"Talk... Or Die!" - The Montagnards

Published:
Wed 20 Jul 2011
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Savages, or supporters?

In "Talk... or Die!", Australian helicopter pilot Brendan Beckett encounters the Montagnards.

The Montagnard tribes are mountain dwellers, considered a savage people - the Vietnamese called them "moi," which literally means savage - though this was a harsh judgement on a long-established (though comparitively primitive) way of life, perhaps flavoured with an element of propoganda by a Communist government fiercely opposed to the Montagnard's efforts to keep their culture alive.

The name "Montagnard" is as French as it sounds, derived from the time of France's attempts at establishing colonies in Vietnam. In the 1950s the French used the Montagnards as mercenaries against the Viet Minh troops. In recent times they have taken the name "Degar" to sever links to this colonial past, though many still speak fluent French.

Montagnards - Savages?

As the war loomed, American Special Forces were sent to train and supply the Montagnards - or "Yards" as they called them - in unconventional warfare. Much of their weaponry was from the Second World War - re-issues of German weaponry and they had no uniform to speak of. They built fortifications out of bamboo and learnt how to patrol and man them.

Montagnards - Staunch Allies

When the Americans escalated their involvement in the Vietnam War the Central Highlands the Montagnard occupied became strategically important as it included the Ho Chi Minh trail - the North Vietnamese supply line. The Montagnard's unfailing support of the US agenda and willingness to fight for their cause against Communism earned the people the reputation as "America's most loyal allies in Vietnam."

As well as training indigenous troops, the US Special Forces had remit to recruit and make use of mercenary troops. This is something they had been doing since the Second World War, to gain numbers in more obscure theatres of war.

This US film archive footage offers more insight into special advisors sent to Vietnam - though of course from an American point of view!

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