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Winter Soldier

Testimony given in Detroit, Michigan, on January 31, 1971, February 1 and 2, 1971

Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.

Part II

MODERATOR. I may have a problem with the other panelists, trying to follow this. Thank you, Dr. Spellman, thank you very much. Jim Clark?

CLARK. It's going to be a pretty hard act to follow. I'm reminded of a story that was told about Sam Rayburn one time when a young representative had just addressed the House. He got down and said, "What did you think of what I said?" And Rayburn said, "What you had to say was both new and interesting. But unfortunately, what you had to say that was new, wasn't interesting, and what you had to say that was interesting, wasn't new." And I'm afraid that's the boat I'm in. Before I get into my remarks, just addressing myself shortly to some of the things that Dr. Spellman has said reminds me--when I was in Phu Yen, I was new in the country-- this was back in '66. I went out to a refugee camp. The conditions were really deplorable. There were about 3,000 people living on a sandspit in tin huts with rooms about eight-by-eight with seven people in each room. There was a reception camp with buildings that were about forty feet long, and twenty feet wide with 400 to 500 people in each-- impossible as that sounds, but it was true. I went out there, and I was really depressed about the situation. I thought there must be something we can do. The first thing that struck my mind was that I was going to build some latrines, some outhouses for these people, because I noticed they were defecating out on the side, across the road. So I went off and I got some barrels (because you couldn't dig a hole in the sand) and I put these barrels into the ground. I got some people to help and we built a cement block house with a tin roof on it.

I came back a couple of days later and these places were locked up. I went to the fellow who was in charge of each area, and I said, "Why have you locked up these latrines, these wonderful things that I've built?" And he took me over and he opened them up and there was rice inside. And he said, "You know, you Americans are a strange breed. In the first place, such a fine structure makes a much better place to keep my rice, which is much more important to me than a place where I can defecate. You probably never thought of it, but if you defecate in one place all the time, it's going to smell. And besides that, if you continue it, eventually you're going to have to clean that up. Besides that, the way that you defecate, sitting up like that, it's very uncomfortable. If you squat it's healthier and you'll appreciate it better. In the last place, closing yourself up in a room...it smells, all you look at is a blank wall. At least when I go across the road I can contemplate, I can look across the horizon." I went home and I started thinking about that and I thought, maybe we could get an AID [Agency for International Development] mission to the United States to teach us how to defecate.

The refugee situation in Vietnam is deplorable. Perhaps levity is out of place. But often, when something is this bad, you find yourself reacting in such a way that you have to treat some of the tragedy that you see in this manner to be able to accept it. I'll briefly go over the reasons for the generation of refugees in Vietnam, where they're located, who the refugees are and some of the economic implications that Dr. Spellman has already referred to. One observer of the Asian scene writing in the Southeast Asian Quarterly a while back, referred to Vietnam--American involvement there--as the rape of Vietnam. I contend that perhaps rape is too strong a word. In reality, probably what actually happened (to use a simile) would be that it's more like a young fellow who dated the girl across the tracks. And through a backseat affair, got her pregnant. Later on he decided that she was really quite worthless, a dirty little girl full of corruption and other things. But unfortunately he had got her pregnant, and now he faced the problem of trying to find an honorable way out of his predicament. I don't know what all the errors are in relation to our involvement with Vietnam, but there have been several. And I don't know how we can get out of this problem. Between 1964 and the fall of 1969, the American effort in Vietnam, directly or indirectly, produced an internal generation of refugees, which was on a level probably unknown before in the world. Twenty-five percent, to use some estimates, of the entire population of the country have been displaced.

The estimates run anywhere from two million and on up. The agrarian economic base of the country has been destroyed. The cultural identity factors of the population have been severely strained. Health and welfare problems, totally beyond the experience of the Vietnamese in terms of the extended family and the nature of the people to generally solve their own problems, have been spawned. We're facing a problem now where we're going to leave. We're picking up our toys and we're going home. And we're going to leave this country ravaged. An investigation of the nature of the refugee problem and how the problem affects the economic base of the country may result in a perspective which may be beneficial in evaluating the current state of affairs. Who are the refugees? Where are the refugees from? Where are the refugees currently located? And what may we expect in terms of the refugees in the future? Traditional discussions of Vietnam generally begin with the migration of refugees from the North. In 1954 some 900,000 people did leave; some 700,000 of these people were Catholics. They had the benefits of an educational system; they had money. When they came to South Vietnam, their resettlement was not that difficult a problem. This group also, this original group, is distinguished by the fact that they, unlike the people who would become refugees later, did make a choice. To borrow a popular phrase among propagandists, they voted with their feet. They made a choice and came South.

This cannot be said of the vast majority of the 2.5 million people who were to follow them. The refugee camps and towns in the provincial capitals today are swollen by people who once populated the rural areas of the country. Dan Ronk, an experienced Vietnam observer, wrote recently that the peasant population who left their ancestral homes and livelihood to seek refuge in the cities represent at least 80% of the total number of persons who once populated the farms and rice paddies. Ronk reasoned that this displacement was by the design of the American military. Reasoning that the Chinese revolution serves as a base for revolution in Asia, Mr. Ronk assumed that Mao's dictum regarding the revolutionary forces as a fish in a sea of people, was a determining factor in American military planning. By denying the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese elements the environment to wage war, victory could be achieved. It is doubtful in my mind that American policy makers would admit to such special warfare methods. However, the fact that so much of the war population was displaced, lends credence to this concept. The argument suggested by Mr. Ronk of total premeditation of refugee generation is weakened by the diversity of reasons given by refugees for their eventual migration.

The principal aim of the military was to seek out and destroy the Viet Cong. To achieve this end, the enemy were bombed, shelled, deprived of their supplies of food and medicine, and continually harassed. In the process, many noncombatant civilians were made to suffer; either at the hands of American and allied forces, or at the hands of NLF and North Vietnamese military units. An analysis of the reasons given by the refugees themselves finds that they are divided in their reasons for leaving. The causal agents of movement differed from area to area. The degree of enemy activity and the degree of allied action in response to the activity were important determinants. The pattern which was normally adhered to was an air drop of leaflets encouraging the population in NLF-controlled areas to evacuate. However, an analysis of movement based on refugee interviews would imply that the leaflets served more to ease the conscience of allied forces engaged in future action than to actually result in refugee generation or migration.

Planning for refugee generation may have been unrealistic in expecting persons to leave their homes and livelihood and their extended families for migrations to areas of high unemployment and, in some cases, local hostility. If military leaflet-dropping was unrealistic, as surveys seem to indicate, the resulting deaths and casualties raise some questions as to the morality of allied actions. The assumption that persons not leaving free fire zones were enemies also was a generalization having severe moral implications. The hostility toward refugees by urbanites went beyond urban-rural conflict. Refugees were, in many cases, the families of NLF forces. Assistance to such people was often viewed negatively by Vietnamese government personnel as aid to dependent enemy. I had a conversation with a province chief in Phu Yen one day. He was quite blunt with me and he expressed the opinion, "Why should I help these people, who have sons and fathers out fighting in the countryside and who, if they had the opportunity, would slice my throat?" I tried to convince him, of course, at that time, that if he'd start acting like a decent human being towards these people and accepting them as people, the situation might change around. Persons living in enemy-controlled areas could be encouraged to leave directly or indirectly. A direct movement would result from forced movement, where allied forces would be airlifted into an area, round up residents and airlift them out. Though this was not a common method, it did occur from time to time. Notable examples would be the Iron Triangle Operation of 1967 and several efforts in the DMZ in the North.

Refugees might also be encouraged to leave through heavy military bombardment or artillery. Among refugees in Vinh Long Province in the Delta, about 20% of all families had either experienced wounds or deaths in their families as a result of allied artillery. In Phu Yen Province 18% listed such artillery as reasons for their becoming refugees. Direct intervention resulting in refugee movement would also include instigation of battle or conflict in densely populated areas. Eight percent of the Vinh Long refugees and 4% of the Phu Yen refugees listed family deaths, or deaths of neighbors in such battles, as reasons for their migrations. Approximately one- fourth of the refugees in Phu Yen cited ground military operations as a primary motive for their decision to move. When artillery ground operations and forced movement are added together as causal factors, the total percentage represented is 47.2% Thus about half of all the refugees were generated by direct intervention of American and allied forces. This group cannot be said to have voted with their feet. The indirect generation of refugees results from allied pressure on NLF forces to a level that causes the enemy to increase demands on the local population to a degree which becomes intolerable to some members of the population. The bombing of supply routes and the fire power brought down upon NLF and North Vietnamese forces resulted in shortages of both personnel and supplies.

As tax rates and the drafting of local youth is on the upswing, the potential degree of dissatisfaction with the occupying forces will increase. In Phu Yen, about 30% of the refugees listed coercive activities and general hardships from VC activities as the primary cause for their decision to move. It should be acknowledged that the situation in other provinces would be different in accordance with the variables related to the degree of allied activity, religion and the period of time that any particular faction was in control. The second form of indirect movement would be those persons who migrated to urban areas to take advantage of specialized local economic advantages. In Phu Yen the construction of a large airbase offered high-paying day labor jobs to women and older men. Persons who could only be marginally employed in rural areas found employment in areas where there were large concentrations of allied forces. Prostitution, laundry services, truck and vehicle washing services, and snack bars were primary examples of such new entrepreneur vocations. Seven point two percent of the Phu Yen refugees listed economic and social reasons for their reasons for movement.

The final category of movement cannot be assigned to either direct or indirect allied involvement. In hamlets and villages which were only marginally controlled by the Saigon government there occurred constant reprisals and terror against government and Vietnam officials. School teachers, health officials, and any functionary of the government was endangering himself and his family by remaining in insecure areas. Nighttime assassinations and abductions were quite common. In Phu Yen 16.5% of the refugees could be so classified. The reliability of this data gathered must be questioned to some degree in terms of the faction which was responsible for taking the interviews. A Hawthorne effect, or an effect of people saying what you want them to say, is obviously probably at work here. When we tried the same forms with non-refugees, as to why their neighbors had left the countryside, 95% gave Viet Cong action as the primary reason. Though solid argument in support of Mr. Ronk's theory seems inappropriate, the results in terms of denying food, labor and a tax base to the insurgents, are partially confirmed from our interviews. Fifteen percent of the refugees reported threats by the Viet Cong against them if they were to seek refuge in government areas. There are also on record several refugee hamlets which suffered from attack by the Viet Cong. The reasons for the attack were not always clear. In some cases the reasons were related to the population turning against the Viet Cong infrastructure members. In others, the Viet Cong were attempting to get farmers to resume planting and harvesting rice crops necessary to the food supply. In summary, one can assume that several variables played a contributing factor to refugee generation. Fear of either allied or Viet Cong forces are represented in approximately 90% of the refugee population. It would appear unrealistic to view the refugees as totally committed to either of the contending factions. Their eventual reasons for migration were rooted in their concern for their personal security, not because of political ideology. Persons who became refugees were not all located in government subsidized camps. People with relatives in the cities, with saleable skills, with cash savings often avoided the horrors of camp life and resettled themselves. Conversely, the people who lacked vocational skills, who lacked contacts in urban areas, who possessed no cash savings and, most of all, who had no wage earner in the family, tended to populate the official refugee camp. The persons seeking assistance in the refugee camps (and who would eventually number close to two million persons) were those members of society who would most likely be assigned to the lowest socioeconomic realm of society.

If we look at a breakdown of the age groups of the people who were in these camps, we find that in the age range 20-45, males are outnumbered by females by 50%. The females in the 20-24 age group are underrepresented in terms of the total population. Among children and young people, the males slightly outnumber the females. As a percentage of the total the under twenty-one group represents nearly 50% of the total population. The fact that over 50% of the population is under twenty could be expected from similar studies of other emerging nations. However, the population distribution may be important in terms of the future economic state of the country, and the government expectation related to future refugee conditions. What inference can we make from the demographic make-up of the in-camp population? To begin with, we might note that the large base of children associated with the population pyramid is characteristic of rapidly expanding populations. Past population statistics seem to confirm this trend. The next growth rate of Vietnam has been estimated to be from 1-2%. However, considering the large number of children in refugee camps, we must assume that there is a higher birth rate amongst the refugee camps than outside. Concerning the growth of Vietnam, population-wise, it has grown rather rapidly. In 1937 the population of South Vietnam was only four and a half million people. In 1959 it was 13.8 million. And we can expect from statistical progression ratios that by 1994 the population of Vietnam will approach thirty million people. The distribution of the sexes, combined with our knowledge of their former rural locations, seems to suggest that many of the males remained behind in the rural areas. Presumably, since these areas were controlled by the NLF, many of the persons absent from the population are probably troops with the NLF. Thus, the hostility of many government officials, particularly military officers toward dependent enemy, merits some consideration. An occupation survey among persons in refugee camps in 1967 found 3,000 persons, out of a sample of 62,000 adults, listing their occupation as soldier. If we assume that approximately half are males, we can assume that one in ten males are soldiers; this would be about one-half of the national average. Therefore, the other half must be someplace else. Prior to assuming that all males absent who are not represented in the population are Viet Cong, one could consider that many have been killed in prior allied engagements or artillery bombardments. Such deaths would contribute to the welfare status of in-camp refugees in that there is no wage earner in the family.

The evidence at this point would seem to suggest that the missing male population is either dead, has remained behind to work the family field, has become a fighting member of the NLF, or is part of the government forces. The rural origins of the typical refugee family create the expectation that most former refugees followed a farming vocation. This expectation was confirmed by an occupational survey administered in 1967. Most former refugees followed farming as their primary form of occupation. The survey covered 113,000 people and the results bore out the agricultural emphasis. At the same time that the occupational survey was made, persons interviewed were asked if they desired to learn a new trade. Nine out of ten said they weren't interested in doing that because they wanted to go back to the countryside. Seventy-three percent of those interviewed expressed a desire to return to their original villages. When asked when they would return, they indicated they would return when the war was over or when it was secure and safe from both of the contending factions. Returning to the demographic data mentioned earlier, we can see that the number of family heads, traditionally the elders of the extended families, may not be fully appreciative of contrary desires by younger members of their families. That is, after you've seen Nah Trang, who wants to go back to the farm? With over 50% of the members being young persons, there is reason to believe that many of the people will have no desire to return to the life of the rural areas.

Many of the refugees have been away from their former homes for periods of four years or more. In October of 1965, there were over 700,000 refugees. Studies of rural-urban migration indicate a positive correlation of time in urban participation. The longer one remains in an urban area, particularly after two years, the greater one's involvement and identity with the urban structure. It is unlikely that these people will want to go back and farm the fields. Other factors mitigating against a return of the refugee population to the farming areas are continued insecurity or future insecurity as the allied troop withdrawal continues. In that current land reform measures require that a person receiving title be farming the land, some farmers may return to find that the land they once farmed as tenants now belongs to someone else. These factors which mitigate against the return of refugees to their homes may be crucial to the future of the country. The government policy towards refugees has always been one of assuming that one day the refugees will return and the problem will evaporate. If refugees do not return, or if a substantial number remain in the cities, problems of welfare and urban slums will no doubt continue.

Posters have begun to appear in Vietnam and in refugee areas encouraging refugees to return to their villages. The reasons go beyond the urban problems of welfare and overcrowding. Crops are not being planted, and the country's important economic base crop, rice, is in need of labor capital. In addition, security in the countryside requires a population from the urban areas, who can reasonably be expected to support the central government. The final consideration, which would appear to confirm the fact that many refugees will not be returning to their rice fields is related to a political decision made by the United States government in 1968. Reacting in part to increased pressures from voluntary agencies, the press, and Senator Edward Kennedy's Refugees Subcommittee, a decision was made to reclassify refugee camps, which had received all of the assistance required by law, as having been resettled into New Life hamlets. What this meant was that after receiving a cash payment, so many sacks of cement, so many sheets of roofing, and having met communal requirements related to a classroom for every hundred children and one toilet for every twenty families, the refugee camps were delisted. The degree of this type of delisting of refugees can be seen in noting that in the first ten months of 1968, 168,000 refugees were resettled on location, as compared to 86,000 who were listed as having returned to their villages.

The process was guaranteed to reduce the number of refugees. Unfortunately the condition of the refugee, his future and the future of the country were not considered. It would be like if we had a welfare program in the States and we said, "Well, we'll give everyone $100 and after that we'll say that he's not welfare any more." It's just totally unrealistic. One can imagine the tragedy of this measure if similar government measures were to be incorporated into the welfare programs we have for the poor in the United States. The actual location of the refugee camps should also be mentioned as a factor in understanding the social and economic impact of the problem. The most populated areas of the country, the area around Saigon and the Delta area, account for only 20% of the refugees. The northern areas of the country account for the remainder. In part, this relates to the firmer hold by the NLF and North Vietnamese units in that part of the country, and the greater intensity of fighting in the area. Unfortunately, the economic potentiality of the northern area is extremely limited. The topography of the north is mountainous and severe.

And what land that is available for cultivation is highly prized. As the refugees flooded into the secure provincial capitals it became impossible to employ them or to assist them by providing land on which they might farm. In the majority of cases the refugees were placed upon barren, uncultivatable land. To return to the free fire zones was impossible and employment locally was equally impossible. Unemployment rose from a level of .8% before migration began to a post-migration level of 33.4%. Only 2% of the refugees from Phu Yen province continued to earn an income from farming. Among those who were able to find employment, many were forced to accept wages substantially lower than they earned before becoming refugees. In Phu Yen, income levels average 50% lower than pre-migration income levels, the average wage being about thirty cents a day. Thus, the location of refugees was a primary factor leading to high unemployment.

Summing up our knowledge of the refugee family, our profile would suggest that the average refugee is a farmer who sought refuge from indirect or direct allied action and is not stressing a political preference when he migrates. When he arrives in the secure area he will not be able to farm, will face some political hostility, will probably be a child, an old person, or a female, be unemployed, or marginally employed. In addition, the period he will remain in a refugee camp will be an extended one, greater than two years. His chances of being administratively resettled are greater than his chances of returning home. The true economic impact of the refugee problem has not yet been felt in Vietnam. The reason for this is because great volumes of United States dollar support of the government of Vietnam, in a wartime private or indirect report factor, related to United States military factor, related to United States military expenditures and construction and services to well- paid allied forces, is in effect. The pre-war economy of Vietnam was like many Asian countries a two-crop agrarian economy. There were other exports, including some tea. But rubber production from French rubber plantations and rice production from the Mekong Delta were predominant. The effects of the war on South Vietnam's exports cannot be minimized. In 1961 South Vietnam's exports were valued at $76 million. By 1964 the export values were down to $48 million. In '65, again down to $35 million. In '66 down to $20 million. In 1967 a brief increase in exports took place, but was followed by a further decline in exports in '68. Rice became an import in 1965. Where South Vietnam had exported $33 million worth of rice in 1964, it imported $15 million worth in 1969. Rubber production fell from an export dollar value of $43 million in 1961 to $8 million in 1968. As production and exports fell, the dollar deficit expanded and foreign exchange reserves fell.

To function the government of Vietnam became more dependent on the United States. In 1969, the American government was underwriting, directly or indirectly, 60% of the South Vietnamese budget. The form that this aid to South Vietnam took was in indirect and direct aid. Direct aid was generally either food for freedom imports, or support of the costly commercial import program. The commercial import program allows Vietnamese citizens to purchase foreign goods with piasters. The piaster, being inflated by increased government issue of notes, and the absence of domestic articles to buy with monies being generated by American Forces, is thus made valuable. The United States government would use dollars to purchase consumer items and sell the items to the Vietnamese government at favorable exchange rates. The government would then sell the items to the local citizens. The indirect gain offered by the United States was similar to that generated in tourist economics. By waging a war that destroyed the normal source of export income, the economic base was changed radically. The new export item was similar to that offered by college towns or small down-state capitals in the United States. Vietnam was dependent upon GIs spending money on the local economy. If the GIs are to be withdrawn, the economic export item would evaporate and the country would be without any base to support the economy, except monies received through direct aid. Generally, by being dependent upon GIs, as you withdraw the GI (and having done away with the rice and rubber export crops) the Vietnamese economy no longer has anything to have its roots in. And the people who once did the farming, as I pointed out earlier, cannot go back nor can we expect them to go back and get the rice crops and the rubber crops going. I think that when we recognize these factors, these statistics, boring as they are, do point out that the future of Vietnam is in very serious trouble. The people have been uprooted, their culture has been destroyed, the extended family has been severely broken up, we have overcrowding in the cities and tremendous slums. Saigon has grown from a city of 600,000 in 1960 to close to three million today with people living in the streets. There is no future hope, economically, that these people are going to get back on their feet in the immediate future. I suggest that we have a very serious problem in Vietnam that we have not given consideration to. In our rush to get out, in our desire to get out, I ask those of you who think on this to consider, when we do leave, what we are leaving behind and is there anything that we can do? Is there any way that we can get out? I don't think we know what we are doing there or we haven't proven that we have. Is there any way that we can get out and help these people? Is there anything that we can do other than leave this tragedy?

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