Phoenix and the Birds of Prey

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Phoenix and the Birds of Prey is a 1997 book written by Mark Moyar concerning the CIA's Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War.


According to Moyar, Operation Phoenix was a covert intelligence program undertaken by the CIA in collaboration with South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The program was designed to identify and capture Viet Cong operatives who were engaged both in recruiting and training insurgents within South Vietnamese villages, as well as providing support to the North Vietnamese war effort.

Content of the book

Moyar wrote the book largely as a response to what he viewed as unfair historical analyses which persisted in regards to both the Phoenix Program and the Vietnam War in general. The Phoenix Program has been criticized by some for its alleged human rights atrocities, such as the fact that innocent civilians were often killed as a result of faulty intelligence.

In the preface, Moyar argues that, "Many student radicals of the Vietnam era have become professors at Harvard or other prestigious universities across the land." These individuals, he believes, are advancing a view of the war which fails the test of objectivity. While Moyar accepts that atrocities occurred as a result of the program, he seeks to, "avoid such black and white interpretations" and recognize the "various shades of gray that existed." In his view, the program had both successes and failures, as well as positives and negatives. He describes the Viet Cong as a ruthless enemy for whom covert and aggressive action was necessary to defeat. In addition, he cites that few recognize that the U.S. forces often prevented abuses of the enemy advocated by the South Vietnamese from occurring.

Critical reviews

The following are critical reviews written about Moyar's book:

World Intelligence Review, Hayden Peake, Spring 1998

  • "Mark Moyar, a young (born in 1971) Harvard-trained historian, unburdened by the stories drummed into the public psyche by those who built careers on the conventional wisdom, has written a remarkable book that challenges what has become the "Jane Fonda" interpretation of the Vietnam War. Based on primary documents and interviews of firsthand participants on all sides of the conflict. Moyar's book focuses on the CIA role in the now notorious Phoenix Program... [Moyar] displays an uncommon grasp of the problems of agent recruitment and handling peculiar to Vietnam, the social and practical challenges faced by the American advisors and the Vietnamese at all levels, and the blinkered reaction of those reading, watching, and criticizing at home. One is forced to wonder how Phoenix and the Birds of Prey will be received by the many contemporary commentators who for years promulgated as truth views that the book exposes as myths, if not falsehoods. Dare we hope for a broad public debate, or is it more likely that Oliver Stone will produce his own "truth" about Phoenix?" [1]

The Washington Times, Joseph Goulden, July 5, 1998

  • "Mr. Moyar does not moralize; war as he describes it is brutish and occasionally gruesome... Mr. Moyar ably demonstrates that young persons can emerge from Harvard with their senses intact, provided they keep their minds open. This is a fine war read." [2]

The Wall Street Journal, James Webb, July 15, 1998

  • "Today's best young scholars tend to question the dogma of an antiwar left that has grown gray without abandoning its animus toward those who served. As one example, Mark Moyar won the 1993 prize for historical research at Harvard University by peeling away the shibboleths that have surrounded the Phoenix program, an effort directed against Vietcong leaders. Mr. Moyar's book, "Phoenix and the Birds of Prey" (Naval Institute, 1997), is a product of that research and a groundbreaking piece of revisionist history on the war." [3]

Infantry, Joe P. Dunn, January-April 1999

  • "Moyar began this study as an undergraduate thesis at Harvard, and even though he is now only in his mid-twenties, this book makes him a serious scholar of the Vietnam War." [4]

The Journal of American History, John Prados, March 1999

  • "Only bits and pieces of evidence appear in Phoenix and the Birds Of Prey, and the book proves as tendentious as presumably the professors Moyar sought to refute. Given that Moyar himself writes about proper selection and use of sources, this book is worse than disappointing." [5]

Special Warfare, Robert B. Adolph Jr., Winter 1999

  • "As an impartial, credible observer, Mark Moyar deserves a laurel for bringing the facts of the Phoenix Program to light." [6]

Asian Thought & Society, William Nester, January-April 2000

  • "He succeeds admirably. His work could be a textbook for the do's and don'ts of counterinsurgency warfare." [7]

Articles and Resources

Print Resources

  • Mark Moyar, Phoenix and the Birds of Prey, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1997. (ISBN 1-55750-593-4)
  • John Prados, "Review: Phoenix and the Birds of Prey," The Journal of American History, March 1999.

Online Resources