The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division , at sacred-texts.com
The naval establishment has traditionally emphasized the requirement for all personnel serving abroad to honor and respect the customs, institutions, ceremonies and attitudes of the inhabitants of foreign countries. Navy Regulations, Articles 0623 and 1215, impose this requirement on all levels of command.
Counterinsurgency operations add new dimensions to this requirement. Operation Silver Lance, a Marine training exercise which took place on the U. S. west coast in March 1965, included simulation of the problems which arise when military personnel are not informed about the religious and value systems of a host country. This exercise demonstrated that such a lack of information can create alienation of local peoples, a decrease in security, and a potential increase in casualties. The experience gained was subsequently determined to be applicable to the growing conflict in Vietnam.
At the request of the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, the Southeast Asia Religious Project was established in the summer of 1965. A naval chaplain was assigned to make an in-country study of the beliefs, customs, religious practices and value systems of Vietnam. Information available in existing written sources was deemed insufficient.
The data collected has been organized and evaluated and is being published in various foams in order that the information can be made available to all who serve in, or make plans for, Vietnam and adjacent waters and areas. Two basic lectures, published separately with supporting materials, should be included in all Southeast Asia orientation programs--pre-embarkation or in-country. The attached basic reference book, THE RELIGIONS OF SOUTH VIETNAM IN FAITH AND FACT, provides essential information for instructors and all other levels of leadership.
Two other publications are in preparation: THE PEOPLES OF THE TRIBES OF SOUTH VIETNAM and JUST AS DIFFERENT ON THE INSIDE. These materials will also be made available to Army and Air Force, as well as to Marine and Navy, personnel.
The materials, efforts and objectives to understand the people of Vietnam are identified as the PERSONAL RESPONSE PROJECT. The theory behind the Project is quite simple. Our personnel share common and distinctive points of view, values and habits of communication and relationship which are different from those of other nations, certainly different from the Vietnamese. When these differences are unrecognized, peoples of the host country are alienated, often by unintentional violation of their precious values and their revered religion.
Sympathy for the Vietnamese people, important as it is, is not enough. Sometimes sympathy is only an expression of a kind of paternalistic superiority.
Imitation of the Vietnamese practices and standards is not required. Too often it is thought that to understand a people and to be understood by them, we must "ape" them. But this kind of imitation is detected as a cheap form of paternalism.
The key is identification which involves three types of relationships. First, we must know the people. We must understand, insofar as possible, the what, how and why of Vietnamese behavior. In the second place, we must also be willing to be known by the Vietnamese. To those with whom we associate, we must expose, not arrogantly display, some of our own fundamental concepts with simple explanations, so that not only can we adjust to the Vietnamese but so they can adjust to us. Thirdly, we must behave understandably. We must be willing to modify our usual methods and approaches so that they will not give false impressions of our desires and intentions.
We identify with the Vietnamese when we help them meet fundamental needs, such as food, medicine, shelter and clothing. And this is much appreciated by the Vietnamese. But it is far less significant than an identification which involves symbolic behavior. It is only when we get into the realm of ideas, values, emotional responses, and aesthetic judgments that we are really participating in the lives of people. The Vietnamese do not regard themselves as merely biological
machines, for each individual is a distinct, self-conscious entity. If he is to be profoundly influenced, it must be on the level of behavior which is far more personal and less material.
As the individual American meets the individual Asian, the goal of the PERSONAL RESPONSE PROJECT is to assure that the American, overtly, takes the initiative to support, respect and value the basic worth and dignity of the Asian as a person while the American maintains his own values, proper role and identity. This approach offers the best possibility of winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people to the desire for and defense of their own self-determination as a nation.