ARE YOU A PHOENIX?
ARE YOU A PHOENIX?
If you watch much television, you are most likely familiar with the commercial “I Am a Phoenix” which advertises the online educational programs of The University of Phoenix. In fact, I have a good friend who is “A Phoenix” graduate. Moreover, in another life, I had a friend who was our general counsel and a former combatant from the Phoenix Program of the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War which targeted suspected communist civilians. My friend was Georgian by birth (former U.S.S.R.) with a name that was quite difficult to pronounce which he always offered to spell anytime he met someone. We laughed that my father’s roots were also Georgian though from the U.S. state. Once we were in a cab in Los Angeles and he spoke fluent Russian to the cab driver. Years later, I should have recruited him to join in our oil venture in Russia as all of his skills would have come in handy.
The CIA Saigon station chief in the mid-sixties, Peer de Silva, shown below in civilian clothes, was a proponent of a military strategy known as counterterrorism that should be applied to “enemy civilians” suspected to be Viet Cong. Originally, the units were named “Counter Terror” teams, but they were subsequently renamed Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU’s) though their original handle was more descriptive. In 1967 all “pacification” efforts by the United States came under the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support or CORDS.
As part of CORDS, the Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation Program (ICEX) was created based upon the inspiration of a book by David Galula, shown below, entitled Counterinsurgency Warfare (1964) – a book based on Galula’s experiences in the Algerian War. Does anyone else think Galula could pass for a young version of Dr. Strangelove? The purpose of the ICEX organization centered on gathering information on the Viet Cong (VC) by most any means required including assassination. It was renamed Phoenix with the South Vietnamese program called Phung Hoàng, after a mythical bird that appeared as a sign of prosperity and luck. The 1968 Tet offensive showed the importance of understanding the VC infrastructure. By 1970, there were 704 U.S. Phoenix advisers throughout South Vietnam.
It was about this time that my friend jumped into the Phoenix Program. He liked it so well that he signed up for a second tour. Also, in 1968 I had spent my time in New York studying the Paris Peace talks and writing book reports for Esso Eastern. Therefore, I was transferred to Bangkok and became a frequent flier to Laos even though all our interference there was in violation of the Geneva Convention and, therefore, a “secret war.” Somehow, I do not think a violation of the Geneva Convention quite ranks up there with being an assassin, though we were certainly not boy scouts.
I cannot be critical of my friend’s level of enthusiasm as I ultimately spent six years in that part of the world and left Saigon in the 1975 finale after many futile attempts to evacuate the 86 Vietnamese who worked for me and their families. The expatriates had fled long before Saigon was overrun and I only ever heard from three of my Vietnamese staff after that. I assumed the remainder perished in the prison camps. If you are a local national being promoted to a higher level in a war zone that the gringos are leaving, it is usually very hazardous to your health.
An article in The New York Times entitled Behind the Phoenix Program reviewed the actions of a South Vietnamese by the name of Mr. Chau who had created what he called Counter-Terror teams which were a precursor to Phoenix/Phuong Hoang programs. With support from the CIA, these teams consisted of small numbers of men trained to conduct clandestine missions in enemy-controlled territory. When Mr. Chau received intelligence on the identities and whereabouts of these operatives, he dispatched a Counter-Terror team to kill or capture them. The objective was to wear down and ultimately destroy the Viet Cong infrastructure.
Mr. Tran Ngoc Chau, shown below, was highly regarded by foreign notables including Daniel Ellsberg of the RAND Corporation, John Paul Vann, William Colby, Edward Lansdale, and other prominent figures in American counterinsurgency circles as providing the proper path to conduct counterinsurgency in a reasonably humane and ethical way. In the wake of the 1968 Tet Offensive, Mr. Chau called for a negotiated settlement of the war. He was tried for treason and spent the rest of the war in a South Vietnamese prison or under house arrest. After the North Vietnam victory, he was imprisoned again in a Communist re-education camp and ultimately released in 1978. He was able to emigrate to the U.S. with his family.
It is most interesting that at a time a most knowledgeable, South Vietnamese expert called for peace negotiations, units recruited and trained by the C.I.A. carried out thousands of “capture or kill” missions against enemy operatives from 1968 to 1972, which became my friend’s line of work. The image below printed in The New York Times illustrates the fear and confusion of Vietnamese rounded up for questioning. How can anyone conducting such interrogations believe they have a greater cause or higher being on their side?
Shop Our Latest Picks!
A Purchase That Means More.
Our products are from Asian elephant countries offered to fund programs for the families and their 300 elephants in Baan Ta Klang, northeast Thailand. Your support enables us to provide two native English-speaking teachers in the village as well as underwrite a portion of the veterinary services for the elephants.