SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)
Tet Nguyen Dan is the Vietnamese lunar New Year Festival and the most important Vietnamese holiday. Literally, Tet Nguyen Dan means the first morning of the first day of the new period. Tet falls sometime between the last ten days of January and the middle part of February. It comes at a time when there is a pause for the farmer after twelve months of labor. The Vietnamese Tet holiday is an occasion for an entire people to share a common ideal of peace, concord and mutual love. The Tet holiday is officially three days long but is often celebrated for seven days. During this holiday the people take extra care to be kind and not show anger or act in a rude way toward anyone.
As a rule, all members of the extended family try to spend the holiday together under the same roof. Children vow to be well-behaved and are often given gifts of cash wrapped in red paper. Several times a day, joss-sticks are lit on the family altar and offerings made of food, fresh water, flowers and betel. Family graves are visited, fences are mended and the burial mounds tidied up. In order to start the New Year right and set the best precedent, Vietnamese homes are painted and cleaned. New clothes are purchased for the first day of Tet and old debts should be paid.
The Tet Hoa Mai Tree
The holiday is also observed by a family visit to the church or pagoda to pray for good fortune and happiness. A sprig of the yellow blossomed hoa mai is used to decorate the home. After seven days the holiday ends with the le khai ha ritual during which the Tet tree called cay neu is taken down.
The Cay Neu Bamboo Pole
The Tet tree is usually put up in the week before New Years Eve. The tree, called cay neu, is a bamboo pole stripped of most of its leaves except for a bunch at the very top. The Tet tree has Taoist origins and holds talismanic objects that clang in the breeze to attract good spirits and repel evil ones. On the very top, they frequently place a paper symbol of yin and yang, the two principal forces of the universe. Sometimes a colorful paper carp flag will fly from the top. The carp (or sometimes a horse) is the vehicle on which the Hearth God travels to make his report. This tree is more common in the countryside than in the city.
Flowering Peach Blossoms
Two items required for the proper enjoyment of Tet are flowering branches and the kumquat bush.The traditional flowers for Tet are peach flowers in the North and apricot flowers in the South. Miniature kumquat bushes about two or three feet tall may be prominently displayed.
As the New Years midnight approaches, the Giao Thua ritual occurs. Every Vietnamese family whispers similar fervent prayers. Bells ring and drums beat in temples. In the Gia Tien (family ancestor) ritual invitations are extended to the deceased relatives to visit for a few days in the world of the living family. The head of the household lights incense and folds hands at heart level in the position of prayer. The prayer may proceed as follows:
In the year of . And the date of . Make these offerings and invite all of our ancestors to join in eating Tet with us.
I pray to the Heavenly King, the Jade Emperor, to his assistants and to the Earth God and the guardian spirit and to any other spirits present. On behalf of the family, we offer you incense, gold and silver, fruit and flowers, alcohol and fixings for the betel quid. We are all here to make these offerings so that the next year will be free of disasters and harmful occurrences and that the family will prosper. Please bless us all, young and old, with happiness, prosperity and long life. Please forgive us any transgressions we may have unknowingly committed against you or others.
Traditional Tet Greeting Card
Another popular pastime during Tet is the sending of greeting cards. On one occasion, such a greeting card was used in an American propaganda operation.
The operation was run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observation Group (MACVSOG). The CIA official who directed the Psychological Operations Group (OP-39) in the closing years of the U.S. portion of the Vietnam War (1970-1971) said in part:
Ho Chi Minh used to send a greeting card down every year for Tet. Well, he died in the fall of 1969 and he never sent one down for 1970 for obvious reasons. So, we decided to pick out an individual in the leadership of North Vietnam who was the most pro Chinese, Truong Chinh, and have him send down a Tet greeting card. The Vietnamese I worked with thought this was a tremendous idea... and apparently it was extremely effective.
To try to achieve your goal which, in a cold war situation is to harass and disrupt the enemy's command and control structure, you have to be very selective and circumspect in your approach. Your target has to be carefully studied and a plan has to be tailored to exploit the vulnerability of the group or individual being targeted. And that's how the Ho Chi Minh greeting card came about.
The North Vietnamese had press conferences in Laos, they had one in Paris denouncing this secret service operation It hurt them to the point where they had to stand up and scream. So, as I said, it was quite good.
This postcard was produced in January 1969 along with a poster. It targets Viet Cong relatives and sympathizers. It was printed in
by request of the Joint United States Public Affairs Office. It was a one-time item and unavailable for re-order. The text is: Manila
HAPPY NEW YEAR LONGING FOR PEACE\
There is also a leaflet and poster coded 2904A. It is almost identical to 2904B, except that the Chieu Hoi symbol at the lower right has been moved to the left and a small calendar has replaced it at the lower right. The message is the same.
During the decade that the
fought the Vietnam War it was aware of the importance to the Vietnamese of the Tet New Year holiday. As a result, a great number of leaflets, posters and radio messages mentioned Tet. Hundreds of leaflets were prepared that showed the family celebrating Tet, homes decorated for Tet, or wives and children tearfully wondering where the husband or father was at this festive time. Surrender leaflets constantly mentioned that the holidays were approaching and the North Vietnamese soldier or Viet Cong guerrilla should leave the battlefield and return home to celebrate with his family. It is probably safe to say that with the exception of the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) surrender leaflets, Tet was the most popular theme of the American propagandists. We should mention that in previous wars and even in United States the enemy often used the Christmas holiday as a theme of their propaganda leaflets so perhaps turnabout is fair play. Vietnam
Author holds Tet Poster No. 2, 1969
Many of these Tet products were printed as leaflets, postcards and posters. Here the author holds poster 2905 produced in January 1969. This poster targeted Viet Cong and their relatives and sympathizers as well as North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. The poster was produced by the Field Development Division of JUSPAO and printed in Manila. This was a one-time product and could not be reordered, probably because of the month calendar at bottom right. The short text is:
Happy New Year Longing for Peace
Robert W. Chandler mentions the Tet campaigns in War of Ideas: The U.S. Propaganda Campaign in Vietnam, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1981:
A third special campaign carried out to support the Chieu Hoi program was waged annually during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. It exploited the soldiers strong yearnings to return home, for Tet is an extremely sacred and sentimental time to renew memories, take part in family gatherings, and settle spiritual accounts These Tet traditions heightened nostalgia, loneliness, and yearnings for loved ones among the enemy armed forces.
Most themes developed for the Tet campaign were based on already existing appeals placed into the context of the season. Leaflet and loudspeaker messages included sketches of a happy family reunion, a pensive Viet Cong away from home, and family longings for loved ones serving the National Liberation Front.
Because there are so many leaflets to choose from I have decided to make arbitrary categories and show a few leaflets of each type. For instance, we will show how the Tet theme was used against the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong and to depict family, wives, children, prisoners-of-war, and festival activities.
This Tet poster shows two lovely Vietnamese women in the foreground while in the background children are seen playing and light fireworks. The text on the poster is:
The golden flowers of Tet bloom all over the countryside. If there were no Communist insurgents, our villages would be peaceful and happy.
An example of the importance of the annual Tet psychological operation campaign is clearly stated in the 18 July 1969 JUSPAO report on
preparations. Some of the comments are: U.S.
The Tet Chieu Hoi campaign has become the largest single annual psychological operation in Vietnam Preparations for the 1969 campaign began in September 1968 and culminated in the delivery in early 1969 of 72 media products Ranging from leaflets and posters to cartoon booklets and magazines. Later, fifteen additional items, including eight tapes for radio and loudspeaker broadcast were added to the JUSPAO load.
At the same time, JUSPAOs Cultural Drama Team Office recorded two original popular songs and one classical piece for Tet use. Song sheets were made up for Tet distribution and the recordings were reproduced as audio tapes The JUSPAO plant in Saigon, 7th PSYOP Group in Okinawa, Regional Service Center (RSC) Manila began to deliver the growing mass of materials. One shipment alone, arriving by sea from the RSC.
in late December contained 72 tons of printed material. Manila
Swelling the volume of conventional media products were small person-to-person items, each bearing a message from the Vietnamese government or a PSYOP slogan. Among these items were plastic shopping bags, miniature plastic bottle of nuoc mam (a pungent fish sauce seasoning), a cardboard version of the Vietnamese chess game, small bars of soap, and school kits containing pencils, erasers and rulers for school children.
Boxes of Tet leaflets are packed and ready for transport in the 7th PSYOP Group printing plant on
Okinawa. Note that each box is clearly marked VN TET MIX.
Their document lists all the items that were prepared for Tet 1969. Looking at just some of the numbers that were airdropped gives an idea of how big this campaign was. The three major items were 38 leaflets prepared by the 7th Group in Okinawa (3,145,000,000), two circulars prepared by RSC,
Manila(40,500,000) and two newspapers printed by 7th Group in Okinawa(2,300,000).
According to the Joint United States Public Affairs Office booklet PSYOP Policy Guidance Number 75, JUSPAO would produce and distribute special TET greetings and messages from the province chiefs, district chiefs and prominent organizations and citizens. It would also produce special Tet letters, messages and appeals to North Vietnamese Army troops and Viet Cong guerillas and their families from Hoi Chanhs (enemy troops who had already defected under the Chieu Hoi program). JUSPAO would also produce a series of radio tapes utilizing the Tet theme.
Colonel Benjamin F. Findley, Jr. USAFR mentions the Tet campaign in US & Vietcong Psychological Operations in Vietnam, published in Psychological Operations Principles and Case Studies , Frank L. Goldstein, Air University Press, 1996.
Four special PSYOP techniques were employed in
: the distribution of safe conduct passes, money for weapons, a focus on returning home to celebrate during the Tet New Year, and Armed Propaganda Teams composed of Hoi Chanh. Vietnam
General Giap's Tet Greeting
Before I start depicting and translating the American Tet leaflets I want to add one from the Communist Vietnamese. This is the earliest Tet propaganda leaflet I have seen, from 1958, while the Communists were still involved with the French and long before the United States got heavily involved in Vietnam. Notice the Tet tree at the left.
This is General Giap's Tet greeting to soldiers' families for Tet 1958. The text is:
Year of the Dog
From the Supreme Commander
Tet wishes to the families of soldiers of the revolution and the families of our martyred and wounded soldiers.
I wish all of our families a healthy, happy, and better new year during which we will actively carry out all the policies of our Party and our Government, contribute to the building of a strong, solid North Vietnam, and struggle to unify our nation.
General Vo Nguyen Giap
[Note] Tet fell on 18 February in 1958.
One year later Giap sent out a second greeting leaflet, this with the addition of a rifle at the lower left. The text is:
Year of the Pig
Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Ministry of Defense
Tet greetings to the families of soldiers of the revolution, the families of our martyred and wounded soldiers, and the families of our National Defense workers.
I wish all of our families a healthy, happy, exciting, and better new year during which we will actively carry out the State Plan for economic and educational development and help to build up our army and strengthen our national defense in order to move North Vietnam forward to socialism and provide a solid foundation for the struggle to unify our nation.
Minister of Defense
General Vo Nguyen Giap
One series of five JUSPAO leaflets (2913 to 2917) pictures various scenes of the Tet New Year's celebration. The leaflets are known in black and white on paper and in full color on cardboard. The five black and white versions are all identical on the front, but with a different message on the back.
Leaflet 2913 (front)
Leaflet 2913 shows a smiling wife holding a young girl while children light fireworks in the background. The text is:
Happy New Year, hoping for peace.
Leaflet 2913 (back)
The back shows a single child lighting a firecracker in a country scene. the text is:
Only through the Chieu Hoi policy will you bring unity to your family.
Leaflet 2914 is identical except for the text on the back which is:
Return to the Republic on the occasion of the new Tet and you will be able to enjoy a free and happy Tet holiday.
The back of leaflet 2915 is:
The advent of Tet is the best opportunity for all soldiers and cadre to reunite with their families.
The back of leaflet 2916 is:
Only be returning on the occasion of the new Tet can you have true happiness in the new year.
The final leaflet of the set is 2917 and has this message on the back:
Tet is the best occasion to return and bring an end to the war.
Australian Tet Propaganda Leaflet 073-71
Australian Leaflet 073-71 was produced on 19 January 1971 and depicts happy Vietnamese people gathering for the celebration of the Tet New Years ceremony. We see only women and children. The men are gone. The back depicts Chieu Hoi symbols and the text:
There are two groups of people who will not be spending TET in a peaceful manner: you and the people hunting you .
TET is the time of family togetherness- the time when the year that is gone is remembered, and planning for the familys future is done for the year to come.
How many TETs have you spent in the jungle?
Chieu Hoi for Tet!
The Australians planned to print another Tet leaflet. It would have been coded 059-70 and printed on 25 November 1970. For some reason, the leaflet was scrapped. The image would have depicted Viet Cong destruction during the Tet holiday and the text would have been:
Peace and Prosperity does not come from violent revolution. It comes from hard work and involvement by the people with their countrys plans and achievements; bridges, roads, market places, and housing. Once before the people of the free South witnessed wanton destruction and inexcusable murder by the communists in their attempt to destroy the homes and lands of the people. But the people drove them away and have now rebuilt the damage and we are achieving new goals in progress.
1. Peace and prosperity does not come from violent revolution
2. It comes only from hard work and involvement by the people with their countrys plans
3. More than once before, the People of Free South Vietnam witnessed violent destruction and inexcusable murder by the communists in their attempt to invade South Vietnam. But our military and people broke their attempt and have now rebuilt the damage and are achieving new goals in progress.
Letters to a Viet Cong Fighter
This is a short series of leaflets bearing letters from loved ones to Guerrillas. Leaflets 2906 and 2907 are Tet letters to a beloved son in the Viet Cong. Leaflet 2908 is a Tet letter from a wife to her husband in the Viet Cong. The letters are very gossipy and tell the guerrilla of all the current events in his village. The leaflets are very large at 10 x 7-inches, and depict bamboo, a flowering branch or an incense urn on the front; and a young boy lighting Tet firecrackers on the back. In each case the text tells of one or more local murders by Viet Cong agents and requests that the son return home to his family. The third leaflet mentions a battle and describes some of the dead Viet Cong. The leaflets are very wordy. Some selected text from each leaflet is:
2906 - After attending an anniversary feast in memory of his paternal grandfather, Mr. Tu and his family road home on an ill-fated small bus, which was blown up by a mine during their return trip.
2907 - Everyone believed that Vinh was dead and gone. Now Vinh is living in
Saigon(after returning to the National Government). Then all of a sudden, this fellow brought back his wife and children to wish a happy new year to retired village chairman Ong Ca The District Viet Cong command murdered your wife under the accusation that she communicated with the enemy.
2908 - I ran to the fighting area at the other end of the village. How horrible! Human skulls, bowels, arms scattered here and there, some flesh plastered on trees. There were dead by the trenches and foxholes. The air was permeated with a stinking smell and burning odor I covered my face with my trembling hands and ran home.
Leaflets 2910, 2911 and 2912 are similar to the previous three we discussed, but instead of being written to a beloved son they are written to a friend, a lover and a son. These leaflets are the standard American 6 x 3-inches in size and have either a flowering branch, bursting firecrackers or bamboo on the front and a boy lighting firecrackers on the back. Some selected text from each leaflet is:
2910 Do we fight against the Americans or do we just fight among ourselves killing our own innocent people, burning schools, hospitals, destroying bridges, exploding mines, and attacking with rockets?
2911 The voices of the leaves moving with the winds is somewhat like the noise of your footsteps when you sneaked in to see me during your last trip home the more the winter wind blows, the colder my flesh becomes, but what I fear most is the coldness in the bottom of my heart because of my great longing and love for you.
2912 I am growing old, your father is near death, your brothers and sisters are still so young. We all must rely on you for our family affairs, but now you are away. Our family has been deserted if something happens to me who will take care of the graves of your ancestors? Who will care for your garden and your home?
Another series of four Tet leaflets printed in November 1968 starts with number 2928. Each of these leaflets depicts the new life that is open for those returning to the government and a drawing of the Tet tree. Leaflet 2928 depicts a driver in an automobile and is entitled You should return to work at a new trade. Leaflet 2929 depicts carpenters and is entitled You should return to be retrained in a job for your promising life. Leaflet 2931 depicts women sewing and is entitled You should return to the South where it is warm and sunny and the wind is gentle. Leaflet 2930 above depicts a family with a bicycle. Some of the text is:
The Warm South is welcoming your Return
South Vietnam with its warm climate has welcomed many Hoi Chanh families in brotherly love. This Tet will certainly be different from the last Tet when the Hoi Chanh was suffering in the infested jungles. The Hoi Chanh is knowable to welcome the new spring with hope for a bright future, in the National Right cause.
There are a series of leaflets that are called Tet testimonials. Each of them has the same image on the back of a child lighting fireworks, but on the front there is a letter to the Viet Cong from a former guerrilla who has gone Hoi Chanh. My records show that leaflet 2939 is from Phan Van Xuong (Deputy Commander, Quyet Thang Regiment); leaflet 2940 is from Phan Viet Dung (Commander, Regiment Q165); leaflet 2941 is from Vu Nhu Y, leaflet 2943 is from Nguyen Van Minh; and leaflet 2945 is from Le Van Lap (Company Political Officer). I am missing some sheets so I assume that all seven leaflets from 2939 to 2945 are testimonials.
Leaflet 2939 (front)
Leaflet 2939 (back)
This leaflet depicts Phan Van Xuong, Deputy Commander of the Quyet Thang Regiment. Some of the text is:
The coming of the Tet holidays in war-torn Vietnam has made me think of you, my former comrades and brothers in arms who are still suffering countless hardships and humiliation On the coming of the Tet I sincerely wish you who still remain on the other side, good health, and the courage to respond to the call of compassion and return to the free South during the days of this Tet holiday.
The 1968 booklet Communicating with Vietnamese Through Leaflets, Field Development Division, Office of Plans and Policy, JUSPAO, says about testimonials:
The Hoi Chanh should write his own leaflet The Hoi Chanh should sign his testimonial. A food, clear photo of the author should be included Do not write the testimonial for the Hoi Chanh. A version written by a U.S. PSYOP officer or a Chieu Hoi cadre man probably will be recognized as bogus. It is permissible to suggest themes to the returnees, but the language must be his own. The best approach is for the Hoi Chanh to address his letter specifically to his former unit and address some of his former comrades by name.
Leaflet 2943 (front)
Leaflet 2943 is listed as testimonial number 5 and was developed in November 1968 at the bidding of the Chieu Hoi Ministry. It was meant to be hand-disseminated, and the 7th PSYOP Group was tasked with making additional leaflets to be airdropped. Some of the text from Nguyen Van Minh is:
Another Tet is coming. We will be one year older and probably all of us expect a peaceful Tet for our people. Lets review what we have done in the past year During the last Tet holiday; the general offensive spoiled the peoples celebration of the sacred occasion. Do you believe that the Communists are fighting for the peoples interests or are they just killing the people? On the coming of Tet, the Chieu Hoi Ministry has initiated a nation-wide Tet campaign to stretch out their welcoming arms to you.
This leaflet was prepared by the 10th PSYOP Battalion on 1 February 1969 and targets the population of Long Toan District. 5000 copies of the District Chiefs letter were prepared in both Cambodian and Vietnamese. Some of the text is:
My Dear Friends,
Spring is coming and all civilians and soldiers are endeavoring to pacify and build up the villages and hamlets. They hope peace is restored soon so the people can enjoy a happy New Year, which is the custom of our people. Where will you be during the coming Tet, in the ranks of the Viet Cong? Dont you think that your family is waiting for you to return for Tet?
This leaflet was developed on 20 January 1973 to inform the North Vietnamese troops of the imminent ceasefire. I chose it because of the intricate Tet design. It is in the letters section because the back of the leaflet is a song sheet with the title LETTER TO THE FRONT.
The TET Celebration
Leaflet SP-2244 emphasizes that a former Viet Cong who comes back to the Government of Vietnam can enjoy the Tet holiday with his family and friends. According to PSYOP records 20,000,000 of these leaflets were prepared in December 1967 and sent to Da Nang, Nha Trang, Plei Ku, Bien Hoa and Can Tho. The text on the front is:
Your family will be very sad if you are not home for the Tet Season. We urge you to return and enjoy Tet and a Happy New Year with your family. The newly elected Government will welcome you through its Chieu Hoi Program.
Text on the back of the leaflet is:
The former Viet Cong shown above are enjoying a Tet meal at a
. As Tet is coming everybody wants to eat good food, to be reunited with the family, friends, and live a happy life in a secure area of the Government of Chieu Hoi Center . Your family needs you and sincerely hopes that you will return to your parents and wife and children. Tet will lack its meaning and your family will be sad if you are not at home. The Chieu Hoi Program of the Government offers you a way back to the Great Nation's Family and to full citizenship. Vietnam
There are numerous other Tet leaflets that we do not depict. For instance, PSYOP records indicate that 20 million copies of SP-2255 (Your family is waiting), 20 million copies of SP2265 (Letter from family), 14 million copies of SP-2266 (Good Treatment) and 15 million copies of SP2267 (Soldiers of the NVA) were all prepared for the 1968 Tet campaign.
This leaflet depicts happy Vietnamese celebrating Tet in a prisoner-of-war camp. Some of the text is:
SPRING COMES TO A PRISONER-OF-WAR CAMP
Although being far from their family when Tet comes, prisoners-of-war are free to welcome the new spring. The traditional customs of the people once more is performed. Though there is no wine, firecrackers or rice cakes, prisoners-of-war are joyful as they greet a new spring by their smiles and believe in the day of reunion with their families.
The original U.S. Photograph used on leaflet 2971
The official caption of this photograph is "North Vietnamese prisoners-of-war decorate the hut where they live to celebrate Tet 1966."
Leaflet 4604 was developed on 10 November 1972 and designed to portray the traditional Tet sentiment on the first morning of the holiday. Some of the text is:
THE FIRST MORNING OF TET
Firecrackers explode one after another, on the altar the feast tray has already been set up. My mother is lighting the spiral incense, and arranging a peach on a five-fruit tray. My big brother cuts the cooked pork pie
From Ho Chi Minh Trail
Leaflet T-86 was dropped along the Ho Chi Minh trail on North Vietnamese troops as they marched south. It uses the Tet Lunar New Year as its theme. The leaflet depicts a flowering branch on the front and the text:
Best wishes for the New Year.
The back of the leaflet depicts a peaceful homestead by a quiet pool. The text is:
When do you expect to return to your native village?
Leaflet SP-2248 depicts a Viet Cong guerrilla who has returned home to his family and is holding his child. At the bottom of the leaflet various Tet celebrations are depicted. The leaflet text on the front is:
New Year's Greetings. On Tet
Holiday, you will return to your home town (or village) to look for your loved ones. They are waiting for you. After reuniting with your family you can respond to the Chieu Hoi Policy of the Government of because it brings you many benefits. Vietnam
A Tet Song Booklet
The Spring Letter
The 8-page song booklet depicts a Vietnamese woman mailing her husband a letter during the 1969 Tet holiday. The booklet was printed November 1968 and coded 2952. It targeted friends and relatives of the Viet Cong as well as the guerrillas themselves, using radio and loud speaker broadcasts. It was designed to be handed out by Armed Propaganda teams, and other U.S. and Vietnamese organizations. A mass printing of this booklet for airdrop was to be prepared by the 7th PSYOP Group. The letter is depicted inside and says in part:
Do you remember the day we met? Our country was peaceful without the ravage of warfare. We married and hoped to enjoy our eternal dreams. You abandoned our native village and broke our conjugal bond. O my man, where are you now? You have been deprived of family warmth and the happiness of spring for so long. Come back here to rebuild our love of the former wonderful days. The country is awaiting you.
The remaining pages contain sentimental songs regarding the Tet holiday.
Leaflet # SP-2247 was developed in October 1967. The designation of the leaflet is Your Family Needs You. The translation for the leaflet is:
Happy New Year, Your family needs you. Your government needs your cooperation. Tet is the time for you to start a new life. Return to your family through the Chieu Hoi Program of the Government of
. Rewards will be promptly paid for weapons you return. Vietnam
The back side of the leaflet gives rates of rewards for weapons brought back by returnees.
The Vietnamese loved poetry and there are a great number of leaflets that bear poems, usually mentioning home, loneliness and the family. The leaflet depicts flowering branches and birds on the front. The back bear a Tet Poem meant to encourage the Viet Cong in the field to return home. Some of the text on the back is:
Do you remember that today is Tet, The only happy day of the year?
But you are away.
Your wife is yearning for a sight of you, and your children are burning to see you.
Our cozy home feels cold and lifeless as ashes in a burnt-out oven.
One of the more interesting PSYOP campaigns supported by the 7th PSYOP Battalion was Operation Searchlight. It was launched in Military Region I and was designed to influence enemy soldiers to defect during the Tet truce period of 1970 - 1971. Giant searchlights were aimed at the sky and the enemy urged to follow the beam to the searchlight where they could safely surrender. It was not a success and there is no record of defectors at any of the 22 searchlight sites. The above leaflet was prepared by the 7th PSYOP Battalion for Operation Searchlight. It depicts a pair of searchlights aimed skyward and the Chieu Hoi Symbol. The text is:
During the cease fire period of Tan Hoi New Year, all
United States, , and other Allied bases will turn on their searchlight at night. The searchlight will help you to find freedom. Move toward the direction of light, hide your weapon and wait until the daylight to rally. When getting close to the Government of Vietnam or Allied units, shout aloud CHIEU HOI. You will be welcomes and receive good treatment. Guide the Government of Vietnam or Allied forces to recover your weapon for a reward. Vietnam
MOVE TO THE SEARCHLIGHT
DO NOT LET YOURSELF GET KILLED IN THE DARK
Before we end this look at the Tet propaganda campaign we should point out that it was not universally admired. For example, Robert J. Kodosky believes that much of what the
United Statesdid in was incorrect and guided by a lack of understanding of the Vietnamese culture. In regard to the Tet PSYOP campaign he says in Psychological Operations American Style the Joint United States Public Affairs Office, Vietnam and Beyond: Lexington Books, Lanham, MD, 2007: Vietnam
PSYOP intelligence in
not only suffered from understaffing, it generated a product skewered toward the national level. All the analysts it possessed worked in Vietnam Saigon. None operated at the Corps, Division, or Sector level. The situation resulted in generalized products of marginal utility
For example, one Provincial PSYOP Officer reported that a nationally generated TET campaign did not really have much pertinence in
. During the campaign, over four million leaflets rained from the sky over Dar Lac Province . The official pointed out that although Tet is a celebration of ethnic Vietnamese who are concentrated in the lowland coastal areas of Vietnam, and only the towns of the highland areas the leaflet, he continued, proved valueless when used against the non-ethnic tribes of Dar Lac. They do not celebrate TET. Dar Lac Province
After the Premeditated Tet Attack
Republic of Vietnam soldiers search for Viet Cong snipers hiding in buildings after the attack during the Tet truce period was put down. As all Vietnam celebrated Tet 1968 (The Year of the Monkey), the Viet Cong attacked hamlets, villages and cities throughout the country killing thousands of civilians and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The banner overhead proclaims the Happy New Year.
I suspect it is impossible for any military veteran to mention Tet without immediately thinking of the infamous Communist attack during the Tet ceasefire of 1968. This sneak attack by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army was a great victory for the
and there are reports of as many as 34,000 Viet Cong being killed during the fighting. The number of Republicof Vietnam killed is still in doubt. In the movie The Siege at Firebase Gloria, the narrator says at the end: Communist troops
In the four months of the Tet offensive, the Viet Cong lost 55,000 men. After that the Viet Cong ceased to exist as an independent fighting force and
took control of the war. Hanoi
After the disastrous Viet Cong losses during Tet 1968, the Allies prepared a number of leaflets that mentioned the deaths, wounded and those who surrendered. This leaflet depicts former Viet Cong Political Officer Tran Van Dao and says in part:
In their attack during Tet, the Viet Cong were heavily defeated, but the leaders considered it their biggest victory. The reality, militarily they could not occupy and control any objective of any significant region. Politically, because of their miscalculations, people did not answer their call to rise and did not support or rise up as they were expected to. On the contrary, people clearly saw their cruel and wicked scheme and only hated them more. They also miscalculated the power of the Army of
and the Allied forces, considering them to be physically and morally weak. But, through the repeated waves of counter-attacks they have been defeated everywhere and suffered heavy casualties, losing many human lives and much ammunition. Their soldiers are now demoralized and terrified and all their hiding places are leveled. They suffer privations and their lives are threatened by constant bombings. Vietnam
This March 1968 leaflet was prepared to show how the Government of Vietnam was working to help those citizens whose lives had been severely affected by the Viet Cong attacks during Tet 1968. The front shows large caches of rice that had been moved to Saigon to feed the local populace. The writers of the leaflet also threw in compliments for the Rural Development (RD) cadre and a request for mutual love and unity. The RD, formed in 1965 and organized into paramilitary groups, was charged with motivating and organizing the local population to assume their own self-defense and to raise the living standards of the villages. The RD teams grew to a peak of 47,000 men during the war and were used to strengthen the government and assist in self-help projects. The text on the front is:
The Civic Action RD Teams distribute rice to the victims of the Viet Cong offensive during Tet.
The back is all text and says in part:
Facing the suffering and devastation caused by the Viet Cong in the Capital, RD Cadres are determined to destroy the inhumane Communists, and secure peace and a normal life for the people in the Capital
RD Cadres are the children, brothers or sisters of the people. The purpose of their presence is to serve the people. We can only destroy the Communists and relieve the suffering of the people by consolidating the mutual love and understanding the unity between the people, the soldiers and the cadres.
The minds of the people are still haunted with death, devastation and killing scenes that recently occurred in the Capital. When will we be able to destroy the Communists if we dont have the mutual love and unity of spirit that will help unite all classes of people
The Viet Cong struck during the most sacred Vietnamese holiday while many South Vietnamese troops were on leave. Initially the attacks took the South Vietnamese and Americans by surprise, but they were beaten back by the ARVN and the Americans, inflicting massive casualties on the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong expected the Vietnamese people to rise up and support them and this did not happen. In fact, for all intents and purposes the Viet Cong were destroyed in 1968.
Some North Vietnamese have blamed their Chinese advisors for the defeat, claiming that Mao believed that
was ready to enter the third stage of warfare and encouraged the Viet Cong to take the field like a conventional army. Maos three stages are: Vietnam
The first stage is mobilizing and organizing the peasantry.
The second stage is setting up rural base areas and increasing coordination among the guerrilla organizations.
The third stage is when the guerillas come out of the jungle and transition to conventional warfare.
The Chinese allegedly recommended that instead of clandestinely taking part in small terrorist attacks, the Viet Cong take the field in large units to fight the Government and American forces, believing that the Vietnamese people would rise up and join them. They were wrong. I have heard some North Vietnamese say that after Tet the Chinese advisors lost face and credibility.
After the Tet battle the 6th PSYOP Battalion quickly prepared this hand-drawn leaflet showing two beaten North Vietnamese soldiers returning to their jungle lairs. This is a tactical leaflet aimed specifically to the 327 Company of the North Vietnamese Army. 100,000 copies were requested by the
9th Army Division, printed and distributed in March 1968. Text on the front is: U.S.
Your situation is hopeless
Some of the text on the back is:
Soldiers of the 327th North Vietnamese Army Company;
The general offensive is a complete failure. It is not your fault. It is the fault of your leaders and the Peoples Revolutionary Committee.
You were told that you would be welcomed as heroes, but the people of
have rejected you completely. South Vietnam
There was no general uprising. Instead of liberating the people, your leaders forced you to steal from them. Now you are alone in the Can Giouc District, your wives and families far away
The 10th PSYOP Battalion prepared a leaflet showing a distraught Vietnamese boy squatting near the bodies of his dead or injured family in Hamlet 7, An-Truong Village. This was a different use of the Tet theme, almost ironic and sarcastic in nature. Some of the text is:
The Viet Cong offer the peoples dead bodies as Tet donations to the Communist Party.
There were 11 children, 16 men and women killed tragically, and 35 others wounded in their beds. These people have been making their living by peddling in the market The VC were very angry and didnt hesitate to detonate a mine killing dozens of innocent families. Their bodies were used as Tet donations to the Communist party .
The Remains of Civilian Dead at Hue
This official propaganda photograph was released by the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Political Warfare Directorate and depicts the Americans and Vietnamese searching for remains of the dead at Da Mai Brook, Hue.
The city of
was attacked by ten NVA battalions and six Viet Cong battalions and almost completely overrun. Thousands of civilians believed to be potentially hostile to Communist control, including government officials, religious figures, and expatriate residents, were executed in what became known as the Massacre at Hue . Lasting 26 days, Hue was one of the longest and bloodiest single battles of the Vietnam War. The extent of the massacre of civilians by the Communists was only realized over the following months and years, with the last mass graves being found in 1970. Approximately 2,800 bodies were found, and another 2,000 persons were missing Hue
The Bodies of Vietnamese Civilians Murdered by the Viet Cong in Hue
The battle of
was the first time Americans could sit at home and watch an ongoing battle on the evening news. It was televised every evening for almost a month. Although the battle for Hue Huewas a tactical victory for the , the North Vietnamese clearly achieved strategic success showing the American people the high costs of urban warfare. Had the American leaders been able to expose the Communist brutality by publicizing the civilian executions in US civilian support for the war may have been bolstered. As it was, the Communist murders were done in secret while Americans were killed on nightly television. Hue
One of the regular leaflets found acceptable for the Post-Tet campaign is 2263 from November 1967, depicting a Vietnamese mother at the top and her soldier son below. PSYOP records indicate that 14,000,000 leaflets were printed and sent to Da Nang, Nha Trang, Plei Ku, and Bien Hoa. Some of the long poem is:
From the day I left you mother
To follow my companions on the trip to
Central Vietnam through
I have endured the hardships
A JUSPAO document dated 18 September 1969 is entitled Poem by North Vietnam Deserter. The document states that the poem was written for Tet by a Hoi Chanh who did not ask for money. The poem, written by Hoai Thanh was entitled Take a husband my love. The letter says in part: I suggest that this be considered for use on radio, television, magazines, newspapers and leaflets. This, after all, is a nation of poets. The single most effective leaflet dropped in the past was the soldiers poem to his mother. This appears to be more of the same. A few lines from the six-stanza Tet poem:
Listen to me, my love.
Take a husband, my love, for my life is fast-ebbing.
I must lie to myself when giving you this advice.
But my darling, I must think of your future
I am committed and eternal bitterness is my lonely fate
Oh, listen to my aching heart and seek your ideas in love
The Americans saw this Viet Cong defeat as a propaganda weapon and set out to exploit it in every way possible. The Joint
Public Affairs Office prepared a PSYOP Policy 57 Chieu Hoi Campaign to Capitalize on Failure of Communist General Offensive. The policy set out themes to be used in Allied propaganda and listed five leaflets already in the inventory that could be used as part of the campaign. Examples are SP 893 ( U.S. ), SP 2263 (North Vietnamese Army Poem) and SP 2336 (Message to a North Vietnamese Army soldier). Some of the text in the original 8 February 1968 policy is: Safe Conduct Pass
There is every indication from captured documents and prisoner interrogations that the North Vietnamese Army/Viet Cong leadership actually intended to seize the cities and counted on a popular uprising against the Government of
in support of their Tet offensive. There were no plans for withdrawal, relief or reinforcements and the overwhelming defeat of this maximum North Vietnamese Army/Viet Cong effort to install themselves in the major cities will have been a severe psychological blow to the surviving enemy infiltrators Vietnam
IN ACCORDANCE WITH
U.S.MISSION DIRECTIVES, THIS IS MISSION PSYCHOLOGICAL POLICY AND GUIDANCE AND IS TO BE IMPLEMENTED AS PERTINENT BY ALL U.S.ELEMENTS IN . VIETNAM
Until further notice, all Government of
Vietnam/ Chieu Hoi materials, such as leaflets, newssheets, loudspeaker/radio messages should be based on the failure of the current Communist offensive U.S.
Up-to-date products now being developed by Joint
Public Affairs Office for national use will make the following points: U.S.
The North Vietnamese Army/Viet Cong leadership misled and betrayed their soldiers The winter-spring offensive is a total failure. The call for a general uprising has been emphatically rejected by the population of
Losses inflicted on the North Vietnamese Army/Viet Cong forces have been unprecedented in the first week of the blunted communist offensive, the communists lost more than 22,000 men killed, including their most experienced cadre, and more than 6,000 weapons. (Enemy casualty figures should be kept up to date as far as possible in PSYOP media products).
Prior to the attack, North Vietnamese Army/Viet Cong troops were promised relief and reinforcements within 48 hours, but no relief was forthcoming and the men were abandoned to their fate.
The employment of revolutionary new weapons in support of the enemy offensive was promised to the soldiers by the cadre, but no such weapons came to their aid
A supplement to PSYOP Policy 57 was issued on 23 February 1968. This supplement listed an additional 35 leaflets that were cleared for use in the campaign. Examples are SP 2141 (Woman Mourning the Dead), SP 2169 (Dairy of a Returnee) and SP 2208 (How to Defect).
We should point out that the North Vietnamese always celebrated the Tet Holiday too. Ho Chi Minh would send a greeting down the Trail to his troops each year. Here is his 1968 greeting.
Ho Chi Minh sends his Troops a Personal Tet Greeting in 1968
Tet Greeting From Chairman Ho
This New Year will be better than past new years
Victory and good news will sweep the nation
South and North vie with one another in fighting the Americans
Advance - total victory is ours
Ho Chi Minh
The victory actually cost
the war. Because of the loss of all the Viet Cong troops, South Vietnam began sending regular military units down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in even greater numbers to replace them. The Government of Vietnam and North Vietnam forces pulled back to protect the major cities, allowing the Communists to make gains in the countryside. Worse, Walter Cronkite declared on 27 February 1968 that the war was stalemated: U.S.
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
His comments re-enforced a loss of faith in ultimate victory among Americans and eventually to the
U.S.departure from 5 years later. The Tet attack created a crisis for President Lyndon Johnson who was unable to convince the American people that the Tet Offensive was a major defeat for the communists. Uncle Walter Cronkite was considered the most trusted newscaster in the Vietnam and Johnson felt defeated when he lost the newscaster. He is reported to have said If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost United States middle America. According to a Harris poll, 60 percent of Americans regarded the Tet Offensive as a defeat for U.S.objectives in . Vietnam
Colonel Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of
North Vietnam's army, received the unconditional surrender of on April 30, 1975. He later became editor of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of South Vietnam . He said in regard to the Tet offensive: Vietnam
The purpose of the 1968 Tet Offensive was to relieve the pressure Gen. Westmoreland was putting on us in late 1966 and 1967 and to weaken American resolve during a presidential election year. Tet was designed to influence American public opinion. We would attack poorly defended parts of
cities during a holiday and a truce when few South Vietnamese troops would be on duty. Before the main attack, we would entice American units to advance close to the borders, away from the cities. By attacking all South Vietnam 's major cities, we would spread out our forces and neutralize the impact of American firepower. Attacking on a broad front, we would lose some battles but win others. We used local forces nearby each target to frustrate discovery of our plans. Small teams, like the one which attacked the South Vietnam U.S.Embassy in Saigon, would be sufficient. It was a guerrilla strategy of hit-and-run raids.
Our losses were staggering and a complete surprise; Giap later told me that Tet had been a military defeat, though we had gained the planned political advantages when Johnson agreed to negotiate and did not run for re-election. The second and third waves in May and September were, in retrospect, mistakes. Our forces in the South were nearly wiped out by all the fighting in 1968. It took us until 1971 to re-establish our presence, but we had to use North Vietnamese troops as local guerrillas.
General No Nguyen Giap, Viet Minh Supreme Commander said in regard to Tet and the television reporting it received in the
United Statesin a 1989 interview with Morley Safer, as excerpted in The Vietnam War: An Encyclopedia of Quotations by Howard Langer, Greenwood Press, 2005:
We paid a high price, but so did you... not only in lives and materiel.... After Tet the Americans had to back down and come to the negotiating table, because the war was not only moving into the cities, to dozens of cities and towns in South Vietnam, but also to the living rooms of Americans back home for some time... The most important result of the Tet offensive was it made you de-escalate the bombing, and it brought you to the negotiation table. It was, therefore, a victory... The war was fought on many fronts. At that time the most important one was American public opinion.
In fairness, I should point out that some historians believe that the reporting by the print and television press really made no difference in the outcome of the war. Some studies seem to indicate that very few people were swayed by the news reports and editorials in newspapers. The American armed forces never lost a major battle in the field, but we must be careful not to use the old we were stabbed in the back excuse for the eventual loss of
two years after the departure of the American military. I believe that the left-wing American press did influence the public, but the reader must do his own research. Vietnam
Studies conducted in the U.S showed that in mid-February 1968 the majority of Americans remained positive of ultimate victory. One-quarter of the American people wanted the war escalated and 28 percent opted for an all-out effort to win the war quickly. By June 1968 the picture had changed. The press ignored the defeat of the Communist forces and gave the impression that they had won. As a result, one-half of the public had lost confidence, with 42 percent wanting the
U.S.to pull out of . By June of 1970, a Vietnam GallupPoll discovered that the proportion of people thinking that the UShad made a mistake in sending troops to fight in had risen from 25 percent to 56 percent. Three years later the Vietnam U.S.departed , and five years later it fell to the North Vietnamese. Vietnam
This has been a brief look at the Allied propaganda that used the Tet New Year holiday as a theme. Readers who care to comment are encouraged to write the author at email@example.com .