Rand in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era

By Mai Elliott | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
The Mekong Delta and the Central Highlands

The Mekong Delta, the rice basket of South Vietnam, was the locus of what became an in-depth study of the insurgency in Dinh Tuong Province. Crisscrossed by streams, canals, marshes, and swamps, the Delta is a low-lying region with an average elevation below 50 feet. During the rainy season, which lasts from June to November, about 70 percent of the terrain is inundated, making the dry season the preferred time for offensive operations. Besides being the main rice-producing area, with over 5.4 million inhabitants, the delta was also the population center of South Vietnam. The Viet Cong and the GVN were evenly matched in the Delta: The insurgency had a total force of 30,000; the Saigon government had 35,000 when the project began in 1965.

According to David Elliott, the Dinh Tuong project manager, initially the study was directed at detecting vulnerabilities among the cadres so that the cadres could be persuaded to defect. He believed that RAND—or Leon Goure—sold it to MACV as a way to uncover a different and more cost-effective approach to dealing with the enemy. If Goure had told MACV that the project would show them how to fight the war better, the military would not have been interested, so instead it was presented as a way to devise a political strategy against the Viet Cong, “as opposed to the military strategy of attrition which aimed at killing them off.”1

In June 1965, General Westmoreland requested that the project be undertaken to uncover the vulnerabilities of the Viet Cong to psychological warfare, as well as to determine the kinds of programs that should be formulated to exploit their weaknesses and ways to measure the effectiveness of such programs. Besides Westmoreland, General William E. DePuy, the operations chief for MACV, was also enthusiastic because he wanted an in-depth study that he hoped would yield information about the Viet Cong so that the military could fight them more effectively.2 To conform to Westmoreland’s interest, Leon Goure defined the project’s objective as helping to improve

1 Author interview with David Elliott, 2006.

2 Author interview with Steve Hosmer, 2004 and 2005. At this time, according to Hosmer, General DePuy had not turned against counterinsurgency in favor of all-out conventional warfare against the enemy.

-249-

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Rand in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Foreword iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents xiii
  • Photos xv
  • Maps xvii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • Introduction - Rand- The Beginning 1
  • Chapter One - A Remote Corner of the World- The Beginning in Vietnam 7
  • Chapter Two - "What Makes the Viet Cong Tick?" 45
  • Chapter Three - Escalation and Airpower 91
  • Chapter Four - Controversy 149
  • Chapter Five - The Many Aspects of the War 205
  • Chapter Six - The Mekong Delta and the Central Highlands 249
  • Chapter Seven - The Tet Offensive 285
  • Chapter Eight - Pacification and Vietnamization 349
  • Chapter Nine - The Pentagon Papers 415
  • Chapter Ten - The End of the War 499
  • Chapter Eleven - Laos and Thailand- Sideshows 541
  • Epilogue - Diversification 615
  • Bibliography 627
  • Author Biography 653
  • Index 655
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