In our first hour this week, a detailed look at the Phoenix Program, a systematic effort to undermine social cohesion in South Vietnam, to increase support for the US-backed regime. The eventual failure of the program of mass torture and murder, as Douglas Valentine explains, hasn’t stopped the CIA from refining and re-applying this model to 21st century USA. In our second hour, we consider the Phoenix program as a symptom of what Marshall Rosenberg refers to as ‘enemy images’.
This week, our first hour is Douglas Valentine on the Phoenix Program, from whom we first heard in episode 683. In 1984 he approached William Colby, who ran the program in Vietnam, and later became CIA director, with the idea of writing a book about Phoenix. For some reason, Colby approved of the idea and introduced him to a number of CIA officers. Eventually, Valentine interviewed almost 100 CIA agents, mostly retired. Some of them were candid and spoke at length about their involvement in Phoenix. What emerges from his testimony is an a picture of a broad, amoral program in which the social cohesion was deliberately undermined as a means of social repression.
The most senior Vietnamese, both communist and anti-communist, reached a ‘modus vivendi’ – a form of peaceful co-existence. South Vietnamese who cooperated with the CIA were allowed to indulge in self-enrichment at the expense of the population and to dispense with their personal enemies by the use of ‘Stalinist’ secret courts which had them imprisoned or summarily executed.
Valentine explains, how the CIA sought to control the (generally dissenting) rural population by fear. They relied heavily on informant networks to guide its “counter-terror” teams, who went into villages to assassinate or arrest whose suspected of harboring communist sympathies. Official estimates suggest that Phoenix killed perhaps 30-40,000 people, although Douglas Valentine suggests that this may be an underestimate by an order of magnitude. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned though Stalinist tribunals, in which suspects were tortured and summary executions were often carried out without the accused being allowed to present any kind of defense.
In our second hour, for a breath of fresh air, we begin with a classic speech from April 30, 1967 – Martin Luther King on “Why I am Opposed To The War In Vietnam”. Next we hear from Marshall Rosenberg speaking about the importance of avoiding ‘enemy images’, and the case for restorative rather than retributive justice — a system widely practiced by different cultures around the world.
Next we hear from Martin Wells, a film maker, who was employed in literally creating enemy images. He recounts his experience of working for Bells Pottinger, a P.R. company, creating and editing videos in Baghdad, according to a large contract from the US military. Our last piece, in the second hour, is an example of images used within the US Army – a powerful vision of an “unavoidable” dystopian future for Earth’s megacities.
How long will humanity continue to suffer from these enemy images? Is it too much to hope that maybe in just a few years, the all too real perils such as climate change will assist humanity it laying aside such fictions, the better to concentrate on how we can live well on this planet?
Thanks to Bonnie Faulkner for Guns And Butter, and the Bureau For Investigative Journalism for the Martin Wells interview