The Vietnam War - Strategic Hamlet Program

by Flynn Dunbavan


In 1959, the Vietnamese President Diem and his brother Nhu implemented the Rural Community Development Program in an attempt to put a stop to the Viet Cong moving between and controlling villages in South Vietnam. The RCDP involved relocating entire villages into secure settlements called hamlets.

This program had been successfully used by British forces in Malaya between 1940 and 1960.

Strategic Hamlet Program

Sir Robert Thompson, a veteran of the Malayan counter-insurgency effort, formally proposed a review of the Rural Community Development Program to President Diem in November 1961.

The resulting pacification effort was backed by the US and began with Operation SUNRISE in March 1962.

What are Strategic Hamlets?

Strategic hamlets were special villages surrounded with barbed wire and bamboo fencing to deter Viet Cong soldiers. Most were built with school, hospital, electricity and modern features in order to encourage villagers to take up residence. US soldiers trained some peasant villagers with weapons and military training; some South Vietnamese soldiers stationed in the region also came to the aid of the villagers.

More on the Hamlets

Each hamlet was connected to nearby hamlets so that soldiers could gradually retake areas from the Viet Cong.

By September 1962, approximately six months after the program's commencement, 4.3 million people were relocated into 3,225 hamlets.

By July 1963, 8.5 million people were settled in 7,205 hamlets.

However, the relentless pace of construction caused problems for the inadequately supplied government.


The program was plagued with issues throughout its development.

  • Villagers' financial compensation often fell into the pockets of corrupt government officials¬†
  • Some hamlets were isolated and poorly defended, essentially rendering the program useless for some villages
  • Poor execution by the Diem government led to inadequate materials and goods (food, water, medical etc.)


By late 1963, it had become apparent that the program was failing, and the Viet Cong were in control of over a fifth of South Vietnamese villages.

Diem's assassination on November 1st essentially killed the program as well. Only 20% of hamlets were up to predetermined American standards and the government was still poorly supplied.

A resuscitation program in early 1964, 'New Life Hamlets', also failed.

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Strategic Hamlet Program

by flynndunbavan


Public - 8/9/16, 2:38 AM