Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
Q: How did you find your Vietnamese counterparts?
McCONVILLE: The ones that we worked with were, for the most part, very good. There was a very limited pool of them, particularly on the economic side. AID had been sending people back to the United States for economic training and various other kinds of training, and these people were beginning to return to Vietnam at this point. They had had very good educations and were very young and bright, doctorates and so forth from top schools in the United States, and very much imbued with U.S. and Western attitudes towards economics as opposed to the old Vietnamese style, and so forth. These people were the ones that Cooper was counting on to be able to bring about the kind of economic reforms that he was espousing, and he had enormous standing with them. They had built small cadres around themselves of people who were like minded, and these people were of exceptional quality. Now, once you got beyond them, then there was practically nothing. The caliber of the typical civil servant was abysmal. Many of these people only showed up for work about once a week or something. So this small handful of people would have to do so much, but those people on the whole were very capable and very gifted and they were a pleasure to work with. In any event, this was one of the big issues I dealt with in the first year over there. Again, I used a combination of some of my economic training. For instance, the agricultural group, which is very, very large, in our AID mission, they had brought in large numbers on, TDY and so forth, of agricultural economists and so forth, who would devise all sorts of elaborate schemes for forecasting, none of which were worth a damn because the input that they had into it, the data, was so bad. But on the other hand, I had dug into this deeply enough to be able to accommodate those with that data. I knew what data actually did have some significant and which didn't. I put together my own little supply-and-demand curves, which by the standards of these guys were pretty primitive, but in fact they worked. So they were of some help to me. I went out and saw rice merchants and farmers and so forth and I traveled a great deal in the delta, going down with the people from the Vietnamese Ministry of Economy - we traveled together down there - and coming up with my own assessments of just how much rice was going to be available. I would send in this report once a month, the rice report, and I would keep everybody informed back in Washington what was going on. In fact, I got to be very, very good at it.