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Vietnam Table of Contents



Perhaps the most effective instrument of social control in the 1980s was the "revolutionary vigilance" surveillance system, commonly called "the warden method." In theory at least, every hamlet, city block, state farm, factory, school, and state and party office had its own Revolutionary Vigilance Committee headed by a warden and made up of a team of neighbors, usually 25 to 40 households (120 to 300 persons). Institutionally, the Vigilance Committee was described as neither party nor state, but a form of alliance. Its purpose was to "help the government in all ways and aspects," specifically by monitoring the behavior of its members, reporting public opinion to higher authorities, and promoting various state and party policies and programs locally. The committee's authority was shored up by the Ho Khau registration system, which required each individual to have an identity card and each family to have a family registration certificate or residence permit (listing the names of all persons authorized to live at one address). Both identification cards and family registration certificates were checked frequently by security cadres.

It is historical fact that social "control" as administered by the Vietnamese party and government worked impressively over the years to organize, mobilize, and motivate the society to serve the interests of national security. It produced an implacably determined military force and an internal security system that virtually policed itself. However, it was evident by the late 1980s that the system no longer worked as well as it once had. The Political Bureau acknowledged the influence of "negativism" that endangered the "quality of socialist life," and military and security service professional journals emphasized the need to improve security methods, including "techniques for suppressing rebellions." Although the spread of full-scale social unrest in Vietnam was not likely, the idea was no longer unthinkable.

What developed in Vietnam in the 1980s was not so much a rise in internal security consciousness on the part of the government as a change in public attitudes toward security problems. Military and public alertness to the dangers of counterrevolution, crime, and antisocial behavior diminished to the point of indifference. Nguyen Van Linh, before his appointment as VCP general secretary in 1986, complained that the "spirit of vigilance" was lagging in Vietnam and that "some individuals suffer[ed] from revolutionary vigilance paralysis." Massive indoctrination campaigns, undertaken to correct this shortcoming by arousing public concern, apparently met with indifferent results. The condition was symptomatic of a society that was beginning to be buffeted by the winds of change.

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The major source of research materials for this chapter was the Indochina Archive at the University of California at Berkeley. The archive has 2.5 million pages of documentary material, 15 percent of which relates directly to Vietnam's armed forces, internal security, law, and judiciary. Much of the archive is original source material from Vietnam, including official newspaper and journal articles translated and published by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service and the Joint Publications Research Service of the United States Government.

PAVN: People's Army of Vietnam, by Douglas Pike, is the only book-length study of Vietnam's armed forces; William Turley has written several lengthy articles on the subject. Human rights violations in Vietnam have been dealt with in journal articles by Karl Jackson and Jacqueline Desbarats. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1987