Vietcong Recruitment: Why and how people joined

Viet Cong trainees

Viet Cong recruits practicing bayonet drills.

   Recruitment into the Vietcong involved a complicated process. It was not merely a disgruntled rice farmer picking up a weapon to ambush the nearest South Vietnamese Government force. Throughout the pre-American intervention period and after, recruitment was generally carried out by roving propaganda teams. Their methods were dynamic and applied differently based on the region they operated in and the class of the individual they sought to recruit.[1] These units traveled between villages and gave lectures on the revolutionary movement and often enticed potential recruits with promises of improved living conditions and the potential for education.[2] A report written by John C. Donnell for the RAND corporation interviewed dozens of defectors and POWs in order to analyze Vietcong recruitment trends. The report concluded that recruitment was entirely voluntary until 1963, then the Vietcong began conscription. However, Donnell states that the credibility of the defectors and POWs claiming to have been coerced into serving is suspect, and likely an argument made to avoid harsh punishment.[3] The South Vietnamese Government denied rights to anyone labeled a communist or communist supporter and often subjected them to torture.[4] In addition, higher-ranking cadre members assert that recruitment was voluntary.[5] For example, an assistant platoon leader said that, “The Front never forces people to join its combat forces. In liberated areas, whoever does not join is considered to be a pacifist.”[6] George Tanham, using captured Vietcong and NLF documents, claims that American intervention and the heavy bombing campaigns conducted after 1965 caused the Vietcong to rely on conscription to replenish their growing losses.[7] However, Nguyen Hoa Giai, a former Viet Minh, and Vietcong guerrilla, makes no mention of coercion or conscription during his interview and claims that most people who joined did so with a desire to seek revenge for loved ones who had been killed.[8] So, it seems difficult to determine if conscription was actually used, but given the dynamic nature of Vietcong recruitment, it’s possible that it did occur.

    Before 1963, the Vietcong only recruited young men between the ages of seventeen and thirty, and who had few or no children. In addition, they had strict criteria, recruits could not have worked for the South Vietnamese Government or been members of the civil defense force. They also were required to be physically fit without disease or illness. After 1963, the Vietcong lowered the recruitment requirements and allowed women to work in logistical roles.[9]

    During the Diem regime, Vietcong recruiters urged people to join them in order to safeguard the country by removing the American imperialists who were using Diem as a puppet. A captured guerrilla sums up his recruiter’s message: “He told me the Front brings liberty and social equality to the village people. The duty of the citizens is to participate in the Front to liberate South Vietnam from foreign invasion.” The recruiters associate the villager’s personal problems with their corrupt government and American intervention.[10] The Vietcong often express the same slogan used by the Vietminh to entice people into joining: “Freedom, food, clothing, and happiness.” However, communism did not seem to be a motivating factor for people enlisting. When asked why people joined, one informant said: “those who follow the Vietcong out of faith in communism are extremely rare.”[11] Indeed, none of the interviews in the RAND report even mention communism. Truong Nhu Tang corroborates this and asserts: “As a general rule there was no political indoctrination; Marxist subjects, for example, were never touched upon.” For the Northern Vietnamese troops, however, their educational curriculum differed considerably and were heavily Marxist. Truong said that, “Had we attempted similar indoctrination of the Southern peasant guerrillas, they would have considered it worse torture than the regime could possibly devise for them.”[12]

[1] John C Donnell. Viet Cong Recruitment: Why and How Men Join, 14. (RAND Corporation, 1966).

[2] George K. Tanham Communist Revolutionary Warfare From the Vietminh to the Viet Cong. 55-58 (Frederick A. Praeger, 1967)

[3] John C Donnell. Viet Cong Recruitment: Why and How Men Join, 6. (RAND Corporation, 1966).

[4] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 109, 111-115 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

[5] Ibid. 9

[6] John C Donnell. Viet Cong Recruitment: Why and How Men Join, 10. (RAND Corporation, 1966).

[7] George K. Tanham Communist Revolutionary Warfare From the Vietminh to the Viet Cong. 176 (Frederick A. Praeger, 1967)

[8] Nguyen Hoa Giai interviewed by Evon Symon. “8 Things Vietnam War Movies Leave Out (By an Enemy Soldier)” March 2015

[9] John C Donnell. Viet Cong Recruitment: Why and How Men Join, 9-10. (RAND Corporation, 1966).

[10] Ibid. 23-25

[11] Ibid. 26-27

[12] Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir 164-165 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

Vietcong Recruitment