Paris Peace Accords 23 Oct. 1991

Monday, June 12, 2017

[Demographic Vietnamization: Pre-Khmer Rouge, Military, Border] A War of Their Own

The author with Fulro leaders in Phnom Penh, April 1973.

A War of Their Own

New York Times | 9 June 2017

In the spring of 1967, I was a 22-year-old Special Forces lieutenant at a hilltop base in Vietnam near the Cambodian border. My soldiers were Montagnards, people native to the highlands and ethnically distinct from the lowland Vietnamese, whom they saw as colonialists intent on taking their land and changing their way of life. They were almost all members of a rebel organization called Fulro, a French acronym for the United Liberation Front for the Oppressed Races, dedicated to driving the Vietnamese from the highlands. Its base was somewhere beyond the border, beyond the ancient Angkor road, beyond the rivers that all ran west, glinting beneath the haze.

We were a special reconnaissance unit, with no Vietnamese commanders, which is what had attracted the Fulro firebrands to work with us as scouts and as a battalion reaction force. I commanded the latter. Strict orders had come down from Gen. William Westmoreland forbidding American soldiers to support Fulro because we were “not in Vietnam to support rebellion against the South Vietnamese government.”

This made sense, but many soldiers like me disobeyed. Not only were the Montagnards our protectors and comforters in the ghastliness of the jungle, but their cause seemed just, echoing the civil rights movement back home. When my battalion’s ammunition and weapons began to disappear, I looked the other way.

By 1956 the Montagnards had banded together politically, forming a movement to resist Vietnamese settlement in the highlands. In 1964 this movement morphed into Fulro and began assaults against the South Vietnamese. By 1967 popular enthusiasm for the cause was at its height. Naked 4-year-olds in remote hamlets chirped, “I am Fulro.”

The movement’s visionary leader, Y-Bham Enuol, was widely believed to converse with spirits as well as with Charles de Gaulle. Pythons were said to coil beneath his bed. Thousands followed him to Cambodia, including families, who camped in its forests. This was ethnonationalism, an ideology that gave more dignity and hope to Montagnards than Marxism and was far more appealing to them than a call to unify Vietnam, a point ignored by those who portrayed all Montagnard soldiers as mercenaries.

William H. Chickering, an emergency physician, is completing a book about Fulro.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:36 AM

    It's the arrogant American policy which ultimately led to the loss of Vietnam war. USA armed the Montagnard was a major insult to the South Vietnam regime. It showed that the South Vietnam regime had no say, and was simply a puppet to the Americans.

    Now a day, China easily elbowed out USA from Cambodia by treating Cambodia with more respect. USA has already lost Cambodia and Philippine in such quick succession.

    The North Vietnamese easily used this fact as a propaganda to recruit a lot of South Vietnamese to become local VC. One internal VC was worth more than 10 external North Vietnamese soldiers.