Washington Times on January 29, 2018, published an interview with Luke Hunt, the Australian author of “The Punji Trap — Pham Xuan An: The Spy Who Didn’t Love Us”. It is a story of a North Vietnamese operative who managed to influence how the Tet Offensive in 1968 was viewed in America. Pham Xuan An served as a correspondent for Time Magazine and Reuters. Excerpts from the interview below:

Question: “The Punji Trap” was a long time in the making. Why?

Answer: It took almost 30 years for a number of reasons. During my childhood, I became fascinated with Vietnam as the war played out on television and a family friend died there, which really left its mark. While at university in the 1980s, I wrote an undergrad thesis on An way back when his role was still a secret. I then managed to interview him several times…

Q: How did An pull off one of the 20th century’s most successful covert propaganda efforts?

A: Americans were always interested in beating themselves up about the lies that came from the White House… An spread the [three major] lies that came from the North Vietnamese.

One: [North Vietnamese leader] Ho Chi Minh convinced the world that the conflict was a national war of liberation — but really the ethnic Viets were trying to colonize the entire Southeast Asian peninsula.

Two: An convinced the world that the Tet Offensive was a victory for the Communists, which militarily it was not.

Three: The North pledged not invade the South, but they did in 1975 and have spoon-fed communism to the population every day since.

Q: How did An do his work?

A: An…joined the Viet Minh as a teenager and fought the Japanese in World War II and the French as they sought to return at war’s end. He then went to college in California, worked awhile at The Sacramento Bee, then returned to Saigon to work for the Western media. He was well-respected…and played the media like a Stradivarius. [A speciality was to] set up bogus interviews with people in sidewalk cafes — “You’re going to meet this bloke from the opposition who knows all about the North’s tactics,” etc…But it was all made up.

Hunt’s book is not only about Pham Xuan An. It also covers journalistic experience in general during the Vietnam War.

Comment: We don’t know how many journalists of Western media during the Vietnam War were North Vietnamese spies. Certainly the North Vietnamese propaganda and psychological warfare had a well prepared ground in the West. News media rarely used the statements of the South Vietnamese government. Emphasis was made on napalm, defoliation or emotional subjects while the deeds of the North Vietnamese and their guerrilla army was rarely touched upon. A survey of broadcasts by CBS in the United States concluded that 95 percent of commentators were against the US government viewpoint and only 5 percent supported the government.

Guerrilla wars are determined as much, if not more, by political and psychological factors as by military factors on the ground. General Edward Lansdale, a leading American expert on guerrilla warfare, has said that there were no political costs in the war to the leaders in Hanoi. America never really attempted to use its vast communications resources to make the North Vietnamese leaders accountable for their actions in the war…first President Johnson and the President Nixon were challenged grievously by highly vocal portions of the American people, despite the fact that North Vietnamese leaders were elected to leadership through part back doors and rigged, totalitarian elections.

Another expert on guerrilla warfare, British General Sir Robert Thompson said that the North Vietnamese not only were not accountable to their own constituents, they never became accountable to world opinion.


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