122. Memorandum From the Secretary of Defenseʼs Assistant for Special Operations (Lansdale) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Gilpatric)1


  • Civic Action in Vietnam

The current plans and programs for Civic Action in Vietnam, which Sterling Cottrell is bringing back from his visit to CINCPAC, will need evaluation by the Special Group (CI).2 The following is a suggested yardstick for measuring Civic Action in Vietnam, based upon my experience in developing the initial Civic Action programs in the Philippines and Vietnam, and helping initiate Civic Action in Laos and Burma.

The essentials needed in Vietnamʼs Civic Action program now, I believe, are:

To provide the means for the VN military to earn the friendship of the people. These can be simple actions which show that the troops really care for the people they are protecting. The U.S. military program should be mostly one of promoting me proper attitude in the VN soldier. Troop brotherliness towards the people speaks louder than planned propaganda or big projects with bulldozers and gimmicks. These actions are such things as willing care for wounded and injured civilians, sharing rice with the hungry, repairing destroyed public structures, and starting public services such as schools, pure water supply, sanitation, etc. These are quick, natural actions which the soldier does when he has a moment from his primary security mission. Its effectiveness is measured in the increase of combat intelligence voluntarily given by the villagers helped.
To make the village a dynamic, willing part of free Vietnam. We need the whole countryside with us, not just a few fortified areas and cities. The people need something demonstrably worth defending. When the VN government shows up in a village, it shouldn’t just teach village defense and collect taxes. The villagers need a sense of participation in something greater than their own local spot, and a sharing in both the benefits and responsibilities of free citizenship, as well as their actionʼs future. The civilian Civic Action teams must set the example by being public servants in the best sense—including getting their hands calloused by helping people. I believe the Civic Action teams should develop national spirit at the village level, by [Page 257]fundamental democracy in the villages, including electing most village officials by secret ballot, establish primary education, and start linking up the village spiritually as well as mentally (information programs) and physically (roads, landing strips) with the provincial and national centers. The Civic Action teams will earn their influence with the villagers to accomplish the above by really helping initiate public services (which is where health, communications, etc., assistance comes in).
To establish a permanent governmental structure. Civic Action should be seen as a contingency means towards creating a going concern, where Civic Action teams are no longer needed. Thus, the Civic Action teams need to be fielded by all service-type national Ministries (Health, Agriculture, etc.) and work to build a modest permanent organization under each Province Chief so that the national government has roots throughout the country, responsive to the people. This requires a Civic Action chief at the national level able to levy requirements on a number of Ministries (as did Vietnamʼs first Civic Action chief), to increase the executive assets of Province Chiefs, and to inspire dedicated public service in his teams with a minimum of bureaucracy. The teams should be able to get a village on its feet as a good member of the national community, and then move on. Team members themselves used recognition, in terms of preferred civil service in Ministries or provincial governments at the end of their field duty.
To help the people help themselves. This must not be simple dogoodism. The real value of Civic Action is in helping the people to help themselves. Villagers will proudly maintain the road they helped to build themselves, where they are indifferent to maintaining a similar road built by the Army or other government organization. As the people create a better life, with government encouragement and help, they both find a closer bond with that government and build something worth risking life to defend. Further, as this progresses, people start providing true security in an area, and troops can be removed from static defense into mobile striking forces.


The best way for the Special Group (CI) to get a meaningful Civic Action program under way fast in Vietnam would be to approve Defense and AID selecting one experienced officer each to be responsible for U.S. participation in Civic Action in Vietnam, team them up in Washington, and then send them soonest to Vietnam to get a practical organization and program started. There are several U.S. military officers who have proven themselves in Civic Action in Southeast Asia. AID was planning to use Bert Fraley in USOM counter-insurgency. Two “right” people, supported properly, could get more done with [Page 258]what is already available in Vietnam in one day on the spot than could days of further study by others. The two could quickly plan a really practical program, a realistic organization, and do more than that—get some willing cooperation from the Vietnamese government.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, Lansdale Files: FRC 63 A 1803, Vietnam 7. Secret.
  2. See Document 123.