Military Medicine to Win Hearts and Minds: Aid to Civilians in the Vietnam War

Military Medicine to Win Hearts and Minds: Aid to Civilians in the Vietnam War

Military Medicine to Win Hearts and Minds: Aid to Civilians in the Vietnam War

Military Medicine to Win Hearts and Minds: Aid to Civilians in the Vietnam War

Synopsis

The Popular Image of American soldiers giving candy to orphans, building schools, and treating injured and sick civilians has a basis in reality. American soldiers have provided medical aid to civilians in many wars, and no less in the Vietnam War, where there were more than forty million contacts between U.S. military doctors, nurses, and corpsmen and Vietnamese civilians. In this book, the author, himself a former military physician in Vietnam, using data derived from extensive archival research as well as his personal experience, describes how medical assistance to Vietnamese civilians, at first based simply on the good will of Americans, became policy. The original Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP), by which unit medical teams treated civilians in their area, soon expanded to other acronymically designated programs: the Military Provincial Hospital (later Health) Assistance Program (MILPHAP), the Civilian War Casualty Program (CWCP), and the Provincial Health Assistance Program (PHAP). Some of these programs accomplished more than others. Although MEDCAP treated many, American doctors were uniformly unhappy over the quality of the care they were able to give. Labs, x-ray machines, and surgery were not available at the unit level, and follow-up was sketchy or nonexistent. Other programs became so politicized that they were almost ineffective. Coordination with the government of South Vietnam was poor, creating areas that were underserved. Most important, there is no evidence that the good will built by U.S. doctors transferred to the South Vietnamese forces, and in fact the opposite may have been true; American programs may have emphasized the inability of the South Vietnamese government to provide basic health care to its own people. Furthermore, the programs may have demonstrated to Vietnamese civilians that foreign soldiers cared more for them than their own troops did. If that is the case, the programs actually did more harm than good in the attempt to win hearts and minds.
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