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Dau tranh

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In the Vietnam War, from the American standpoint, dau tranh (đấu tranh), or struggle, "is the key to understanding the mentality of the other side" Dau tranh has two pincers, armed and political. It is a means to an end, that end, according to Douglas Pike, being the fundamental principle of faith in Vietnamese Communism is Khoi Nghia, or General Uprising.[1]

During the Vietnam War, the doctrine of both Viet Cong, and in the Northern People's Army of Viet Nam regular army (PAVN), every unit had military commanders or "military cadre", political officers or "political cadre", and, in larger units, Proselytizing Cadre.

"Armed dau tranh is not exactly orthodox military activity or even guerrilla war, although it includes that. It also includes things like assassinations and kidnappings not associated with organized armies normally. The important thing is to think of it as something broader than just guerrilla war.

"The other pincer is political dau tranh. This is not politics, but politics with guns, a gray area between politics and violence." It was the priority early in the war, with armed dau tranh providing a security screen: "capturing weapons; advertising the cause; creating turmoil and social pathology in the countryside; just tearing things up." Armed dau trinh does not win, but keeps the other side from winning or even progressing on its plans. [2]

At the highest level, political cadre from the Central Party Organ were joined with professional cadre of the armed services (police and military) in an organization similar in nature to the U.S. National Security Council.

National Defense Council

That counterpart organization is called the "National Defense Council" (NDC) or "Inter-Ministry" (Lien Bo). Membership in the NDC, chaired by the President and Supreme commander "includes representatives of the Ministry of National Defense, the Military Affairs Committee, and the External Affairs Committee [of the Party], the Ministry of Interior, the General Political Directorate [i.e., the political officer command] of the PAVN, and the Science and Technology Commission.

"Since the majority of Council members are concurrently members of the ruling Politburo of the VCP, Party control of military (PAVN), [Ministry of the Interior (MOI, police)], and intelligence and security (National Intelligence Office and General Research Department) operations are assured...Due to their perceived importance, the responsibility for intelligence, security, and proselytizing were retained by the Political element. This reorganization created a system wherein the PAVN High Command was in reality subordinate to the General Political Directorate."[3]

Command cadre

Command cadre had full military training, but the political cadre had only brief military cross-training. If the problem of technical training of an army with more than infantry weapons is important, according to Giap, "the most fundamental principle in the building of our army is to put it under the Party's leadership...the method of Party committee taking the lead, and the commander allotting the work coupled with the regime of the political commissar, ensures the carrying out of the principle of collective leadership.[4]

Political cadre

Political officers had multiple responsibilities, starting with discipline of the Communist units themselves; deserters were treated savagely. On a lesser level, the classic Marxist-Leninist method of "self-criticism" was used.[5] Political cadre responsibility extended to operations, including enforcing the policy of capturing Americans whenever possible. At the small unit level, battalion and smaller sized units down to platoon were managed by "party subchapters" (Chi Bo) under the control of the political officers (Chinh tri vien), while regimental and larger sized units were managed by "party chapters" (Dang Bo) under the direction of political commissars.[3] These officers worked according to the handbook The Political Comissar's Work or Political Work in the Army.[6]

Civilian Proselytizing cadre

The organ responsible for the exploitation of the civilian masses, under friendly control, was called Civilian Proselytizing (Dan van).

Military and Enemy Proselytizing cadre

Once prisoners were captured, the Military (Binh van) and Enemy Proselytizing cadre took responsibility. Military proselytizing dealt with South Vietnamese soldiers. "Foreign servicemen", such as French and Americans, were under a subset of Military Proselytizing and called the Enemy Proselytizing Department (Cuc Dich van)(EPD). [3]

Proselytizing among the Enemy Civilians

A third aspect of political struggle, dich van was targeted against civilians not under Communist control, such as the U.S. populace and the part of South Vietnam under GVN control.[7]


  1. Douglas Pike (1969), War, Peace and the Viet Cong, MIT Press, p.113
  2. Douglas Pike (June 4, 1981), Oral History interview by Ted Gittinger, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, pp. I-9 to I-10
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bell, Garnett "Bill" & George J. Veith (19 April 1996), POWs and Politics: How Much does Hanoi Really Know, After the Cold War: Reassessing Vietnam, Center for the Study of the Vietnam Conflict Symposium, Texas Tech University
  4. Vo Nguyen Giap (1962), People's war, People's Army, Praeger, p. 129
  5. U.S. Mission in Vietnam (February 1968), Vietnam Documents and Research Notes. No. 19, Self-Criticism: Report from a North Vietnamese Division.
  6. Giap, p. 121
  7. Pike, Douglas (October 11-19, 1990), Vietnam 1964-1973: An American Dilemma, Hanoi/Viet Cong View of the Vietnam War, vol. Fourteenth Military History Symposium, U.S. Air Force Academy