Saigon, 1965

The American RAND staff and Vietnamese interviewers on the front porch of the villa on Rue Pasteur. Courtesy of Hanh Easterbrook. [Revisionist History]

Although this blog focuses on quantitative historical analysis, it is probably a good idea to consider from time to time that the analysis is being done by human beings. As objective as analysts try to be about the subjects they study, they cannot avoid interpreting what they see through the lenses of their own personal biases, experiences, and perspectives. This is not a bad thing, as each analyst can bring something new to the process and find things that other perhaps cannot.

The U.S. experience in Vietnam offers a number of examples of this. Recently, journalist and writer Malcolm Gladwell presented a podcast exploring an effort by the RAND Corporation initiated in the early 1960s to interview and assess the morale of captured Viet Cong fighters and defectors. His story centers on two RAND analysts, Leon GourĂ© and Konrad Kellen, and one of their Vietnamese interpreters, Mai Elliott. The podcast traces the origins and history of the project, how GourĂ©, Kellen, and Elliott brought very different perspectives to their work, and how they developed differing interpretations of the evidence they collected. Despite the relevance of the subject and the influence the research had on decision-making at high levels, the study ended inconclusively and ambivalently for all involved. (Elliott would go on to write an account of RAND’s activities in Southeast Asia and several other books.)

Gladwell presents an interesting human story as well as some insight into the human element of social science analysis. It is a unique take on one aspect of the Vietnam War and definitely worth the time to listen to. The podcast is part of his Revisionist History series.

Share this:
Shawn Woodford
Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling.

All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

Articles: 302

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *