Rural Affairs Vietnam
Started in mid-1962 with a special $10 million fund from the Kennedy White House, this was America’s first integrated counterinsurgency program, blending local economic and social development with incentives for better local government and security. This program turned the traditional AID country effort on its head. AID/Vietnam (known as USOM) was a headquarters-focused, capital-oriented organization that worked by helping national ministries and had virtually no presence in the countryside. By contrast, a new special office, Rural Affairs, was created. It put volunteers into the provinces who lived on the local economy and were creative, problem-solving and often strikingly young, highly motivated Americans. They worked with Vietnamese on vital local needs, which included schools, wells, refugees, and improved rice and pig culture, as well as more basic issues of physical security and representative local government. The philosophy was to create a tie between villagers and government and, more basically, a greater sense of national identity and of value in belonging to the national, as opposed to Communist, side of the prolonged civil war. There was also an iconoclastic system to bring AID supplies from Saigon to the provinces when needed, unprecedented at the time and suggestive of today’s just-in-time supply procedures. And there was a new way to make funds immediately available for urgent projects in the provinces, based on decisions by a joint committee of Vietnamese and American officials at the provincial level. Over time, some Rural Affairs personnel were killed and others captured by the Vietcong and suffered greatly in captivity. The Vietnamese staff of Rural Affairs were close colleagues, strongly active in its work, and are among the most enthusiastic participants in its American reunions. Rural Affairs was succeeded by larger and more bureaucratized organizations such as the Office of Civil Operations (OCO) and Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS).