Simulmatics and its much larger competitor, the RAND Corporation, set up shop in nearby Saigon villas. One of RAND’s analysts was a former marine named Daniel Ellsberg, who later helped write and then leaked the devastating secret report known as the Pentagon Papers. These researchers were an odd presence in a bloody war. “Young men from RAND and Simulmatics bounded about the countryside in Land Rovers studying ‘upward mobility among village elites’ or ‘the interrelationship of land reform with peasant political motivation,’” wrote Frances FitzGerald in her prize-winning history Fire in the Lake. Twenty-six years old when she arrived in Vietnam, she thought they were remarkably naive.
By Lepore’s account, the Simulmatics operation was something of a clown show. Its staffers, who spoke little or no Vietnamese, got their fingers into various pieces of the US adventure, including the notorious pacification program as well as a psychological warfare project known as Chieu Hoi. These relied more on old-fashioned propaganda methods—and brutal coercion—than anything involving special data analysis. Ed Greenfield arrived in 1966 with a plan to set up a “paramilitary action research center.” But the Pentagon was realizing how much the company had overpromised and how little it had done, and at the end of 1967 the team was sent home.
On their way to obscurity, the Simulmatics people played minor parts in major events, appearing Zelig-like at crucial moments of 1960s history. After race riots in Detroit, Los Angeles, and other cities, Simulmatics conducted a study for the Kerner Commission, established by Lyndon Johnson to investigate the riots and their causes. One sociologist told the commission, “Until we can predict riots with at least as much reliability as the weather forecast predicts rain or snow, it will be very difficult rationally to devise policies of control.” That was a last gasp. In 1968 the company shut down for good, bankrupt. It stiffed its last consultants, including future senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It had accomplished nothing.
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