Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Thompson, Sir Robert (1916–1992)

British counterinsurgency expert. Born on 12 April 1916 in Charlwood, Robert Grainger Ker Thompson was educated at Marlborough and Sidney Sussex College, from which he graduated in 1938. Later that same year he was posted as a Malayan Civil Service (MCS) cadet. During 1942–1944 he served as Royal Air Force liaison officer with Orde Charles Wingate's Chindits, rising to wing commander. In 1946 he returned to the MCS as assistant commissioner of labor in Perak. During the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960), he was closely involved with the successful effort to defeat the insurgents, and he advanced up the MCS ranks, becoming permanent secretary for defense in 1959.

In September 1961, now retired from the MCS, Thompson went to the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, South Vietnam) as head of a small British Advisory Mission (BRIAM) to President Ngo Dinh Diem. Thompson established cordial relations with the Americans, but he was unable to convince the Vietnamese to adopt the approach that had worked in Malaya, and BRIAM was subsequently dissolved in 1965. Later that year he was hired as a consultant by the RAND Corporation and wrote Defeating Communist Insurgency, which compared Malaya and Vietnam and established principles for defeating similar insurgencies. He severely criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson's Vietnam War strategy, adopted in 1966, as a failure to understand the nature of the war. In No Exit from Vietnam (1968), Thompson explained how the Americans' flawed policy had led to the January 1968 Tet Offensive. In 1969 he was hired as an independent observer by President Richard M. Nixon, whose new strategy for Vietnam was more attuned to Thompson's ideas. Thompson remained an observer until the collapse of South Vietnam in April 1975. However, his disillusionment with the 1973 Paris Agreement led him to conclude that the lack of American will to enforce it was the ultimate cause of defeat. Thompson died on 16 May 1992 in Winsford, England.

George M. Brooke III


Further Reading
Thompson, Robert. Make for the Hills: Memories of Far Eastern Wars. London: Leo Cooper, 1981.; Thompson, Robert. No Exit from Vietnam. New York: McKay, 1968.
 

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