Peace Corps Writers
Footprints in the Sand
My Time in Vietnam
  Have an article for
"War and Peace Corps"?
Contact our
by David Gurr (Ethiopia 1962–64)

AFTER RETURNING FROM PEACE CORPS in Ethiopia in the summer of ’64, I assisted in thePrinter friendly version training of a group of Trainees for Brazil, and then the summer of ’66, I assisted in the training of another group for Turkey, both at New York University. In between, I completed an MA that I had started before going to country myself.
     During the summer of 1966 when I was working with the Turkey project, I met an RPCV from Peru who had walked into my office by mistake. She was attempting to sign up for the Teacher Corps, a project for RPCVs that enabled them to obtain a graduate degree in education, while teaching in the poorest schools of New York City. She left my office but returned after having left a book behind. I invited her to lunch and the rest is history.
     We were married shortly after our meeting. After all, if we had survived Peace Corps Training with all of the psychological testing how could we go wrong?      In early ’67 I began to shop around for jobs back in the international sector. I had studied international economics and upon my return to the states, I had written a dissertation on Ethiopia’s first Five Year Plan. And, my new spouse wanted to go overseas again as well. However, I was turned down for two jobs with UNICEF because of my 3-A draft status. They had already had someone of my age, with two children drafted out of West Africa, and we were expecting our first.

An international job surfaces
My brother told me that the Chairman of the Political Science Department at NYU, and a friend of his, was joining the Simulmatics Corporation to conduct research on the impact of television on the Vietnamese, and suggested I apply to become part of it. The project was funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Advanced Research Projects Agency (OSD ARPA), the same group that Daniel Ellsberg worked for.
     I was subsequently hired for the project on a one-year contract, and left for Saigon in May of ’67, my wife followed in July, then later moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
     The overt purpose of the OSD ARPA project was to have teams of Vietnamese interview village residents about changes in their attitudes that were attributable to television — in essence to learn if we were “winning hearts and minds.”
     The project’s covert mission was to obtain information using the Hamlet Evaluation System, a monthly reporting system that supplied the OSD ARPA with the results of the war for “pacification,” in order to validate its accuracy. This was some of the information that Ellsberg relied on when he made his about-face regarding the pacification efforts.
     I spent six months in Saigon, Bac Lieu, An Yang, Can Tho, Vung Tao, Long Bin, Phouc Long, Dalat, Binh Dinh, Na Trang, Quin Yang and Pleiku. I oversaw each team, but stayed away from them during the day while they conducted their interviews so as not to appear to be an American effort. How’s that for naiveté! I soon realized that if someone walked into a hamlet during the day, either Vietnamese or American, they had to be government supported because the Viet Cong owned the night in all of the contested areas which at the time constituted a third of the country and the bulk of our survey sites.

TV or not TV
Our findings were the same as television surveys conducted with American audiences; TV was an entertainment medium, not an information medium. People saw the news and propaganda being presented to them, but it did not substantially change their minds, because, of course, it did not deal with the relative insecurity of the villages. After all, if villagers were overseen by the Vietnamese Government by day and Viet Cong by night, they lived in a schizophrenic environment.

Home | Back Issues | Resources | Archives | Site Index | Search | About us | To contact us

Bibliography of Peace Corps Writers | PC writers by country of service

E-mail the with comments
or to be added to the new-issue notice list.
Copyright © 2008, (formerly RPCV Writers & Readers)
All rights reserved.