The Saigon Post
March 5, 1971
THE POWER OF PAPER TIGER
In a social setting one night recently a local journalist talked with a man from the office of a very high Government official. They discussed paper-tiger warfare--psywar, that is. With an emphasis on previous bombing campaigns over North Vietnam.
According to sources, North Vietnam spent 10% of its budget on the propoganda war. Saigon spent 1%, Newsman asked why only bombs were dropped on North Vietnam, and never leaflets. Wouldn't the cost of a day's bombing pay for a year's leafletting, or something like that?
The official replied that leaflets had been dropped during American bombing campaigns in the past.
Were these leaflets well-prepared?
Did North Vietnamese people find the messages persuasive?
That was questionable, certainly.
Was a serious long-term leaflet campaign ever envisioned?
Which was all a way of leading to the critical question: Which did Hanoi fear more--bombs or leaflets? The sinewy tiger or the paper tiger?
Traditionally a simple question deserves a simple answer, but who can deny that traditions continue to crumble before our astonished eyes?
Proposition: Hanoi commissariat is well-versed in the art of psychological judo. It knew how to turn opponent's bombing strength to its own purposes.
Proposition: Hanoi cleverly orchestrated the theme: 'Every bomb dropped will harden the resolve of our people,' and people hardened. Initial fear transmuted into pride and indignation. Latter was transmuted into heroism or fanaticism, depending on your point of view.
Satement of fact: The Americans, who are not psychologists, continued to drop their bombs. Bomb tactics had great nuisance value, but were never like the saturation bombing of Dresden and Hamburg in WW II. Firebombing a large city is total war, a far cry from the slippery kind of war. Most bombing in Vietnam was meant only to slow some supply networks or to prevent allied soldiers from being over-run in tactical situations.
Proposition: In the North the bombing acted as a vitamin supplement for a war-weary population. The bombing was not too little and not too much. It was just right. Exactly what enemy paper tigers needed. They knew that the Americans, despite some hawkish hawks, would never do to Hanoi what had been to Hamburg or Dresden. That would revolt the world and a great many Americans. It was politically unacceptable, even though most Americans haven't the faintest idea what "political war" means.
So the US military (a paragon of the non-political) would give the North just what its psywar paper tigers needed. Not too much. Just right, Baby. Just enough to portray the Americans as "mad bombers" to a world audience and "insolent imperialists" to a Vietnamese audience.
Question: Did South Vietnam have any paper tigers capable of launching leaflet campaigns more fearsome than bombs?
"On the civilian side we are weak," the official said. "In this field our military personnel are much better."
It was agreed that anybody can drop a bomb. Any tiger with claws can scratch.
Clever old Mao, in another sense, derided the Americans as "paper tigers." But he had a different understanding of the phrase for himself. So the little Red books inundated China.
Some paper tiger, that Mao.
AROUND THE TOWN
Sorry, but we still can't give you a first-hand report of action in the Laotian border area. MACV, which will accredit almost anything on two legs, still refuses to extend official press accreditation to this columnist. MACV says it cannot accept because we are from a Vietnamese-owned publication. And the US press, which interested itself in the Don Luce accreditation case, neatly manages to ignore this one.
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