"Never Got Back All Safe": Viet Cong Spam

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Viet Cong flyer from the Martin Florian Herz Collection

Today everyone's attuned to spam e-mail. We're on guard for its defining characteristics, including bad spelling and poor grammar, and know better than to fall for the scam. So when I saw a flyer produced by the Viet Cong for distribution to US soldiers during the Vietnam War, part of the Martin Florian Herz Collection, I was sure that the GIs would have been just as savvy.

In language that would make any spammer proud, the leaflet asks, "Why do you, day to day allow yourselves to be helilifted to remote, strange and dangerous areas and never got back all safe?" It then commands, "Don't let the war-like ruling clique continues to deceive you" and spells "promptly" wrong. How could any soldier be swayed by such glaringly bad English?

The leaflet was part of a propaganda payload, penned and printed for the enemy, but its similarities to spam go beyond misspelling. Like spam, it takes the form of unsolicited messages distributed in bulk whose purpose is devious and malicious and preys on the weakest.

Many spammers intentionally misspell words in their messages to find naive readers. If they get a response from a badly written message, they know they have found an easy target. Looking at the leaflet, I wondered whether the Viet Cong struggled to write in a foreign language or consciously tangled the grammar to find the weakest soldiers. Were the Viet Cong phishers before their time?