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Covert Operations in Vietnam

John Simkin

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The United States government was severely concerned about the success of communism in South East Asia. Between 1950 and 1953 they had lost 142,000 soldiers in attempting to stop communism entering South Korea. The United States feared that their efforts would have been wasted if communism were to spread to South Vietnam. President Eisenhower was aware that he would have difficulty in persuading the American public to support another war so quickly after Korea. He therefore decided to rely on a small group of Military Advisers' to prevent South Vietnam becoming a communist state.

Under the leadership of Colonel Edward Lansdale, a twelve-man team of American soldiers and intelligence agents was sent to Saigon in June, 1954. The plan was to mount a propaganda campaign to persuade the Vietnamese people in the south not to vote for the communists in the forthcoming elections.

In the months that followed, this small team of men distributed targeted documents that claimed the Vietminh and Chinese communists had entered South Vietnam and were killing innocent civilians. The Ho Chi Minh government was also accused of slaying thousands of political opponents in North Vietnam.

Colonel Lansdale also recruited mercenaries from the Philippines to carry out acts of sabotage in North Vietnam. This was unsuccessful and most of the mercenaries were arrested and put on trial in Hanoi.

Finally, Lansdale set about training the South Vietnamese army (ARVN) in modem fighting methods. For it was coming clear that it was only a matter of time before the communists would resort to open warfare.

In October, 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bo Dai, the former Emperor of Vietnam, and Ngo Dinh Diem for the leadership of the country. Lansdale suggested that Diem should provide two ballot papers, red for Diem and green for Bao Dai. Lansdale hoped that the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck whilst green indicated bad fortune, would help influence the result.

When the voters arrived at the polling stations they found Diem's supporters in attendance. One voter complained afterwards: "They told us to put the red ballot into envelopes and to throw the green ones into the wastebasket. A few people, faithful to Bao Dai, disobeyed. As soon as they left, the agents went after them, and roughed them up... They beat one of my relatives to pulp."

After the election Ngo Dinh Diem informed his American advisers that he had achieved 98.2 per cent of the vote. Lansdale warned him that these figures would not be believed and suggested that he published a figure of around 70 per cent. Diem refused and as the Americans predicted, the election undermined his authority.

Another task of Lansdale and his team was to promote the success of the rule of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Figures were produced that indicated that South Vietnam was undergoing an economic miracle. With the employment of $250 millions of aid per year from the United States and the clever manipulating of statistics, it was reported that economic production had increased dramatically.

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I had a friend in the Special Forces who went to Vietnam in January of 1963. Here's a bit of a description of him when he came back:

"He also knew stuff not many people were in a position to know at the time. He’d been at the front lines of a war everyone in the country was getting curiouser and curiouser about. According to him, the U.S. Army had no business in Southeast Asia, period. The war was a racket. The South Vietnamese Government was nothing but a bunch of money-grubbing thugs. Elliot knew who killed that Diem guy, for example, and why—to get him the hell out of the way so the USA could run the war its way, that’s why.

He told me flat-out to stay out of the draft no matter what I had to do, but by then I’d pretty much figured that out all on my own. The way Elliot saw it was that the only thing the people in Vietnam wanted was to feed their families—to grow their rice, to fix their fishing nets, to ride their bicycles—and that Ho Chi Minh was one tough son of a bitch who wouldn’t ever make any concessions to anyone about anything. The war would go on forever. Ho Chi Minh couldn’t lose. He wouldn’t lose. He didn’t. Ha!

Most of the time Elliot was in Vietnam, however, he was actually in Thailand—smoking Thai sticks and living in rickety houses on bright sandy beaches with well-paid Thai chicks. It sounded like a kind of polygamous religious community, like paradise, like heaven on earth, like something Brigham Young might have dreamed up. Elliot fit right in. I was probably a little jealous.

It didn’t help matters much that Ginny was enthralled by the stories he told. She’d never known a bona fide war hero before. Elliot and his buddies had it made. They shared everything and ate mangos off trees. It was utterly ephemeral and serene and lavishly financed by the bottomless pockets of the U. S. taxpayers."

I'm no history expert, I was just around and have a knack for remembering things. G.

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