The Phoenix program is arguably the most misunderstood and controversial program undertaken by the governments of the United States and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was, quite simply, a set of programs that sought to attack and destroy the political infrastructure of the Lao Dong Party (hereafter referred to as the Viet Cong infrastructure or VCI) in South Vietnam. 1
Phoenix was misunderstood because it was classified, and the information obtained by the press and others was often anecdotal, unsubstantiated, or false. The program was controversial because the antiwar movement and critical scholars in the United States and elsewhere portrayed it as an unlawful and immoral assassination program targeting civilians.
Unfortunately, there have been few objective analyses of Phoenix, and it still is looked upon with a great deal of suspicion and misunderstanding by many who study the Vietnam War.
Following the below overview is a set of first-hand observations of one part of the Phoenix program in one province of South Vietnam, Tay Ninh. It is a snapshot in time and place, but it represents a picture of the way one important and highly effective aspect of Phoenix worked in the years immediately after the 1968 Tet offensive. It is the story of a single operational unit that was part of the larger, country-wide action element of the Phoenix program–the Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs).