Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam's Hearts and Minds

Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam's Hearts and Minds

Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam's Hearts and Minds

Pacification: The American Struggle for Vietnam's Hearts and Minds

Synopsis

During the Vietnam War, the United States embarked on an unusual crusade on behalf of the government of South Vietnam. Known as the pacification program, it sought to help South Vietnam's government take root and survive as an independent, legitimate entity by defeating communist insurgents and promoting economic development and political reforms. In this book, Richard Hunt provides the first comprehensive history of America's "battle for hearts and minds," the distinctive blending of military and political approaches that took aim at the essence of the struggle between North and South Vietnam. Hunt concentrates on the American role, setting pacification in the larger political context of nation building. He describes the search for the best combination of military and political action, incorporating analysis of the controversial Phoenix program, and illuminates the difficulties the Americans encountered with their sometimes reluctant ally. The author explains how hard it was to get the U. S. Army involved in pacification and shows the struggle to yoke divergent organizations (military, civilian, and intelligence agencies) to serve one common goal. The greatest challenge of all was to persuade a surrogate- the Saigon government- to carry out programs and to make reforms conceived of by American officials. The book concludes with a careful assessment of pacification's successes and failures. Would the Saigon government have flourished if there had been more time to consolidate the gains of pacification? Or was the regime so fundamentally flawed that its demise was preordained by its internal contradictions? This pathbreaking book offers startling and provocative answers to these and other important questions about our Vietnam experience.

Excerpt

For decades, the problem of Vietnam plagued American strategists and policy- makers, who viewed the struggle there as another front in the Cold War against the expansion of communism. From the Geneva Convention of 1954 that ended the French Indochina War to the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, the United States supported a panoply of military and political plans, among them various pacification programs, to shore up a succession of governments in Saigon. Broadly speaking, the Americans conceived pacification as a means to defeat a communist insurgency and help build a national political community in South Vietnam. the American-backed counterinsurgency efforts of the early 1950s that quelled the communist-led Huk movement in the Philippines helped generate a belief that the United States had a singular mission. As one historian expressed it, there were confident assertions in the Eisenhower years that "the American record authorized, if indeed it did not command, the United States to undertake nation building in Southeast Asia." From the beginning of South Vietnam's existence as an independent nation in 1954 to the end of the war, the pacification program assumed many guises, but its steadfast purpose was to help realize the ultimate American and South Vietnamese goal of an independent, sovereign, and non- communist South Vietnam. Pacification was an integral part of allied strategy to realize this goal.

This book examines the American role in pacification, which was largely one of providing advice and support for the program. America's involvement in the "other war," as pacification was sometimes known, was never as publicized as its participation in other aspects of the conflict, such as the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and Navy bombing campaigns or the "big-unit war" fought by U.S. Army and Marine Corps (USMC) units. But under Lyndon Baines Johnson, the United States enthusiastically embraced a unique nation-building mission in South Vietnam that had its origins in the same presidential impulses that gave birth to the Great Society and the April 1965 offer to North Vietnam of a billion-dollar economic development program for the Mekong River valley region on a scale to dwarf the Tennessee Valley Authority.

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