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Insurgency in the South, 1956–1960 Main articles: Viet Cong and War in Vietnam (1959–1963) The Sino-Soviet split led to a reduction in the influence of the PRC, which had insisted in 1954 that the Viet Minh accept a division of the country. Tru?ng Chinh, North Vietnam’s pro-PRC party first secretary, was demoted and Hanoi authorized communists in South Vietnam to begin a low level insurgency in December 1956.
This insurgency in the south had begun in response to Diem’s Denunciation of Communists campaign, in which thousands of local Viet Minh cadres and supporters had been executed or sent to concentration camps, and was in violation of the Northern Communist party line, which had enjoined them not to start an insurrection, but rather engage in a political campaign, agitating for a free all-Vietnam election in accordance with the Geneva accords.
HO Chí Minh stated, “Do not engage in military operations; that will lead to defeat. Do not take land from a peasant. Emphasize nationalism rather than communism. Do not antagonize anyone if you can avoid it. Be selective in your violence.
If an assassination is necessary, use a knife, not a rifle or grenade. It is too easy to kill innocent bystanders with guns and bombs, and accidental killing of the innocent bystanders will alienate peasants from the revolution.
Once an assassination has taken place, make sure peasants know why the killing occurred.” This strategy was referred to as “armed propaganda.”[
Soon afterward, Lê Du?n, a communist leader who had been working in the South, returned to Hanoi to accept the position of acting first secretary, effectively replacing Tru?ng. Du?n urged a military line and advocated increased assistance to the insurgency.
Four hundred government officials were assassinated in 1957 alone, and the violence gradually increased. While the terror was originally aimed at local government officials, it soon broadened to include other symbols of the status quo, such as schoolteachers,health workers, and agricultural officials.
Village chiefs were Diem appointees from outside the villages and were hated by the peasantry for their corruption and abuse.)
According to one estimate, 20 percent of South Vietnam’s village chiefs had been assassinated by the insurgents by 1958.
] The insurgency sought to completely destroy government control in South Vietnam’s rural villages and replace it with a shadow government. In January 1959, the North’s Central Committee issued a secret resolution authorizing an “armed struggle”.
This authorized the southern communists to begin large-scale operations against the South Vietnamese military. North Vietnam supplied troops and supplies in earnest, and the infiltration of men and weapons from the north began along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
In May, South Vietnam enacted Law 10/59, which made political violence punishable by death and property confiscation. Observing the increasing unpopularity of the Diem regime, on 12 December 1960, Hanoi authorized the creation of the National Liberation Front as a common front controlled by the communist party in the South. Successive American administrations, as Robert McNamara and others have noted, overestimated the control that Hanoi had over the NLF.
Diem’s paranoia, repression, and incompetence progressively angered large segments of the population of South Vietnam. According to a November 1960 report by the head of the U.S. military advisory team, Lieutenant General Lionel C. McGarr, a “significant part” of the population in the south supported the communists.
The communists thus had a degree of popular support for their campaign to bring down Diem and reunify the country. During John F. Kennedy’s administration, 1961–1963 Main articles: Strategic Hamlet Program and Pham Ngoc Thao When John F. Kennedy won the 1960 U.S. presidential election, one major issue Kennedy raised was whether the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the United States.
As Kennedy took over, despite warnings from Eisenhower about Laos and Vietnam, Europe and Latin America “loomed larger than Asia on his sights.” In his inaugural address, Kennedy made the ambitious pledge to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
In June 1961, John F. Kennedy bitterly disagreed with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev when they met in Vienna over key U.S.-Soviet issues. The aftermath of the Korean War created the idea of a limited war. Although Kennedy stressed long-range missile parity with the Soviets, he was also interested in using special forces for counterinsurgency warfare in Third World countries threatened by communist insurgencies.
Although they were originally intended for use behind front lines after a conventional invasion of Europe, Kennedy believed that the guerrilla tactics employed by special forces such as the Green Berets would be effective in a “brush fire” war in Vietnam.
The Kennedy administration remained essentially committed to the Cold War foreign policy inherited from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. In 1961, the U.S. had 50,000 troops based in Korea, and Kennedy faced a three-part crisis—the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and a negotiated settlement between the pro-Western government of Laos and the Pathet Lao communist movement