The University That Launched a CIA Front Operation in Vietnam

MSU Vietnam

Wesley Fisher and South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, 1955 (MSU Archive and Historical Collections)

From Politico Magazine by Eric Scigliono:

Time was, Michigan State University made national headlines mostly with its football and basketball teams. Then, more than 250 women accused Larry Nassar, a Michigan State physician and USA Gymnastics team doctor, of sexually assaulting them in the course of their gymnastics training. Since then, Nassar has been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison, MSU’s president and athletic director and five other officials have either resigned or been forced out, and pressure is mounting for its board of trustees to walk the same plank. From here on, many fear, the university’s name will be indelibly linked with the vile Dr. Nassar’s wholesale sexual abuse.

Or will it? A little over 50 years ago, another national scandal overtook Michigan State University, an academic and political cause célèbre that seemed to leave the school indelibly associated with—even, in some quarters, blamed for—nothing less than America’s war in Vietnam. Today the fateful exercise in nation-building and government-and-gown cooperation known as the Michigan State University Advisory Group rates but a footnote in popular histories of the war, if that. Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s recent 18-hour documentary series The Vietnam War does not mention it at all.

To be sure, Michigan State’s entanglement in Vietnam was very different from Nassar’s crimes—a much more complex, morally nuanced saga of good intentions gone awry rather than stark abuse gone unmonitored. But its consequences were much broader.

In 1966, when news of the MSU project broke widely, it became notorious thanks to the exposé-packaging skills of a San Francisco editor named Warren Hinckle and his muckraking magazine, Ramparts. The cover of Ramparts’ April 1966 issue was one of the era’s definitive magazine images: a buxom caricature of Madame Nhu, the sister-in-law of South Vietnamese president Ngô Đình Diệmand the most visible and provocative voice of his regime, as a sweatshirt-clad MSU cheerleader.

Read the rest of the article at Politico Magazine

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Categories: United States History, Vietnam War

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