal differences were exploitable. Intercommunal violence would not be suppressed, or sublimated, but stimulated and fumed to counterinsurgent purpose. The cost of fueling the fires of communal violence for short- term advantage in Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Latin America will be outlined below.

The Problem of Administration

Just as the rule of law is a keystone of political legitimacy, a functioning administrative system provides a necessary foundation for the rule of law. Both would appear essential to the successful pursuit of counterinsurgency. A comparative study of British counterinsurgency in Malaya and U.S. counterinsurgency in Vietnam by Robert Komer found that inadequate administration crippled U. S. counterinsurgency efforts. Komer, himself an arch-administrator of U.S. counterinsurgency, concurred with British critics that a key drawback to the U.S. side of the Vietnam War was the “sheer lack of adequate administration to carry out [counterinsurgency] programs under a firm rule of law. “ He attributed this failing to the United States’ strange partnership with the government of South Vietnam.39 Komer also lamented that the unified British/Malayan “management” of civil and military affairs alike—”on a scale of which the United States never even sought in Vietnam”— provided an enormous advantage to the counterinsurgents.40

Although U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and programs adopted many of the same techniques and premises of the contemporary colonial doctrines of the French and British, American counterinsurgents like John Paul Vann, Edward Lansdale, and Charles Bohannan frequently expressed their distaste for overt colonialism. Colonial counterinsurgents, unlike the Americans, they maintained, were concerned not with “democracy” but only with order. To achieve this, they introduced measures affecting whole populations—like the British “resettlement” (virtual incarceration) of the Malayan Chinese—which the Americans found “totalitarian.” A March 1964 U.S. Overseas Mission paper from Vietnam credits Gerald Templar with calling the British counterinsurgency effort in Malaya “‘a war for the hearts and minds of men’... perhaps cynically, if one considers some of his actions. “4’

Bohannan’s boss in Southeast Asia, Edward Lansdale, is also on the record as critical of the long-haul, hands-on British approach to pacification. The army history of the early years in Vietnam, for example noted that in 1960, Lansdale, the Pentagon’s “principal expert on guerrilla warfare,” summarily rejected the British approach to insurgency in Malaya.42 Malaya was different, yes, but Lansdale’s principal objection apparently was not to the totalitarian aspect of certain British methods (including their scale of application) but to the amount of time it involved. The British and Malayans “had been fighting the Communists for eight years at a cost which the Vietnamese government could hardly afford,” wrote Lansdale, whereas the United States could manage matters better (and presumably faster and more economically) on their own, putting into practice “the lessons we learned in the recent past.” While insisting that “a sound political basis first” was of fundamental importance to counterinsurgency, his prescription to that end sounded rather less than democratic. To establish the “sound political basis” would, in Lansdale’s words, “require something extra and special by both Vietnam and the United States.”43 Colonel Lansdale’s “special” approach to Vietnam in the 1950s had been to prop up President Ngo Dinh Diem, as well as a range of cloak- and-dagger schemes that did a great deal to abort any prospect of political development. In the 1960s, Lansdale remained an advocate of swift, decisive action of an unconventional nature.

In another 1964 paper from a Vietnam posting, Charles Bohannan takes issue with colonial methods of counterinsurgency as totalitarian and potentially counterproductive: “Mass arrests, wholesale searches, and other seemingly easy methods of ‘population control’ can only strengthen opposition to the government.” Like Lansdale, however, Bohannan seems more concerned with logistical difficulties of total suppression, rather than its moral ramifications: “Only unabashedly totalitarian governments, Communist or colonialist, with relatively unlimited resources, can seriously think of, or attempt, killing or capturing most of the insurgents and their supports.”44

The alternative to totalitarian methods is a shortcut, made possible by democratic principles and the strategic application of force. The colonial approach is distinguished from the American largely in terms of the American presumption of a democratic consensus on the legitimacy of laws, on the guilt and punishment of malefactors, and the benevolent role of government. Bohannan writes:

As said before, government can legitimately act only against those who seek its overthrow (or violate laws clearly approved by the people). Even then, especially in political matters, and especially in Southeast Asia, forgiveness for those who repent is usually the wiser justice. Former VC supporters in an area under pacification should not be punished for past offenses, (unless these are common crimes where proof of guilt satisfactory to the community is available) nor should they be deprived of the protection and benefits of the government.45

Democratic fairness, as opposed to colonial oppression, in Bohannan’s view, should result in the attenuation of the bulk of opposition. Only the clearly guilty would remain to be eliminated through means of appropriate ruthlessness: “[N]inety per cent of the infrastructure will rot away. The remaining ten per cent will be exposed by intelligence actions, and legally (or, occasionally, covertly and extralegally) eliminated” (emphasis added).46

The American critique of colonialist counterinsurgency theory was perhaps fueled equally by the twin attitudes of impatience and “can-do” confidence. A corollary to the “can-do” ethos was the conviction that an ad hoc approach to counterinsurgent problem-solving was more practical than the institutional approach of the colonial administrator. In their 1961 book on counterinsurgency, Bohannan and Valeriano suggest that the formalities of the colonial administration of counterinsurgency were effective only in uniquely colonial circumstances:

The British have evolved a system... of formal committees, chaired by the civilian executive, including military, police, and intelligence chiefs of the area, augmented by civilians. This is undoubtedly effective under the conditions of respect for law and mutual trust found in their territories. In many parts of the world, such a set-up would be almost a guarantee of delay and ineffectiveness.47

The American alternative cited by Bohannan and Valeriano—what could be called the “Magsaysay solution”—was to rely on the discretion of good leaders. The American approach was based on a kind of market force theory of individual initiative and inspiration: The combination of the efforts of creative-minded counterinsurgents would naturally succeed through the very justness of the American cause. Things would work themselves out without cumbersome institutional regulation. Given the tactical options and the prescribed range of forces, as well as the counterinsurgents’ dual political/military role, the tactical operation and the administrative program could be left to the men on the ground. Bohannan and Valeriano conclude:

Who does what, and how the activities are organized (in counterguerrilla or guerrilla warfare), is far less important than understanding the mission and being determined to accomplish it by means not inconsistent with the mission. So long as a sufficient number understand the mission and what it implies, seek to accomplish it with a dedication and an intelligence not substantially inferior to that of the enemy, and receive adequate political support, the counterguerrilla effort should not usually be difficult.48

The influence of the “Magsaysay model” continued in Vietnam even after the demise of the Ngo brothers and could be seen behind the United States’ support of such vaguely charismatic pro- U.S. figures as El Salvador’s Napoleon Duarte.

However, a 1965 USOM [Overseas Mission]/Vietnam discussion paper addressed the problem of implementing the Lansdale/Bohannan ideal of strong leadership and grass-roots brotherhood:

No matter how desirable it might be to create a feeling of brotherhood and common purpose between the armed forces of Vietnam and the rural populace, the fact remains that such rapport does not yet exist and will not until the emergence of at least the simulacrum of “Magsaysay-type” leadership. In the meantime concepts of rural area defense often differ widely between the purely military-oriented armed forces and the civil-military oriented province chiefs. The military in a given action, concerned mainly with killing as many of the enemy as possible, is likely to give little consideration to the psychological impact of an action on surviving civilians.... The fact that today no rural area of Vietnam may be considered safe from devastating VN/U.S. military action, is considered a major hindrance to pacification.49

The same rather plaintive note appears in other documentation from the civilian side of “pacification” in Vietnam, along with a recognition that strong leadership alone was not enough. Rufus Phillips, one of the more brilliant of the USOM/Vietnam “pacification” experts (and an unsung mentor to both Lansdale and Bohannan there), confirmed in a 1964 memorandum that the problem was not only the intransigence of the Vietnamese military, but of the U. S. military as well. Phillips found U. S. command headquarters at the corps and Saigon level to be bound by “conventional military thinking”: The American command was guided by neither a British-style dedication to a political objective— however abusive the measures used to achieve it—nor any particular interest in the nonmilitary side of U.S. counterinsurgency. He noted: “Everybody talks about civic action and psychological warfare, but little command emphasis is placed on it and it is not understood. The major emphasis remains on ‘Killing Viet Cong’ and anything that gets in the way of killing Viet Cong. Unfortunately, the regular Vietnamese Army reflects the same tendencies.”50 Counterinsurgency somehow combined both the arrogance of colonial power and the unlimited violence of modern warfare; the methods and firepower of a conventional war were combined with the strictly military side of the unconventional, without regard for the consequences.

Although authors Bohannan and Valeriano submit the Philippines as a model counterinsurgency, their strategy, of course, depended on having the right man on top and situations in which being right turned the tide. The planned and structured interchangeability of leadership in modern military, political, and other bureaucratic institutions is considered impractical for the “underdeveloped” world: The quick fix is achieved by selecting the right men and giving them nearly autocratic authority to act decisively. Their model leader, Ramón Magsaysay, “was not interested in organization or theory; he wanted, and he got, results.”51 Perhaps surprisingly, this facet of the anticolonial argument returns us full circle to the nineteenth-century European doctrine of conquest. The great French theorist Lyautey, who enunciated the essential combination of force and politics in conquest and pacification, also stressed the role of the individual in such situations:

[I]f in the metropolis administrations that are traditionally organized function automatically, and could at a stretch function without men—for a time—in the colonies, to the contrary, where the unexpected is the rule and where decisions are a daily necessity, one formula dominates all others, and that is the right man in the right place.52

Lyautey, of course, had more in mind than leadership qualities: he specified that the “right man” must be chosen not by his status as a civilian or a military man but on the basis of “qualities that are both military and civilian, or, to be precise, administrative.” The right man, then, was an administrator of laws, not an autocrat who led by fiat.

  1. See chapter 3.
  2. U. S. Department of the Army, Operations Against Irregular Forces, FM 31-15 (Headquarters, Department of the Army, May 1961), p. 14.
  3. Ibid., pp. 15, 19. The term “population control” was used in the 1963 U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Forces (FM 31-22) and subsequent manuals.
  4. Ibid., pp. 22-23. The manual suggests a zone of 300 yards on either side of the right of way of crucial highways, railways, canals, and pipelines, with civilian inhabitants evacuated. The German equivalent in the Balkans campaign was a “shoot on sight” zone of 200 meters on either side of railways in populated areas and 5 kilometers in the countryside (see German Antiguerrilla Operations in the Balkans (1941-1944) [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Headquarters, August 1954], U.S. Department of the Army Pamphlet 20-243, p. 56).
  5. Ibid., pp. 22-23.
  6. Ibid., p. 19. Precisely the same list appears in the December 1967 Counterguerrilla Operations manual (U. S. Department of the Army, Pamphlet FM 31-16), described as “administrative measures imposed to control the populace and resources, and to minimize the ability of the populace to collaborate with guerrilla forces.”
  7. The 1963 edition of FM 31-22, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Force, pp. 106-7, for example, recommends the “Evacuation of areas to forestall acts of collaboration, or for the protection of the civil population”; whether involving the relocation of entire communities or “the relocation or exchange of suspected individuals or families to unfamiliar neighborhoods, away from relatives or friends who may be serving with the insurgents.” Punishments were to include “confiscation of property... of those individuals adjudged guilty of collaboration.” Commodity control was to include registration of “all livestock,” and so on.
  8. Frances FitzGerald, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (New York: Vintage, 1973), p. 458.
  9. Ibid., p. 569.
  10. FM 31 -22 (1963), p. 107. A range of approaches is outlined in the 1962 Psychological Operations manual (FM 33-5) and later psy-war manuals.
  11. G. H. Shubert, Research on Counterinsurgency and Vietnam, RAND Document, D. No. 16878-lSA-ARPA (RAND {Corporation Santa Monica, 20 March 1968), 4.
  12. Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 425 26; for the text of the speech cited see Lt. Col. T. N. Greene, ea., The Guerrilla and How to Fight Him (New York: Praeger, 1962). Hilsman was chief of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
  13. Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare. A French View of Counterinsurgency (London: Pa Mall Press, 1964), p. 105 First published in French as La Guerre Moderne (Paris: Editions de la Table Ronde, 1961). English translation by its U.S. publisher, Praeger.
  14. Peter Paret, “A Total Weapon of Limited War, “ RUSI Journal (February 1960), p 64.
  15. Ibid., p. 66.
  16. Ibid. “Mental or physical torture and nuclear devices are equally problematic weapons. Both affect not only their victims but recoil on their users: the recoil may be bearable, but its force is difficult to estimate and control in advance. It is of course possible that other Services adopting total forms of psychological warfare might not be embarrassed by as many disciplinary problems as the French have had to deal with.” Paret cites the lessons of “recent German history” as well as the French experience in observing that “the lack of respect for the individual ordering various forms of maltreatment certainly affects the personnel charged with carrying them out,” and indeed this effect exercises a pervasive influence on the larger military institutions and on society. Paret had observed at close hand the collapse of the French Fourth Republic in April 1958, and the 1958 “13th of May” army movement that briefly placed Algiers under a “Committee of Public Safety. “ Still to come was the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS, Secret Army Organization) coup of 21 April
  17. Chalmers A. Johnson, “Civilian Loyalties and Guerrilla Conflict,” World Politics July 1962), p. 650. The article was reproduced in a 1963 anthology for use in the U.S. Military Academy, Readings in Counterinsurgency (Department of Social Sciences, U.S. Military Academy, West Point).
  18. “[I]t is true that guerrillas themselves have, in certain cases, resorted to terrorism against the civilian population. When this occurs, however, it is important to determine whether it is selective terrorism against alleged traitors to the movement, particular classes, or economic groups; or whether it is terrorism designed to compel support of an otherwise unpopular movement” (ibid., p. 652).
  19. Ibid., pp. 651-52. The Chinese example is most striking insofar as different Japanese policies were carried out. In the north, “a policy known as sanko-seisaku—the physical destruction of all life and property in an area where guerrillas were thought to exist—was implemented, “ while in central China, “a policy of establishing so-called Model Peace Zones was pursued” and primary efforts centered on maintaining production in rich agricultural areas. “Over the course of the war, the policy in central China achieve a much greater measure of success,” with counterguerrilla operations persisting up until the end of the war in the north, which “became the Communist strong-hold.”
  20. Ibid., p. 652.
  21. J. K. Zawodny, “Unconventional Warfare: It Is More Than a Knife in the Enemy’s Back, “ The American Scholar 31.3 (Summer 1962), reprinted in Henry A. Kissinger, ea., Problems of National Security (New York: Praeger, 1965), pp. 34()-41.
  22. Ibid., p. 341.
  23. Paret, “A Total Weapon of Limited War,” p. 69.
  24. Ibid., p. 69.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., p. 67: “This principle is applied to the entire range of psychological warfare operations. “
  28. Douglas Pike, The Viet Cong Strategy of Terror (Saigon: U. S. Information Agency, 1970), cited in FitzGerald, Fire in the Lake, p. 506.
  29. Bernard B. Fall and Marcus G. Raskin, “Diplomatic Alternative to U.S. Policy,” New York Review of Books (17 September 1965), reprinted in Fall and Raskin, eds., The Viet-Nam Reader (New York: Vintage, 1967), pp. 465-76.
  30. Ibid., p. 467.
  31. Ibid. Secretary of State Dean Rusk informed the International Red Cross of the American commitment on 12 August 1965.
  32. Ibid.
  33. R. G. K. Thompson’s relations with the Kennedy Special Group (Cl) are described in Gilpatric, Oral History, First Interview, p. 26, Second Interview, p. 35.
  34. Sir Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency, Experiences from Malaya and Vietnam (London: Chatto and Windus, 1966), p. 53.
  35. Ibid. Laws enacted but dropped after a period of use “because they were unfair on innocent members of the population” included a provision for the government “to seize and deport all Chinese found in a declared bad area. Another allowed the government to impose a collective fine on all the inhabitants of an area where the people were unco-operative.”
  36. Ibid., pp. 52-53. A reference from this passage is cited in David G. Epstein’s “The Police in Counterinsurgency Efforts, “Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science 54 (1968), to support Epstein’s statement that “The police must never act outside the law nor should the government allow the police to ignore any portion of the law” (p. 150). Major Epstein was on the staff of the U.S. Army Military Police School.
  37. Lt. Col. Donn A. Starry, “La Guerre Révolutionnaire,” Military Review (February 1967), p. 68.
  38. Douglas Pike, Viet Cong: The Organization and Techniques of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1966), p. 33.
  39. Robert W. Komer, The Malayan Emergency in Retrospect: Organization of a Successful Counterinsurgency Effort, a report prepared for Advanced Research Projects Agency, no. R- 957-ARPA (Santa Monica: RANI), February 1972), p. 84.
  40. Ibid., p. 85.
  41. “Some Comments on the Counter-lnsurgency Program of Vietnam and USOM, “ USOM/RA, I March 64. Four-page typescript from the Lansdale papers, Box 7, Assorted Writings, South Vietnam, 1964. Although an author is not indicated, the paper was attached to a similar memorandum attributed to Bohannan, and is apparently by the same author.
  42. Ronald H. Spector, Advice and Support: The Early Years of the U. S. Army in Vietnam, 1941-1960 (New York: Free Press, 1985), p. 356, citing a memorandum from Lansdale to General Bonesteel, 25 April 1960.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Memorandum, Subject: “Counter-insurgency Terms, Objectives and Operations,’ 32 October 1964, CTR Bohannan, Consultant. Eleven-page typescript in the Lansdale Papers, Box 7, Assorted Writings, South Vietnam 1964. Bohannan adds that “efforts in this direction which are less than wholesale extermination or incarceration inevitably strengthen the insurgent’s cause....”
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Lt. Col. Charles Bohannan and Col. Napoleon Valeriano, Counterguerrilla Operations (New York: Praeger, 1962), p. 108.
  48. Ibid., p. 110.
  49. George H. Melvin, USOM/Vietnam (drafted by) 11 January 1965, “Discussion Paper—Regional Reorganization for Pacification.” Mr. R. M. Poats, AA/FE. From Bohannan Papers, Box 7, Assorted Writings, South Vietnam.
  50. USOM/Vietnam, From Rufus Phillips to Mr. James S. Killen, Director USOM/ Vietnam “Ideas on what’s wrong and what to do,” April (?) 1964. Bohannan Papers, Box 7, Assorted Writings, South Vietnam.
  51. Bohannan and Valeriano, Counterintelligence Operations, p. 211.
  52. Luis Hubert Lyautey, Lettres du Tonkin et de Madagascar (1894-1899), vol. 2 (Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1920), p. 274. (Translated from the French by the author; Lyautey said “the right man in the right place” in English.)