281. Memorandum From Robert H. Johnson of the Policy Planning Staff to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Cottrell)1


  • Measuring the Extent of Progress in the Countryside in Viet Nam

This follows up on our conversation of somewhat over a week ago in which I discussed with you Mr. Rostowʼs and my ideas with respect to devising an objective means of measuring the trend of events in the countryside in Viet Nam. We are particularly interested in measures of the state of the relationship between the central government and the rural population. Our interest is stimulated by several factors. Perhaps because the populationʼs sense of who is winning can be such an important factor in determining its attitude toward the struggle, once the tide begins to turn, there tends to be a multiplier effect. If this is the case, it is particularly important to obtain some measure of the way the tide is moving as a basis for pacing our own effort. Even more important, we need such information, of course, as the basis for adjusting U.S. and GVN activities to the changing situation.

We have also been impressed by the great disparities in impressions of observers as to the state of progress on attitudes and the state of government progress in the countryside. Probably much of this variation is caused by the fact that different observers see different parts of the country or different aspects of what is going on. It would be desirable, if at all possible, to establish a system which would regularize observations. Our thoughts on the subject seem to me to complement and carry forward the suggestion that you and Ben Wood have been developing for improving political reporting from the provinces.2 Our suggestions are as follows:


Mr. Rostow has suggested that we adopt sampling techniques as the basis for a reporting system. We might carefully select a number of hamlets which are reasonably representative of the area in which they are located, develop regular contacts within them and attempt to report regularly on a series of indicators relating to them. Over a period of time we could build up a body of comparable data that would give us some idea as to trends.

[Page 645]

There are some obvious difficulties with sampling under present circumstances in Viet Nam. For example, there would be difficulty in obtaining access to hamlets which are under even partial VC control and probably even greater difficulty in obtaining accurate information on such hamlets. Moreover, if the central government (or district and province chiefs) became aware of the fact that certain hamlets were being made the subject of regular observation, they would probably devote particular effort to improving the situation in those hamlets and might also see that the reporting officer was given the “right” answers to his questions. It should be possible to get around at least this last difficulty, however. For example, it might be possible to select a group of, say, three hamlets which were generally representative of an area and report on them alternately.


It would be desirable to devise indicators which could be made reasonably objective. Where possible they should be quantifiable or measurable against some kind of rating scale with descriptive statements identifying each point along the scale. Such rating scales are, of course, familiar devices and have been developed, for example, by intelligence officers to measure extent of VC control of villages. The following are some suggested possible indicators of the scale and the effectiveness of the US-GVN effort:

Does hamlet have an elected council? Was it elected by secret ballot? In attempting to get at answer to the question of whether the council election reflected true sentiments in the hamlet it would be desirable to analyze background of members elected. Are they from traditional local oligarchy? (The fact that they are or are not would probably have different significance in different areas of the country.) To what extent are they different from previous appointed councils in composition? How old are members? Were they at the time of their election, or had they previously been, government officials? Is membership on the hamlet or village councils actively sought or is it viewed primarily as an undesirable political and economic burden?
Are people in the hamlet (or village) clear as to where real authority rests within the hamlet (village)? Are there perceptible differences in attitude toward Council members and other village leadership groups between the older and the younger generations of the rural population?
How many hamlet council members (or other local officials) have received training in the past year? (If we can identify particular training programs that we consider particularly useful, this indicator would obviously be much more significant if it could be related to such programs.)
How many times has the district chief visited the hamlet during the past month (or other time period)? Similarly for other provincial and district officials. How long did they stay? Did they talk to anyone but village or hamlet officials?
How do officials learn of popular grievances? Is their any regular channel through which such grievances can be transmitted without significant risk of retaliation? How effective? How are grievances dealt with? Is there any machinery for this purpose?
Has the local military commander issued instructions on dealing fairly and sensitively with the local population? What are civilian attitudes toward local military and para-military forces and vice versa?
If this is an area in which the Cao Dai or the Hoa Hao are a significant factor it would be useful to know answers to such questions as: (a) Are there members of the sects on the hamlet council? Are they district chiefs? Province or district level officials? (b) Were (specified) sect religious celebrations held during the past year? (c) Does there appear to be discrimination against the members of the sects in the administration of government welfare programs?
What is the lot of the poorer farmers? What evidence, if any, of improvement or retrogression in his condition? (Perhaps specific indicators could be devised to measure progress and retrogression.)
What is the relationship between the farmerʼs costs and market prices for his product? Is this relationship a source of discontent? Has production increased or declined? For what reason? Does supply and cost of credit seem satisfactory?
Is there an active civilian and/or military civic action program in the hamlet? Does the hamlet council formulate the hamletʼs social-economic developments plans? If not, where is plan formulated? If so, what changes were made as a result of higher level reviews? Do such programs bring economic benefits to the hamlet from outside, or are their benefits all self-generated? (In other words, do they appear to rural populace to be simply another form of corvee labor?) Do they reach the poorer farmers? More directly, do hamlet-dwellers view civic action programs as improving their welfare and do they relate any improvement to government (district, province or central) activities? Are taxes collected? How?
How many actions were taken in the last six months (year) by officials to enforce land reform legislation? (Would obviously need to be related to relevance of land reform in a particular area.)
How many defections from the hamlet to the VC and how many re-defections? From what age, occupational, and economic groups did the defectors come? It would be desirable to attempt to correlate figures on defection with such other indicators as status of village guard, SDC and CG forces in the area, hamlet council electrons, etc.
How many acts of terrorism by the VC against hamlet or village officials during the reporting period? Against other parts of the rural population? Was terrorism, where it occurred, selective? What was the basis of selection (e.g., economic class; unpopularity of officials; interference with government welfare program)?
Has the hamlet been under pressure from the VC to supply food? What success has such pressure had? Has there been any change in this regard and, if so, to what factors is this change related (e.g., state of hamlet defenses)?
What is the capability of the civil guard, local self-defense corps, and village or hamlet guard forces? (A rating scale for capabilities would be desirable.) How many weapons (by type) have been lost to the VC in the area in the reporting period? What is the status of defensive works (fences, moats, etc.)?
Has a radio been installed in the hamlet? Has it been used to call for help? With what effectiveness?

The above list is very long. It would probably be desirable to develop a reporting list in which items were ranged in order of priority, selecting for the highest priority those which are considered most representative and critical. As you will note, I have attempted to make the answers to as many questions as possible quantifiable.

It is obviously much easier to outline a series of questions or indicators of this type than to get continuing, reasonably reliable, information on them. I realize, of course, that an outsider will have difficulty establishing the kind of relationship to hamlet-dwellers that is necessary to obtain this information although a skilled interviewer could obtain much information by indirect questions as well as by observation.

It might also be useful in this connection to devise several general lines of questioning that could lead into these more specific questions. Ted Heavner pointed out, for example, that beginning a discussion with talk about crops and prices was often the best way to draw out villagers on their feelings about their economic situation, government programs, etc. Similarly, inquiries which begin with a question about how U.S. aid could help the hamlet better deal with its most pressing problems may lead to an exposition of unmet hamlet needs and the effectiveness of government programs.

The above list does not adequately deal with one critical problem area—the attitudes of military and civilian officials in dealing with the rural population. For example, it would be desirable to devise a question which would provide meaningful reliable information on the subject of GVN treatment of persons suspected of VC sympathies. It is obviously difficult to develop questions which can be meaningfully reported upon in this area.

As a final suggestion, we ought to encourage the GVN to set up regular reporting procedures which would cover as many of these matters as can be made the subject of reasonably objective reporting procedures. What I have in mind is not strengthening of the intelligence services, but rather the establishment in a government department or departments which provide services at the hamlet and village level of reporting systems that would provide regular reports on such matters. Alternatively, a central statistical and reports office might be desirable. In particular, those questions that can be answered in a quantifiable way might be made the subject of regular reporting. This [Page 648] reporting would, for a number of obvious reasons, be imperfect. But, over fume, it could provide some indication of trends just as present figures on casualties can provide a kind of index number indicating trends even though the absolute figures on casualties are highly unreliable.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 69 D 121, Vietnam 1962. Secret. Copies were also sent to Trueheart, Rostow, Wood, INR, CIA, and DOD/ISA.
  2. I have had the benefit, since talking with you, of suggestions by Ted Heavner. Although this memo has benefited from his comments, he was not asked to comment formally on it. [Footnote in the source text.]