Monthly Archives: November 2013

The United States Information Services Creates the Việt Cộng

Although I study Southeast Asia quite a bit, I am not an expert of Vietnamese history by any means. In a way, this lack of expertise allows me to get surprised by new information all the time and keeps my job fresh.

Today for example, I came across information that claims the term “Việt cộng” was invented by the United States Information Agency (USIA/USIS) as part of their psychological warfare campaign to support Ngô Đình Diệm, the then president of South Vietnam, and undermine the credibility of the Việt Minh.

USIS Saigon

During the mid-1950s, the United States Information Agency engaged in a program to label all anti- Diệm groups in South Vietnam as communist through the moniker of “Việt Minh.” By associating these groups with communist North Vietnam, the USIA hoped to prevent the anti- Diệm movements from gaining traction. However, labeling these groups as “Việt Minh” was not only incredibly inaccurate, but also carried a positive nationalistic tone that worried many intelligence officers in the field. Moreover, lumping together the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and assorted groups who supported alternative visions of South Vietnam’s future and calling them all communists may have actually increased the very real connections and conflicts between these groups and Vietnamese in the north.

Diem, Vietnam, USISIn late 1955, the USIS post in Saigon came up with the idea to begin calling these groups “Việt cộng” instead, a sort of slang word for communists. They hoped that this might create less positive sentiments among the population in South Vietnam. The first step was to encourage Diệm to use the term in his speeches and correspondences. It also appears that the USIS hired Vietnamese journalists to use the term Việt cộng in local newspapers in hopes that it would become part of the Vietnamese vocabulary. By the end of 1956, the term had caught on back in the United States and was in popular use before the end of the decade.

King Arthur, Twelve Pints of Beer, and the True Origins of Social Networking

One of the first “big boy” books I read as a kid was T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. This Arthurian romance, along with Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal, sat in my parents’ bathroom for years. One day I decided to start reading what seemed to me at the time to be the biggest book ever written. I was surprised at how much it was like Disney’s The Sword in the Stone… who knew books and movies were related? The Once and Future King

In any event, last night I watched The World’s End, a British movie directed by Edgar Wright about five middle-aged friends who seek to finish a quest they began at the end of their high school days. Specifically, they hope to have a pint of beer in twelve different pubs in one evening. Their final destination, The World’s End. The story quickly turns into a combination of an homage to The Once and Future King and a biting critic of British culture (or current lack thereof). All of this is explained, of course, through the rise of (literally) monstrous “social networks.”

It is worth checking. Or at the very least, a great excuse to drink some beers and watch a movie.