A few weeks ago, while on the road, HH6 and I stopped to do some shopping at a local thrift shop (a favorite past time). Amongst the other items she found, HH6 found a couple of books for me. Most notable of these, thus far, is a book I read decades ago, in junior high or high school, on the Vietnam conflict.
"Silence Was A Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages," by Stuart A. Herrington, is a study of the author's experience as a young military intelligence Captain in the Phoenix Program. Because of the relevance of this book to the subject of this blog, I'm going to take the time to quote some excerpts, and interject my own commentary on why any specific excerpt is relevant, and how it ties into the resistance side of the spectrum, versus the counter-insurgent's.
As COL. Herrington (as an interesting historical note, now retired Colonel Herrington's audit of Abu Ghraib was one of the primary causes of the public exposure of the abuses that were occurring there. As will be seen below, his experiences and the abuses he witnessed in Vietnam led to a career-long disgust with torture and "enhanced interrogations.") points out in the preface to his book, the views he expressed were "offered with the sincere hope that they will assist in clarifying why the well-intentioned efforts of our country to win the "hearts and minds" of the South Vietnamese people ended with the ignominious departure of our ambassador from the roof of his embassy in an evacuation helicopter."
(Critical Note: This article is not intended to portray myself as an expert on the Vietnam War. While I have, for obvious reasons, studied the shit out of it, I was not there. I can only look at it, through the prism of history, based on the recollections and reports of those who were there. So, as I critique things that occurred, it is not intended to belittle or badmouth the veterans who went, most often poorly trained for the conflict they were entering, and did the best they could under the circumstances, often with Olympian results that belied the piss-poor preparation they were given. While the argument has been made, accurately, that U.S. forces smoked the shit out of PAVN and VC forces every time they faced them on a conventional battlefield, that is not the same thing as saying "we won the battles and the politicians lost the war." In reality, the PAVN and VC learned from battles like the Ia Drang and the Tet Offensive. Yes, the U.S. military can leverage our technological might and monkey-stomp the fuck out of any conventional force on the planet. The difference is, with few exceptions, such as SF, the U.S. military is terribly hide-bound and unable to look back to the Founders and remember the lessons of UW, while the PAVN and VC had no institutional pride to overcome. They adapted to the threat they faced, and mastered UW. We have a lot to learn from them and other irregular forces that the U.S. and other large, conventional militaries of the world have faced over the last four or five decades. That is my goal with book reports like this. Expect more of them. --J.M.)
"Chua shook his head. Terror and the threat of "revolutionary justice" had always played a role, but only a minor one. A more significant role had been played by the Diem government itself, whose policies had actually driven many of the villages into the arms of the VietCong. The relentless Communist propaganda program could not have been effective if the Diem government had not done things to lend credibility to Communist allegations. Hao Chua's recollection of this period illustrates the dilemma faced by President Diem:
First, the government forced many of the people to move to central locations called 'strategic hamlets.' We were told that this was for our protection from the VietCong, but at this time, the people of Hiep Hoa did not yet feel the need for such protection....
...Then the popular village chief was replaced in 1960 by a selfish man. This man was inaccessible to the people, and it was commonly believed that he was dishonest. he looked out for the rich people in the village and no one else. Since the villagers' view of the government was based largely on its local representative, the prestige of the Diem government suffered because of this man, who eventually absconded with the village funds.
Another reason for the decline on the government's popularity was the so-called Decree 10-59. This law stated that all people who had worked for the VietMinh could be imprisoned, or even executed. This law alienated many of the villagers who had fought with the VietMinh against the French, but who were not Communists."
There is not a lot that needs to be said on this, since the parallels between the Diem regime and today can be so easily seen. The important note however is, it wasn't a single issue that drove the people to the insurgency, but a combination of them. There are a lot of people pissed off in this country, rightfully so, about the DoJ claiming returning veterans are "potential domestic terrorists." That's not going to push a non-veteran to put his life and liberty at risk. Most of us are torqued at the premise of a ban on fighting-grade small arms. That's not going to push a non-gun person to take up arms. Lots of people are torqued off about the PATRIOT ACT and NDAA 2012. Not enough to take up arms however. It will be a combination of factors, that impact them directly, in an intolerable way, that will push people across their personal Rubicon (honestly, my belief is, it will take watching their families starving because there's no food on the store shelves).
"At year's end, Hiep Hoa village was firmly in the Communist camp, and the people had begun to pay harvest taxes to the VietCong. 'At the time, it was not necessary to use threats or terror to obtain such support,' Chua remembered. 'It was given willingly because they people were nearly certain that the future lay with the Communists. Once again, I detected the unabashed pragmatism of the peasantry when it came to political loyalties."
This, really, is the key to understanding why "the second American Revolution" hasn't gotten any hotter than it already is. Specialist Joe Snuffy, veteran of OIF, who has come home and can't find a job that pays more than $8.00 an hou, isn't going to stick his head too high, just to let the government play "whack-a-mole" with him. Until the government overplays its hand to the point that large numbers of people find it intolerable, nothing is really going to change.
When it does heat up, the vast majority of people aren't going to suddenly jump up, shouting with joy, and come running into the resistance with arms outstretched in wondrous abandon. It's not that they are opposed to the goals of the resistance. It's that they just don't give two shits. As long as their kids are fed, and have a roof over their heads, that is the most important thing. In a war zone, the non-combatants are only concerned about the safety of their families. The mission of the resistance is to convince them that supporting the resistance is in their best interest, and that the regime cannot win (as I said recently on WRSA, the most important thing for a resistance is the public perception that they are not losing), meaning the resistance can win, eventually. This is critical for one simple reason:
"The most important form of support was not the recruits or even the money. The critical thing was that the people were willing to cover for us at all times. They would not report our activities or locations to the government forces if they came into the village. Sometimes they would even volunteer misleading information about us. Without this form of support, we could not have gotten along."
This could be achieved, not because most of the populace actively supported the resistance, but because they saw the insurgency as a potential winner. Colonel Herrington goes on:
"As for the 30 percent or so who did not support us [in the manner previously described], most of these people were either Catholic or Cao Dai (neither religious group actively supported the Communists, for relatively obvious reasons), or they had relatives serving with the government forces. But even these people lent their support in the sense that they did not reveal information about our movements and activities. They knew that to do so would not be healthy."
It was not actual reprisals that worked to deter informants, in other words, but the very real fear of those reprisals, should the Communists succeed. Otherwise, they would have simply demanded protection from the insurgency. That's not an option when you think there is a chance that they might be the government shortly.
The Chieu Hoi described, Chua, goes on to describe what finally convinced him to turn tail on his comrades in the VietCong. It was not a change in his non-existant ideological commitment to the cause:
"The government troops did not pose too much of a problem at first, but the Americans with their helicopters and artillery changed the face of the war overnight in the Hiep Hoa. I was forced to spend more and more time in hiding, and my wife became increasingly dissatisfied. Casualties among the people of Hiep Hoa monted, as did property damage from the fighting. The people began to draw away from us and to fear our presence, knowing that we would attract government forces and more fighting."
Ultimately, this is one of the problems of the 'suburban resistance' myth, and even, to a lesser degree, the urban resistance reality. While an urban enclave can provide a way to hide among the fishes, so to speak, if the resistance ever amounts to anything beyond a particularly violent criminal enterprise, and becomes a viable threat to the power of the regime in a given area, the regime WILL tear the enclave down, brick-by-brick, around the heads and shoulders of the resistance and the local populace. Up until that moment, the perception of not losing can be maintained, but when the armor rolls into the alleys, and people are relocated or shot, they will turn on the resistance to save their families. While the urban enclave does provide a level of protection against air and artillery support, it does so only until the regime decides the destruction of a resistance safe haven is more critical than maintaining the good will of the locals. The people will do whatever they can do, to protect their families.
Finally, Colonel Herrington points out that the major deciding factor in turning many VietCong over to the non-communist side was the failure of the Tet Offensive to deliver the peace that the Communists had promised to the people. Here's a lesson, in one simple phrase, that is the absolute most critical thing to building and keeping rapport with the non-combatant local civilian populace. It was given to me by a mentor, in my very first days in SF, in a manner that led me to believe he was about to pass on some ultra-secret, levels above TS-classified, morsel of SF lore:
"DO NOT MAKE PROMISES THAT YOU CANNOT KEEP!!!!!"
Rapport is based on trust. The locals that support you, whether actively or tacitly, have to trust that you will do everything in your power to protect them, and provide aid to them. If you are not going to be able to do so, let them know up-front. The locals that don't support you have to trust (even if it's based on myth) that if they turn on you, they will have the weight of ten worlds dropped on them (this is NOT saying you need to go murder people in their beds, simply because they voted for a candidate you disagreed with, or once collected unemployment or food stamps. It's about ruining their lives if they actively aid the regime by providing information on you...burn their houses down and turn them out in the street. They will have friends, or even family among the local supporters who will see and understand the need for that, but will be turned off if you murder them). Either way, when you are dealing with the local civilian populace (or fuck, anyone in life, for that matter, if it needs to be said, never make a promise that you don't have the power to ensure it is carried out).
When most people discuss the Tet Offensive, they look at the havoc wreaked by the PAVN and VC on South Vietnamese cities like Saigon, Hue, while absorbing tremendous losses. Colonel Herrington goes on:
"When Hai Chua recalled Tet, he described the unforgettable slaughter of the exposed VietCong light infantry by American and South Vietnamese firepower. As a VietCong cadre in a tiny village near the Cambodian border, Chua could not fathom the psychological forces that the Tet assaults had triggered in the United States. To him, Tet had caused the people to lose faith in the VietCong and precipitated a drop in the 'revolutionary morale' of the insurgents themselves....
....the destruction of their Cambodian sanctuary had been disastrous for the Hiep Hoa VietCong. Overnight, Chua and his comrades had been denied the convenience of their medical facilities, schools, ammunition dumps, and food storage sites. Cambodia had been a place to go to escape the pressures of 'the front.' The denial of those facilities had brought home to Chua and his fellow cadre that there was literally 'no place to hide' from the increasingly lethal war."
I think there are a couple of critical lessons to learn here. First of course, is the fact that small-unit leaders absolutely must impress the moral righteousness of their cause on subordinates, and their eventual success in the long-term, as well as emphasizing the 'long war' nature of resistance fights. They have to ensure that the subordinates understand that just because they don't look to be winning at the local level, doesn't mean they're not, in the long-term, winning (or at least, not losing). If the resistance themselves don't have faith in their ultimate success, there is no way for the local civilian population to develop that faith, which will lead to their supporting the regime. It is the very definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
The second is the critical importance of having a secure guerrilla base area to act as a safe haven, a subject I've discussed in great detail on this blog in past articles. Urban enclaves, with the warnings noted above and previously, are potential safe havens. Alpine wilderness regions can provide safe havens for paramilitary guerrilla forces who can move out of them to conduct actions, then return to areas that are practicably inaccessible to the regime's security forces, as can thick swamp/jungle and forested regions, to varying degrees.
Third, the resistance can never, no matter how 'secure' their guerrilla base area, put all its eggs in one basket. In the event the security forces decide to invade the safe area, the resistance will need material supplies and shelter elsewhere. Establish caches of supplies, in multiple places, to provide for re-supply of alternate safe havens.
As a closing note (there's a lot more to this book, and I will continue commenting on it over the coming days and weeks) for now, Herrington notes a strategy of the Communists that is extremely relevant for future resistance movement's everywhere:
"The VietCong weren't literally everywhere as their propaganda would have liked people to believe, but their organization was sufficiently developed so that one could never be certain whether or not there was a Communist agent in a given group. The organizational feat enabled the VietCong to accomplish many feats that would have been otherwise impossible--the most significant of which was the control of the country's rural population by a relatively small elite."
Boys and girls, there is NOT a government informant in every preparedness group or militia. Are they out there? Absolutely. Are there non-informants who will turn at the drop of a dime (or a dollar)? Fuck yes. But people, quit being scared shitless by the scary shadow of some potential informant. If you're not planning a specific operation to blow up your local security force outpost, or a sniper attack on a local political dignitary, they've got bigger fish to fry.
Are your convictions so weak that you refuse to train because you are afraid that there might be an informant that might get you arrested? For shooting your guns? Are your convictions so weak that you put your safety before them? The Founding Fathers put their lives, liberty, and sacred honor on the line, knowing they wouldn't go to jail. They'd be hanged by the necks until they were dead.
Are you worried that your family might be hungry and homeless? That's noble, you fucking chickenshit. Read the stories of the Founders and see what they got in return for their convictions. I was recently accused by someone who does not know of the John Mosby persona, of being uncommitted to the cause of Liberty, because I didn't go train with their group at the range on a given day (I was spending time with the family after traveling across nine states and teaching classes back-to-back over the course of a month). I KNOW my level of commitment. I know the risks I put myself and my family under. I pledged my life, my liberty, and my sacred honor to doing everything in my power to defend and restore the Constitution. Am I concerned about informants, or showing up to a training event and finding out it was a set-up? Of course I am, but the alternative to taking that risk is to sit at home, fuming on the internet forums, as I watch my home besieged by the Visigoths. With a young daughter, that's not acceptable to me.
So, without casting aspersions or implications on anyone, what the fuck are you doing?
In the Mountains