Rufus Phillips

Author 1953

Raised during the Depression in rural Charlotte County, Virginia, Rufus Phillips became a graduate of Yale, went briefly to the University of Virginia Law School, then joined the CIA in 1952, and subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Army. Detailed back to the CIA as an Airborne Infantry Officer, he became a member of the Saigon Military Mission, headed by the legendary Colonel Edward G. 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.

Vietnam Delta
Phillips returned to Vietnam in 1956 as a CIA civilian Case Officer and later served in Laos until 1959. At the request of President Kennedy, in 1962 he organized and led a special counterinsurgency effort in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Saigon Mission, called Rural Affairs. There he supported the “Strategic Hamlet Program” providing aid directly to the provinces in economic and social development, and in hamlet self-defense helping hamlet militia to resist the Vietcong. He was directly involved with all echelons of the Vietnamese Government, including President Diem. From 1964-1968 Phillips served as a consultant to AID and the State Department, making five trips to Vietnam. He also served as an advisor to Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Strategic Hamlet

Former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke calls Rufus Phillips “the most knowledgeable civilian official then in Vietnam; he seemed the epitome of President Kennedy’s new generation-a Yale man with military and intelligence experience, deeply committed to his job and absolutely convinced of the importance of improving the lives of the Vietnamese and defeating the Vietcong.” Holbrooke goes on to say, “Why Vietnam Matters, is a major contribution to the history of Vietnam. It contains important lessons for the wars America is currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

General Lansdale

Phillips was one of eight contributing authors to Prelude to Tragedy: Vietnam 1960-1965, published by the Naval Institute Press in 2001. He has interviews on record with the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas and with the Laubinger Library at Georgetown University and is either quoted or cited in more than twenty books about Vietnam. Mr. Phillips has given lectures and participated in symposiums about Vietnam, counterinsurgency and fragile states at the National Defense University, the National Archives, the LBJ Center at the University of Texas, Texas Tech University (Vietnam Center), the Counterinsurgency School at Ft. Leavenworth, Georgetown University, Dartmouth College, the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Ft. Benning, GA., at an Exeter University Strategy Institute-NSIC conference on Contemporary Security Challenges in London and to numerous citizen foreign policy and retired military groups.

Phillips with Holbrooke in Kabul

Phillips spent a month as a volunteer in Afghanistan assisting the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) in their efforts to monitor the Afghan elections. At that time he also provided advice on a pro bono basis to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul about its counterinsurgency approach. More recently as a senior associate at the National Strategy Information Center (NSIC) in Washington he researched and wrote papers about the political gap in U.S. national security operations abroad particularly in regard to how best to stabilize fragile states. In 2014, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Officers Candidate School Hall of Fame. He and his wife Barbara were residents of McLean, Virginia for forty-five years and currently live in Arlington, Virginia.

Author with General McMaster, 2014