April 11, 1966

City Residents Hold Viet Political Sway

(EDITORíS NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, has been recuperating from a ďpongee stickĒ wound in Saigon but reported that he has now joined the 1st Cavalry Division at its headquarters in An Khe.  Black is in South Viet Nam to cover activities of the division.  Following is the second part of an analysis of the current political situation in that country.)


Enquirer Military Writer

SAIGON, South Viet Nam - If the real population of Viet Nam had any political voice now, a stable form of government in this country would be possible.

The billowing crowds in the cities (isolated boom towns where crowds of American soldiers are exploited, resented and tolerated by necessity) hold political sway because of the security of their defenses.

They have time for such matters, and they find demonstrations and coups are heady stuff.  The U.S. soldiers in these big headquarters towns have a different attitude toward the Vietnamese, just as the Vietnamese in these towns are different from their country brethren.

There has never been an urban population in close conjunction with a large military population where problems didnít arise.  In Saigon and Da Nang the problems are exploitable by participants in power plays.  The huge concentrations of headquarters and support activities have at times put five Americans into these areas for every one out in the brush.

Schism Inevitable

The schism between resident and foreigner is inevitable.  Resentment on both sides is equally inevitable.  These problems arose long ago and the decentralizing of headquarters and support structures and the moving of those which could go out into the provinces (and often desperately needed to get out there) should have been done.

There is an attitude about this which defies logic and rationalizes the need for those swollen headquarters complexes by identifying the mission of the U.S. here as support of the Vietnamese governmentís effort to survive.

The answer to any question about moving activities into outlying areas is always there is a problem of security and of working with Vietnamese officialdom.

Activities moving to a corps area, for example, would have left the Vietnamese government structures it worked with back in Saigon and would have called for a commitment of troops to defend them.  One official told me this when I asked him about it in 1964, when things were going badly on the military front but nicely on the political front.

Succession of Generals

The endless succession of generals to the ruling position meant little enough as a political problem at the time because all of them were generals who would continue to wage war against the Viet Cong and work with the U.S. program if they ever got their political problems sorted out.

It is not so certain that the ultimate end of the present political trouble - at a time when military matters seem to be very well in hand - will produce a government which will not quit fighting, however.

The fact that the U.S. then was dealing with a power structure which recognized such dependence on American aid and was hoping for American troop commitments offered an opportunity to force a move of activities out of the swarm areas.  If the U.S. representatives had done it, the Vietnamese counterparts would have had to do so.  The problem apparently never was recognized, however.

U.S. Mission

Actually, the U.S. mission here was always one of helping the Vietnamese people to survive and develop their nation free of enforced communism.  Supporting the various governments which have come and gone in Saigon was at first simply an expedient which made this job simpler at the moment.  It grew to be a necessity, as all such expedients do, when the real job here got lost in the shuffle of events.

We may find ourselves committed to a huge military effort for a chaotic government which may well demand that we cease fire if certain elements seize control in Saigon, with our young rifleman still wondering whether he should have burned that last hut or fixed the door hinges.

The men who could have salvaged it all by getting out and working with the people may be going up to committee meetings in Washington armed with the imposing statistics, charts and project reports which they use now to answer questions about matters in Saigon.

We simply arenít doing very well in either the cities or the countryside in activities outside of military occupation specialties and the uniformed men practicing them.

Go Together

Waiting for some particular point in military success to begin rebuilding the area isnít the way to do it; they go together from the very start.

They go together in preparing an operation in a little hamlet or in spotting the frictions which can arise in population centers between big crowds of soldiers and civilians.

They also go together in a realization that the basic problem in any Viet Nam-type situation is not so much dedication to the survival of an expedient power structure type of government, but dedication to bringing about a change in the conditions of the people for the better so that they can form a stable political arena for real governments to operate in.

Our problem has been that at first we did not commit enough military force to secure the countryside for pacification programs to survive.  Then we committed such force with no brass-tacks guidance at the operations level from pacification program experts and with a huge and unwieldy aid program which had grown from its original roots in urban zones like a skyscraper.  It towers high in town, but it covers little ground at the base.

Our aid program, in fact, has turned into a much more efficient supply channel for the black market or graft rings than it has for the peasant population which is the target of the struggle.

American soldiers have never done a better job in combat, whatever their mission here.  It may be that others involved in this struggle have not done as well.

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