Civic Action, as I define it in my book Expendable Elite, is “The use of American and local military, paramilitary or irregular forces on projects useful to the local population in such fields as education, training, public works, agriculture, transportation, communications, health, sanitation and others contributing to economic and social development, which also serve to improve the standing of the government with the population.”
The catchy phrase “Winning the Hearts and Minds of the People” was used very effectively during Special Forces instruction on Smoke Bomb Hill at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the spring of 1964 to emphasize one of the primary roles of the US Army Special Forces in a counter-insurgency warfare situation such as what we call the Vietnam conflict. It was a war and those of us who were on the ground knew it was a war. That role could include civic action, psychological warfare and military government operations such as was the case with SF Team A-424 which I commanded in the district of An Phu, South Vietnam from 27 December 1965 through 2 August 1966.
Counter-insurgency, as I define it: military, paramilitary, psychological warfare, political, economical and civic actions taken by a government to defeat a subversive insurgency. Conversely, insurgency is a condition resulting from insurrection against a constituted government that falls short of civil war. Insurgencies depend on the insurgents’ ability to enlist the local population, either by fear and intimidation or by convincing that same people their government is evil and self-serving, thereby increasing their numbers, and in doing so, weakening the government’s capabilities.
I like what Hans Halberstadt, in his book Green Berets – Unconventional Warriors: In Action With America’s Elite Fighting Men, (Berkley Books, NY) © 1989, said of the Army’s Special Forces organization: “It is, within the Army, a group of men at the tactical level who are taught to look at conflict in a radically different manner, in subtle political and social ways, at the reasons behind conflict, rather than the popular and sensational reasons found on television or in newspapers.”
You will learn, when you read Expendable Elite, that our team, working with our counterparts in the Vietnamese Special Forces in An Phu, devoted 60% of our day-to-day effort to the business of civic action, psychological warfare and military government operations. Our efforts convinced the 64,000 people of An Phu that we cared about them. We worked to show the central government in Saigon that the Hoa Hao people posed no threat to them, which was what the government once feared. We would, within 30 days of our taking on an “independent warfare operation” role, retake ground that had been occupied by the enemy, provide a high level of security in our area, weed out local insurgents and gain the loyalty of our citizens. They then, without fail, made us aware of any enemy activity, no matter how insignificant, that could adversely affect the people of An Phu.
Colonel Harry L. Corkill, speaking to me when I first reported to be his right hand man in the 82d Airborne Division logistical support center, expressed an “attitude” about dealing with people, telling me what I will never forget: “Marv,” he told me, “loyalty must first go down and then it will bounce back up on its own and you can count on that.”
With that in mind I led my team in serving the people of An Phu in every aspect of our independent operations, keeping their security and welfare uppermost in our daily priorities. Once, having witnessed our loyalty through individual and team actions, the people understood we cared for them and they did all they could to let us experience the reality of their caring for us.
I feel certain that you could ask any American that was in An Phu with me what it was like to go out on a combat patrol with the Hoa Hao irregulars, one of the most likely responses would be to tell you, “the Viet Cong would‘ve had to have shot me in the head because our “strikers” virtually surrounded me to protect me whenever those bullets started flying.” You be the judge: Did we win the hearts and minds of the people?