The Terrible Violence of ‘Pacification’


South Vietnamese displaced by the war, circa 1970.

“By the time of the cease-fire in Vietnam in 1973, more than 10 million South Vietnamese, mostly from rural areas — well over half of the estimated total population of 17 million — had been driven from their homes by the war. The United States Senate subcommittee on refugees estimated that by 1974, over 1.4 million civilians had been killed and wounded, and attributed over 50 percent of these casualties to the firepower of American and South Vietnamese forces. These displacements and casualties were not just the byproduct of warfare but also a result of deliberate policies by the United States and South Vietnamese governments. In Vietnam, the United States fought two wars: a conventional war in remote areas against the North Vietnamese Army units that had infiltrated into the South and a struggle among the rural people to win their ‘hearts and minds.’ It was in this fight for influence and control against the insurgents (or Viet Cong) in the rural areas, where 80 percent of the people lived, that the American and South Vietnamese governments wreaked the most havoc on the population. For the Viet Cong (who preferred to refer to themselves as liberators: the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam), the rural population was vital to their survival and hope for victory. The insurgents lived among them and depended on them for intelligence, protection, recruits and resources. As Mao Zedong famously put it, the guerrillas are the fish; the people are the water. To expand their zone, the Viet Cong would infiltrate villages under government control to proselytize and recruit. To clear the Viet Cong from the areas they controlled and from contested villages, the United States relied on the strategy of pacification. ‘Pacification’ derives from a Latin word that means to make peace, but the act of pacification is violent. It started with an assault on hamlets and villages, with bombing, shelling and mortar barrages to prepare the way for ground attacks. Once a hamlet or village was taken over, South Vietnamese government officials moved in to solidify control. Militia and self-defense forces were set up to provide security. Then the government would try to win hearts and minds by building schools and clinics, and begin a process of economic development leading to modernization. …”
NY Times

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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This entry was posted in ARVN, Henry Kissinger, Nixon, NVA, Viet Cong, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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