Open Arms, Closed Minds and Eyes: Chieu Hoi, Psyop, and the Intelligence Failures in the 1968 Tet Offensive

This paper will explore the uses of Psychological Warfare (PSYOP) and efforts made to gain acceptance within the US military during the Cold War, and in particular the Vietnam conflict.  Vietnam presented the US with a number of challenges; climate, terrain, an often concealed enemy, culture, and above all, history.  It was occupied by the Chinese for over a thousand years, by the French for nearly eighty years, and by Japan during World War Two.  These incursions were met with fierce and prolonged Vietnamese resistance.  American strategists, contemplating US military involvement in Vietnam, hoped psychological warfare might win hearts and minds, and ultimately, the war

By John Morello, DeVry University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The War for the Mind

Psychological operations or PSYOP as it’s called is not an unknown quantity to American military leaders.   Ideally, psychological operations would be used to complement U.S. economic, political and military initiatives abroad. But it always seemed as if the political, military, and economic objectives of the United States were operating separate of each other, and psychological operations were even more remote. In Weapon on the Wall, historian Murray Dyer complained about the lack of organization of psychological operations as an auxiliary to the military dimension of statecraft.  “It was not organized in World War I”, he said. “It was not organized in World War II.  It was not organized in the Korean War. It still is not organized.” (p. 55).  Dyer’s lament was based on the idea that while the objectives of statecraft were usually secured by employing political, economic and if necessary military power, psychological warfare helped to alter the context in which those actions are viewed by those in direct contact with them.

The uncoordinated nature of the relationship between psychological operations and the other tools of modern statecraft became obvious during World War 2.  President Franklin Roosevelt placed it under civilian control as part of the Office of War Information, but shortly thereafter the newly created Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA was given the same job by virtue of a directive by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Someone had to blink, and in 1943 a presidential executive order gave the OWI control over all psychological warfare activities subject to the military’s control in theatres of operations.  It would prove to be something akin to an administrative odd couple.  Writing in the March, 1947 edition of Military Review, Colonel H.D. Kehm, concluding a three part series on the value of psychological operations, spoke of the occasional tension between the military and civilian proponents of psychological warfare.  Many military commanders, wrote Kehm, resisted and failed to fully appreciate psychological warfare in World War 2.  The tendency was to judge success only in terms of the number of surrenders following a psychological warfare effort instead of appreciating the cumulative effect of such operations on the enemy’s determination to resist (p.42).

After World War 2, efforts were made to overhaul the system. Congress established the U.S. Information Service in 1948, placing it under the supervision of the State Department. The onset of the Cold War seemed to make its role all the more important, given the ideological differences between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. USIS personnel fanned out across the globe to conduct, in the words of the House Subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements, “information activities abroad which presented the true picture of the US, and thus, to counter Soviet propaganda”. (Qualter, 1962) There was a significant contingent of USIS on the ground when the Korean War broke out in 1950, but few of the USIS workers in Korea were integrated into the military effort. The Army went ahead with its own psyop approach.  Radio broadcasts, leaflet drops, and loudspeaker appeals were all geared to help achieve a three pronged objective both north and south of the 38th Parallel:  erode morale among North Korean forces, undermine popular support for the Pyongyang government, and bolster the spirits of South Korean troops and their supporters. (Linebarger, 1948)    On the whole, the Army learned some valuable lessons, including the one that the surrender of an enemy soldier was a process, and not an event.  That is, according to historian Robert Chandler, “the process was seen as first preparing the enemy soldier to surrender through psychological warfare followed by instructions on how to do it when the opportunity presented itself” (p.58).

In 1953 President Eisenhower shelved the USIS in favor of something grander; The United States Information Agency. USIA, he said “would submit evidence to peoples of other nations by means of communications techniques that the objectives and policies of the United States are in harmony with and will advance their legitimate aspirations for freedom, progress and peace.” (Meyerhoff, 1965)  John Kennedy expanded USIA’s focus in 1963 when he ordered it to assist in the formulation of US foreign policy. Implicit in Kennedy’s charge was the understanding the USIA would help achieve US foreign policy by influencing attitudes in other nations and advising the President on the implications of foreign opinion for present and contemplated US policies. (Elder, 1968) By 1965, for all intents and purposes, the US had heeded Paul Linebarger’s advice and institutionalized its public relations and propaganda efforts just in time to apply it to its greatest challenge of the Cold War: Vietnam.

When America sent combat forces went to Vietnam in 1965, the country was something of an unknown quantity, even though USIA personnel had been there since 1954, there were still problems.  As the US sought to establish both a military and economic presence, it did so in anticipation of fighting what came to be characterized as a “dual war”.  That meant the US would seek to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam and create a viable and popular democratic government south of the 17th parallel (Sheehan, 1971).  Psychological operations would be used to accomplish both objectives.

Boots on the Ground


In March, 1965, the 3,500 man 3rd Marine Amphibious Force came ashore just south of Da Nang, South Vietnam.  That same year the 1st PSYOP Detachment arrived in country. They would be among the first of their kind to land, and would fuse their efforts with those of US civilians to win popular support.  The Army campaigned from the beginning for the US Information Agency to take the lead on this front.  But for USIA, according to historian Harry Latimer, author of Monograph on National Security Affairs: U.S. Psychological Operations in Vietnam, it was an uncomfortable endorsement, since many within the agency felt psychological warfare was a departure from its primary mission, namely enhancing America’s image abroad (p.4.).  However, it agreed to participate and later that year it became a piece of the PSYOP puzzle.  Its Saigon cohort, led by Barry Zorthian would be joined by the US Army and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).  Concerned about organization, Zorthian suggested creation of a single agency directing the efforts of all three groups, and in 1965 President Lyndon Johnson established the Joint United States Public Affairs Office, or JUSPAO, and put Zorthian in charge (p.5).   It was underwritten and staffed by USIA, USAID, and the Department of Defense.  JUSPAO’s mission statement included the policy direction and substantive supervision of the activities of all agencies, with promoting the Government of Vietnam (p.5).  Of all the agencies which endorsed Zorthian and the creation of JUSPAO, few were more vocal than MACV and its commander, William Westmoreland.  In Report on the War in Vietnam, a 1968 publication, he reflected on his feelings about PSYOP:

I considered the psychological effort so important that I provided

extensive support to Mr. Zorthian in the form of military personnel,units and facilities.  The armed services, particularly the Army, also furnished over 120 specially trained officers to work with USIA and the Vietnamese Information Service at province and district levels (p.237-238).

Westmoreland was so committed to the use of PSYOP forces in Vietnam that he encouraged their deployment throughout the country.  He went even further and issued a directive to tactical commanders urging them to forego combat operations until all PSYOP resources had been exhausted.  However, Harold Latimer wrote that US ground commanders, along with their South Vietnamese counterparts weren’t as sold on PSYOP.  And Michael Barger added that “….over time, these (PSYOP) forces sometimes found themselves marginalized” (P.25).  He went on to report that because of the shortages of trained PSYOP personnel in the early stages of deployment, the Army had to shore up its numbers (p.28).   Having PSYOP units at full strength would become an ongoing problem.  Be that as it may, PSYOP officials appeared optimistic about their chances.   PSYOP would have a presence at the beginning of the Vietnam conflict, and not be treated as an afterthought.  It also dismissed the possibility of civilian-military tension in terms of philosophy and practice as they tried to function within the JUSPAO organizational structure.

Common But Not Solid Ground

Regardless of where and how one approached the war in Vietnam, intelligence still remained an essential key to victory.  And in a war without clearly defined front lines or a clearly identifiable enemy, having accurate information was a must.  The Chieu Hoi, (pronounced Chew Hoy) or Open Arms program, introduced in 1963 by South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, offered not just the possibility of actionable intelligence on enemy movements, but also gave the Saigon government a chance to prove its popularity by showing that when given the opportunity, the enemy would vote with their feet and opt for a non-communist life.  Chieu Hoi held out the hope of reunification between Viet Cong guerillas and their families, as well as job training and a return to society.   Furthermore, it served as a powerful PSYOP tool as many who came over, Hoi Chanh, (pronounced Hoy Chun) served as members of  Armed Propaganda Teams, which entered contested areas and tried to convince their former comrades to join them. The intelligence bonanza provided by those who rallied, if interpreted correctly and handled properly, was also a benefit.  It could help the US fight the two-front war it faced in South Vietnam. Over 11,000 enemy soldiers switched sides in 1963; 5,000 came over in 1964, followed by another 3,000 in the first half of 1965. (Brewer, 1967).

JUSPAO took an active role in the Chieu Hoi program in 1965.  US planners hoped to create a nation which exhibited economic, political and sociological viability. Chieu Hoi would play a critical role, turning insurgents into loyal citizens and converting a courageous, individualistic population into a modern, cohesive, free and self-governing nation (MACV, Command History, 1967).  But PSYOP officials also knew that Chieu Hoi was merely the last step a prospective defector would take; the trick was to get him to take the first one. What was needed was a process to shift the enemy from a combatant to a comrade.

In order for that to happen he had to be taken off the battlefield in one piece.  JUSPAO and MACV reprised the safe conduct pass, which had enjoyed a measure of success in World War 2 and Korea.  They were printed by the millions and dropped initially in South Vietnam in areas of known or suspected enemy activity.  Usually one side of the leaflet spoke of the hardship VC units must be enduring, determined by PSYOP officials to be of concern to the enemy.  On the other side were instructions on how to end the suffering; rally to the South Vietnamese side.  They could report to any government agency or military post. Don’t come armed, the leaflets warned.  Hide or bury your weapons.  They could be recovered later, and depending on the number and type could be worth money.

What happened to someone who rallied depended on where they were within the Viet Cong Infrastructure, or VCI. Chieu Hoi was more than just a plan to net the rank and file VC.    Dai Doan Ket sought to attract officers and cadres, the political commissars in charge of indoctrination.  Ralliers had to be debriefed as quickly as possible to take maximum advantage of intelligence.  Name, rank, and unit designations, along with the names of their comrades in arms would be used in PSYOP activities, and the sooner that information got out into the field the more value it would have.   Many times the Hoi Chanh would pen a note which was incorporated into a leaflet, saying they were being well treated and were looking forward to rejoining their families.  After that it was off to school:  Defectors were given an intensive political indoctrination course, designed to instill a sense of loyalty to the South Vietnamese government.  They also got some job skills to help with the transition to civilian life.

Assessments of the Chieu Hoi program varied depending on the source.  US officials generally praised it, but South Vietnamese leaders were less than thrilled, and the differences of opinion spoke volumes.   According to MACV’s 1967 Command History  “The GVN support of the Chieu Hoi program lacked 100 percent participation…for many believed that too much was being done for the Hoi Chanhs.  A characteristic remark was that they were the enemy once. When they returned they were not sent to prison but were even allowed to rejoin their families” (550).   Other South Vietnamese officials mentioned the negative impact it had on its armed forces; on the one hand being told to aggressively engage the enemy on the battlefield, but on the other hand having to later watch them welcomed home (  Regardless of the challenges, JUSPAO planners intended to build on the positive results reported in 1965, when over 11,000 enemy soldiers crossed over (PSYOPS in Vietnam, 1967). They hoped the momentum they generated would yield even better returns in 1966, especially during Tet, the observance of the Lunar New Year which took place at the end of January (Barger, 2007).

If ever there was a golden opportunity to win over VC forces, Tet was it.  The single most important holiday in Vietnam, Tet is a week-long celebration with the family as the focal point. For Vietnamese soldiers, regardless of allegiance, Tet was a significant event.  And for homesick Viet Cong as well as North Vietnamese soldiers, it was a feeling ripe for exploitation by US PSYOP forces. Not only was it a time when enemy soldiers might be the most receptive to defection entreaties, but a successful Chieu Hoi campaign during Tet could establish the momentum that might sustain an impressive rate of defections for the rest of the year.

The effort leading to Tet, 1966 was the greatest JUSPAO had undertaken to that point.  PSYOP printing presses throughout South Vietnam churned out 92 million Tet-related leaflets.  While it’s difficult to identify just who among the 20,242 enemy soldiers who defected in 1966 did so during Tet, JUSPAO identified 510 of them who did. The interviews showed Tet was the perfect opportunity to make the switch. The overall number suggested a drain on VC offensive capabilities.  It also brought the total number of defections since 1963 to just over 48,000.  The 1966 figures convinced JUSPAO and MACV officials that Tet, 1967 in particular, and 1967 in general would yield even more defections.  Everyone involved in the effort prepared for an ambitious campaign in 1967 in which the number of Hoi Chanhs would top the 1966 figure (Command History, 1966).  Privately, US officials in Saigon and Washington hoped for a 1967 Chieu Hoi figure nearly five times higher than that.   They predicted their efforts might siphon 95,000 soldiers from the ranks of the Viet Cong.   JUSPAO again threw itself into the effort, doubling the time it spent on the campaign from two weeks to a month.  300 million leaflets, two thousand different taped appeals and a variety of radio and television broadcasts were prepared (Barger, 38).  By the end of February, 1967, officials estimated they had brought in over 2,900 Hoi Chanh.   JUSPAO extended the campaign into March; dropping 87 million leaflets and an additional 27 million safe conduct passes (38).  That netted an additional 5,567 ralliers (Command History, 1966). JUSPAO’s own calculations pegged the first quarter total at just over 9,700 (PSYOPS In Vietnam, May, 1967).  The results caught the attention of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who fired off a cable in March to the effect that “Chieu Hoi should be supported to the absolute hilt…even overfunded….The program was cheap at five times its present cost” (SECSTATE, 157261, 17 Mar, 1967, quoted in Command History, 1967    But after a fast start, the pace fell off; just over 2,800 in April, a little over 2,600 in May, and less than 2,000 in June.  Hopes of reaching the 95,000 mark began to fade, and by mid-year the estimate was revised downward to 45,000, only to be cut back even further, to 34,000 by September (Command History, 1967).   By the end of 1967 over 22,000 Hoi Chanh had rallied; two-thirds of them were combat soldiers.  Chieu Hoi had roughly cost the enemy two combat divisions. (Command History, 680)  But the defection rate had still fallen short of the target set for 1967, and before the year was out civilian agencies leading Chieu Hoi had been replaced. The transition began in April when Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge left Saigon to be replaced by Ellsworth Bunker.  Included in Bunker’s staff were Eugene Locke, who came in as Deputy Ambassador, and Presidential Assistant Robert Komer, the White House’s expert on pacification. The takeover was officially completed in May when Bunker announced that Chieu Hoi would fall under MACV’s operational supervision with input from Komer who was assigned to Westmoreland’s staff with the personal rank of Ambassador (585-86).  A new organization, CORDS (Civil Operations Revolutionary Development Support) authorized by the National Security Agency was charged, among other things, with developing a plan to increase the returnee rate.   JUSPAO would still be part of the process of convincing the enemy soldiers to rally, but Komer and CORDS were in the driver’s seat.

On December 1, 1967, MACV commander William Westmoreland ordered that all PSYOP units operating at company capacity were to be upgraded to battalion strength, and told subordinate commanders they would be held responsible for the psychological implications of military actions, including the minimizing of civilian casualties and gaining support of the population.  But wrangling over the value of PSYOP was still taking place in the field, pitting tactical commanders against PSYOP personnel.  PSYOP officers made the case that if the Chieu Hoi program could be fused with tactical operations, the net gain in terms of ralliers would be even higher than when used alone.   But many tactical officers still balked.   Michael Barger reported that tactical commanders were impatient for results and felt PSYOP activities took too long to be effective (p. 41).   In “The Employment of US Army Psychological Operations in Vietnam” (ACTIV Project ACH-47F, 1969), the Army’s own investigators concluded that “…some tactical commanders were more interested in high body counts during combat operations than in integrating PSYOP as part of the tactical operation.  The body count and kill attitude was manifested in the remark of a unit commander that his Chieu Hoi program consisted of two 105mm howitzers-one of which was marked ‘Chieu’ and the other ‘Hoi’ (II-16).  At the end of 1967, the role of PSYOP was still in question.  Some commanders chose to pursue tactical operations, confident that those results alone would generate defectors.

The renewed debate over the value of psychological warfare in the fall of 1967 and the administrative changes dealing with the supervision of the Chieu Hoi program may have preoccupied US officials at a time when the enemy was preparing its boldest and perhaps most desperate undertaking; the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Tet, 1968: Missed Signals?


The evidence was fragmentary and was in need of a good detective to piece it together.  The numbers of Chieu Hoi had begun dropping in the second half of 1967.  Why?   Could it have been because the US had scaled back military operations? Had the Viet Cong leadership successfully tightened its grip on enlistees and conscripts? Captured VC documents indicated Chieu Hoi was a serious threat to their tactical operations.  Desertions threatened unit cohesion.  But even though the numbers were down in second half of 1967, defectors were still crossing over.  They must have had something to say.  And they did: Nguyen Van Thuy, who defected in the summer of 1967, told a story typical of those who’d also fled.   He was drafted in 1966 and assigned to a four hundred person road construction company, half of whom were women.  The women were called up, he said because the North Vietnamese government was running short of able bodied men between the ages of 18-23 (Nguyen Van Thuy debriefing: Combined Military Interrogation Center # 1622, 28 September, 1967). Thuy’s unit was beset with problems. Upon assembly, twenty men, including him, immediately tried to escape. Reasons for desertion included fear of being separated from their families and the difficulty and danger of the work. Thuy and eight others were captured, publicly denounced and docked two month’s pay. The eleven who got away would be joined by 39 others who slipped away as the battalion began infiltrating south in the fall of 1966.  When Thuy’s unit arrived in South Vietnam it had shrunk to 250; 100 had been sent home suffering from malaria or dysentery (Thuy, CMIC).   Thuy also told interrogators that upon his arrival in South Vietnam he was warned about the penalties for desertion, or what might happen to his family if he either fled or was captured.

Nguyen Van Thuy’s defection might have been a vindication of the Chieu Hoi program and even an indication that all was not well in the NVA/VC camp, but he had no access to the vital intelligence the US and its allies needed. That’s why, in addition to appealing to enemy enlistees or draftees, Dai Doan Ket was part of the program to net cadre; officers and commissars, the very people who might actually be in on the planning and execution of offensives like Tet, 1968. Surely some of those people must have crossed over.  Perhaps their story was similar to that told by Tran Van Chien, a cadre whose unit was based in Military Region 4 (MR4) which covered the Saigon- Gia Dinh area.   He rallied and was debriefed in November, 1967.  He told his interrogators that he had been called to a meeting in early October to discuss orders sent from Hanoi announcing a winter and spring operation to start in October and run through February, 1968. Tran’s unit was to attack targets in the area, including Tan Son Nhut airbase, the road leading to Bien Hoa and various communications centers.   He suggested to US and ARVN intelligence agencies that the battles currently underway at Dak To and Loc Ninh were diversions yet part of the offensive.  He would also tell them that while he couldn’t put a number on just how many troops were coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail, he could tell them that many of them were specialists in medicine, ordinance, transportation and signals (Tran Van Chien debriefing: Combined Military Interrogation Center, #C-488, 21 November, 1967).   There were also material indications that something was in the wind. Fighting had tapered off in the latter half of 1967 but the number of trucks coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail had increased. According to the US’ Periodic Intelligence Report for October, 1967, on average about 480 trucks left North Vietnam and headed south each month. (p.7).   But in October more than 1,100 trucks were counted. In November the number climbed to 3,823, and in December the figure was over 6,300 (PERINTREP, December, 1967, 5-6).   The trucks carried troops, medical supplies, food and weapons.  Some of those weapons were stashed in locations near South Vietnam’s major metropolitan areas.  In October, allied units operating east of Saigon unearthed one of those caches.  Howitzers, recoilless rifles, mortars, machine guns plus ammunition and medical supplies were recovered (PERINTREP, October, 1967, 4).  MACV forces operating in the Mekong Delta also recovered a significant number of AK-47s and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), while marines near the US airbase at Da Nang captured a complete 122-mm rocket launcher (Command History, 1967).   The location of these caches might have said something about enemy intentions.

In November, 1967 MACV’s PSYOP Study Group issued a report on “Psychological Operations Intelligence in Vietnam”.  “Intelligence information”, it said, “ is being collected and reported at all levels from a variety of sources, including interrogations of prisoners of war and Chieu Hoi returnees, translations of captured enemy documents, translations of enemy radio broadcasts and press articles, clandestine agent reports, enemy materiel reports, field observer reports and unclassified publications.  Add to that data gleaned from aerial reconnaissance and electronic sensors deployed throughout the country to track enemy movements, and the total daily intelligence digest amounted to over 1,500 pages per day (p.  4).  Those records might have indicated that enemy defections had fallen off;  that there was increased traffic down the Ho Chi Minh Trail; that the convoys contained material and personnel which could be used for a major offensive;  that  caches of  equipment had been discovered in key locations around South Vietnam; that the enemy would launch a number of diversionary operations along the borders of Laos and Cambodia; and that much of this had been confirmed either from prisoner debriefs or the analysis of captured documents.  How would this information be used? More importantly, would this information be used effectively?

James Wirtz, author of The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failures in War wrote that in wartime, combatants engage in active or passive efforts to mislead an opponent about one’s capabilities or intentions.  In preparing for Tet, he said, “the communists used both active and passive deceptive strategies to mislead the allies about the location of the offensive and to hide preparations for the coming attacks” (p.3).   If the US and its allies were caught by surprise during Tet, he argued, it was because they were unable to complete the ‘Intelligence Cycle’ which consisted of information collection, analysis, response and dissemination of warning (p.4).   Also, determining what was accurate or inaccurate information, or what Wirtz described as signals versus noise required careful attention, especially if the goal was to refine raw intelligence into something credible which could be acted upon in an appropriate and timely manner.

The problems in separating signals from noise were numerous, and in some cases were hampered by both cultural and institutional shortcomings.  U.S. and allied forces had enjoyed a successful 1967 military campaign during which they significantly increased the amount of territory and people under government control.  The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong had been forced back, mauled and punished by big unit sweeps and supported by coordinated air campaigns and artillery strikes.  Wirtz suggests the US may have sensed that the end was now in sight, and a culture of victory based on material progress made it hard for the intelligence community to convince the military that the noise it was hearing, represented by a fading enemy presence, was not a true signal, but part of a suite of strategies of deception used in preparation for renewed military action.

Wirtz reports the US may have also misinterpreted  North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap’s September, 1967 essay  “The Big Victory, The Great Task”  as nothing more than continued support of protracted warfare when in fact it made the case for the Tet Offensive (p. 56).  At the same time Hanoi and the Soviet Union signed a new military aid agreement (Hanoi had concluded a similar pact with China), yet Wirtz argues the US did not interpret this trade agreement as evidence of enemy preparations to launch a major offensive (p. 151).   It also turns out that one of the enemy’s active strategies of deception was to conduct operations near the DMZ and the Laotian border in an attempt to draw US and allied forces away from urban areas.  The cultural perceptions separating combatants and non-combatants was never more clearly demonstrated than in the fact that CIA analysts had pieced together enough evidence to predict the Tet Offensive months before the attacks unfolded (p. 13).  The cornerstone of the analysis, that the enemy was in dire straits and was taking desperate action to regain the initiative, was seen by the US military as proof its tactical policies were working.

Institutionally, the mechanisms by which allied forces could have separated signals from noise may also not have been responding.  The MACV PSYOP Study Group’s own findings concluded that “psychological operations intelligence is conducted at a low level of effectiveness in Vietnam because of problems related to collection, dissemination, retrieval, personnel utilization,  and the magnitude, misdirection and lack of influence of the analytical effort” (p.1).   The study cited a host of institutional problems, which included a lack of trained personnel and a bureaucratic bottleneck which required all raw intelligence to go through Saigon before being disseminated. The delay in dissemination was also aggravated because the  material, once vetted was transferred to microfilm, rendering it useless to field units which didn’t have a way to read it in that format.

The fact that the number of ralliers to the Chieu Hoi program dropped off in the latter half of 1967 is indisputable.  What can be disputed is the reason why.  MACV argued that tactical operations were responsible for the number of defectors crossing over between January and June.  It had conducted a number of major military operations not only around Tet but also later in the spring.  As combat operations tapered off, it reasoned, so would defections, which they interpreted as a sign the enemy was on its last legs.  JUSPAO had made a major PSYOP effort during 1967.   It argued the combination of military pressure and psychological appeals seemed to work, but when one side didn’t hold up its end, the overall effort suffered.  A report coming out of the JUSPAO Planning Office, PSYOPS in Vietnam; Indications of Effectiveness, had pegged the number of returnees during the first quarter at 9,746,the highest first quarter return since JUSPAO had become involved with the program.  But the numbers tailed off after that. Ralliers from July through December were roughly half of what they were from January through June.   And though the numbers for July and August were a respectable 2,131 and 1,448, respectively, November netted only 960 and December just 889 (Command History 1967).   While the enemy may have succeeded in implementing tighter control over its forces to reduce defections, the real implications of the PSYOPS analysis was the fact that once the one-two punch of combat operations and coordinated PSYOP activity stopped, defection numbers fell, and the lull may have given the enemy a chance to regroup (Chieu Hoi Program: 1967 Year End Report). Despite the mitigating circumstances, the report went on to mention that nearly a third of the 27,178 ralliers were what the Rand Corporation classified as “political”, i.e., individuals who were infrastructure cadre or party organization workers.   Analysts looking at the interviews went beyond the data indicating which appeal seemed to work best on hungry and hounded soldiers, and focused instead on responses which hinted at a planned general offensive (Wirtz, 1991).   All of the facts conformed to Wirtz’s contention that the VC employed active and passive deceptive strategies in preparation for the 1968 Tet Offensive by muddying the intelligence stream with a mixture of signals and noise with which to stymie and confuse the allies.

The devil is always in the details. But there were clues to the Tet Offensive, and Hoi Chanhs provided them.  But the evidence was muddied and sometimes tainted by a South Vietnamese government which couldn’t make up its mind about how to treat and use Hoi Chanhs, a US government which while welcoming the progress made by PSYOPS personnel to win enemy hearts and minds still saw Vietnam as a war in which body counts trumped everything else, and a military caught between trying to win hearts and minds and winning a war altogether.

About the Author

John Morello is a Senior Professor of History at the DeVry University Journal of Scholarly Research.
Address correspondence to John Morello at


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Nathan, Reuben. “Psychological Warfare: Key to Success in Vietnam.” Military Review, April, 1968, 19-28.


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Bairdain, Ernest F., Edith M. Bairdain. Semi-Annual Report: Psychological Operations Studies – Vietnam. Washington, D.C.: Advanced Research Projects Agency, April 1970.

Barger, Major Michael G. “Psychological Operations Supporting Counterinsurgency:  4th PSYOP Group in Vietnam”.  Master’s Thesis, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College: Ft. Leavenworth, KS, 2007.

Beck, William J.  Senior Officer Debriefing Program: Report of Lieutenant Colonel William J. Beck. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, Office of the Adjutant General, 31 January 1969.

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Combined Military Interrogation Center #1622: Debrief of Nguyen Van Thuy, 28 September 1967. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Vietnam Center Archive.

_______ #C-488: Debrief of Tran Van Chien, 21 November 1967. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University Vietnam Center Archive.

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________. “Periodic Intelligence Report”, July, 1967.

________. “Periodic Intelligence Report”, January, 1968.

Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam: “Critique of US Psywar by Political Staff Department, SVNLA”, February 1969.

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 _________________, Lessons Learned, Period Ending 30 April 1968. Washington, D.C. Department of the Army, Office of the Adjutant General, 15 July 1968.

Headquarters, 10th Psychological Operations Battalion, Operational Report – Lessons Learned, Period Ending 31 January 1970. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, Office of the Adjutant General, 19 May 1970.

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_________. Command History; United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam 1966 (with change 1). Saigon: USMACV Military History Branch, 30 June 1967.

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__________. Chieu Hoi Newsletter: Issue No. 7. Saigon: Office of Civil Operations, Chieu Hoi Division, 27 April 1967.

__________. “Critique of US Psywar by Political Staff Department”, SVNLF, February 1969.

___________. “Strategic Research and Analysis Division:  VC Efforts to disrupt the Chieu Hoi Program”.  Dec 22, 1969.

____________. “Vietnam PSYOP Study Group: Report on Psychological Intelligence Operations in Vietnam”. November, 1967.

National Security Agency. National Security Action Memorandum 362: Responsibility for U.S. Role in Pacification, May 9, 1967. N.p. n.d.

US Army Institute for Military Assistance, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Program of Instruction for Psychological Operations Officer Course, August, 1973.