Well, to explain the Phoenix Program
, you really have to understand what the Pacification Program
was because you can't explain the Phoenix
without understanding Pacification
. As I've said previously, I always thought that the key to the war in Vietnam was the war in the villages. Between the secret communist apparatus and their recruits and the government apparatus and the people of the villages.
The question was which direction was, which direction would the people go. Would they go toward the communist apparatus or would they go toward the government? Now, in that it was essential I felt and a number of my friends felt to develop the capability of the people in the villages to contribute to the protection of their villages against outside marauders, against outside problems, and it, one of the key features, for example, of the Pacification Program
was the arming of the villagers.
Now, when we suggested that in, right after Tet in 1968, a lot of people thought it was a very foolish idea, indeed, to give guns to the villagers, as they might turn those guns on the government. They might use them internecine warfare and all the rest, but President Thieu saw that it was essential to give those villagers the conviction that they had a role in the protection of their community and to take the chance as to which direction they would point those guns.
We gave out half million guns to the villagers in Vietnam. Not to the police, not to the soldiers, but to the villagers in Vietnam, to stand guard once or twice a week at night and protect their village. They weren't very good soldiers but it did involve them in the effort.
involved a lot of other programs. The election of local village chiefs instead of their appointment by some distant bureaucrat. The development of the Land Reform Program which spread the ownership of the land to the peasants as against the old landlords, the building of schools, development of the whole refugee program and the re-settlement of the refugees in the areas from which they had come and were now able to go back thanks to having some local security.
Now, one of these programs was the Phoenix Program
and that program was designed to improve on the, on the government's side, the nature of the struggle run between the government structure and the illegal secret communist apparatus. Now that struggle had gone on for a number of years in the chaotic period of the mid-'60s
, and a lot of bad things had been done on both sides.
But, we decided that the only way to have this kind of a necessary fight between the government and the secret apparatus which was throwing the, the grenades into the village places and bombing the buses on their way to the market place in the morning, the only way to conduct that fight was to run it through decent intelligence systems which would cooperate and exchange information and not have each intelligence service running off in its own direction dealing with its own things, and not develop a McCarthy like feeling that a, a mere accusation that somebody is a communist is enough to take action against him.
Instead, we said first, you have to get the different intelligence agencies to work together, to pool their information and share their information. And, secondly, you have to set up some standards of what the evidence is on these people instead of just an allegation that a man is a communist. We set up a structure ABC, A for leaders, B for cadres, C for followers, and then said we aren't interested in collecting information on the followers. That's of no interest whatsoever.
We've got to find out precise information. We need three separate reports to have a dossier so that we begin to identify who a particular leader is, what his job is, where he is, what he does. That sort of thing. And, then we then developed a, an understanding of the secret apparatus, a political order of battle, if you will, so that we could understand...
Take one. Clap sticks.
So, the, the development of a political order of battle to understand the specific nature of the enemy, the secret enemy that we were facing, as well as we tried to understand the military order of battle. The military units we were facing.
Now, in the process, of course, this requires a lot of training in how to keep dossiers, how to conduct interrogations in a decent manner, because that's essential. We built various ah, ah, places for interrogations. We arranged that they be decently housed and taken care of while they're in there waiting for interrogation.
We did training in interrogation techniques with the obvious message that if you want to get good information, you'd better use good intel—interrogation techniques, because if you use bad techniques, you'll get bad information. If you torture, you'll get what you want to hear or you'll get something that the fellow invents. If you're clever about your interrogation and use sophisticated systems, you'll learn what the truth is and you'll learn it without any abuse.
Now, these were the training programs we went through, these were the actions we took. Ah. We ah said that ah the purpose of this was to develop this kind of detailed information about who the leaders of the enemy apparatus were. And, we then turned that over to the police forces, to the military and to others.
And, if we heard and knew through our intelligence that there was going to be a meeting of the province committee at a certain forest at night, certainly the military would set up an assault to go out and try to capture and shoot at, if necessary, that committee meeting. Now, we would go out ah a, a, a, the unit would go out with the idea that they wanted to get the people alive, because, obviously, if you get a committee meeting at a province level, you've got people who know things. They're, obviously, much more valuable to you alive than dead, and therefore, the incentive was to capture them so that they could be interrogated, so that we could mo—learn more about them.
Now, we also had a program of try to invite these people to rally. We put up posters in various parts of Vietnam with the picture of the individual and description of who he was. Wanted posters, like the old Jesse James ones, but a little different; because at the bottom of the poster, it said very clearly, "and Mr. James, if you will turn yourself in, you will be freed of any punishment for anything you may have done while you were on the other side." And, 17,000 of those people turned themselves in. Rallied to the government as a result of our program. We knew who they were and what they'd been doing.
Now, some 28,000 were captured as well in various kinds of capture. Military capture, police capture, all sorts of things. And, 20,000 of the names that we had collected we found were killed. Now, it's on that basis that the people have made totally false accusations that this was a program of assassination. Not true.
What this was was that we had the names from our intelligence collection, and when there was a battle outside the village some night and people were killed on both sides, we went out in the morning to find out who had been killed on which side and sure enough Mr. Nu Wiem who was down as the local guerrilla chief he had been killed in that fight, but he certainly hadn't been assassinated. He'd been killed in a military fight, but he hadn't rallied, and he hadn't been captured. He'd been killed. And, so that was the phrase used. Killed. That's what had happened to the, that individual.
Now, I'm not gonna say that there was nobody wrongfully killed in all of Vietnam during all the years of the Phoenix Program
. But, I do say that the purpose and the effect of the Phoenix Program
was to reduce and eliminate as far as possible the abuses on the government, although not on the enemy side.
Now, the reason I can say this is that we put out very clear directives that this would not be a program of assassination. I wrote them myself. We've said in the, in the directives that if anybody finds something going on that he, that does not meet the standards of the laws of war, he is to report them to me, and I received some reports of people who had been wrongfully killed. There was one official came in and killed a captive and we found out later that the reason he killed him was because he had killed members of his own family a few ye, a few months before, but he did the wrong thing and I complained about it to the prime minister and that official was thrown out of his job.
Now, we made it very clear that we were not gonna countence—countenance bad behavior because of the moral aspects, and because of the effectiveness aspects. It just doesn't work.