The Vietnam War: Winning Hearts and Minds

Tuylon, South Vietnam

23 August, 1967
John Pilger

In mid-1966 the US inaugurated “pacification” campaigns, isolating villages to protect them from guerillas, and spraying vast areas to defoliate trees that might provide cover for the Vietcong.

When Sergeant Melvin Murrell and his company of United States Marines drop by helicopter into the village of Tuylon, west of Danang, with orders to sell “the basic liberties as outlined on page 233 of the Pacification Programme Handbook: and at the same time win the hearts and minds of the people (see same handbook, page 86 under WHAM) they see no one: not a child or a chicken. The population has watched them come out of the sky, and most of them have returned to the paddies or stand silent in the shadows of their houses.

“Come on out, we’re your friends,” Sergeant Murrell shouts through a loud-hailer, in English.

“Come on out, everybody, we got rice and candy and toothbrushes to give you,” he coos in the hot silence.

“Listen, either you gooks come out from wherever you are or we’re going to come in there and get you,” he jokes, as soldiers at war are given to joke.

So the people of Tuylon come out from wherever they are and queue to receive packets of bulk supplies of US “miracle rice: Uncle Ben’s brand, and Hershey chocolate bars and 7000 toothbrushes, which come in four colours, and comics for the children – Superman, etc. – and in a separate, almost touching little ceremony, the district chief is presented with four yellow, portable, battery-operated flush lavatories.

“If these are right for your requirements,” says Sergeant Murrell, “there will be more where they came from.” And when it is all over and the children cheer on cue, Sergeant Murrell notes in his log of the day: “At first, they did not appear to understand that we had come to help them. However, they were persuaded otherwise, and at this time they are secured and on our side. I believe they respect our posture of strength and humanity. I believe the colonel will be pleased.”

The Marines with whom I have come to Tuylon are called a CAC unit, which stands for combined Action Company, which means their role is both military and civil. First, a CAC unit moves into a village and “protects” it – whether or not the villagers have asked to be protected – with trenches and booby traps and barbed wire. Then they declare the village “friendly” and set about selling “the basic liberties as outlined on page 233 of the Pacification Programme Handbook” to old men and young men, women and children.

There is, however, a problem. The United States Marines would rather fight the Vietnamese than sell them the basic liberties and win their hearts and minds. “I’ll say this for these people,” says Murrell, “they do what they’re told. I guess it’s like I always say: whoever’s got the guns calls the tune.”


Tuylon, one week later:

Colonel Richard Trueball has arrived “Well slap my mouth, it sure is good to see you, sir!” says Sergeant Murrell.

“How is everything here, Murrell? How is the hygiene programme coming along? Toothbrushes, toilets cause an impact?”

“Yes indeedie, sir. Toothbrushes went down an dandy but as for gettin’ them to go to the bathroom and all that – well, I’m afraid these people been doin’ it other ways for thousands of years and they seem to like it that way.”

The colonel thinks.

“Never say die, Murrell. I’ll send you in a portable shower unit on Thursday.”

“Yes, sir!”

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