Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
McCONVILLE: No, that was long before him. It was a guy - I can't remember his name now - who was a career foreign service officer. His whole attitude had been we won't try to tell these people what to do in this kind of thing. So he was off in Washington for some reason, and Tom Enders was the deputy chief of mission. Enders was a diametrically opposed sort of personality. So when I came in, Enders was all, “What is it we have to do? I want to know,” and I told him. Of course, my whole report had explained that so much of this had to do with the price and one of the first things you had to do was get the rice price up to some kind of realistic level so there would become incentive to plant rice at least for the next year, and there was still some possibility they could get some rice in the tail end of that year. I still remember this meeting. Enders was about six foot seven inches tall. He's sitting in this meeting and he's got the AID mission director, his economic counselor, and he's sitting in the room, and he looks at me and says, “What should the price of rice be?” I said, “We've got to do a good deal more analysis for that before you can say specifically what it should be, but it has to come up dramatically.” He said, “Name me a price,” so I said, “Twenty-five” whatever the currency was, and he turns to the AID director and says, “You go over to the Ministry of Economy and you tell that's part of the agreement. We've got to have that price up to 25.” Then I told him, “First of all, if you're going to raise that price, you've got to have plenty of rice around.” I said, “I can assure you from my own experience that people will be more willing accept an increase in the price of rice as long as they feel confident there's plenty of rice around. That's what really panics them when they don't think there's any rice around.” So indeed that's what they did. Then Enders wanted me to stay over there and he wanted me to do the whole financial. He wanted to get involved dramatically with getting their economy back. So I told them I really didn't have the depth for that, and we ended up sending one of our really well-qualified analysts to go over there and work there for a year or so. Then I had to keep going back from time to time to keep helping with this rice situation. I did about half a dozen two- or three-week TDYs in Cambodia during this period, and it was getting dicier and dicier over there all the time. In fact, before I sent off this cable in which I stuck my neck way out, I had to somehow reassure myself that indeed there wasn't going to be rice coming out from these areas around Phnom Penh, that these rice merchants had convinced me would not happen. These areas were shaky as far as security was concerned, but some one from the Ministry of Economy in a UN vehicle would go out into these areas. I persuaded them to take me with them, and we went out and toured around, because I had my neck out so far, and I came away reassured that indeed there was not going to be any rice coming out of those areas. When the ambassador there at the time learned that I had done this, he gave me a bit of a lecture for having done it. He said, “I appreciate your professionalism, but...,” but it was my neck going out there. But whatever, I did this, and in fact there was a lot of consequence involved to what I had done. But the irony of all of this was there was almost no one in the State Department working on economic issues in Vietnam. They had one FS-05 or something like that, and he was of no consequence. So all of the people who were aware of all this were people in AID, people in USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), people at the National Security Council and the White House and so forth, but no one in the State Department. I recognized that within the State Department I was going to get almost no credit for this, because no one knew about it, and they certainly didn't know of the stakes that were involved or appreciated it. Like those people in USDA and AID and so forth, when they had a crisis, I was the guy they wanted specifically, and in fact I did the job, but it really wasn't going to be doing me much good in the State Department. So I finally accepted the fact that, if I wanted to get somewhere in the Foreign Service, I simply had to get another assignment out of Vietnam. I did, and I'm going to Korea, Seoul. That was my first tour there, '74 to '77. When I first arrived there, it was a joint State/AID economic office, but AID was phasing out, and during the second half of my tour it was totally a State operation. But again that experience in Vietnam, particularly working with all the professional economists, was a terribly enriching experience. It didn't do me an awful lot of good in my State Department career except in the sense that I learned more economics out there.