32. Memorandum From James N. Tull of the Office of the Assistant Director for Far East, United States Information Agency to the Assistant Director, Far East (Bunce)1

SUBJECT

  • Field Program Review—VIETNAM

I arrived in Vietnam on August 22 and remained until September 12, 1964. Since it was necessary for CPAO Barry Zorthian to travel to the U.S. during my visit, I returned to Vietnam on September 26, following my trip to Laos, and remained for four days in order to discuss my observations and recommendations with him. I talked with every member of the American staff except BNC Grantee John Garrett, who was in Nhatrang. I visited My Tho, Go Cong and Can Tho in the Mekong Delta area, and also travelled to Dalat, Danang, Tam Ky and Hue. I consulted with representatives of the Embassy, CAS, MACV, USOM and the British Embassy, as well as numerous Vietnamese in the Government and in private life. Throughout most of the time I spent in Vietnam, my work was interrupted or impeded by governmental instability which sometimes reached the stage of utter chaos.

I. General: The almost complete lack of top echelon leadership in the Government of Vietnam (GVN) has made progressively more difficult the conduct of an effective USIS program. The preponderance of USIS activity in Vietnam is designed to provide a surrogate information service for the GVN or to stiffen GVN information operations. To accomplish this we must work through the existing GVN information apparatus, an apparatus that has become virtually paralyzed in most provinces because of lack of direction and support from Saigon.

Vietnamese peasants are, in the main, going to be persuaded by other Vietnamese. This is the job of the Vietnamese Information Service (VIS). And VIS is not doing its job, except in a few noticeably atypical instances. Indeed, in the areas where VIS employees are needed most, they are least likely to leave the relative security of province or district capitals to work among the peasants.

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In USIS, and indeed in all other U.S. operations in Vietnam, there are skilled and dedicated Americans literally working themselves to the point of utter exhaustion while most of their Vietnamese counterparts merely go through the motions.

The number one problem in Vietnam is motivation. And at this juncture I am constrained to say that I see little likelihood of instilling in the Vietnamese the motivation which will be required to win the war—under the present rules. I refer here to the civil servants and the population at large; in the armed forces, training and leadership (in combat it is often de facto American leadership) can compensate to some degree for a lack of personal motivation. But the Vietnamese civil population, family-oriented, selfish and opportunistic even in the best of times, has virtually nothing to lead it or inspire it now.

Nevertheless, we must continue to try. The present American approach should be continued and augmented, i.e., install Americans down to the lowest practical level in all branches of the government to stiffen the inadequately motivated Vietnamese civil as well as military officials. Then, if that doesn’t work, dust off the contingency plans.

We have proved that we can improve the efficiency of centralized Ministry of Information (MOI) operations, such as radio broadcasting, printing and motion picture production, by providing American advisors. With our greatly augmented field operations staff we have been able to make some impact upon VIS provincial operations, but have wrought significant improvement only in those unusual cases where a provincial governor and/or provincial VIS chief are disposed to use initiative in the absence of orders from above. But we cannot expect real progress until we have a more stable GVN, good MOI leadership, and better qualified and motivated personnel in VIS.

II. Personnel and Post Morale: We have fielded the “first team” in Vietnam. This is obvious to any qualified observer. It is recognized by all our key colleagues in other agencies.

Although we are still woefully weak in Vietnamese language-qualified officers (there are 17 positions listed as “language essential—Vietnamese”, but only three officers qualified in the language), almost all our officers are qualified in French and use it to advantage in their work.

The post has lost much of the air of intimate camaraderie which previously characterized it, a virtually inevitable consequence of an almost complete personnel turnover as well as the tremendous increase in the size of the staff. Morale is nevertheless good despite overwork, hardship and danger.

Barry Zorthian is aware that he has a potential problem of lowered morale and reduced efficiency in his staff stemming from stress and overwork unrelieved by adequate rest and relaxation. As so often hap[Page 89]pens in such situations, the employees who need rest the most get the least. However, Barry should perhaps be more aware that he is unique, that all members of his staff are not Barry Zorthians, capable of functioning at top speed and peak efficiency day and night with little rest and no divertissement.

Recommendation: The Agency should accelerate its training of officers in the Vietnamese language. We are likely to have a long-range commitment in Vietnam. Furthermore, numerous vacancies will be upcoming next year. A knowledge of French may be sufficient for most of those stationed in Saigon, but only a brief look at the work of Talbott Huey and Frank Scotton quickly convinces one that a knowledge of Vietnamese makes a world of difference in the field.2

III. Country Plan: The most recent Country Plan was submitted in February 1963.3 Based on the program being conducted under the Ngo Dinh Diem regime, much of it is completely outdated. The post is working on a draft of a new plan, which should be finished soon. I read a portion of the draft while in Saigon. It reveals that, though the situation has changed much, the basic problems remain the same. The old plan is not as obsolete as it seems. Psychological objectives in the new plan will probably be little different from those now in use.

IV. Organizational and Operational Evaluation: The post was still on a shakedown cruise when I arrived; the CPAO had been at the post six months, his DPAO, CAO, IO and at least a dozen others only a few weeks. All key elements of the operation had been recently reorganized.

To the observer it appeared that there was too much emphasis on coordinating, planning, organizing and reporting, and not enough concentration on the quality of the media products and the proper dissemination of those products to the Vietnamese end-users. The newness of staff and the internal reorganization are partly responsible, as is the state of continuing chaos in the GVN. To these must be added the requirements placed on USIS by an Ambassador who has long been accustomed to calling upon a huge staff for frequent briefings and mountains of studies, charts and reports.

The Joint Field Services Center is developing well as an inter-agency operation. The Field Representatives are an outstanding group and they are well supervised. The Deputy Director of the Center (a USOM officer) seems well utilized; the military personnel seem underemployed and inadequately supervised.

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Zorthian has divorced the branch posts from field operations and has placed them under the supervision of the CAO. He insists that this is the only way to prevent cultural activities in the branches from being ignored in favor of field operations. I would not attempt to second-guess him on this internal matter. However, I would point out that the new arrangement causes some jurisdictional confusion both in Saigon and in the field. Moreover, it ties up personnel (BPAO’s and their staffs) and resources in programs of a long-range nature. Granted, there is undeniable value in programs aimed at intellectuals, urban leaders and students, but I believe the war is going to be won or lost out in the hamlets, where the VC are. I suppose it comes down to a matter of relative emphasis, and on this point Barry and I differ.

Peter Madison has been designated Special Assistant to the CPAO. He actually is being utilized as a special projects officer rather than a special assistant. He handles such matters as the third country information program and the development of an overseas information capability in the GVN Ministry of Foreign Affairs, i.e., matters which fall outside the realm of any specific section of the post. Madison, a talented and versatile officer, does not seem to be adequately utilized.

USIS relationships with other U.S. agencies are the best I have ever seen anywhere. CPAO Zorthian has been given unprecedented power and responsibility in psychological operations in general and press relations in particular. He uses it in such a way that he gets excellent cooperation and never causes resentment. MACV acknowledges his primacy as Chairman of the Psychological Operations Committee and as the press counsellor and spokesman of the entire U.S. Mission. USOM has voluntarily placed its Communications Media Division under his supervision. Thus, although most of the advisory and consultant personnel which the Agency has provided to work with the GVN report to the Chief of Commedia, USOM, they remain under Zorthian’s control. CAS and MACV operate the “Voice of Freedom” radio, but requested a USIS officer (Clifton Naughton) to serve as program director. Approximately a dozen military personnel work full time in the USIS offices, in the Joint Field Services Center and in press relations. The teams of military combat cameramen are under USIS supervision. Col. William Smith, Chief of Psywar, MACV, told me he considers all Sector S–5’s an integral part of the Joint Field Services apparatus. Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Johnson and other key members of the Embassy staff offer extravagant praise of Zorthian and his staff. Seems unbelievable, but it’s all true!

USIS relations with the GVN continue to be excellent. That they are not very productive at this time is, of course, not the fault of USIS.

Among the worst problems plaguing USIS are over-centralization of printing facilities, over-production by those over-centralized facilities, [Page 91] and the consequent clogging of distribution channels with printed materials that are inappropriate and too old to be useful when they reach the reader. An American responsible for distribution in the field would destroy publications which reached him too late to be useful and would report to his headquarters that he had done so and why. A Vietnamese wouldn’t dare. Thus the tardy publications are even further delayed because the GVN employee has not yet delivered the last batch he received, but is under orders to distribute everything he gets.

USOM and MACV are responsible for the over-centralized printing; through AID and MAP funding, large printing plants have been built in Saigon for MOI and ARVN Psywar. The Vietnamese naturally feel that these plants should be used, as indeed they are, to churn out a staggering quantity of leaflets, pamphlets, magazines, army newspapers, etc., most of which are mediocre at best.

Both the MOI and ARVN printing plants are seldom capable of producing leaflets with sufficient speed to meet tactical needs. Therefore, tactical leaflets are usually printed in USIS’s own printing plant. But distribution channels are so burdened with MOI and ARVN materials that leaflets which should be disseminated within hours, or at most days, after printing are found undistributed in outlying provinces weeks later. For example, I found thousands of leaflets concerning the August 4–5 Tonkin Gulf affair undistributed in Can Tho on September 2 and in Quang Tin Province on September 9.

I consider distribution the most serious operational problem in Vietnam—distribution of films as well as publications. In approaching the publications distribution problem, USIS and MACV should try to persuade the MOI and ARVN printing plants in Saigon to produce fewer and better products, concentrating as much as possible on non-transient publications. It should be pointed out to ARVN, for example, that a weekly troop newspaper is of limited utility if dissemination of that weekly in the provinces is six weeks late. Over-centralization of printing in Saigon not only clogs channels with materials unsuited to local needs, but also uses up funds and supplies which could otherwise be used with more effect regionally and locally.

The only truly effective way to bring the printing nightmare under control is by implementation of Kenneth Sayre’s4 recommendation that a special GVN printing board or printing czar be established to pass on all printing requests from all GVN agencies, with authority to approve or disapprove requests and establish priorities. The chances of getting the Vietnamese to agree to this are virtually nil. Thus, the observer is forced to the ineluctable conclusion that we would all be [Page 92] a lot better off in Vietnam if it were possible to stop all ARVN and MOI propaganda printing in Saigon and put an additional mimeograph machine in every district. Instead, while I was in Saigon, MACV brought in a mobile printing plant from Okinawa to increase the ARVN Psywar printing capacity!

Statistically USIS distribution of films compares favorably with early 1963. But the statistics reflect repeated showings in the same secure hamlets. This problem can be really solved only by enlargement of areas under effective government control, though some improvement could be effected by persuading certain VIS personnel that their interpretation of what constitutes security is perhaps too restrictive.

Zorthian and his staff are profoundly concerned about the distribution problem. I am confident that they will attack this through the Psychological Operations Committee and the Joint Field Services Center, as well as their GVN counterparts. But it won’t be easy.

V. Program Evaluation: Media operations are in competent hands, with the exception of the Press Section. This will be corrected in a few days with the arrival of Robert Sturdevant.5 Zorthian wisely plans to use this veteran newsman for general supervision of news coverage for IPS and IBS, in addition to normal Press Officer contacts with the Vietnamese press. However, Zorthian should assure that Sturdevant does not become preoccupied with coverage to the detriment of his work with the local press. The press may have many deficiencies, but it’s the only press there is. Circulation of Vietnamese-language dailies is now estimated at 600,000 and the papers are getting out into the provinces more than ever before.

Radio Officer James Ascher6 has overall responsibility for production for VOA and USIS advisory efforts with Radio Vietnam and the “Voice of Freedom”, in addition to production for local placement. This is quite a burden for a junior officer, but Ascher is handling it competently. He has reduced the number of programs produced for local placement and is experimenting with production of pilot series of shows using VTVN producers. He plans to tape these in the USIS studios, get the shows established on the air, and then transplant them to VTVN using the same producers. This initiative on his part can upgrade significantly the professional quality of VTVN’s work.

Motion picture production under Edward Hunter and William Bayer7 is imaginative, thoroughly professional, and admirably suited to a Vietnamese audience.

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The Publications Section produces two major monthlies, Rural Spirit and Free World, as well as posters, pamphlets, and various specialized items such as school notebooks. The periodicals are excellent and getting even better. The post is inserting some harder-hitting material in Rural Spirit on an experimental basis. If it works, i.e., if the anti-communist material does not seriously affect receptivity in insecure areas, this rural how-to-do-it magazine can begin to carry some real propaganda freight.

The USIS Publications Section prints vast quantities of leaflets and pamphlets which come to it from the Joint Field Services Center.8 Some of these originate in the Center; others are channeled through the Center from ARVN, MACV or the MOI. The Center is at least one place where printing requests can be more effectively reviewed prior to printing. It appears that the screening is cursory. It is recognized that there are occasions when the Center is reluctant to deny an ARVN officer’s request for printing of a leaflet for fear of curbing his all-too-rare initiative. Yet it seems that even quantities are seldom questioned. Furthermore, I could find no evidence that the Center pre-tests any of its own leaflets. I was disturbed to discover that USIS would undertake the printing of a leaflet in hundreds of thousands of copies without pre-testing it. After all, even if a leaflet is destined for airdrop in an inaccessible area, one can at least pre-test it in some village near Saigon that is typically Vietnamese. This has not been done. The result is that post-testing has shown that some of our leaflets are unclear, too sophisticated, and assume too much knowledge on the part of the rural reader.

Aside from the lack of pre-testing of leaflets, the Center’s research work is thorough and highly valued by all agencies in Saigon and by the Agency. Particularly useful has been the work of the Center’s Survey Teams. The teams have given us more of an insight into rural attitudes than any other device that has been used. They should be continued and expanded.

With reference to my earlier pessimistic comments about motivation, I would like to point to one example of conspicuous success in motivating Vietnamese. Field Representative Frank Scotton has conducted four training courses for Self Defense Corps platoons in Quang [Page 94] Ngai Province designed to indoctrinate as well as to train the troops in propaganda work. Scotton has inspired these troops. They have done exemplary missionary work in the hamlets and, more important, they have demonstrated the highest kind of valor in combat. The question is: How can such a program be expanded? I urged Barry Zorthian to require Scotton to produce some sort of syllabus or training manual that can be used elsewhere. Though much of the Quang Ngai success is attributable to the forcefulness of the Scotton personality and his fluency in Vietnamese, I believe a similar job can be done on a larger scale by others. Certainly anything that will motivate should be tried.

The post’s third country information program is developing well. Heavy reportage to IPS and IBS on “more flags” support to Vietnam is being supplemented by a greatly augmented flow of photos, motion picture film and radio tapes direct to USIS posts in participating countries. USIS efforts to develop an overseas information capability in Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs are virtually stymied at present by the chaotic political situation. And we have just been dealt a further blow by the GVN decision to transfer the Ministry’s capable Director of Press and Information to Washington as Counsellor of Embassy.

The assignment of USIS officers as advisors and consultants to the GVN in radio, printing, equipment maintenance, and press relations has already paid rich dividends. All these officers are skilled professionals and work well with their Vietnamese counterparts. Numerous improvements have already been effected despite the frustrations of working with the Vietnamese bureaucracy.

Cultural programs are beset with all the usual problems found in underdeveloped nations, and are compounded by war and political turmoil. Particularly affected are the Exchange and Smith-Mundt programs.9 Selection and approval for travel to the U.S. by qualified Vietnamese student and leader grantees are hampered by military conscription and the serious shortage of trained manpower. Recruitment of American professors and teachers for service in Vietnam has been understandably difficult; few academicians relish the idea of serving in a “war zone”. Moreover, those who have been sent to Vietnam have found their work impeded by student demonstrations, closing of schools, etc. Despite all these frustrations, the post has managed to conduct a surprisingly good, though modest, exchange program. [Page 95] Smith-Mundt professors and teachers have done uniformly excellent work under conditions of stress and hardship.

Though the post has plans for a more organized and structured approach to contacts with returned grantees, AID participants, and military personnel who have trained in the U.S., little has been accomplished to date. Now that the cultural staff has finally been brought up to strength again, this activity should be given a higher priority than it has heretofore enjoyed.

Bi-National Center operations are expanding at an almost astonishing rate. English teaching activity is growing in Hue, Dalat, Danang, Nhatrang and Can Tho. A branch of the Saigon Vietnamese-American Association has just been opened in Saigon’s Chinese “twin city” of Cholon. For the foreseeable future, only the Saigon and Cholon operations can be expected to conduct more than token programs of general activities in addition to English teaching; the other operations do not have adequate staffs for it. The Saigon BNC stages frequent lectures, exhibits, musical programs and social events—an excellent activities program, which unfortunately has not been emulated by the post’s Information Center in Saigon. Barry Zorthian is personally very interested in developing an activities program in the Information Center, which is now nothing more than a library. In meetings which I attended he decried the unimaginative presentation of public and untargeted film showings and called for plans for an expanded program for specific target audiences. We can expect improvement, and soon.

Under the conditions prevailing in Vietnam for the past year, effective programs for youth have been well nigh impossible. The post’s contacts with youth and student leaders have nevertheless improved during this period, enabling USIS officers to exert occasional moderating influence. Improved contacts have also produced the by-product of useful political reporting for the Mission. BPAO’s have greatly augmented contacts with secondary schools in their areas. I found universal awareness of the importance of youth activities. In fact, the post was already planning a specialized youth publication before RSC proposed its new Quest magazine, a proposal heartily welcomed in Saigon.

No problems or complaints were encountered regarding Agency support. On the contrary, I heard many expressions of appreciation for the Agency’s unqualified support in personnel, funds, equipment and supplies. Especially appreciated was the outstanding performance of IOC in obtaining donations from private American business firms of commodities which USIS and other field personnel can distribute to establish confidence and rapport on visits to hamlets.

Recommendations: 1. Printed materials should be pre-tested before printing whenever possible.

2. The program of indoctrination and propaganda training of selected paramilitary units instituted by Field Representative Frank [Page 96] Scotton in Quang Ngai Province should be expanded. A standardized training manual should be produced for this purpose.

VI. Press Relations: The unique nature of press relations problems in Vietnam requires that this subject be treated separately. The size of the foreign press corps (at one time during my visit there were more than a hundred American and other foreign journalists in the country) and the GVN’s inability effectively to handle the press place an enormous burden upon the U.S. Mission. As stated earlier no problems exist within the Mission; cooperation is excellent among all American agencies and Barry Zorthian’s primacy in press relations is acknowledged. However, the magnitude of press relations and the serious and sensitive implications for U.S. foreign policy in each day’s developments demand that Zorthian spend an inordinate amount of time keeping abreast of events, discussing and helping to formulate the public positions which the U.S. will adopt regarding those events, and meeting with the press. At present, Zorthian is not making sufficient use of his Press Attache and Assistant Press Attache. It is simply impossible for him to do so. He has no time to supervise or direct them. Both are needed; the Press Attache to handle individual press briefings, arrange press conferences and in-country trips, etc.; and the Assistant to concentrate on special visitors and third country journalists.

Several times I asked Zorthian if he thought he could continue to serve as both chief press counsellor and CPAO without detriment to one or both functions. On each occasion he replied that it was too early to tell, that the number of correspondents in Vietnam might begin to taper off, and that the preoccupation with U.S. domestic opinion might decrease following our elections on November 3.10 Yet he conceded that it might become necessary for him to revive his earlier request for a second DPAO to handle the press. As you know, he has now done so, with Ambassador Taylor’s support.

I feel that Barry must have the additional help. It may seem unusual to establish the unprecedented position of a second DPAO. But I would invite your attention to the fact that the President has found it necessary to appoint a Deputy Ambassador, also unprecedented. The problem is unique; the solution must be also.

A second DPAO could relieve Zorthian of a tremendous load. Even a human dynamo such as Barry cannot indefinitely carry the duties and responsibilities which burden him now.

Recommendation: The Agency should designate as soon as possible a senior officer experienced in press relations as DPAO for Press Relations in Saigon.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, DIRCTR Subj. Files, 1963–69, Bx 6–29 63–69: Acc: #72A5121, Entry UD WW 257, Box 16, Field—Far East (IAF) May/December (1964). Secret. Bunce sent a copy of the memorandum to Rowan, Wilson, and Sorensen under a November 10 covering memorandum in which he described Tull’s memorandum as of “considerable interest.” He noted further that the “major problems” that USIS faced in Vietnam persisted. (Ibid.)
  2. Talbott Huey served in Vietnam as a USIA Officer; Frank Scotton served as a Foreign Service Officer.
  3. Not found.
  4. Chief of the USIA Printing Division.
  5. USIA Foreign Service Reserve Officer in Vietnam.
  6. USIA Branch Public Affairs Officer in Vietnam.
  7. Hunter was a USIA Motion Pictures Officer; Bayer was a USIA Foreign Service Staff Officer in Vietnam.
  8. In a February 24, 1965, memorandum to Johnson, Rowan provided a description of the Joint Field Services Center: “Under the U.S. Psychological Operations Committee is a Joint Field Services Center, housed at USIS and composed of personnel of USIS, USOM and MACV. In the Field Service Center are thirteen USIS Americans, two USOM employees, five MACV military personnel and seventy Vietnamese employees of USIS (twenty-three of these Vietnamese employees are stationed in provincial offices of the Vietnamese Information Service).” See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. II, Vietnam, January–June 1965, Document 160.
  9. Reference is to international exchange programs established under the Fulbright-Hays Act and the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (P.L. 80–402), commonly known as the Smith-Mundt Act (1948), including the Fulbright Program and International Educational Exchange Program. For information about the Fulbright-Hays Act, see footnote 4, Document 14. The Smith-Mundt Act, named after Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-New Jersey) and Representative Karl Mundt (R-South Dakota), established guidelines by which the United States conducted public diplomacy overseas.
  10. The date of the 1964 Presidential election.