Phoenix Program Lessons to Iraq Term Paper

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(MACV Dir 381-41) This document is one of the first confidential memorandums associated with the Phoenix Program, which details in 1967 the mostly U.S. involvement in counterinsurgency intelligence and activities and discusses the future training and development of South Vietnam forces to serve the same function, that had been supported by the U.S. In civilian (mostly CIA) and military roles. The document stresses that the U.S. role is to emit a "shotgun" type injury to the infrastructure of the insurgency, while eventually the South Vietnamese agencies (based largely on existing U.S. forces) that will be developed later hold the responsibility of directing a more "riffle shot" like blast to the core of the movement, i.e. To perform appropriate apprehension and/or assassination of key figure leaders.

Since this time and likely in part as a response to the controversial clandestine actions of the past the U.S. has abandoned assassination as a viable tactic of war. Though some argue that this severely limits the ability of the U.S. To strategically fight war, others argue that this is a strong step toward reconciliation of past wrongs., Douglas Valentine, a leading expert on the Phoenix Program and the collector of the previously classified documents associated with it, brings to the public the idea that from this document written in 1967 one can see the emphasis the U.S. puts on its own role in developing the goals of the program. The document itself provides a table that details the U.S. chain of command in Phoenix but does not show the South Vietnamese adjuncts to the chain of command.

Valentine interprets this as not an oversight but an intentional representation of just how active the U.S. intended to be in this offensive against the VC infrastructure.

From this ideal the Iraqi situation should be directed, but it is also clear that in the circumstances of the day the need for the address and acceptance of many of the accords of the Geneva Convention must apply to the decisions made by both the U.S. And Iraqi officials and subordinates, as with Vietnam decisions made today will haunt the U.S. And Iraq for decades if such accords are ignored or curtailed in any semblance of a directed non-humanitarian manner. The aberrations at Abu Ghraib are proof of this reality, and despite the near constant U.S. assertions that these actions were the actions of a few rouge soldiers, without orders or sanctions for their actions, the truth of the matter will likely never be fully realized by the public, in the U.S. Or in the Middle East, many of whom see such actions as essentially sanctioned by historical breeches in humanitarian policy elsewhere, including but not limited to Vietnam itself.

We may think the similarity between the lynching and prison photos resides in the unabashed picturing of torture and humiliation itself. But more shocking, even, in both sets of photos, are the proud perpetrators whose smug gloating we do not expect to see and who flaunt an appalling shamelessness. This is because we identify the perpetrators as the immediate criminals here, not their prisoners/victims. In both cases, for us, national and international laws against torture and murder are clearly violated, the basic imperatives of humanity and decency dishonored, and the images, like the acts they represent, evoke revulsion at the humiliation and barbarity of it all.

In fact one of the most basic lessons of Vietnam, which we assumed had been learned already was systematically violated by the guards and U.S. officials who built this disturbing repituar of images, being the visual representation of brutality that turned the U.S. public completely against the war in Vietnam. The systematic embedding of press officials within the military occurred in Vietnam as well, but in Iraq there has been a much more aggressive attempt by the U.S. To control the images and experiences of the press, to the point that many claim the images and assignments leave a lot out of the story.

From the beginning, the U.S. government has attempted to censor information about the Iraq war, prohibiting photographs of the coffins of U.S. troops returning home and refusing as a matter of policy to keep track of the number of Iraqis who have been killed....To be sure, this see-no-evil approach is neither surprising nor new. With the qualified exception of the Vietnam War, when images of body bags appeared frequently on the nightly news, American governments have always tightly controlled images of war. There is good reason for this. In war, a picture really is worth a thousand words. No story about a battle, no matter how eloquent, possesses the raw power of a photograph.... Governments keep war hidden because it is hideous. To allow citizens to see its reality -- the shattered bodies, the wounded children, the incomprehensible mayhem -- is to risk eroding popular support for it. This is particularly true with wars that have less than overwhelming popular support to begin with. In the case of Vietnam, battlefield images played an important role in turning the tide of public opinion. And in Iraq, a war whose official justification has turned out to be false, and which a majority of the American people now believe to have been a mistake, the administration would prefer that these grim images never be seen....Moreover, most photographers are embedded with U.S. troops, a situation that imposes its own limits.

The writer of this article notes that there are probably only about 12 U.S. journalists with photographers in Iraq and many are restricted by open admonishments from the military commanders in charge of the U.S. army groups they are imbedded with. The ability of so few restricted individuals to cover the whole of the war is limited and this is fine with the Bush administration, as the desire from the beginning has been to keep the images tightly controlled so that the tide of public opinion will not be swayed by them. So, what we are then left with is a group of pictures (Abu Ghraib), saying even more than they likely meant to the people in them or taking them about the war. Clearly this attempt to control the information flow that is leaving Iraq is an essential aspect of lessons learned regarding the extremes of the images associated with Vietnam, and this was clearly a policy breeched by the gloating soldiers, guards and contract officials associated with the prison at Abu Ghraib.

Even more important in this perception were some visual images from the camera lens. The famous picture of the Buddhist priest burning himself was one, but there were two others in particular: the young girl fleeing naked from a napalm attack, and the chief of Saigon's security police shooting a Viet Cong prisoner through the head. These left a profound and indelible impression on the U.S. And world public. Media coverage of the war has since been the subject of much debate. Was it flawed? And did it, as many claim, help turn what could have been an American victory into a defeat? There is no simple answer.

Regardless of the intentions of the perpetrators or how high the official sanction of the events goes there is a clear sense that the images will leave a lasting impact on how the U.S. handles the situation in the future and sadly on how the world publics see the role of the U.S. In OIF. Military and other strategists should see this breech in both protocol and information as a clear indication of the need to further control images from the war, but more importantly to further control the actions and orders given with regard to treatment of all prisoners, in Iraq and elsewhere during times of war.

The Phoenix Program in Vietnam

One of the best ways to fully appreciate and understand the Phoenix Program is to analyze it within the context many of the other programs created and implemented by the U.S., and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It also makes clear that the state building and support aspects of the war were designated as different programs, all of which relied heavily upon the support and cooperation of the South Vietnamese.

Although some Americans may think of Vietnam in the context of big-unit battles of attrition, the other war -- counterinsurgency and pacification -- where Special Forces, Marines, and other advisers employed indigenous forces using small-war methods, is much more relevant to 21st-century counterinsurgencies.

The development of the subsystems and primary systems of a "one war" approach of pacification to the war was the impetus of the Phoenix Program which though exceedingly important was not encompassing of the state-building aspects of the war, nor was it ever really intended to be. This makes later arguments that the Program did not effectively make these strides null to some degree, as it was specifically designed not to replace the VC infrastructure…[continue]


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Cite This Paper:

"Phoenix Program Lessons To Iraq" (2008, June 25) Retrieved October 21, 2016, from

"Phoenix Program Lessons To Iraq" 25 June 2008. Web.21 October. 2016. <>

"Phoenix Program Lessons To Iraq", 25 June 2008, Accessed.21 October. 2016,

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