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Author, Former CIA Operative Phillips To Speak On Campus

Published: October 15, 2012

Rufus Phillips, a former CIA operative and author of Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned, will share his experiences from his years in Vietnam on Friday, Oct. 19, 3 to 5 p.m. in the Barrett Athletic Administration Center Conference Room on the CSULB campus.

A graduate of Yale University, Phillips joined the CIA in 1952 and then enlisted in the U.S. Army. As a protégé of Col. Edward Lansdale from 1954-56, Phillips served as one of the architects of the Chieu Hoi program to persuade Viet cong fighters to defect to the side of government during the Vietnam War. Detailed back to the CIA as an airborne infantry officer, he became a member of the Saigon Military Mission, headed by Lansdale in 1954. There, he served as the sole advisor to two Vietnamese Army pacification operations in 1955 and received the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit. Phillips was also a USAID official and founder of Rural Affairs Vietnam, a critical aspect of the USA relations in Vietnam.

In his book, Why Vietnam Matters: An Eyewitness Account of Lessons Not Learned, Phillips gives an extraordinary inside history of the most critical years of American involvement in Vietnam, from 1954-68, and explains why it still matters.

Documenting the story from his own private files as well as from the historical record, Phillips paints striking portraits of such key figures as John F. Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor, Robert McNamara, Henry Cabot Lodge, Hubert Humphrey, and Ngo Dinh Diem, among others with whom he dealt.

In the book he argues that the United States missed an opportunity to help the South Vietnamese develop a political cause as compelling as that of the communists by following a big war strategy based on World War II perceptions. This led American policy makers to mistaken assumptions that they could win the war themselves and give the country back to the Vietnamese. He reasons that our failure to understand the communists, our South Vietnamese allies or even ourselves took the United States down the wrong road. In summing up U.S. errors in Vietnam, Phillips also draws parallels with the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and suggests changes in the U.S. approach.

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–Teresa Hagen

Vietnam Book cover

Phillips’ visit to CSULB was made possible by Isabel Le, former CSULB staff, who was also a former USAID Rural Affairs/Vietnam employee and Rural Affairs/Vietnam reunion coordinator. For more information and to RSVP for the presentation, e-mail Lily Gossage.