Page 027

  Page 27 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

 

Vietnamese Navy (2,160 officers and men) and Air Force (4,000 officers and men). The Vietnamese Marine Corps continued to exist as a two-battalion amphibious force within the nation's naval establishment. General Williams felt confident that by 1958 South Vietnam's regular military establishment had been strengthened enough to discourage North Vietnamese leaders from seriously considering an outright invasion.'

Backing these developing regular forces, at least on paper, were two generally feeble paramilitary organizations-the Civil Guard (CG) and the Village Self Defense Corps (SDC). The larger of these, the Civil Guard, existed within the Ministry of Interior and was funded and advised by the U.S. Operations Mission (USOM). Its 48,000 men, therefore, were not charged against the 150,000-man force level ceiling that regulated the size of Diem's regular forces. Nor were the 47,000 members of the Self Defense Corps, even though this organization received limited amounts of U.S. military assistance funds for payroll purposes. In any case, serious shortcomings were evident in both the CG and the SDC. Organized into provincial companies directly responsible to the various province chiefs, the Civil Guard was entirely separate from the ARVN chain of command. Furthermore, American civilians under government contract had armed and trained the CG for police-type as opposed to military missions. The SDC, essentially a scattering of local militia units, was even weaker, having been organized at the village level into squads and an occasional platoon. Although the SDC units were subordinate to the respective village chief, the ARVN bore the responsibility for providing them with arms and training. More often than not the Vietnamese Army units gave their obsolete weapons to the SDC and showed little genuine interest in training the small units.2

Although a measure of stability was obviously returning to South Vietnam by 1958, one of the country's more serious problems remained unsolved-the threat of subversion by Communist Viet Minh agents who had remained south of the 17th parallel following the Geneva cease-fire. Following the resolution of the sect crisis in 1955, Diem turned to neutralize this potential threat. Initially his army experienced some success with pacification operations conducted in former Viet Minh strongholds. While they did help extend government control into the rural areas of several provinces, such operations were discontinued in 1956.

Another policy initiated that same year seems to have nullified the moderate gains produced by the pacification campaigns. Acting both to eliminate Viet Minh sympathizers from positions of leadership at the local level and to extend his own grip downward to the rural population. Diem replaced elected village officials with appointed chiefs. The new policy, which threatened the traditional autonomy of the individual Vietnamese village, was immediately unpopular.

So was another government program which Diem implemented to undercut Communist strength throughout the country-the Anti-Communist Denunciation Campaign. Initiated in mid-1955 to discredit former Viet Minh, the denunciation campaign evolved into something of a witch hunt. By the late 1950s large numbers of Vietnamese with only minimal Communist connections were allegedly being confined in political re-education camps. Like the appointment of village leaders, the denunciation campaign served to alienate Vietnamese who might otherwise have supported the central government in its struggle for control of the rural regions.

Forced underground by the Anti-Communist Denunciation Campaign, Viet Minh agents concentrated on strengthening their political posture for the proposed general election in the period immediately following the Geneva Agreement. When the hope of reunification by plebiscite passed in mid-1956, the so-called "stay behinds" began rebuilding clandestine political cells in their former strongholds. Having retained their aptitude for the adroit manipulation of local grievances, the Communists gradually won support from rural Vietnamese who saw themselves threatened by the new government policies. In mid-1957, the Communists, who were now being labelled "Viet Cong" by the Diem government (a derogatory but accurate term which, literally translated, meant "Vietnamese Communist") began assassinating government officials in several of the country's rural provinces. Aimed at unpopular village chiefs, rural police, district officials, and school teachers, the Viet Cong's assassination campaign was undertaken to erode the government's contacts with the

 

Page 27 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)