102. Memorandum From the Assistant Director for Rural Affairs, United States Operations Mission in Vietnam (Phillips), to the Director of the Mission (Brent)1

SUBJECT

  • An Evaluation of Progress in the Strategic Hamlet-Provincial Rehabilitation Program
1.
I have asked our Regional Representatives, Ralph Harwood (IV Corps - ), George Melvin (III Corps - ), John Perry (II Corps - ) and Len Maynard (I Corps +) to assess the progress of the Strategic Hamlet-Provincial Rehabilitation Program, in their regions. Their reports, attached to this memorandum,2 provide a brief, analytical and realistic province by province review of progress made in this effort to date.
2.
This evaluation seems particularly useful at this time, since a major change in the provincial support method is under consideration.3 It should provide useful documentation for discussions of the program at the upcoming Secretary of Defense Conference in Hawaii.
3.
In general, highly significant progress has been made in the Strategic Hamlet-Provincial Rehabilitation program in many provinces. Progress is measured in terms of the establishment, in steadily increasing number, of viable hamlets with inhabitants who have the will and the means to resist the Vietcong. There is a sharp difference between the number of such hamlets, and the total number of strategic hamlets officially listed as complete by the Vietnamese Government. That the distinction is both necessary and realistic has been confirmed to us by Colonel Lac and his staff who reviewed these evaluations in draft.
4.

After six months field experience with this program, it has become inescapably clear that, although the concept itself is excellent, execution of the program is seriously handicapped by a lack of understanding of the concept and the lack of sufficient will to put it into effect. This is especially true of provincial and other local participating officials, but is by no means confined to them. There is, almost across the board, great difficulty in grasping the idea that “the strategic hamlet is a state of mind.” Conditioned by years of experience with the French, and having no prior experience in the practice of democratic methods of leadership, many feel unable to carry out the program without using methods sure to alienate the population whose support is its real objective. Significant progress has been made in improving the basic attitudes of officialdom but this progress has stemmed more from our on-the-spot insistence that the welfare of the population be considered than from Central Government direction.

Even when Mr. Nhu touched upon this vital area in his recent speech at Lo-O, his references were oblique and not easily translatable into practical actions. Specific guidance from the Interministerial Committee against such practices as the collection of money for hamlet construction from the population has been honored as much in the breach as in the observance (one province chief recently received a reminder on this score and complained bitterly that this would force him to stop his entire program).

5.
More important than what the Central Government says, however, are its actions in rewarding some province chiefs and punishing others for their progress in establishing hamlets. Here the stress has been almost entirely on quantity, not quality, which has reinforced the [Page 258]natural inclination of most provincial officials to create strategic hamlets “by command.” I have accompanied the Minister of Interior, for instance, on visits to hamlets where he praised the Province Chief for having moved the population without expense to the Government, but where I found out later the Province Chief was obliged, because of popular discontent, to use two companies of Civil Guard to keep the people in the hamlets. This continues up to the present to be the main approach of the Central Government. This must be changed, for insistence by the Central Government on unrealistic requirements tends to force province chiefs into actions surely destructive to the program.
6.
This situation is changing for the better, but still too slowly to produce the type and number of viable hamlets needed to win the war. Fortunately, encouraged by readily available support and by our guidance and backing at the provincial level, more and more province chiefs are learning for themselves that the program must be carried out the hard way, i.e., by persuading the population and winning their support—rather than by herding them into hamlets. It is precisely this change at provincial level which is most encouraging and which holds the most promise of ultimate success if we can keep the present support pattern in being.
7.
These are problems which must be understood and which must be solved if the strategic hamlets are to be viable and effective in achieving their purpose. The evaluations which are attached highlight some of the problem areas, particularly in the Delta where they are most acute and where, except in a few provinces, the apparent progress is largely illusory.
8.
In conclusion, it should be added that the above comments must not be construed as reflecting undue pessimism or a negative outlook. To the contrary, the strategic hamlet program has so well proven itself in those areas where it has been well executed that there is every reason for optimism and confidence. At the same time, however, if success is to become widespread, some of the obstacles and problems involved must be realistically faced and solved. These can be solved if we have the perseverance and the intelligence to continue to seek their solution in a manner which fits the task, for the heart of this task is a psychological revolution in the way the Vietnamese Government and its officials operate.
  1. Source: Hoover Institution Archives, Lansdale Papers, Chron File C. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that copies were also sent to the Ambassador, the Deputy Chief of Mission, J-5 MAC/V, J-3 MAC/V, Chief of MAAG, Chief of OSA, and the Director of the Office of Vietnam Affairs, AID/Washington.
  2. Not found attached.
  3. For the reaction of Phillips and his staff to the agreement reached with the Diem government on the question of control over the financing of the counterinsurgency program, see footnote 5, Document 101.