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Two Ways To Advise

November 13, 1988

Your review of Neil Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie" (Book Review, Oct. 9) brought back memories. John Vann and I were in the same section at the Ft. Leavenworth Command & General Staff course in 1957-1958, and we met in both my 1965-1966 and 1972 Vietnam tours. In 1972, I was senior adviser to the Vietnamese chief of engineers. We had simultaneous disenchantments as advisers, yet reached radically different conclusions as to the best way for Americans to advise and help a foreign country.

The mission of the advisers is to train their counterparts in management (decision-making; communication of decisions; follow-up of decisions; motivating, or leadership) and then phase out.

The people selected to be advisers must be skilled in management science and must not be highly action-oriented; that is, inclined to do the work that their counterparts should take. Rewards should go to advisers who make their advisees look good. The World War II combat commanders selected to be senior advisers in Vietnam lacked the intellect, training, self-effacement and patience necessary to adopt the needed approach.

When the country being advised fails to assign people of integrity and leadership to high positions, the advisory effort should be withdrawn completely after one or two warnings. There should be no reluctance to play hardball here. The advisers may return later to a much better atmosphere, after the needed changes of leadership.

HOWARD L. SARGENT

LOS ANGELES

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