[News] Vietnam Will Win: Unity and the Minorities

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 9 11:02:55 EST 2018


  Vietnam Will Win: Unity and the Minorities

by Wilfred Burchett 
<https://www.counterpunch.org/author/wilfred-burchett/> - March 7, 2018

In their approach to the complicated question of South Vietnam’s racial 
minorities and religious groups, it is not surprising that NLF and U.S. 
policies should be diametrically opposite. To the classic “divide and 
rule” U.S. policies used by all colonialists, the NLF has replied with a 
“unite and resist” program. This led them to solve problems of racial 
and religious difference for the first time in the history of the South 
Vietnamese people. First they were solved within the NLF leadership, 
where the leading racial minority groups, religions and sects were 
strongly represented within the Central Committee, then within Front 
administrative and mass organizations and finally by policies of racial 
and religious equality put into effect throughout the NLF-controlled 
areas. These policies became an object lesson and a powerful source of 
attraction for the Saigon-controlled areas.

Among third world nations with mixed populations, as in many Latin 
American countries and in South Vietnam, in particular, the ethnic 
minorities occupy the strategic highlands areas, the natural guerrilla 
bases used in the first stages of most armed revolutions. The success of 
the NLF in smoothing out racial and religious contradictions thus was of 
extremely vital importance.

Former Vietminh cadres have told me that not enough attention was paid 
to this question during the anti-French resistance war and as a remit 
many difficulties arose in some of the minority areas-especially the 
highly strategic Central Highlands which run like a spinal column down 
the whole length of South Vietnam’s frontiers with Laos and most of the 
frontier with Cambodia up to the approaches to the Mekong Delta. In some 
areas, at that time, the Vietminh fell into traps set by France’s 
“divide and rule” tactics.

Winning over the tribal minorities is a long-range task, complicated by 
the fact that most of them had no written language, many of their spoken 
languages were extremely difficult to learn and – for very good 
historical reasons – they deeply mistrusted the /Kinh /or ‘Viet’ ethnic 
majority from the plains. But during the first resistance, Ho Chi Minh 
sent volunteers, mostly youths whose families had been wiped out by the 
French, up into the highlands area to integrate themselves with the 
tribal peoples, ready to devote themselves to the long and complicated 
task of winning their confidence. It meant adopting their customs, 
wearing their hair long, filing down their teeth in some cases, eating 
rotted raw meat, learning the languages and above all studying their 
conditions and problems. This was done from 1946-47 on and it yielded 
some important results during the first resistance war. But the time was 
too short to produce really effective results. Those cadres with whom I 
have spoken have all insisted on the very long, patient nature of such work.

Tran Dinh Minh, who at 14 years of age had responded to Ho Chi Minh’s 
appeal for volunteers to live and work with the tribes people and who 
had been with them for 14 years at the time I met him in late 1963, 
said: “Once you have gained their confidence, it is forever… They have a 
highly developed sense of secrecy, discretion and loyalty rare to find 
among other peoples. They never breathe a word of what a trusted cadre 
tells them… Even under the most ferocious torture they will never betray 
a secret or the whereabouts of a cadre.”

It was typical of the farseeing conceptions of Vietnamese 
revolutionaries that people like Tran Dinh Minh were sent to study the 
terrain and to sow seeds which could only yield harvest 15 or 20 years 
later. This investment of cadres was not approached only from the 
viewpoint of tribal support for the first resistance or in expectation 
of a second resistance war. It was seen as essential pioneer survey work 
to get to the root of tribal problems and aspirations, preliminary to 
bringing their living standards up to those of the /Kinh /people, with 
the least possible disruption of tribal customs. It was the start of a 
process to bring them public health and education, starting with the 
working out of written scripts for their languages, and developing into 
a battle against illiteracy. However, it is also true that the tribes 
people occupy the most strategic areas of South Vietnam, the most 
suitable for revolutionary bases and the most important to keep out of 
the hands of any enemy. An invader who could firmly occupy the Central 
Highlands and convert them into a safe base area, could dominate South 
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and the southern parts of North Vietnam. The 
French and later the Americans understood this very well.

After cadres like Tran Dinh Minh and others had established confidence 
by exemplary tribal behavior and outstanding work in the /ray /(the 
slash-and-burn hillside patches where the tribes people grow their corn 
and glutinous rice); and after they had gained sufficient mastery of the 
language to understand tribal history and problems which often lay 
buried deep in people’s hearts, to be prodded out after years of patient 
searching, only then could they begin quietly working to settle inter 
tribal quarrels, then intergroup quarrels and finally to try to do away 
with the deep mistrust the tribes people had for the Vietnamese in the 
plains. (Throughout history they had known the latter only as tax 
collectors and the police and troops who came in their wake.)

US-Diem repression[1] <#_edn1> in areas where the work of the cadres had 
been weak revived the old tribal-Vietnamese animosities, but where the 
work had been done well, it brought confirmation of the fact that the 
minorities and Vietnamese alike suffered from the same enemy.

In Phu Yen Province, for instance, where the Banar and Rhade peoples 
predominate, “Vietcong suspects” were rounded up and taken off to be 
concentrated in “strategic hamlets” around Xuan Phuoc village in the 
highlands and the tribes people from Xuan Phuoc were rounded up and 
concentrated in the lowlands. The tribes people realized that although 
the oppressors were Vietnamese, there were also Vietnamese who were 
oppressed like themselves and who had been dragged away from their homes 
and ancestral villages as they were dragged from their beloved forests 
and mountains, both of them beaten and cursed. As things developed, 
militants among the Vietnamese peasants in the lowlands did their best 
to ease the lot of the tribes people in their concentration camp 
village, at first procuring some clothing, then gradually organizing 
mutual help to stage an uprising. At Xuan Phuoc, the cadres found little 
difficulty in setting up contacts between the “Vietcong suspects” and 
tribes people in the area.

U.S.-Diem policy was deliberately to foment hatred between the 
Vietnamese and the tribes people to the highest degree, and this was 
done on a huge scale by setting up “agricultural colonies” of 
conscripted Vietnamese laborers on the richest of the tribal lands, 
bulldozing out of existence the forests on which the existence of the 
tribes people depended, carving out coffee and rubber plantations and 
condemning the tribes people to living death in concentration camp 
villages in the plains which were intolerably stifling and humid for them.

With the formation of the NLF and its program for an autonomous zone for 
the tribes people, similar to the two such autonomous zones in North 
Vietnam where ethnic minorities completely run their own affairs, the 
work of uniting the tribespeople themselves and uniting them with the 
/Kinh /was given an important new stimulus. Intertribal solidarity 
meetings were organized at which generation-long feuds were settled 
merely by talking things out and arriving at the inevitable conclusion 
that it was the French colonialists and their puppet Bao Dai who had 
fostered inter tribal quarrels in their own interests, and that now it 
was the U.S. imperialists and their puppet Ngo Dinh Diem who were up to 
the same old tricks.

American policy aimed to divide the tribespeople from the Vietnamese 
people and from the Saigon government as well, in order to put them 
under direct U.S. control. The Americans knew that the NLF promise of 
autonomy for the tribespeople was extremely popular, so they sent in 
agents also promising “autonomy” – under American sponsorship. U.S. 
attempts to dominate the tribes people, incidentally, were a source of 
great contention between “strong man” Nguyen Khanh and General Harkins 
during the period that Khanh was in and out of power in Saigon. The CIA 
had ambitious schemes for setting up Special Forces commando groups 
composed of tribes people, wiping out those of military age who refused 
to be conscripted and herding the rest of the population into 
concentration camps in the plains. U.S. strategists wanted the Central 
Highlands for themselves; they wanted the “montagnards,” as they called 
the tribes people, in military formations under U.S. command to be used 
as instruments of U.S. policy, entirely bypassing Saigon, a double cross 
which even generals Thieu and Ky were not prepared to accept. The task 
of the commando units, which the CIA hoped to establish all over the 
Central Highlands, was not only to wrest the area out of Saigon control, 
but to suppress the tribes people themselves by selectively arming one 
group to suppress another.

This long-range American plan, initiated before an American Command was 
set up in Saigon in February 1962, was described in part in the 
testimony of Donald Duncan[2] <#_edn2> at the second session of the 
International War Crimes Tribunal.

“The primary job of Special Forces up to the summer of 1964,” testified 
Duncan, “was the implementation of the CIDG [Civilian Irregular Defense 
Groups] program. This was started back in 1961 as a means of organizing 
ethnic groups within Vietnam, such as various montagnard tribes, and 
eventually it came to include the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai and some people of 
Cambodian extraction within Vietnam. The main purpose of this was, 
starting with the montagnards, to neutralize their struggle against the 
Saigon regime. There have always been problems between the montagnards 
and the ethnic Vietnamese and the Saigon government.

“Hopefully, the idea was to build them into self-defense units for 
village self-defense. It had the added advantage – I happened to read 
this in an official report – of being one way of circumventing the 
Geneva Agreements of 1954, which prohibited the establishment of new 
military bases within the southern zone of Vietnam. So by calling these 
things village self-defense units, or self-defense units, they in fact 
circumvented that provision of the agreement…”

Duncan had access to many top secret policy documents of the Special 
Forces. The report to which he was referring must have been drawn up 
years earlier, because by mid-1956 the U.S. government had already 
officially supported Diem’s repudiation of the Geneva Agreements. 
Certainly by the end of 1961, when the first U.S. helicopter crews 
started arriving, there were no longer any scruples about openly 
establishing “new military bases” in South Vietnam. Washington’s schemes 
to convert the Central Highlands into their main strategic base in 
Southeast Asia were possibly worked out immediately after the Geneva 
Agreements were signed.

“Of course,” continued Duncan, “the camps they set up are not in the 
village. They are invariably set up next to the village, isolated from 
it by minefields, punji stakes, barbed wire, etc. In fact, in many areas 
the villagers are not allowed into the camp for security reasons, 
meaning they don’t trust the people in the village they’re defending. 
And in many cases the strike force, the combat group of the civilian 
community defense effort, was not even from the village itself. In other 
words they were imported from other areas of the country…” And had 
Duncan been still better informed, he would have known they were not 
even from the tribal groups they were supposed to be “defending.” As to 
the CIA role, Duncan testified:

“Originally it was, and it remained so up until 1964, a CIA program. The 
CIA having come up with the idea, of course, did not have the field 
personnel to conduct the program in the field. Special Forces were made 
available to the CIA for the purpose of running it in the field. All the 
funds, the money for the Program, came from CIA sources, directly or 
indirectly. Another purpose of the CIDG program was to try to set up 
intelligence nets throughout the countryside emanating from these camps. 
Again the funds, the money for the agents, came from CIA sources…”

Referring to a main camp at Ben Sar Pa, just west of Ban Mé Thuot in one 
of the most strategically important areas of the Central Highlands, 
Duncan testified: “Of course the reason for the location of this camp, 
which was in a montagnard area, was that they wanted those people at 
least pacified, to stop them from harassing the government or stop the 
government from harassing them. You may recall that this is a camp which 
went out of existence in 1964. It was one of the camps where the 
montagnards’ revolt took place against the South Vietnamese government. 
The camp was destroyed by South Vietnamese Rangers, a company attached 
to Project Delta…”[3] <#_edn3>

 From the parts of Duncan’s testimony cited, three facts emerge: that 
there was a long-standing U.S. interest in using the montagnards; that 
montagnard units from one region were supposed to repress tribes people 
in another region; that South Vietnamese troops from the same Special 
Forces program were used to suppress the montagnards. It is difficult to 
find a clearer illustration of “divide and rule.”

The montagnard uprising at Ban Mé Thuot took place on September 20, 
1964, when some 2,000 of 4,000 conscript trainees revolted and took over 
the whole base. Seizing six U.S. instructors including the base 
commander, Colonel Freund, as hostages, they invaded Ban Mé Thuot. After 
taking the radio station, they broadcast demands for autonomy and 
threatened to execute the Americans if any attempt was made to suppress 
them. Their demands were partly motivated by the NLF program of an 
autonomous zone, partly by FULRO[4] <#_edn4> (discussed in detail 
below). This was the biggest insurrection of the ethnic minorities, but 
it failed.

While Ranger battalions moved into the area, Freund bought time. The 
leaders of the revolt (one of whom later related the events to me) were 
told by Freund that “your trouble comes from the Vietnamese in Saigon, 
not from us. We are very decent people and the thing to do is to put 
yourselves entirely under us. If Khanh [then in power in Saigon] doesn’t 
pay you properly, feed you properly – we will. You just send a petition 
to our ambassador in Saigon that you want to be directly under the 
United States. We will look after you. Your idea for autonomy is very 
good We’ll help you get it. We don’t like these Saigon Vietnamese any 
more than you do. What you do to them doesn’t worry us…” The remit was 
that the Vietnamese instructors were all killed, the Americans spared 
and Freund succeeded in turning the revolt into a temporary U.S. 
advantage by planting the idea of removing the montagnards from all 
vestiges of Saigon control.

Some of the insurgents made a break for their villages; about 47, 
including my informant, took off with the arms they had seized, to join 
the NLF; another group joined up with FULRO and others remained to be 
rounded up by the Rangers and herded into other camps. Freund and the 
other Americans went unscathed and for a time American efforts were 
intensified to gain control of the Central Highlands from the NLF and 
Saigon, especially by trying to capture the FULRO organization which, 
the revolt revealed, had strong support among certain of the 
montagnards, especially those whom the French had previously used 
against the Vietnamese and especially against the Vietminh.

Although FULRO did represent certain aspirations of the montagnards[5] 
<#_edn5> and reflected something of the situation in the Central 
Highlands, it was doomed to fail because it was also an expression of 
the “divide and rule” policy as it was totally and blindly 
anti-Vietnamese. Among its supporters and behind-the-scenes advisers 
were some Frenchmen with sentimental attachments to the tribes people 
and who were probably genuinely outraged by the U.S.-Diem extermination 
policy. But they also encouraged the total anti- Vietnamese line of the 
FULRO leaders which meant rejecting any cooperation with the NLF, which 
was lumped together with the Diem regime as “Vietnamese” and thus to be 

Elements among the FULRO leadership completely swallowed the line of the 
local CIA agents that the Americans would be their most loyal allies and 
generous supporters in their struggle against Vietnamese of any kind, 
the Saigon regime, the “Vietcong” or anything in between.

At the Phnom Penh Conference of the Peoples of Indochina in Cambodia in 
March 1965, FULRO leaders joined in the general condemnation of “U.S. 
imperialism” and pledged support for common action by the peoples of 
Indochina, but they went back to the Central Highlands to accept U.S. 
support for their struggle against Vietnamese of all categories. The 
results were predictable.

When Washington found a new “strong man” in the shape of Air Marshall 
Nguyen Cao Ky and the latter squarely asked whether Washington was 
supporting a South Vietnam which included the Central Highlands and the 
montagnards, or was supporting the montagnards against the rest of the 
country, there was no choice. Washington officially abandoned the 
montagnards and the promise of autonomy given to the FULRO leaders.

Officers and men of FULRO units who turned up fully armed to present 
themselves for duty at American “Special Forces” units found themselves 
received by Ranger battalions of the Saigon government, disarmed, herded 
behind barbed wire and eventually forced to act as coolies and arms and 
baggage carriers for the Saigon troops.

At the beginning of August 1965, there was another revolt at Ban Mé 
Thuot in which Special Forces camp conscripts also took part. Two 
hundred of the latter made off with their arms and were hunted down by 
American planes and helicopter-borne troops. In December of the same 
year, there was still another revolt which ended with four FULRO leaders 
being publicly executed at Pleiku. This marked the total abandonment of 
American support for the tribes people, as such. But it did not end 
their recruiting of montagnards into special mercenary units, entirely 
under U.S. control and considered completely expendable.[6] <#_edn6>

The Buddhist revolt in Hué-Da Nang in the summer of 1966, like the FULRO 
movement, was bound to fail – in spite of support for the Buddhists on 
the part of Saigon army units in the northern provinces – for the same 
fundamental reasons. They were revolts in isolation, outside the “unite 
and resist” conception of the NLF. (Details of the Buddhist-Army revolt, 
being much more widely known than that of the montagnards, are discussed 
here only briefly.) Neither the Struggle Movement Committee set up by 
the Buddhist hierarchy in Saigon in April 1966 nor the Buddhist 
Revolutionary Struggle Committee set up in Da Nang about the same time 
was capable of giving real organized leadership. The FULRO movement was 
capable of inspiring regional sentiments, just as the Buddhist revolt 
inspired national sentiments, but both revolts were carried out in 
isolation from the far broader national movement which the NLF represented.

At the time that Saigon troops were closing in on Da Nang and Hué, 
during the most critical moment of the Buddhist revolt, the NLF 
broadcast appeals over their Liberation Radio, on May 19 and 20, 1966, 
offering united action in the common cause. However, the Buddhist 
hierarchy, with Thich Tri Quang as their spokesman, refused. The 
movement was crushed, and hundreds of people, including officers and men 
of the Saigon army who had rallied to the Buddhist cause, lost their 
lives uselessly.

This was the final proof for many rank-and-file Buddhist supporters that 
only the NLF had the necessary organization and militant spirit to carry 
the fight through to the end. The same sort of conclusions were drawn 
also by those tribes people from the Central Highlands who had been 
misled by FULRO promises of quick and easy victories, with the United 
States as an ally.

CIA agents in the Central Highlands – and they included a certain number 
clad as missionaries – had grasped that once the confidence of the 
montagnards was gained, they were completely loyal. But the CIA had 
ignored the converse, that betrayal of that confidence was repaid by 
total hostility. In fact, the Americans had never fully won the 
confidence of the tribes people, as the frequent revolts inside the 
Special Forces camps demonstrated. And once the U.S. betrayal was clear 
for everyone to see, then montagnard loyalties were lost for 
generations. The killing of half a dozen U.S. missionaries at Ban Mé 
Thuot during the 1968 Lunar New Year revolt was symbolic of this.

Once the FULRO movement was bought over, crushed and discarded by the 
Americans, tribal chiefs who until then had remained aloof from the NLF 
started making contacts. Patriotic elements within the armed forces in 
the northern provinces who had supported, then become disillusioned by 
the Buddhist leadership in the Hué-Da Nang uprisings, also began to 
develop ties with the NLF.

For many youth among their ranks, the montagnard and Buddhist revolts 
clarified the issues and revealed that isolated uprisings in the end 
could never succeed and the future was with those who advocated a 
unified national resistance. The events of 1966 swept away regional, 
separatist and sectarian illusions, and thus the ground was prepared for 
the type of united struggle expressed in the 1968 Lunar New Year 
offensive and the people’s uprising which accompanied it.

On December 6 and 7, 1967, U.S. newspapers carried headlines such as 
“Vietcong Massacre” or “Worst Atrocity Of The War” with appropriate news 
stories to describe the alleged killing of 121 “montagnard civilians” by 
NLF forces and the burning down of their villages.[7] <#_edn7>

What had really happened? NLF forces in a surprise attack on November 28 
wiped out a battalion of the First U.S. Infantry Division at Bu Dop, 
capital of Phuoc Long Province, near the Cambodian border in a valley at 
the southern limits of the Central Highlands. A second battalion from 
the same division was sent to replace the one put out of action. On the 
night of December 2-3, NLF forces attacked a post held by Saigon forces 
at Dak Son, about 9 miles north of Bu Dop, completely destroying it. The 
post controlled two “strategic hamlets” in which some 2,000 montagnards 
were concentrated.

As usual in such cases, as soon as the military control post was 
eliminated, the montagnards tore down the barbed wire and made off for 
their mountain villages, setting fire to their barracks before they 
left. On December 3, two companies of Civil Guards set out in pursuit, 
shooting down any stragglers until the Civil Guards encountered an NLF 
ambush and were annihilated to the last man, 130 in all. The whole 
complex of military posts in the Dac Son area was destroyed. Three days 
later, NLF forces attacked the U.S. replacement battalion about three 
miles north of Bu Dop, at the same time making a mortar attack against a 
nearby Special Forces camp and a U.S. command post on the local 
airfield. The replacement battalion also was put out of action and the 
NLF forces occupied the battlefield, destroying two 105mm artillery 
pieces and six 106.7mm mortars, and seizing large quantities of arms and 
equipment. Of these actions from December 2 to 8, the American press 
reported only the alleged “massacre.” However, there was a real massacre 
by U.S. planes which bombed and strafed some of the escapees in open 
country before they could get back to their villages. About 1,000, 
mainly women and children, eventually crossed the border into Cambodia. 
Later the Americans sent in “missionary” agents to try to win them back.

If one compares the “Vietcong massacre” story with another published 
less than a month later by /New York Times/ correspondent Bernard 
Weintraub, then matters appear in their true perspective. Datelined 
January 2 from Thanh An (about 15 miles southwest of Pleiku), 
Weintraub’s story is headlined “Showcase Camp for Refugees is Beset by 
Problems,” and because of its revealing nature it is quoted at length. 
Weintraub wrote as follows:[8] <#_edn8>

“Three or four times a week, the helicopters bounce onto the grassy 
landing pad of the montagnard resettlement camp here and the visitors 
climb out – American Senators and Representatives, retired generals, 
columnists, television personalities and movie stars.

“The camp, a showcase project, is on the itinerary of most visitors. 
They receive a 10 minute briefing and trudge past the rows of tin-roofed 
homes where the smiling tribesmen wave and eagerly pose for pictures.

“Beneath the apparently untroubled mood of the camp, however, there are 
growing problems that are worrying American officials, who say privately 
that the resettlement project is in trouble.

“In the last six months more than 700 tribesmen have fled the camp, 11 
hamlet chiefs have been kidnapped, Vietcong propaganda has steadily 
increased, the Vietnamese rangers guarding the camp have angered the 
montagnards and dissatisfied the American advisers….

” ‘They were oppressed by the V.C. in their villages,’ said Maj. Patrick 
H. Foster, the assistant civic action officer of the Fourth 
Division’…they made a request to be protected.’

“Other American officers say that a major reason for the move was to 
create free artillery and air-strike zones in the villages and that the 
montagnards were stunned as the soldiers moved into their villages and 
packed them aboard Chinook helicopters for the relocation site.

” ‘I’ve never seen such fright in my life,’ said one American officer, 
who recalled that the tribesmen carried chickens, pigs and packs of 
clothing as they climbed aboard the helicopters…

” ‘The V.C. have no trouble whatsoever coming in here or going out,’ 
said one American official.”

I once asked Rechom Brieu of the Jarai ethnic minority, a member of the 
NLF’s Central Committee and secretary general of the General Movement 
for Autonomy of the Tay Nguyen,[9] <#_edn9> why the Americans employed 
Vietnamese troops to guard the “strategic hamlets” where the tribes 
people were detained, in view of the latter’s traditional hostility 
toward Saigon troops and U.S. efforts to win over the montagnards.

“At first they wanted the tribes people to ‘defend’ themselves,” replied 
Rechom Brieu, a stocky, dark, smiling man. “They distributed over 10,000 
weapons in the Kontum-Pleiku-Ban Mé Thuot areas alone, and told them to 
use them only against the ‘Vietcong.’ They were good weapons, better 
than those given to the Vietnamese puppet troops in the area. This was 
to impress our people that the Americans considered the tribes people 
superior to the Vietnamese, and that they would look after them better 
than Saigon. But the tribes people handed over plenty of these weapons 
to us; sometimes they came themselves with their weapons, sometimes they 
just gave them to us; in some cases they lent them and we handed them 
back temporarily when we knew the Americans were going to make an 
inspection. The Americans tried to buy the young men as soldiers. If 
they were conscripted into the Saigon Army, they got only 1,500 piastres 
a month, while the Americans offered 5,000 a month to join units which 
would be under their direct control some fell for this, partly because 
of the money, partly to avoid serving with the Saigon troops. But when 
they met our forces they did their best to avoid contact; if they had to 
fire they would fire wildly. The Americans started taking the weapons 
back, arresting – and even executing – some who could not account for 
theirs. But they soon stopped that when a few American advisers 
disappeared; ‘probably eaten by tigers,’ our people would say.

“So they brought in Saigon troops to guard the camps. This was to stop 
our people from breaking out and going back to the villages, but also to 
poison relations between the tribes people and Vietnamese. Within the 
camps they mixed up ethnic groupings, favoring one, discriminating 
against another. But it did not work. Everyone in the camps saw they 
were oppressed by a single enemy, the Americans who forced them out of 
the forest and bombed their villages. The Vietnamese were only puppets. 
Our people knew there were ‘other’ Vietnamese by this time, those of the 
NLF. Conditions in the camps forged a new type of solidarity born of 
common suffering. Our cadres infiltrated to organize resistance and 
struggle for better living conditions within, the camps themselves. Our 
policy of ‘unite to resist’ proved stronger at every level than the 
enemy’s ‘divide and rule.’

“In our villages in the liberated areas, we did everything to get people 
to unite in work and struggle. Compared to the controlled areas and 
camps, it’s really the difference between night and day. Our men can go 
hunting when they want to; grow their rice where they want to. They can 
sing and bang their gongs – strictly forbidden in the controlled areas 
because the Americans think they may be signaling – and live a really 
free life. Public health, education and economic affairs are developing 
at a level and tempo we never dreamed of a few years ago. In the 
controlled areas, there is no hunting, my cultivation is impossible 
because the /rays /are far from the villages and people are allowed to 
move only in daylight hours in areas close to the houses – there is 
nothing but forced labor, conscription, taxes, theft, prostitution and 
corruption. That is why all the tribes people look toward the liberated 
areas and our autonomy movement, in which all tribal groupings are 
represented, united now as a single family.”

At that time (August, 1966), Rechom Brieu estimated the population of 
the liberated zones in the Central Highlands at about 600,000 or 
two-thirds of all the tribes people, with their own administration and 
elected headmen and other officials elected at village, district and 
provincial level. (In the Saigon-controlled areas, all officials were 
nominally appointed by Saigon – but actually by the U.S. advisers at 
provincial and district level.) NLF units then operating in the area 
were formed almost entirely of the ethnic minorities functioning at 
company level in separate tribal groups under their own officers, but 
integrated at battalion and regimental level. A few units were officered 
by Vietnamese cadres like Tran Dinh Minh, who had identified themselves 
with the tribes people for 15 or more years.

During the 1968 Lunar New Year offensive and nationwide uprising, the 
tribes people also rose up throughout the Central Highlands area to 
destroy the detested stockades and camps, taking off in tens of 
thousands back to their forests and highlands. At the same time their 
armed units swept into Pleiku, Ban Mé Thuot, Kontum and Dalat, striking 
the most highly guarded enemy sanctuaries, engaging American and Saigon 
troops in fierce hand-to-hand combat, destroying key military 
installations, seizing and distributing vast stocks of arms, sweeping 
out the U.S.-Saigon administrators and executing individual Americans 
and police chiefs who were singled out because of their especially 
bloodthirsty activities.

The Têt uprisings in the Central Highlands as elsewhere represented an 
unprecedented triumph for the long, painful step-by-step development of 
‘unite to resist” policies, initiated by the revolutionaries more than 
20 years earlier.


[1] <#_ednref1> See Chapter 11, /Vietnam: Inside Story of the Guerrilla 

[2] <#_ednref2> Donald Duncan was a highly decorated Special Forces 
sergeant who had served as an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special 
Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He had served as an 
operations and intelligence specialist with the Special Forces in South 
Vietnam from March 1964 to September 1965 and briefed such officials as 
General Maxwell Taylor, Ambassador Lodge, General Westmoreland and even 
Defense Secretary McNamara on Special Forces activities.

[3] <#_ednref3> Project Delta was a Special Forces 
intelligence-gathering operation, “a special unit” explained Duncan, 
“because we could no longer depend on Vietnamese intelligence sources 
for any accurate information.” Duncan was associated with Project Delta 
because, as he said, “my specific job in Vietnam was gathering 

[4] <#_ednref4> /Front Uni pour La Libération de La Race Opprimée/ 
(United Front for the Liberation of the Oppressed Race).

[5] <#_ednref5> Among the five-point demands formulated at the time of 
the Ban Mé Thuot revolt was one that “solutions must be found for the 
resettlement villages which have infringed upon the land of the peoples 
of the Central Highlands and for the highland villages which are 
surrounded by military camps and as a result do not have enough land to 
make a living…”

[6] <#_ednref6> The betrayal and physical liquidation of the FULRO 
movement is partly described in literary form, the names of leading 
personalities thinly disguised, in /Les Petits Soleils/ by Erwan Bergot, 
Editions France Empire, Paris, 1966.

[7] <#_ednref7> Editor’s note: /The New York Times/, Dec. 7, 1967, 
reported that the number killed “was more than 100,” in the first 
paragraph of its story, “Civilian Toll Big in Vietcong Raid.” However, 
in the third paragraph, quoted here in full, it was stated in the 
/Time/‘s non bylined account:

“A first report said that 300 civilians had been killed. This figure was 
lowered later to about 20. Then the United States Embassy announced that 
47 civilians had been killed and 40 to 50 hospitalized for burns.” 
  Disregarding the discrepancy between the two paragraphs, the /Times/ 
continued its story, saying in the fourth paragraph that the number was 
more than 100. Then in the seventh paragraph a “spokesman” for the U.S. 
Embassy is cited as saying that 49 montagnard Revolutionary Development 
workers had been in the hamlet which had been raided and 47 of the 49 
were “missing.” “Revolutionary Development” workers are CIA-trained 
agents, a fact not mentioned by the /Times/.

[8] <#_ednref8> /New York Times/, January 3, 1968, page 4.

[9] <#_ednref9> Tay Nguyen, literally “Western Plateaux,” is the 
Vietnamese term for what in French is known as the “Hauts Plateaux ” and 
in English the “Central Highlands.”

*NEXT: Chapter 12 – Self-Defense*

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