Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’

How the mentally unfit became cannon fodder

March 23, 2022

The blogger known as Nikolai Vladivostok called my attention to a book entitled McNamara’s Folly: the Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War by Hamilton Gregory (2015).  It’s shocking.  Here’s a review, by Arnold Isaacs for the Modern War Institute at West Point.

On the day in 1967 when Hamilton Gregory reported to a Tennessee induction center to begin his service in the U.S. Army, a sergeant presented him to another young man who was also headed to Fort Benning, Georgia, to start basic training.

The other new soldier’s name was Johnny Gupton, or so Gregory calls him. “I want you to take charge of Gupton,” the sergeant told Gregory.  Before they boarded the bus to the airport, the sergeant handed Gregory Gupton’s paperwork along with his own, to carry on the trip.

In the next hours and days, Gregory discovered why the sergeant had put Gupton in his care. Gupton could not read or write. He didn’t know his home address or what state he was from, so he could not send the pre-stamped postcard the new recruits were given at Benning to tell their families they had arrived.  He didn’t know his next of kin’s full name, didn’t know that there was a war in Vietnam, and couldn’t tie the laces on his combat boots.

How did a man so obviously unfit for service get drafted? A slipup? Far from it. Gupton was one of more than 350,000 other young men drafted during the Vietnam war under a deliberate policy requiring that nearly a third of all military recruits should be drawn from men with general aptitude test scores at the bottom or for a certain percentage below the minimum standard.

This while draft boards around the country made it shockingly easy for middle class, better educated men to avoid serving — just ask Bill Clinton or Donald Trump or Rush Limbaugh.  The policy was known as Project 100,000.  Its principal promoter was Lyndon Johnson’s defense secretary, Robert McNamara.

Hamilton Gregory — who was not drafted but enlisted voluntarily — was troubled and outraged by his experience with Johnny Gupton and subsequent encounters with other low-IQ draftees. During his Army service he raised questions about the policy with various superiors, and after his discharge, while making a career as a journalist and author, he kept on tracking down official documents and seeking out personal accounts.

The evidence he accumulated over more than 40 years makes the story he tells in McNamara’s Folly not just convincing but ironclad.  Its conclusion is ironclad too: U.S. draft policy during the Vietnam war was a moral atrocity.

Project 100,000 troops were killed or wounded in Vietnam at higher rates than in the U.S. force as a whole, but the unfairness didn’t stop there. More than half left the service with less than honorable discharges — not surprising, for men who weren’t mentally fit to be soldiers to begin with.


Bernie Sanders 2016 and Gene McCarthy 1968

June 10, 2016

Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has the same significance as Eugene J. McCarthy‘s in 1968.

McCarthy was a moderate Democrat from Minnesota who chose to run against incumbent Lyndon Johnson on a platform of opposition to the Vietnam War.

Eugene J. McCarthy

Eugene J. McCarthy

He didn’t have an especially distinguished record, and he wasn’t the best possible candidate.  But he was the candidate who had the nerve to run while all the other war opponents held back.   He provided an outlet for all the pent-up anti-war sentiment.

He won a plurality of the votes in the New Hampshire primary, against two slates of delegates both pledged to President Johnson.   His victory emboldened Senator Robert F. Kennedy to run, and Johnson decided not to seek re-election.

Even if Kennedy had not been assassinated, he probably would not have been able to defeat the entrenched Democratic Party organization or to prevent the nomination of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

What McCarthy and then Kennedy did do was to open the door for a peace faction which was a continuing force in the Democratic Party independent of McCarthy himself.   I think, or at least I hope, Bernie Sanders has opened the door for a Democratic Party social justice faction that will outlive the Sanders campaign.


A former Viet Cong fighter tells his story

April 6, 2015

A former Viet Cong fighter recently told his story to, of all people, a representative of

pleiku_1966__operation_paul_revere_viet_cong_prisoners__vietnam_war_upi_wire_photoIt seems that he and his friends were not the deadly jungle fighters as portrayed in Hollywood movies.  Rather they were confused young men stuck in the middle of a bad situation they didn’t understand, something like American GIs, but much worse.

He said recruits didn’t have the benefit of such things as “functional equipment” or “the slightest idea of what to do.”  Training was rudimentary or nonexistent.  So were weapons.

The AK-47s the Soviets send via China to aid the Viet Cong were mostly kept by the Chinese, who sent Chinese imitations and World War Two surplus to Hanoi, which were mostly kept by the North Vietnamese.  His troop got the leftovers.

He said the Vietnamese jungle was a more fearsome adversary than the Americans.  His troop regularly lost men to tigers.

What’s most significant to me about his story is the motives for joining the Viet Cong.  Hardly any recruits had any concept of ideology, he wrote; they thought Communists were followers of somebody called Commun, and some thought they were still fighting the French.

No, the main motive was to take revenge for the death of a parent, loved one or child, or, in the narrator’s case, for having the U.S.-backed government confiscate his family’s home and land and give them to a rich guy.

My guess is that this is the main reason for joining insurgents against American forces in Afghanistan [1], Iraq or anywhere else—taking revenge for the death of a relative or friend, or for what was done to you by the corrupt U.S.-backed government.

And the longer Americans remain as an occupying force, the more people there are with a motivation to take revenge.  The U.S. forces literally can’t win—not until we Americans become so fanatically evil as to commit to a war of annihilation and a permanent occupation.  Thankfully we aren’t like that, not yet, and it might not even work anyway.


8 Things Vietnam War Movies Leave Out (By an Enemy Soldier) by Nguyen Hao Giai as told to Evan B. Simon for  His story is grimly humorous, and worth reading the whole way through. Hat tip to Unqualified Offerings.