Thursday, September 24, 2020

Captured Viet Cong Propaganda

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s "Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea" exhibit is home to various propaganda artifacts, such as the one that hangs above the sampan in the Riverine area, which reads: “(1) To the military brothers, don’t listen to the American soldiers. (2) Punji sticks are for the Americans, don’t go in. (3) The military who kills the Americans is patriotic.” This sign was captured by members of the Mobile Riverine Force (Task Force 117). (Naval History and Heritage Command)

By Matthew Headrick
HRNM Educator

In a journal article published in 1973, Lt. Colonel Philip M. Flammer, a professor of military history at Air University and former professor at the USAF Academy, defined the word “propaganda” by quoting the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, who said that propaganda “has nothing to do with truth…. What matters is that it achieves its purposes.” Flammer believed that, during the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese embraced some of the same methodologies put forth previously by the Nazis, formatting it to fit the Communist doctrine. However, the mission was not just to proselytize. Propaganda was a way of spreading fear while giving direct orders, such as to protect against an “other.” The fact is, propaganda was used on both sides with the same goals: to promote an ideal and to protect that ideal through the use of violence.   

Vietnamese propaganda came in many different forms. Propaganda was not just comprised of singular messages about the U.S. “invading army.” Nor could it only be found in pamphlets full of anti-American literature. The Viet Cong often used symbols as propaganda. For example, the lotus flower represented a sort of logic or philosophy about the human condition. Then there was the visually striking Communist iconography: a giant billboard of Ho Chi Minh’s face. Artwork portrayed soldiers fighting on the front lines, emerging victoriously against the opponent.
(Courtesy Dogma Collection via CNN)

For the most part, the state controlled all aspects of the media. This is evident in images such as the one below which reads, “We stand ready to fight by our Vietnamese friends!” It infers that Communists around the world are joined together in fighting the enemy. Not only did these messages incentivize war against the U.S., but they were also meant to direct people's attention towards a particular ideology, a selling point on Communism.
(Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has in its possession numerous propaganda pieces. These artifacts help museum professionals convey a more extensive narrative about the role propaganda played in the Vietnam War. For example, housed at NHHC’s artifact storage facility are the leaflets and banner taken from this Viet Cong propaganda float. The float was captured by PBRs of River Section 523 in the Co Chien River on September 1, 1967. The South Vietnamese had their way of getting messages downriver as well, such as utilizing banana stalks. The U.S. would sometimes resort to floating toy sailboats with messages. 
(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Located in the museum’s Intelligence part of the Vietnam gallery is another piece of North Vietnamese propaganda in the form of a banner which translates to: “We are ready to defeat any night ambush from the RVN stubborn servants.”
(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Also on display at the museum is a two-sided propaganda sign on a piece of wood. On the front, it translates as, “Long live the South Vietnam people’s liberation front, the only and true representative of the people of the south.” On the back side, it reads, “In light of the victory spirit, all young men and women, hold and aim guns straight to the enemies, American puppets, to exterminate them.” 
Front of sign (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Reverse side (Naval History and Heritage Command)

During the Vietnam War, both the U.S. and Viet Cong commonly used radio, posters, signs, symbols, and literature to share their respective messages about the enemy. Today, propaganda is used to influence how we reflect and remember the past, particularly during times of war. Now more than ever, historians are paying close attention to the power of propaganda. Through the study of these types of artifacts, we are better equipped to put conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, into context. Understanding the use of propaganda allows us to gain perspective on more than just the “what,” but the “why” as well. 

No comments: