Mass Murder as Political Marketing — The Phoenix Program and U.S. Foreign Policy

The CIA’s infamous program to crush the resistance to U.S. occupation of South Vietnam is largely remembered as a gigantic campaign of assassination that claimed tens of thousands of lives. However, the Phoenix Program is best understood as an extension of U.S. propaganda.

“The CIA and other covert action agencies (over which the CIA has ultimate control) were founded to protect Business.”

Douglas Valentine explained the purpose or at least the subject of his study of the Vietnam Phoenix Program as “terror and its role in political warfare”. He is generous, like most Americans–even critical ones–when he writes “It will show how, as successive American governments sink deeper and deeper into the vortex of covert operations–ostensibly to combat terrorism and Communist insurgencies–the American people gradually lose touch with the democratic ideals that once defined their national self-concept.

This book asks what happens when Phoenix comes home to roost?”1 Valentine is generous to his readers since he ascribes to them ideals which while attributed to the US regime and naively held by many, in fact bear little resemblance to the political reality in the USA. Valentine is not ironic. His book is written with sincerity to readers in a frustrating appeal to transcend their sentimental illusions and look honestly at the real political praxis of their country in a war it just happened to lose. In this sense it is also a polemic–although no way polemical in style–to learn the right lessons from the US invasion, occupation and genocidal war against the people of Vietnam.

The Phoenix Program was first published 24 years ago, fourteen years after the Congressional investigations that exposed and swiftly washed it from public memory. After successful attempts to bury this book, e.g. Morley Safer’s attack in the New York Times, this essential study of US political warfare has been reissued as an e-book.2 One can only hope that the reign of terror in and by the US that expanded vastly with the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan will finally reach the consciousness of the white “Left” and those whose sentimental attachment to the American creation myth is sincere enough to rebel against the two-plus centuries of imperial hypocrisy which engendered this bureaucratic terror system under the Stars and Stripes.

To place the Phoenix Program in its proper historical perspective however it is necessary to grasp the genealogy of the regime responsible for its inception. This regime predates Vietnam. This author has reiterated elsewhere that it is scarcely possible to understand the role of political warfare in the US without returning to 1776, to the moral turpitude of the Founding Fathers.3 These leading lights of the nascent American empire began their journey to Vietnam when they declared independence from the British Empire in order to preserve that peculiar institution known as chattel slavery that the mother country was being forced to abolish in the rest of its colonies.

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