But, I also concluded that TV WAS also a pacifier. On Friday nights, Chinese Opera was by far the most popular program and ran upwards of two and a half hours long. While it often had overt propaganda messages, e.g., parents: dont let you daughters move to Saigon because they risk becoming prostitutes, it was highly entertaining.
One evening, I went with the Vietnamese district officer and the US district advisor to watch the reactions of a TV audience in a hamlet. Part way through the show, I commented to the officer about the fact that I observed viewers in uniform with rifles, and asked if they shouldnt be guarding the perimeter of the hamlet instead of the program. He said yes, but he then subtly pointed out two plain-clothed members of the audience saying that they were suspected of being part of the Viet Cong infrastructure in the hamlet.
The Hamlet Evaluation System
On the Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) side of the survey, it was obvious that they were distorting the facts. The HES was based on all sorts of indicators (seventeen factors as I recall) of pacification, each with five indicators of success, e.g., for the factor extent of the Viet Cong infrastructure, the choices would range from totally intact to totally eliminated. A report was prepared each month for every single hamlet in a district by the US District Advisor, usually an Army captain, or navel equivalent.
I soon realized that positive responses to the HES probably correlated more with negative reports in the US press that the advisors read, than with any improvement in pacification outcomes. Like any good soldier, they wished to show that things were going well, a typical outcome of surveys that lack reliable ways of validating the responses and challenging the findings.
I also observed that the officers who were assigned to serve as district advisors were all trained in psychological warfare at Fort Bragg. However, none of the ones that I ever talked to had met a returning advisor while at Bragg, which I concluded was a big mistake. What I saw was how discouraged many of the advisors became, occasionally implying that we were working and fighting on the wrong side of the war. The level of discouragement seemed to me to be strongly correlated with how well acquainted an advisor was with his Vietnamese counterparts and how often he would eat in the local market instead of in an Army mess.
Leadership in hamlets, villages and the country
There was one success that I did observe that could be replicated in Iraq. The CIA organized Revolutionary Development teams recruited from strategic hamlets, i.e. ones that showed an inclination to fight the Viet Cong. They would take a group of 55 residents of a hamlet and give them training. Upon completion of training the group was issued small arms and returned to their hamlet not only to serve as a local security force, but to undertake community development projects strengthening the hamlet through both activities. The teams enjoyed support from their fellow residents because of their twin commitments to security and development of the village.
When President Dimh was elected in 1954, he dissolved all village councils and replaced them with officers from elsewhere. These councils had been democratically elected, and replacing them with officers who were not residents of the villages alienated many of the residents. Villages were very insular and really governed themselves. With ancestor worship and other animist beliefs, residents felt that it was in that village that all of their ancestors resided and that they must reside.
These traditional values governed even the most educated. As an example, Hein, the overall team leader of our three survey teams, was educated at the University of Saigon and raised as the off-spring of a French Vietnamese officer. I asked him who he would vote for in the election for a new president in the fall of 1967. The candidates were the current president and a neutral candidate who was perceived as being able to mediate between the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese government whose philosophy Hein had espoused on many occasions. Hein responded that he could not vote for that candidate because one of his ancestors had been cheated out of a piece of land by an ancestral relative of the candidate.
The war in action
In general, the war was very low key at the time that I was there. I would occasionally see smoke from a nearby bombing. I would also hear H&I (harassment and interdiction) artillery fire that was allowed in what were designated as free-fire zones areas that if there was any movement seen, artillery could be fired without higher approval. Obviously, this did not go over well with the residents of those areas.