all towns are
one, all men our kin.
|Home||Trans State Nation||Tamil Eelam||Beyond Tamil Nation||Comments||Search|
Home > International Relations in an Emerging Multi Lateral World > War & Armed Conflict > The Use of the British Village Resettlement Model in Malaya and Vietnam, 2002
This paper addresses the use of British resettlement village model during the Malayan Emergency, the First Indochina War, and early American involvement in Vietnam. In the end, this paper concludes that the British resettlement village helped to defeat the communist guerrillas in Malaya, while circumstances unique to Vietnam ensured its failure in Vietnam. This paper will begin with an overview of the Malayan Emergency and then focuses on the use of village resettlement in Vietnam during the 1950s and early 1960s.
The Malayan Emergency began in 1948, and is best described as a military and political campaign fought by the British and the Malayan Federation government against the ethnic Chinese-led Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which led the guerillas and numbered only a few thousand. According to British officials, the guerrillas existed primarily by “extorting supplies, money, food, and information from Malayans living without protection on the jungle fringes.”
On 16 June 1948, communist guerrillas attacked and brutally murdered five people, including three Europeans. Normally, English-speaking people were indifferent to the killing of Chinese and had grown accustomed to the violence and mayhem over the previous months. However, the killing of the three Europeans caused an uproar. Plantation owners began immediately to pressure the British-led government to take action; thus a state of emergency was declared in Perak and Johore. On 18 June 1948, the government extended the Emergency to the whole Malayan Federation, and then to Singapore the following month.
From the onset of the emergency, the MCP achieved military success, as well as popular support from the displaced Chinese in Malaya’s rural areas. Because they illegally inhabited tracts of land in the countryside, the displaced Chinese were popularly known as “squatters.” At the beginning of the Emergency, approximately 500,000 people comprised the squatter population. From the very beginning, most people had viewed the emergency as a problem with the Chinese. After all, ninety-five percent of the communist guerrillas were from the squatter settlements.
The British reasoned that the Emergency could not be won solely through military operations; civic action measures had to be integrated in the overall plan. The British had to address the squatter problem. Essentially, the Emergency became “a struggle to determine which side should govern and dominate the Chinese squatters.”
The squatters who most interested the British were those who dwelled outside the normal boundaries of government administration and were at the mercy of the communist guerrillas. In order to combat the problem, the British planned to resettle the squatters in “new villages.”
Aside from the squatters, the government also found it necessary to concentrate laborers from rubber plantations and tin mines into resettlement villages. The British first drafted the resettlement plans in 1949, but did not have tangible results until 1950, after the initiation of the Briggs’ Plan. By the end of June 1952, the government had brought approximately 470,000 people under government control, of which eighty-five percent were Chinese. Overall, between 1950 and 1960, the British relocated some 530,000 people into new villages.
During the Malayan Emergency, Chinese contractors provided much of the work in the new villages, while the Royal Army Service Corps often provided transport for removing the squatters. “The police, army, and civil administration gave much assistance outside their normal duties.” When initially created, a resettlement village relied on regular armed forces for its defense, such as army, civil guard, and self-defense corps from the district. After a new village had been reasonably secured, it no longer needed regular armed forces for security. From this point, the village relied on village self-defense forces and district police for its protection.
Along with the military aspects, the Malayan Emergency also had important political connotations. After World War II, Britain began to relinquish its colonies. Britain partitioned Pakistan and India and each nation achieved independence. Likewise, besides defeating the communists, the British-led government also wanted unification and independence in Malaya. By advocating Malayan independence, the British countered communist propaganda to the effect that Britain had renewed imperialist intentions in Malaya. However, the British-led government had to overcome the racial and ethnic diversity in the country. Aside from the British, the ethnic Malays constituted the dominant political power in Malaya, but the Chinese comprised a substantial part of the population. Therefore, they had to be integrated into Malayan politics.
Because of the Chinese squatter problem and constitutional changes that were taking place in Malaya, the government regarded Chinese support as essential to help end the Emergency and to establish an independent Malaya. After the start of the Emergency, Chinese and English-educated Chinese united and formed the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA). “The leaders of both groups were mainly business men involved in tin, rubber, and trade, and they had much to lose should the communists win the jungle war.” The English-educated Chinese convinced the British and Malayans that they were committed to the cause and shared many of their same political goals. The Chinese-educated leaders won significant support from the Chinese community, which demonstrated that the MCA was a legitimate Chinese political party.
The MCA helped thousands of Chinese become citizens, which allowed them to participate in the political process. The MCA also provided money to the Chinese who had been resettled in the new villages. During the progress toward independence, the MCA worked closely with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC). The MCA and the UMNO represented the largest populations in Malaya and with the assistance of the Reid Constitution Commission, which was formed in 1956 to create a new constitution, expedited the movement toward independence. By February 1957, the interested parties had completed work on the constitution and submitted it to the British government for review. On 15 August 1957, The Federal Council finally approved the constitution and Malaya achieved independence on 31 August 1957; however, the fight against communists continued until July 1960.
At the time of the Malayan Emergency, the French battled guerrilla forces in Vietnam and also tried to initiate a resettlement program. In 1952, French General Francois Gonzales Linares headed the construction of “protected villages,” which the French later named agrovilles. By constructing quasi-urban amenities, the French designed the agrovilles to attract peasants away from their normal hardships. This policy is known as "pacification by prosperity." In addition to offering social and economic advantages, the French also secured the villages and encouraged villagers to develop their own militias, which the French trained and armed. Unlike the British who implemented their program throughout Malaya, the French concentrated their efforts in North Vietnam, particularly in the Red River Delta. “Pacification by Prosperity” had some success, but it was never decisive, because the peasant settlers felt insecure, “a feeling which the numerous French guard posts along the perimeter could do little to dispel so long as the [Viet Minh] operated at night, anonymously, and held all village authorities in the same state of dread as ever.”
Between 1952 and 1954, French officials transplanted approximately 3 million Vietnamese into agrovilles, but funding for the agrovilles was high. In order to help offset the cost, the French relied partially on American financial support, which was "one of the earliest objects of American aid to France after the outbreak of the Korean War." According to a private Vietnamese source, the U.S. spent about "200,000 dollars on the 'show' agroville at Dong Quan."After visiting the villages of Khoi Loc in Quang Yen Province and Dong Quan in Ha Dong Province, noted Vietnam War correspondent Bernard Fall stated that, "the French strategic hamlets resembled British [Malayan] prototypes line for line."
However, the British clashed with a smaller hostile force in Malaya, 300,000 government troops against 8,000 communist guerrillas, while the Viet Minh outnumbered the French 500,000 to 380,000. Further, the Viet Minh “possessed the mortars and recoilless cannon[s] necessary to breach even sophisticated defensive positions.” In Malaya, squatters were not only resettled, “but in most cases completely removed from the communist [guerrillas] zone of influence; since the squatters represented less than six percent of the population and made almost no contribution to the economic life of the country, this was feasible.” Also, in contrast to the British, the French were reluctant to grant Vietnam its independence, or allow the Vietnamese a voice in government affairs; therefore, the French agroville program had little effect.
In February of 1959, Ngo Dinh Diem made his first attempt of resettlement. Diem put forth a plan to develop centers of agglomeration. The Government of Vietnam (GVN) developed two types of centers of agglomeration. The first type, qui khu, relocated Viet Cong  (VC) families, people with relatives in North Vietnam, or people who had been associated with the Viet Minh into new villages; thus, providing easier government surveillance. The second type of relocation center, qui ap, relocated families that supported the South Vietnamese government into new villages that lived outside the realm of government protection and were susceptible to Viet Cong attacks. The primary of goal of the centers was to concentrate the villagers, so they were not able to provide aid, comfort, and information to the Viet Cong.
Major Pham Ngoc Thao, a primary architect of the Diem agroville program at the Directorate General of Reconstruction, said "the agglomeration center plan had its origins in the Ministry of the Interior [and was] designed to improve security, [but] was crude, unsophisticated, and essentially military, [it] almost wholly ignored the economic and social implications of relocation."
Major Thao wrote a report about the public’s widespread dissatisfaction with the program and presented it to Diem. In his report, he expressed his concerns about the disregard of economic and social aspects. Moreover, he reported that many highly placed Vietnamese families asserted their discontent, because they had been relocated solely on the basis of their relatives living in the North. Thao also reported that he, as well as other highly placed South Vietnamese officials, had relatives in the North, yet they were loyal to the South Vietnamese government.
Major Thao believed that, by separating and grouping the people by political affiliation, Viet Cong supporters accumulated more hatred towards the government, and those who supported the South Vietnamese government became less sympathetic toward Diem. Major Thao proposed integrating the two groups, so that those loyal to the South Vietnamese government might be able to help proselytize Viet Cong sympathizers. However, it has been reported that Major Thao was in fact a Viet Cong agent; thus, by having the two groups integrated, it would have been possible for the Viet Cong sympathizers to proselytize those loyal to Diem. Nevertheless, based partly on Major Thao's report, the South Vietnamese government developed plans for a new program that began in the latter part of 1959.
The construction of concentrated and fortified villages in Vietnam was not a new concept. People along the coastal plains and central Vietnam had been living in interdependent fortified villages for centuries. Diem had grown up in Central Vietnam and was a firm believer in close-knit communal relationships. Diem thought that the insurgency problem in the South resulted from hamlets being scattered and stretched out along waterways with relatively little contact between them. Therefore, Diem reasoned, by relocating villagers into "closer settlement areas," southern villages would be more attuned to national tradition and would provide a better defense against the Viet Cong. The GVN called the resettlement areas agrovilles; a term coined from the French resettlement villages. The plan also anticipated that the agrovilles would have schools, medical and social services, and electricity to entice the peasants. However, the government planned to use corvée labor to implement these community projects.
Diem made the decision to use corvée labor and “directed that the community development principle (cong dong phat trien)…be employed for agroville labor.” Because Diem made the decision, there was no discretion at the lower administrative levels. Diem reasoned that, “the government was fully justified in requiring this kind of work from the inhabitants without pay, especially since peasants paid few taxes and received the benefits of the government which included agricultural credit, land distribution, and police protection.” Diem reasoned further that the peasants had the time to labor between planting and harvesting of rice crops and were fervent about the agroville program. Diem suggested that “whatever discomfort might be incurred along the way would, he felt, [would] fade into insignificance when the final result was produced. Proponents of corvée labor reasoned that it was too expensive to pay laborers in an underdeveloped country, because the payments would create a strain on the national budget. On the other hand, opponents suggested that, because the agrovilles were built in areas where the Viet Cong presence was strong and communist activities were dependent on the local population, the Viet Cong could exploit the use of corvée labor and garner further support from the population.
By 1959, Diem had visited Kuala Lumpur and was aware of Britain's success in combating guerrillas by relocating squatters into new villages. That same year, the South Vietnamese government estimated the number of Viet Cong guerrillas to be somewhere between 5,000 and 12,000, a small percentage of the population, but they were successful nonetheless. Diem hoped that an army of 150,000, with the aid of additional security forces, could attack and defeat the guerrillas, just as the British had done. However, Diem's forces had to locate the guerillas and sever their contact with rural Vietnamese.
Very little information exists about the overall scope of the agroville program, but officials involved with the project estimated that the government anticipated placing approximately half a million people into about 80 central agrovilles between 1960 and 1963  Although the agroville program seemed promising, many peasants did not like being resettled and forced to provide corvée labor. Because of resettlement, many peasants had to walk greater distances to their fields, which resulted in less work time; and workers were not compensated for their time lost serving as corvée laborers. In all, the agroville program meant less income for an already poor peasant population.
On 26 September 1960 United States Ambassador Elbridge Dubrow commented to Diem that, "On the basis of our reports, it is questionable whether the known hostility to the program, because of corvée labor and other reasons, has been overcome in a short time." Ambassador Dubrow also told Diem that he should subsidize the inhabitants in the agrovilles because this practice had been successful in the high plateaus. Diem responded, "the agroville program is different than that of the High Plateau, since the peasants retain their paddy lands near the agroville, which gives them the same income as previously."
Ambassador Dubrow responded to Diem, "...nevertheless, we had heard of reports that some of the peasants are not too satisfied with the agroville program, because they had been displaced from their original homes and would not receive any additional income for a considerable time." Ambassador Dubrow then asked Diem how many agrovilles he planned to build, and Diem said about 20. Diem added that, “with the completion of these agrovilles he would discontinue the program for some time since, as advantageous as the program is, it has cost the government a great deal of money." However, Dubrow questioned whether money was the real issue. Ambassador Dubrow reported to Washington that, “perhaps [Diem] has finally been convinced by all and sundry who have told him of the disgruntlement caused by the program that the ‘real cost’ is loss of popular support for his regime.” 
According to Diem’s brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, the significance of the program, a program, that he later declared he had not approved of, demonstrated that corvée labor could still be imposed on the peasants by the government and Viet Cong.  The abandonment of the agroville paved the way for the development of the strategic hamlet program, a program Nhu supervised.
In 1961, during the early stages of the strategic hamlet program, some local authorities emulated the successful village defense systems employed against the Viet Minh in Bui Chu and Phat Diem in North Vietnam, during the First Indochina War. These experimental defense villages proved effective against guerilla activities and prompted the South Vietnamese government to implement this strategy nation-wide.
Ngo Dinh Nhu commanded the plan to implement a nation-wide strategic hamlet program, which he developed from many sources. Nhu used ideas from Vietnamese self-defense villages, British new villages in Malaya, and the Israeli kibbutz defense system. Nhu's primary objective was to create a strategic hamlet defense system in which the villagers organized themselves to fight the Viet Cong, via "people's guerrilla tactics." Nhu was adamant that the people take personal responsibility in developing the strategic hamlet program. Thus, the villagers had to provide funds and the labor to build the strategic hamlets, as well as people for self-defense forces.
Although Nhu used several examples to develop the strategic hamlet program, the British experience in Malaya played the central role. The South Vietnamese government enlisted the help of British advisors with experience in Malaya, chiefly Sir Robert Thompson, who had served as the defense minister, and had been one of the chief architects of the counter-insurgency plan in Malaya. Although the British offered practical experience to help remedy the situation in South Vietnam, American officials, at that time, believed that British involvement was not essential and could be detrimental to the United States' status in South Vietnam. Ambassador Dubrow clearly opposed British involvement.
He recognized Britain’s success in Malaya against the communist guerrillas and said that the British campaign offered “much that is useful and pertinent in the guerrilla war with the Viet Cong, [but] this has already been studied and incorporated where applicable in MAAG [Military Assistance Advisory Group] training and operational doctrine.” Dubrow believed that, although MAAG solicited and continued efforts to develop additional anti-guerrilla doctrine for Vietnam, “detailed application of this doctrine to counter-guerilla training can more appropriately be made by qualified and experienced personnel now in MAAG, than by introducing British or Malayans at this fairly late stage into [the] training program.”
He recognized that the Malayan campaign was different from the guerrilla war in Vietnam, because the British Colonial Administration, with almost absolute power, led the fight to a great extent with foreign officers and troops. In Vietnam, the situation was significantly different, because the GVN and U.S. relied on ARVN troops. He reasoned that it would be “less confusing and more efficient, if the advisory role and operations [were] retained by [the] presently accredited country, U.S., and not divided unnecessarily with [the] British [or] anyone else.” He was convinced that, “[the] introduction of other foreign advisors would be psychologically detrimental to U.S. prestige in Vietnam and could well be counter-productive by retarding rather than hastening training of [Vietnamese] armed forces.”  Also, he assumed that the introduction of the British military would create problems regarding the Geneva Accords, because the British were members of the International Control Commission (ICC) for Vietnam. Despite the U.S opposition to British involvement, Sir Robert Thompson and the British Advisory Mission (BRIAM) arrived in South Vietnam at the request of Diem.
On 3 February 1962, Diem formally launched the Strategic Hamlet Program by presidential decree. Then, on 19 March 1962, Diem approved a systematic counter-insurgency plan based on the recommendations of the BRIAM and U.S. advisors’ security concepts, the Delta Pacification Plan. The Delta Plan was to be implemented in 10 provinces around Saigon. On 22 March 1962, Operation Sunrise began in the Binh Duong Province around the Ben Cat area.
On 8 May 1962, a second “pacification” operation, known as Operation Sea Swallow, began in the Phu Yen Province in Central Vietnam, and was similar to Operation Sunrise in its objectives and methods. The main objective of these two operations was to “clear and hold” the areas.
According to Thompson, Operations Sunrise and Sea Swallow were flawed. Instead of launching the strategic hamlet program in densely populated and well-developed areas around Saigon, Diem chose to launch Operation Sunrise in a sparsely populated area that the Viet Cong solidly controlled. Operation Sunrise resettled all the inhabitants in the Ben Cat area into four strategic hamlets away from their rice fields, “which gave the impression that all strategic hamlets were going to be of this type. This action provided the Viet Cong with an excellent propaganda line.” 
Also, in order to hold the area, the government had to deploy a large number of forces, forces that the Viet Cong regularly ambushed along the highway from the province capital to the strategic hamlets. The Viet Cong continually attacked the four strategic hamlets around Ben Cat, until they finally came under their control in 1964. As for Operation Sea Swallow, Phu Yen “was not an important area and received undue priority [an undue priority due to the lack of resources]…because the province authorities were enthusiastic and it was considered undesirable not to take advantage of this response.” Diem summed up Operation Sea Swallow by saying, “It makes the Americans happy, and it does not worry either me or the Viet Cong.”
In addition to Thompson’s criticism of the developing strategic hamlet program, Roger Hilsman also criticized Diem’s handling of the program. Hilsman suggested that the GVN had given the strategic hamlet program high priority, but there was reliable evidence that, “the program suffers seriously from inadequate direction, coordination, and material assistance by the central government and from misunderstanding among officials at the provincial and local levels.” Hilsman reported that the province chiefs were inclined to draw up unrealistic high quotes in order to please the authorities in Saigon. Furthermore, the GVN provided insufficient resources at the local level, which resulted in inadequately constructed and weakly defended hamlets, in addition to undue financial burdens being levied on the villagers. Also, the construction of the hamlets had not followed any particular pattern or prioritized plan, although, Diem indicated that priorities would be established after the merger of the Delta Pacification plan and the strategic hamlet program.
The government built three different types of strategic hamlets, or defended hamlets, which varied due to their degree of physical fortifications. In Vietnam, a strategic hamlet “represented a fairly scattered hamlet, with possibly some regrouping of houses…[and may have been] surrounded by a light fence, but this fence was only symbolic and served a minor purpose from the defense point of view.” The defended hamlet was a “compact hamlet, with houses grouped closely together and surrounded by a strong perimeter fence.” The strategic and defended hamlets were comparable to the Malayan kampongs and new villages during the Malayan Emergency.
The former represented a strategic hamlet, while the latter a predominantly Chinese new village. In Malaya, the insurgents failed to penetrate the Malay population; thus, the kampongs required little more than the organization of home guard units supported by key police stations. The government could then concentrate on the resettlement of Chinese squatters into new villages. In Vietnam, the insurgents had infiltrated all of the countryside, “which meant that strategic hamlets, even in the reasonably secure areas, needed more elaborate organization for their defen[s]e than Malaya[n] kampongs, and…the defended hamlets required a considerable defensive organization, more so than in the new villages in Malaya.” 
In 1963, the state of the Vietnamese police was equivalent to the Malayan police force in 1948. They were not able to deal with serious crimes, but only normal peacetime civil and criminal offenses. The village police force in Malaya had been increased seven fold, but in Vietnam, the task was left to the army and the paramilitary popular force. There was a significant difference between a trained policeman and a part-time villager in the popular force.
Many Viet Cong documents and North Vietnamese radio broadcasts expressed their sense of urgency and concern about the program, and also gave suggestions on how to combat the strategic hamlet program. Criticism of the strategic hamlet program was one of the principal themes of North Vietnamese propaganda, until the flare-up of the Buddhist crisis. Diem and Nhu’s mismanagement of the strategic hamlet program enabled the revolutionaries to be patient and strike out when the opportunity arose. Thus, by mid-summer of 1963, due to the over extension of the strategic hamlet program and eruption of the Buddhist crisis, the revolutionaries easily overran a majority of the strategic hamlets and held them.
The South Vietnamese government had hoped to complete 7,000 strategic hamlets by the end of 1962 and 12,000 by the end of 1963. At the end of 1962, the government had completed 3,235 strategic hamlets, which housed about thirty-four percent of the population, and by April 1963 they had built only 5,917 hamlets.
The strategic hamlet program progressed slowly because funding was inadequate. Unlike the subsequent new life hamlet program, the strategic hamlet program did not have large-scale U.S. financial support. Even though the strategic hamlet program experienced difficulties in the initial stages, the construction of strategic hamlets increased, but too rapidly in respect to the availability of funds.
The government built the strategic hamlets in such a reckless fashion that their establishment did little to deter the Viet Cong. In fact, the over extended program left pockets of Viet Cong who posed a constant threat in areas that should otherwise have been secure. In contrast, by the end of the Malayan Emergency the British had built about 600 solidly defended hamlets housing approximately 500,000 people.
The use of the resettlement village helped defeat the communists in Malaya, but fell well short of the desired goal in Vietnam. In Vietnam, the enemy was much larger than that in Malaya. Furthermore, the insurgents in Vietnam benefited from hundreds of miles of uncontrolled frontiers. Moreover, during the period of American involvement, North Vietnam gave material aid and moral support to southern insurgents, who possessed the framework of an alternative administration on both the civil and military sides that was by and large organized in a more complete and disciplined manner than the South Vietnamese Government. During the French colonial period, an efficient prefectural administration existed down to the provincial and district levels, but, after their defeat in 1954, the seasoned cadre of French administrators were withdrawn, which left no experienced Vietnamese ready to replace them.
Thus, the Diem regime had to build its administration from the ground up. The majority of Diem’s best administrators gained their experience through collaboration with the French, or had come from the north, and were, accordingly, easy targets for detraction. Diem’s political position should have been a strong one, because he was the ruler of an independent state. However, villages in Vietnam have always enjoyed a measure of autonomy and were reluctant to embrace the GVN’s political, economic, and social revolution. In Malaya, great emphasis was placed on the development of an efficient administration, including a competent police force, down to the village level.
In Malaya, the Chinese were easily discernable from the Malays and Indians, which allowed the government to focus on one segment of the population. However, it must be noted that the guerrillas, were not always physically distinguishable from the non-communists, because the majority of guerrillas were Chinese who fought among almost wholly Chinese squatters and villagers. “The only people in the Chinese villages who were physically distinguishable from the guerrillas were the handful of uniformed Malay policemen.” Government forces in Vietnam did not have one ethnic group on which they could focus; thus, it was harder to locate Viet Cong guerrillas living among the population. Resettlement, in most cases, provided a better life for the Chinese squatters. The squatters enjoyed new urban amenities, such as schools and medical facilities. The “new villages” provided such a better life that many of them remain intact today. In Vietnam, the government resettled people whose families had been living on the same tracts of land for generations. Although new urban amenities were planned for the Vietnamese, the villagers had to provide corvée labor to complete any of the planned projects, which meant lost time in their fields. Rural Vietnamese preferred to be left alone, so that they could conduct their lives as they always had. By uprooting and resettling them, the South Vietnamese government caused greater hardships for the rural Vietnamese, which increased anti-government sentiment.
The two key aspects of British success in Malaya were economics and politics; both posed serious problems in Vietnam. One of the most important factors in Britain’s success in Malaya was the economic prosperity Malaya achieved as a result of the Korean War. Malaya’s tin and rubber industries grew substantially during the early stages of the Korean War. The growth in these industries provided jobs for the population. But even more important was the fact that the additional revenue allowed the British-led government to finance the resettlement program in its initial stages. In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese government lacked the resources to properly fund the agroville and strategic hamlet programs and forced the peasants themselves to pay for something they clearly did not want.
Politically, the British guided the different
political parties in Malaya to independence. In Vietnam, the French, Diem,
and the U.S. did not allow the political participation of the insurgents. In closing I have to say that it is
not easy to transplant one country’s successful program to another, and
sometimes impossible, as was the case with Malaya and Vietnam.