INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS ON THE HUK CAMPAIGN
By Edward G. Lansdale, Brigadier General, USAF
Counter-Guerrilla Seminar Fort Bragg, 15 June 1961
We have met here today to talk about a counter-guerrilla. campaign which has become a classic in our timee -- the Huk campaign in the Philippines. It is classic in the way it demonstrated economy of force. It is classic in its lessons of the strategy and tactics that win. Rather than bring you these lessons in the usual way -- through lectures and books -- we are going to try something a little different. The five of us up here on the platform are fellow gremlins. We shared many experiences during some 8 years of the Huk campaign, even though we are from different services and from different nations. It is simple justice that, when the school here asked me to speak to you, I decided to share the dangers of the speaker's platform with them.
We have split up the subject matter between us. Colonel Lapus and I will take the first period. My stint will be to introduce you to the campaign and note some of the major lessons. Colonel Lapus, who was head of MIS and later G2 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during critical phases of the campaign, will describe the Communist Huk enemy.
Then, Colonel Valeriano, whom I believe was the outstanding combat commander during the campaign -- particularly for the way he led the Nenita Unit and later the 7th BCT -- will describe the military operations.
He will be followed by Major Justiniano who will talk about the intelligence operations of the campaign. "Justi" had years of experience in leading combat patrols, in the collection of combat intelligence, and in understanding special missions.
Then Major Bohannan will talk about some of the unconventional operations of the campaign. As a combat infantryman in the Philippines, as a counter- intelligence officer in the early days of the Huk campaign, and later as an adviser to the Philippine forces with JUSMAG during the most critical phases, he speaks from considerable experience.
Now, I know that a number of you here this morning are familiar with the Huk campaign. Some of you know from firsthand. You will want to ask questions and contribute to the discussion. I am going to ask you to be patient and give us the morning up here. The afternoon is for you, your comments, your questions. 'I hope you will write down some points during the morning, to bring them up this afternoon. We would welcome a good discussion with you this afternoon to wind up our session.
The reason we want the morning session for the five of us up here is simple. Each of us knows different aspects of the subjects that the others will talk about. When one of us gets through talking, we hope that the rest of us will remember further incidents to help illustrate the points made. It's a way of bringing out a lot of tactical examples which may help you some day when you face your. own guerrilla problems in the field.
Fifteen years ago, the Philippines became an independent nation. I guess that the five of us were about the first people in the Philippines, aside of the Communists, to note that the Communist Huks were going to challenge the right of the new government to govern the people. It was natural that we should note this. Each of us then was assigned to Intelligence duty with our forces, and it was part of the job to spot potential trouble early. I say "our forces," because we had all been in the Army of the United States until that first Independence Day in the Philippines. When the Philippine Army and the Philippine Constabulary also became independent, we continued our close association.
Most of the lessons we learned, we learned the hard way. We made mistakes, but kept on trying until we found something that would work. Then, because some of the lessons were highly unorthodox, we had to fight off interference from more conventional people for the right to apply these lessons that win. We were pretty junior at the beginning and took some lickings. Later, we were able to prove our points.
The real combat phase of the Huk campaign lasted about 8 years. That is, 8 years is about the period when the Communists were able to field units of guerrillas whose objective was to overthrow the elected Philippine government by armed force. The Communists admitted defeat by deciding to give up the idea of what they called "armed struggle" in favor of trying to win by what they call the "legal struggle." This simply means that the Communists suffered military defeat and turned to subversion to gain their ends. They are still patiently at work in the Philippines.
Much of the action of the campaign took place in Central Luzon -- so much so that the newspapers took to naming the area "Huklandia." There were actions in other parts of the Philippines, but Central Luzon remained the hot spot. It offered an agrarian population which felt, with some justice, that it was not getting a fair deal out of life. It offered swamps, two mountain ranges, and jungles ideal for guerrilla bases. It had ample food supplies. It was close to major population centers. And, just to round out the picture, it had American military bases in the area whose personnel were under strict orders to keep out of the domestic affairs of the Filipinos. They were there to help defend the Philippines from external aggression. The secretive operations of international Communism, of which the Huks were part, somehow never seem to be labelled as "external aggression" even when it is so entirely foreign to the local scene.
Actually, what happened was that the Communists fomented a civil war. Like most civil wars, it was bitter and savage, splitting families, turning neighbor against neighbor. The Communist Huks used Mao's guerrilla warfare doctrine for their operations. This doctrine was little known or understood in the free world in those days. Most of the free world thought that Mao and the Chinese Communists were simply "agrarian reformers." In reality, Mao's guerrilla doctrine was the major export item from China to the Communist cadres all over the world.
The Communists were able to field about 15,000 armed Huks in guerrilla units. These were supported by a claimed million sympathizers among the population, whom the Communists dubbed as their "mass base." This million was a big chunk of the 17-20 million total population at the time.
Opposing this Communist armed force of 15,000 which often was able to hide in among the population, were the Philippine Armed Forces of around 50,000. I mention these figures so that you might compare them with other counters guerrilla campaigns. These Philippine government forces were not enough to defeat the Communist guerrillas by conventional military tactics.
The first years of the campaign, from 1946 to mid-1950, saw the Philippine military using tactics right out of the good text-books. Their small-unit combat techniques were well done. They made excellent use of fire-power. They were well-equipped and well-trained. According to the usual military doctrine, they should have won. But, they didn't.
In this same period of strong, aggressive military action, the Communist Huks were able to increase the strength of their forces in the field, extend their areas of influence and control, and greatly increase the numbers of population supporting them. They were so heartened by their success that their leaders were predicting victory in one year.
The reason for this situation can be stated in basic terms: the Huks were running a revolution and the Philippine government was fighting the Huks as though they were formal enemy armed forces. This is hard truth -- not easily seen at the time, still recognized by too few responsible people, and the point of honest similarity between the Huk campaign and other modern counterguerrilla conflicts in other lands.
The Huks said they were fighting for popular causes. The Communist politburo had carefully analyzed the people's grievances, adopted the righting of these wrongs as their rallying slogans, and then exploited the situation with great skill. The fact that this was directed from the top in a rather cold-blooded cynicism -- to win a popular revolution which would put a handful of Communists in power, to run the country afterwards as ruthless dictators -- simply didn't permeate down to the people. Their eyes and ears were on the popular slogans. In mid-1950, Ramon Magsaysay was appointed Secretary of National Defense. He was from the people, loved and trusted them, and understood the full danger to the people's welfare of the Communist Huk movement. We five had the privilege of his friendship and worked closely with him in this critical period. Under his leadership, the Philippines found the ways and means to defeat the Huks. The most urgent need was to construct a political base for supporting the fight. Without it, the Philippine armed forces would be model examples of applied military doctrine, but would go on losing. The Huks had popular support, because they had espoused the needs of the people. The people make the nation. A national Army can hardly win a fight against the very things that give it life, give it a reason for being.
The people of the Philippines have two documents which give them their own government, their own armed forces. These documents are the Philippine Constitution and the Philippine Electoral Code. In 1950, the trouble was that these documents had been turned by political and economic factors into almost worthless pieces of paper. There had been exploitable cheating in the 1949 election -- so obvious that the people were made to feel that the government was no longer their own. If ballots no longer counted, then -- the argument went -- there might be truth in the Huk plea to use bullets instead of ballots to change the government.
The Philippine defense forces took the initiative to construct a true political base for their fight. They shunned the temptations of a coup, which would have brought chaos to a literate, idealistic people by further destroying the legality of the Constitution. Instead, they set about to make the Constitution and the Electoral Code working, realistic, living documents for the people. As they did so, they and the people emerged on the same side of the fight. The Communist Huks lost their own political base. As popular support was lost, the Huk forces lost their dynamic role, and had to go on the static defensive. There was no longer a population to hide within.
The Philippine defense forces constructed this political base legally, within the Constitution. Under instructions of the Electoral Commission, the armed forces policed the 1951 elections, insuring freedom in electioneering and voting, as well as an honest count of the ballots. Since the freedom of elections is also a firmly-held ideal in the United States, the United States government openly backed this concept of making the elections free, as promised by the Philippine Constitution. The 1951 and 1953 elections, with the protection of the armed forces, in essence, gave the government back to the people.
As further moves in constructing a, political base for the fight, the Philippine armed forces undertook a wide range of social operations -- from something as basic as military discipline and courtesy on up to humanitarian and social justice measures. Troop behavior at check points and on patrol was improved. Civilians accidentally mounded in the cross-fire of combat were given the same hospital treatment as wounded soldiers. Poor farmers were given legal assistance in the land courts in tenancy cases. Even the enemy, when captured, was given a fair chance at rehabilitation. As Magsaysay put it, the armed forces offered the Huks the choice of receiving either "the hand of all-out force or all-out friendship." Remember this expression of "all-out force or all-out friendship." It's good tactical doctrine for the free world.
With a true political base being established on sound principles, the way was opened for military victory. The military actions then were pushed with great energy. In my opinion, the success of the resulting military campaign was due mainly to four factors:
1. - the strong, dynamic, and understanding leadership of Magsaysay; he was always suddenly present, in surprise visits, when the troops were facing danger; the troops had someone at the top who really cared.
2. - the improvement of combat intelligence collection and use; this was the result of better relations with the population, an upgrading of the importance of the intelligence function, more realistic organization, and making use of techniques proven in the field.
3. - the step-up of aggressive patrol actions; troops were taken off static defense of towns, taken out of their barracks, and led into active patrolling in the jungles, mountains and swamps, day and night; they gave the Huk enemy no rest, kept him on the run.
4. - the strong support of psychological warfare; it was used as an infantry weapon in combat, as a civil affairs means of bringing troops and people together, as a debunker of Communist propaganda, and as an instrumental part of the program of rehabilitation of prisoners; the EDCOR projects were part of these enlightened psychological operations.
The climax of the campaign came in 1951. The 1951 election, which was made a free election largely through the work of the military, established the needed political base for the operation. Two days after that election, when the results were known and it became obvious that the ballot count had been honest, the Huk forces lost their popular support. As guerrilla forces, they had to switch from the offensive to the defensive. From then on, they got weaker every day. By 1953, only small remnants were left, to be mopped up by police actions.
In sum, then, when the Philippine defense forces had a sound political base -- defending a government of the people, by the people, and for the people -- and used this political base to mount a bold, imaginative, and popular campaign against the Communist guerrillas -- the Huks were defeated.
Query: How is the situation today in the Philippines? We know that the Communists always are ready to take a step back, but I know they will always come again. Perhaps by twos and fours. What about Communist efforts in the Philippines today?
Answer: (Gen. Lansdale). I believe that Major Justiniano should answer that. He is most recently from the Philippines and, as the public information officer in the Philippine Department of National Defense, he probably is ready with the answer.
Answer: (Maj. Justiniano). That is a very interesting question, which I would like to answer under three different headings. First, I would like to answer your question from the psychological point of view. Psychologically it would seem, as a newspaperman recently told me, that for a Communist agent directing operations in the Far East the Philippines should be a first objective. This is not only because of the strategic location of the Philippines from a military point of view, but even more because of the psychological effect which the failure of Communism in the "show window of democracy in the Far East" must necessarily have on other countries.
The second heading under which I would like to answer your question is that of operational facts. The Communist Party, which never admits permanent defeat, has realized that the successes which we gained against them were the result of our adopting a new approach and new techniques. Certainly they are studying and developing new techniques which will not be vulnerable to ours. I might say that there are perhaps 300 Huks still active in the field in the Philippines including one of their old top leaders.
Thirdly, I should like to answer your question from the historical point of view. We know the Communists always keep trying, that infiltration no matter how many infiltrators are exposed, is one of their standard operating techniques. They succeeded in infiltrating one of their top brass into a high echelon in our Department of Foreign Affairs. I am sure that some of you have read the headlines here in the United States in the last few days about infiltration of the U. S. State Department.
I believe that answers the question. It would be wrong to assume the Communist threat in the Philippines or in any country is finished. We, all of us in the free world, must work patiently to maintain the gains which we have made. The problem in the Philippines is not ours alone, it is the problem of every nation in the free world.
Answer: (Gen. Lansdale). I think that answers the question, and it is an answer which is important. As you defeat the Communists some place, you can be sure that their objective -- ultimate victory -- remains unchanged. When you defeat them, they patiently devise new methods which they hope will be more successful and then they come back to try again. For myself, I feel certain that this is the case in the Philippines.
Query: I would appreciate receiving your personal impressions concerning the inter- relationship of Communist movements in these countries. Are they home-grown operations or are they truly branches of an international effort?
Answer: (Gen. Lansdale). I gather that what you are really asking is about the relationship between the Communist movement in your own country of Vietnam and the Communist movements in China, in Laos, the Philippines, and elsewhere. As you know, Vietnam is very close to my heart. I would love to sit down and talk with you at length about its problems and compare them with those of other countries. As our time is so very limited here, I will limit myself to say simply this: Communism is, of course, an international effort. In each country, its expression, its activities, are tailored to the local situation. If those directing it are clever, the Communist program becomes so well adapted to local conditions, to local issues, local grievances, and local people that it appears to be a homegrown product. You will find some seeming differences among the programs in different countries, but you will find many, many more points of similarity. No matter in what portion of the world you choose the countries for comparison, the pattern is substantially the same everywhere. Many of you here today face, or possibly will face, the problems which were substantially solved in the Philippines and which today are critical in such countries as South Vietnam and Laos.