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The Psychological War for Vietnam, 1960-1968.

The Psychological War for Vietnam, 1960-1968. By Mervyn Edwin Roberts III. Lawrence KS: the University Press of Kansas, 2018. Endnotes, Bibliography, Maps, Photographs, Index. Pg. xiii, 411. $39.95. ISBN978-0-7006-2583-3

Mervyn Roberts demonstrates a sophisticated and informed understanding of psychological operations (PSYOP) both in general, and especially during the Vietnam War. His well-written book is interesting on several levels because it addresses PSYOP during the Cold War and in the advisor years and the overwhelmingly American phase of the war in Vietnam. As important, Roberts addresses the use of PSYOP by the North and its surrogate in the South.

The book opens with the how, why, and what of PSYOP and its history in the American military and civilian agencies such as the CIA and US Information Agency. Paralleling this is a contrasting discussion of the Vietnamese communist party's highly effective use of propaganda to undermine competing organizations during Ho's rise to power; rally non-communists to the National Liberation Front; and, at the strategic level, influence international opinion.

The central theme of PSYOP is to modify the target audience's behavior while dissuading them from supporting the opposing side. A secondary goal is to win the hearts and minds of the people. Thus, the center of gravity in an insurgency lies with the loyalties and views of the peasantry. One can wonder whether it was possible, after the United States had dramatically raised the level of violence and spread the unsettling impact of the war to literally every hamlet, if the message and value of PSYOP in practical terms was marginalized. Was there an intrinsic dichotomy between, on one hand, free-fire zones and search and destroy operations, and the message that the U.S. was there to protect and assist the peasants? Roberts takes a sophisticated approach to answering those questions while, in the greater context, addressing, both in practical terms and philosophically, the purpose, methods, and goals of PSYOP. He also makes important points about the nature of operations. An uninformed reader may think that PSYOP uses a shotgun blast approach to spreading the message. Instead, Roberts describes how PSYOP determines objectives, carefully analyses intelligence of the target audiences, and then tailors the message for maximum effectiveness in modifying behavior.

Robert makes a very important argument about the ultimate importance of the public relations aspect of PSYOP. When the Johnson Administration lost credibility with the American public, it was almost impossible to regain it, thus contributing to increasing domestic opposition to the war. Roberts couples this with his assessment that North Vietnam aggressively targeted the anti-war movement with negative images of the American war. Another success was Viet Cong penetration of the American press corps with several moles, funneling disinformation throughout the war to the American media. North Vietnam pursued three objectives during the course of the war: alienate the South Vietnamese people from the government; influence international opinion against South Vietnam and against American involvement in the war; and, finally, promote antiwar sentiment within the United States. These PSYOP objectives ultimately had an important impact at the strategic level of the war when the United States made serious errors in judgement, beginning with its support of a coup against President Diem, based on misinformation. This, of course, had long term consequences, leading to the Americanization of the war.

This informative book is not of the "I was there" genre. Instead it possesses a depth of knowledge beyond the operational and tactical levels of application and is philosophical and intellectual in its understanding of how propaganda affects decision making. Roberts draws a valuable summary of lessons learned in his analysis of American and Vietnamese PSYOP efforts in Vietnam. Most important, the US Army acquired hard-learned lessons in that war, resulting in a more professional and formalized structure for future PSYOP.

John Clraficl, Col, USAF (Ret), Milford DE
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Author:Cirafici, John
Publication:Air Power History
Date:Dec 22, 2018
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