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Prelude-The Tet Offensives and

Operation Recovery-III MAF and Pacification Homicide in the Countryside-Changing

Attitudes The Boys Next Door: The Combined Action Program-The Accelerated

Pacification Plan


From the beginning of the III MAF

expansion of its base areas during the spring and summer of 1965, the Marine

command was involved in a pacification campaign. Employing the 'ink blot' or

'spreading oil spot' theory, the Marine strategy was to build upon success in

one area to reinforce that in another to provide momentum for the linking

together of the Marine enclaves. During their first year in country, both

through trial and error and possibly a residual institutional memory of their

early 20th century Caribbean interventions, the Marines developed several

pacification techniques that showed some promise.'

In one of its first efforts, III MAF

established a civic action program which emphasized village and hamlet self-help

projects and medical assistance. Marine units provided materials and equipment

to local villagers in the building of schools and other local improvement

facilities. Navy corpsmen and occasionally doctors visited nearby hamlets where

they would dispense soap, hold sick call, treat minor injuries and diseases, and

teach basic hygiene to the inhabitants. The idea was to win the good will of the

local populace, gain intelligence, and hopefully enhance the prestige of local

government officials, especially the village and district chiefs.

As the Marines expanded their area of

operations into the populated area south of Da Nang, they soon realized that

security from the Viet Cong guerrillas was a decisive factor if the South

Vietnamese government were to retain or establish control of the countryside.**

In this connection, the Marine units employed relatively innovative tactics that

they called 'Golden Fleece' and 'County Fair.' Golden Fleece operations were

basically rice protection missions. A Marine battalion would provide a shield

behind which the villagers harvested and kept their crops from the VC tax

collectors. The County Fair operations were cordon and search affairs with

psychological overtones. A Marine battalion would surround a hamlet, bring its

population into a large clearing where the troops had erected large tents. While

the division band and Vietnamese drama groups provided entertainment, the

Marines would search the village and provide medical and dental assistance.

Local officials would conduct an informal census and hold any suspicious persons

for further questioning. By the end of 1967, however, while the Marine units

continued to use County Fair and Golden Fleece tactics, III MAF no longer kept a

statistical account of these types of operations.***

*See also the discussion in Chapter l

on the 'inkblot' concept. While the link to the Caribbean experience is rather

indirect. General Lewis W. Walt, who commanded III MAF in 1965, observed that he

was taught the fundamentals of his profession 'from men who had fought Sandino

in Nicaragua or Charlemagne in Haiti.' Still, as others have pointed out, most

Marine officers who served in Vietnam were much junior to Walt and obtained most

of their training on counter-insurgency in U.S. Army Schools based on doctrine

articulated by the British from their experience in Malaya and adopted by the

Army. For the Walt quote and the development of III MAF pacification in 1965,

see Shulimson and Johnson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1965, pp. 133^16. The quote

is on p. 133.

**Lieutenant Colonel William R. Corson,

who in 1967 headed the Marine Combined Action Program and helped to articulate

Marine pacification concepts, commented that pacification was not the equivalent

of giving the Vietnamese in the countryside 'the Great Society War on Poverty'

and hoping that they in return would give 'their hearts and minds to those who

provided them with the dole.' Corson defined pacification as a condition rather

than merely a series of processes: 'In the case of the hamlets in South Vietnam,

it was the belief and perception of the Vietnamese people that they were safe in

their own homes. This idea, or feeling of safety was the sine qua non without

which there was no 'pacification purpose' or potential gain simply from

providing the humanitarian assistance that the indigenous government had never

provided.' The people needed to believe that they 'at least would be protected.'

LtCol William R. Corson, Comments on draft, dtd 30Jan95 (Vietnam Comment File),

hereafter Corson Comments.

***As in most aspects of the

pacification campaign, there are varying views of its impact in the local

hamlets and villages. William D. Ehrhart, a Marine veteran who served as an

enlisted intelligence specialist with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines in 1967 and

early 1968 and participated in County Fairs, wrote, 'my experience was that

'County Fairs' worked much better in the telling than in the doing; that is, the

theory sounded good, but the reality fell far short of the theory.'

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