The Hamlet Evaluation System
& Murphy's Law

(No similarity to contemporary program
evaluation methodologies Is implied; any
resemblance is entirely coincidental.)


Excerpt from: "Once a Warrior King --
Memories of an Officer in Vietnam"
by David Donovan

"Some of the attempts to apply American technology to Vietnamese problems would be funny if they had not been so damned frustrating to deal with.  The Hamlet Evaluation System and the Territorial Forces Evaluation System, referred to as HES and TFES, were two examples of such ill-advised Americanisms.

The HES and TFES were computer printout lists of standardized questions sent monthly to every District Senior Advisor (DSA) in the country.  Among other things, the HES report had us determine how many televisions were in each village and hamlet (none -- hell, we didn't even have electricity!), how many of the men were fishermen, how many were farmers, how many were in business, how many houses had tin roofs, etc., etc....  TFES wanted to know about the troop strength, morale, weapons, and equipment of the local district and village militia organizations.

The intent of these reports was good, but like so many good bureaucratic intentions, the idea was weakest at the point of practical application.  I saw District Senior Advisors give the reports they should have filled out themselves to their less informed and less experienced subordinates.  Sometimes the instructions would be to just fill in the blanks with anything that seemed reasonable.  Meeting the deadline for submission of the report was the important thing, not accuracy.  Often reports on hamlets were filled in when the hamlet had never been seen by the DSA or any of his team members.  Instead of a firsthand look, the overworked DSA might take the word or opinion of a local Vietnamese official about the situation in some remote hamlet.  While the Vietnamese colleague might in fact know of the situation in that hamlet, his motives in giving an opinion or an answer might have been viewed with some skepticism.

The Vietnamese authorities wanted all TFES and HES reports to be glowing and upbeat.  The HES reports, for instance, formed the basis for the country-wide system of classifying areas as "pacified," "contested," or "Viet Cong controlled."  There were actually four ratings, "A" through "D."  An "A" rating meant that the village or hamlet was pacified; there had been no Viet Cong incidents in the area during the reporting period.  A "B" rating meant that the area was essentially pacified but with some residual Cong activity.  A "C" rating meant the area was contested by both government troops and the Viet Cong; typically, the government ruled by day and the Cong ruled by night.  "D" meant complete Viet Cong control.  This system allowed the construction of a great multicolored map back in Saigon which could be shown to the visiting generals, celebrities, and politicians.  They would visit the posh air-conditioned MACV headquarters building known as "Pentagon East" and have the successes of the pacification program explained to them in great detail.  By such simpleminded representations, the war-watchers could see the "A" color advance across the country.  Everyone could tell that the pacification program was succeeding as the colors for "C" and "D" hamlets became more and more rare.  There was "light at the end of the tunnel."  Unfortunately, the simplicities of the system did not fit the subtleties of the situation.

On the Vietnamese side, District Chiefs were put in a good light by an "A" rating.  It meant they were doing a good job and could look to their Province Chief for future favor.  The Province Chiefs, in turn, wanted their areas to be reported in with a heavy list of "A" ratings so they would appear to be successful back in Saigon or at the regional (I, II, III, or IV Corps) headquarters.  Likewise, a District Senior Advisor's and a Province Senior Advisor's job went a lot smoother if high ratings were given to most hamlets.  As with the Vietnamese, it certainly looked as if he were doing one hell of a job if all of a sudden reported Viet Cong incidents fell off and hamlet ratings went up.  It also made life much easier with your Vietnamese counterpart if you made him look good to his bosses.  A District Chief who took umbrage at your monthly reports could change your job from an absurdly difficult one to an absolutely impossible one.

When you are isolated and alone, with too little time to fill in reports accurately -- too tired to care and with little belief that the statistics have any relationship to the life you are living anyway -- it is easy to just put down the numbers that make life simpler.  If I recall correctly, the month the infamous 1968 Tet offensive broke out, the country was reported to be over ninety-percent pacified.  The Tet offensive showed that bull.... (expletive deleted) in the reporting system was to be measured in feet, not inches."

Moral Number 1:  As noted by economist Robert Heilbroner, "Armies and corporations alike have ways of sweetening the news as it ascends the hierarchy of command."

Moral Number 2:  We are well advised to learn from history -- whenever applicable -- if we don't want to repeat it.

Moral Number 3:  When you're up to your armpits in alligators, it may difficult to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp.

Food for thought
from your friends at:
The Civic Action Free University