Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
Q: Actually it's based on the Portuguese alphabet.
McCONVILLE: It was a French priest, I think, that devised the alphabet for them, so you could read Vietnamese without having to know the Chinese characters, although the papers there did have Chinese characters. Still, it was totally different from learning something like Spanish because it's much harder to learn a language in which there's no correspondence with English whatsoever. Again, I worked hard at it and I came out with, I think, a 2+/3 or something like that. Very few people did that well in it. So I went off to Vietnam.
Q: You were in Vietnam from when to when?
McCONVILLE: I arrived in about July of 1970 and I left in January of 1974, so I was there about three and a half years.
Q: A good, solid tour.
McCONVILLE: At the time that I arrived, they didn't have an economic section in the embassy as such. It happened to be just coincidental with my arrival there was a named Chuck Cooper, who was an extraordinarily bright and able fellow, a doctorate from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He had been at the Rand corporation, he worked for the Council of Economic Advisors and so forth, and he'd been involved in the whole Vietnam operation for some years by that point. He was still only in his upper 30s, I think. He had just come back out there again. He was very well connected within the White House and so forth, and he had come out there on the condition that he would be Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs in the embassy but he'd have no staff over there. He had one staff assistant whom he would put on special kinds of tasks, but other than that the Joint State/AID Economic Office would serve as his staff. We would also serve the AID director. Cooper had been out there before and had been out there within the AID structure. That had left him very unhappy, and he wanted to pursue economic policy with the Vietnamese government independently of the AID operation per se, so that our Joint Economic Office, which probably had at least 10 officers or more - two of us were State Department people assigned there; the others were all AID officers headed by the office director, who was an exceptional guy Cooper had brought back out.
Q: Who was that?