• When the roof fell in: Counterinsurgency in South Vietnam, 1961-1963

      Jackson, Donna; McLay, Keith; Poole, Darren (University of Chester, 2019-07-23)
      According to Sir Robert Thompson, the beginning of the 1960s saw ‘the roof fall in’ across South Vietnam. This was because the military campaign being waged against the Viet Cong began to falter and collapse. This thesis examines the period from 1961 to 1963 and focusses in particular on the Strategic Hamlet Programme implemented by Ngo Dinh Diem’s South Vietnamese government. The research assesses the impact of the strategic hamlets on South Vietnam and argues that the programme needs to be re-evaluated. The thesis will claim that although the strategic hamlets are often considered to be a failure, this is an incomplete picture of events at this time: a re-assessment of the strategy is long overdue. In fact, when executed correctly, the Strategic Hamlet Programme was effective and was damaging the Viet Cong insurgency. However, this also led to its downfall. A concept termed ‘Paradoxical Duality’ will be introduced to help explain this process. This theory argues that the hamlets could simultaneously be both a success and a failure. Essentially, the more the hamlets protected the people, the greater the alienation they caused within rural Vietnam; the more they damaged the insurgency, the more violent the insurgent response. In effect, the success of the programme contributed to its own destruction. What gives this thesis its niche within the historiography is that it combines the views of the Viet Cong, the Vietnamese people and the American Military into a coherent, evaluative whole. A feature of the research is the way in which it uses captured guerrilla documentation to present its argument. The views of the Vietnamese fighting ‘on the ground’ are essential to this thesis because they provide an alternative perspective to the established, Western-dominant historiography and American-centric accounts of the war. The thesis will show that the Strategic Hamlet Programme was well-planned, was hurting the Viet Cong and was an effective counterinsurgency measure in large parts of the country. It will also examine the insurgent response, show how they held the advantage when it came to winning popular support and discuss why the counterinsurgent forces were, despite their successes, unable to alter the direction of the conflict. In addition, the thesis will examine the way in which so many well intentioned initiatives had counterproductive outcomes. Ultimately, the thesis will argue that the Strategic Hamlet Programme was a missed opportunity. It created the conditions for military success. However, the Diem regime and its American allies were unable to build upon these achievements and claim victory in the wider war.