272. Memorandum of Discussion at a Meeting of the Operations Coordinating Board’s Special Working Group on Vietnam, Department of State, Washington, November 7, 1955, 3 p.m.1


  • State—Mr. Kenneth T. Young, Jr., Chairman
  • Defense—Absent
  • CIA—Mr. Archibald Sampson
  • ICA—Mr. Frederick Bunting
  • USIA—Mr. James Flood
  • Treasury—Absent
  • Commerce—Mr. Davis A. Kerns-Preston
  • Agriculture—Absent
  • OCB—Mr. Kenneth P. Landon


  • Saigon—Col. E. G. Lansdale; Lt. Rufus Phillips
  • State—Mr. Robert Hoey; Mr. Hoyt Price; Mr. L.S. Tyson; Mr. P.M. Kattenburg; Miss Patricia Byrne
  • ICA—Mr. Paul D. Summers
  • BOB—Mr. Austin Ivory
  • OCB—Gen. Dale O. Smith; Dr. E.P. Lilly
The Chairman referred to Soviet efforts in connection with the Geneva provisions for elections to unify North and South Vietnam, and commented that the Soviet Government had suggested a consultative conference between the two zones to encourage the idea of such elections. The Soviets have been talking with the British and [Page 573] apparently are prepared to exert some pressure to secure the desired elections.2
The Chairman then introduced Col. E.G. Lansdale and Lt. Rufus Phillips, from Saigon, who have been engaged in special activities in connection with the Diem Government. Their joint observations in substance were:
Our work in Vietnam was aimed to bring about unity between the Diem Government and the general population in order to offset any attraction the communist Viet Minh state might have for the people. One problem was how to overcome the suspicions of the various political and religious groups in Vietnam. The political parties tended to act in a clandestine fashion, regardless of whether they were in support of, or in opposition to, the government. They knew no other way to operate as a result of their colonial experience. Our problem, in part, was to develop open politics so that problems could be discussed openly and democratic processes would be possible.
The main target of the communists was the army of Vietnam and not directly the Diem Government. Our efforts were aimed to improve the morale of the army, and its relations with the village population. It was a new army and had no code of behavior. In the beginning the soldiers went about with their families like gypsies and would go through a village community like a cloud of locusts, depriving them of their rice and their pigs. As a consequence, the people would welcome Viet Minh soldiers more than the Vietnamese. Our program, in the beginning, concentrated on teaching the soldiers how soldiers should behave. Camps were set up for their families and proper procurement methods were used to feed and care for the soldiers. The methods used proved successful and the population became friendly to the army when they saw that the army behaved properly. This led to improved intelligence on communist activities. Campaigns carried on against the Hoa Hao demonstrated the success of these methods because the Vietnamese Army was dependent upon the villagers for support.
There was also a heavy training program to prepare the Vietnamese Army to fight. Their morale was developed to a high point and they became very cocky. Their campaign against the Binh Xuyen gave them experience. Where the French had failed, the Vietnamese succeeded in the swamps of the southern part of the country. The troops marched through swamps and defeated the Binh Xuyen. The leadership of the army was important, as the general officers had advanced rapidly from being lieutenants and captains. They learned obedience, but as generals they had to learn how to think. Leaders were frequently from favored families and had been educated outside [Page 574] of Vietnam, usually in France. They did not understand the mental attitudes of their own troops. A new course of training was launched to accustom officers and troops to be together. They were put in teams of 100 without distinction of rank, and for five weeks they lived and trained together. Those who showed ability received automatic raises in rank and those who failed were dropped as officers. The Vietnamese Government is cooperating to develop a tough officer staff which can work with the troops. There is a new spirit in the army and the officer corps.
Earlier, when the army moved into a Viet Minh area, the communists used scorched-earth tactics. The Vietnamese Army developed a relief system for the stricken population by distributing rice, reconstructing roads, and opening wells. When the people saw the Vietnamese Army behave better than the communist army, the populace gave them their loyalty and every possible support. The reason was the concrete and substantive relief which the army brought to the people.
Operation Brotherhood,3 supported by the Philippines, gave an added psychological support in convincing the people that they were being considered not only by their own govenment but by foreign governments.
Viet Minh promises have been counter-productive as a result of the good treatment provided by the Vietnamese Army. The communists had promised land reform and the fulfillment of all dreams, but, as time dragged on and nothing happened, the people became tired of the communists and in some regions the communists suffered a psychological defeat. This was less true, however, in the South where the communists remained strong. Many people in this area accepted the communists’ promise to return in 1956.

A Civic Action Program was started last January by the Vietnamese Government in an effort to teach government officials to serve the people and to convince the people that their officials were interested in them. Groups of bureaucrats were made to dress like peasants and to work in teams with the villagers to get them to understand their own problems. These government employees were drawn from several ministries and attempted to help people solve their own public health problems, their irrigation problems, their educational problems, their legal problems, and others. A team would begin by launching a village council and getting the village council to express its problems, and then to discuss possible solutions. They [Page 575] erected schools and meeting halls and brought the central government and the villages psychologically closer together. The Prime Minister believes that this program is his main hope for the future. It is still run on a financial shoestring. Civic Action Teams have already been in 10 provinces and the hope is to have them in every district in Vietnam by January 1956. The teams are not tied in with any political parties.

Some ICA money is being devoted to Civic Action programs and it is expected that more will be utilized in 1956. In this connection ICA’s A–256, of October 7,4 provides the first official despatch on this subject. (A draft telegram was distributed during the discussion to query Saigon about Civic Action programs for 1956 in the light of A–256 of October 7.) Considerable ICA material is already being utilized in the various ministries and ICA kits are in evidence in the field. As yet there is no official Vietnamese Government request for aid in the Civic Action Program, as it is not yet regarded as a program separate from the diverse programs in the various ministries. The activities of the various ministries are coordinated by a Mr. Kung who dresses as a villager and mingles with the people. It will probably be necessary to provide him with some additional financial strength but the intention is to avoid building a separate ministry devoted to civic action or community development. This is a program, at any rate, that is strictly Vietnamese and U.S. assistance is peripheral.

Instruction as to civic responsibility is provided by the Ministry of Information. Part of the problem has been to avoid the errors of the communists in promising too much from civic action. Actions speak louder than words and so the Ministry of Information people have been restrained from promising too much. The program is aimed to give practical activation and to help villagers to solve their own problems.

In the South, if the communists start terrorist actions of which they are capable, the Vietnamese Army is confident they could defeat them. Politically, communists have capabilities in the government and in the villages so this is a race between our counter-subversives and the communist-subversives. The communists are very tough and difficult to cope with, and they are well-trained. On the government side many political-minded people engage in counter-subversion. A civilian watch group is being developed to help report on the communist groups. Civic action and coordinated [Page 576] programs seem to offer hope to tie closely together the central government and the village people.
The meeting adjourned until 3:00 p.m., November 14, Room 5106 New State Building, at which time problems in connection with Laos and Cambodia will be discussed and, in conjunction with working group members in the NSC 5405 committee, a first draft of the Progress Report on Southeast Asia (NSC 5405) will be considered.
Kenneth P. Landon
  1. Source: Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430, Southeast Asia. Secret. Prepared by Landon on November 8.
  2. For an account of such pressure, see the letter from Macmillan to Dulles, infra.
  3. Operation Brotherhood was a program sponsored by the International Junior Chambers of Commerce and strongly endorsed and aided by Lansdale. Under the program, Filipino doctors and nurses volunteered for medical duty in free clinics in South Vietnam. For Lansdale’s account of the operation, see In the Midst of Wars, pp. 168–170.
  4. Toica A–256, October 7, was a 22-page despatch consisting of Lansdale’s optimistic description of the “Civic Action” program as conceived by its sponsors and Wolf Ladejinsky’s more guarded appraisal based on 3 days of field observation. (Washington National Records Center, ICA Message Files: FRC 57 A 248, Box 104, Vietnam)