VIETNAM - History, Documents, and Opinion
Edited by Marvin E. Gettleman
Pub. by Fawcett -1965, Repub. by Times Mirror -1970
THE GENESIS OF UNITED STATES SUPPORT FOR NGO DINH DIEM
By ROBERT SCHEER
Foreign correspondent for Ramparts magazine, author of A View from Phnompenh, Ramparts, IV (July 1965). pp. 25-31, and co-author (with Maurice Zeitlin) of Cuba: Tragedy in Our Hemisphere (New York, 1963).
The selection is from:
How the United States Got Involved in Vietnam
(Report to the Center for the study of Democratic Institutions [Santa Barbara, CA] 1965), pp. 13-16, 20-44. By permission of the Fund for the Republic.
THE REIGN OF NGO DINH DIEM
U. S. Support for Diem
By November 1955, the professors were able to state in their monthly report :
During the month of October we received a notice of Washington's approval of the recommended expanded police program submitted August 29. We started immediately to implement this program. Conferences were held at USOM on October l0 and the Embassy on October 23 and 24, trying to coordinate Internal Security operations in Vietnam, in which our government has an interest.
With Washington's sanction, the professors reorganized the old French- sponsored Suret'e into a new "Vietnamese Bureau of Investigation," which was modeled upon the FBI but would "also be responsible for the many other enforcement duties that are peculiar to this part of the world, such as information and postal control, etc." The police force was turned into a paramilitary unit, trained in particular to deal with uprisings on the part of the citizenry. Once Saigon was secured, it became essential to pacify the countryside, and so the Civil Guard, a rural-based militia of 40,000 men, was organized. The immigration authorities were trained to fingerprint the Chinese population, which was distrusted by the Diem government, and all agencies of government were trained in maintaining security dossiers. The monthly records of the project list a wide variety of guns, ammunition, vehicles, grenades, handcuffs, and tear-gas equipment that the Michigan State team passed on from "offcial U.S. agencies" to their Vietnamese proteges. From 1955 to 1960, the Michigan team had the major responsibility for training, equipping, and financing the police apparatus for Diem's State.
The MSU team, of course, had other responsibilities for building a governmental structure. The professors worked on the constitution, redesigned parts of the bureaucracy, developed a school of public administration and the beginnings of a civil service. In their attempts to gear the government to a solution of the serious social problems confronting it, the MSU project published many studies. They were couched in the jargon of public administration and were aimed at increasing the efficiency of Diem's operations. These documents never mentioned the facts of the dictatorship under which the Diem family consistently stood in the way of the reforms suggested. The MSU team constructed a beautiful paper government that never was translated into reality.
THE REIGN OF NGO DINH DIEM
The failure of the MSU project may have resulted in part from that "in-ness" to which The Times of Vietnam referred. President Hannah was an important Republican figure and had been an Assistant Secretary of Defense. Interviews with some members of the project revealed that involvement in a high priority government program gave them a heady feeling of glamour and prestige. As one member frankly states,
"I saw the job in Vietnam primarily from the stand point of my own career development. I had taught public administration and I saw this as a job with experience, with an entree back into the academic world."
The project favored a technical approach to social problems. This "scientific style" provided a justification for academics functioning in a strange land as controlled agents of their government and permitted them to perform tasks that would otherwise have run contrary to the personal ethics of many of them.
The interviews this author had with various members of the MSU team revealed a strong sensitivity to the titles, positions, awards, and other attentions of the institutions with which they had contact. Later, their attitudes were to range from the rather cynical view of one project head who stated:
"Knock it out of your head that 99 percent of university guys are educators - they are all operators,"
to those who became tormented by the moral implications of their work in Vietnam. In this category was one economist who thought that the economic program of the Diem government was an almost total failure and concluded that the peasants might have been better of with the other side. But although he was to write about Vietnam, he did not express such thoughts, and his reasons for not doing so were described as-follows :
If you are an ordinary person you will be listened to insofar as it sounds right. Otherwise you're considered a deviant. Only if you have high status will a deviant be listened to...... I suppose people would most likely figure that I was a crackpot who lacks good judgment - not cashiered for this but always a question mark - wouldn't say your subversive - but would influence their judgment about my judgment.
If they were reticent while in Vietnam, some of the professors became highly prolific on paper after their return to the United States at the end of their tours of duty. Much of our public expertise on Vietnam has come from alumni of the MSU project; they are the authors of many of the articles about Vietnam not only in scholarly journals but in the mass media. In this writing, they have concerned themselves with the many social and political problems facing Vietnam, but nowhere have they engaged in a critical analysis of the MSU project itself. They had played a vital role in building the governmental apparatus for the Diem Administration, but much of their work was irrelevant and self-defeating, and many of them came to feel that a good part of it was in an old-fashioned sense, immoral.
U. S. Support for Diem
In 1957, after three years in power, Diem traveled to the United States for an offcial visit. By then he had crushed the rival power of religious sects and opposition politicians and had won the commitment of the United States to finance his regime and supply it with a large force of Americans to implement the aid program.
It was during this trip that the celebration of the "Miracle of Vietnam" began in earnest. Diem was "handled" by the Oram public relations firm and the American Friends of Vietnam. He received the red-carpet treatment in official circles and in the press. He was flown in on President Eisenhower's personal plane, the "Columbine," and the President met him at the airport........
The "miracle" thesis formulated by the lobby was accepted by most of the mass media during the first five years of Diem regime. It was generally accepted that aid to Vietnam had produced a success story:
the Diem Government had turned back the threat of Communism by initiating vast programs of economic and political reform and greatly improving the lives of the people. American aid and advice had helped to develop a "nationalist alternative" to the Vietminh and the country was making rapid strides toward political stability and economic independence. 3
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