McNamara's Morons - The Low Intelligence Soldiers Used as Guinea Pigs in the Vietnam War

McNamara's Morons - The Low Intelligence Soldiers Used as Guinea Pigs in the Vietnam War

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In this video, we'll be moving our  scope forward in time — from the   global catastrophe of World War  II to the relatively localised   plight of the Vietnam War or what many  Vietnamese refer to as the American War. No country is without sin, especially in  times of war, though America's involvement   in South Vietnam between 1955 and  1975 remains a topic of controversy,   and one particular military recruitment  program stains the whole thing with pure folly. That's right, we'll be discussing McNamara's  Folly, known officially as Project 100,000,   in which the United States Department  of Defense (DOD), spearheaded by   Defense Secretary Robert McNamara,  sent men previously below mental   and physical military standards  off to fight and die in Vietnam. In 1966, the US government was calling for more  and more young Americans to go and spill their  
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blood in the jungles of Vietnam, drafting  almost 50,000 each month. In this same year,   Robert McNamara announced Project 100,000, not so  much to meet the escalating requirements to keep   America in Vietnam, but to spare America's poor  and otherwise disadvantaged from, in his words,   "idleness, ignorance, and apathy" by giving them  a chance to "earn their fair share of [America's]   abundance" and "return to civilian life with  skills and aptitudes." Basically, McNamara   claimed that one of the primary goals of Project  100,000 was to solve societal issues in America. The men recruited in Project 100,000 were  known officially as New Standards Men (NSM) and   unofficially as "morons." Though "morons," I  think, is a cruel and inaccurate generalisation   to make for men who previously fell short  of mental or physical military standards. In Project 100,000, all but those scoring in the  lowest 10% of the Armed Forces Qualification Test  
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(AFQT) were accepted. To put it in perspective,  more than 80% of NSM were high school dropouts,   around 40% read below a sixth-grade level, and  around 15% read below a fourth-grade level. As for physical standards, they were not directly  lowered, though the Medically Remedial Enlistment   Program (MREP) was implemented, allowing those  with minor and/or correctable conditions to be   enlisted. Such conditions included — but were  not limited to — being no more than 10% under   the minimum weight, being no more than 20% over  the maximum weight, having undescended testicles,   having hernias, having hemorrhoids,  and having a deviated nasal septum. In a social context, most came from  economically unstable homes and   non-traditional family structures, with 70%  of NSM coming from low-income backgrounds,   with 60% coming from single-parent families, and  with almost 10% sporting pre-service civil court   convictions. Considering these percentages, Robert  McNamara's purported goal of giving America's poor  
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and otherwise disadvantaged a chance to "earn  their fair share of [their country's] abundance"   and "return to civilian life with skills and  aptitudes" makes at least some sense, on paper. To put names to the numbers, the  Project 100,000 recruit John Grant,   who boasted an IQ of 66, went AWOL fifteen  times, and another recruit, Kenny Matts,   could not take notes nor spell words properly,  having suffered a brain injury in his youth;   he also went AWOL. Coming from a broken  home and unemployment and with only an   eighth-grade education, Gus Peters failed  basic training and tank-driving courses   before getting released with an Undesirable  Discharge and going home no better for it. Hamilton Gregory, US Vietnam War veteran and  author of McNamara's Folly: The Use of Low-IQ   Troops in the Vietnam War, said he was in an  induction centre in 1967 when a sergeant entered   and asked for a college graduate. Gregory,  a military volunteer and college graduate,  
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threw up his hand, and the sergeant  put an NMS recruit in Gregory's charge,   telling Gregory that the NMS recruit could  neither read nor write and would need help,   ending the conversation with: "Make sure he  doesn't get lost. He's one of McNamara's Morons."   Gregory then went on to describe "babysitting"  the NMS recruit, who he said was "unhealthily   thin" and didn't understand what basic training  was nor that America was at war. Gregory even   made the recruit's bed and tied his shoes and  also said that the recruit couldn't tell left   from right and became terrified and confused when  shouted at by his superiors. On the rifle range,   the NMS recruit was dangerous, so dangerous  that he was put on permanent kitchen patrol. McNamara intended for NSM to receive  the same training as non-NSM soldiers,   on top of any necessary "special" training  and for them to have access to "the best"   technology, primarily in the form of  educational videos and multimedia,  
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which he believed would almost "counteract"  their mental handicaps. McNamara predicted   that 150,000 NSM would be enlisted each year,  with 40,000 being enlisted in the first year   of the program. In reality, Project 100,000  enlisted 49,000 recruits in the first year,   and McNamara announced to the public that "[it]  is succeeding beyond even our most hopeful   expectations." This was a shortsighted  deduction, if not falsified, deduction. While 94.6% of NSM completed basic training  — compared to 97.5% of recruits in a control   group — many had difficulty after basic training,  particularly in remedial reading courses, though   also in other courses. Training NSM not only cost  both time and money but also weighed down other,   non-NSM recruits, who were forced to wait  while NSM recruits received extra attention. While DOD reported that NSM were making  satisfactory promotion progress and that 90%  
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of them were receiving supervisory evaluations  ranging from "good" to "excellent," among other   positive evaluations, other reports note  faulty and inaccurate recordkeeping and   other means of cheating. Examples include  recruiters and examiners "fudging" tests   and screenings and non-NSM soldiers  taking physical tests in place of NSM. Despite the costs of training NSM, the  US Army was forced to take 25% of its   recruitment quota from Project 100,000,  while the Marines was forced to take 18%,   and the Navy and Air Force  were each forced to take 15%. The most common assignments for NSM included  infantry and artillery, food service, supply,   motor transport, administration, equipment  repair, wire communications, seamanship,   combat engineering, and military police. These  are all assignments which — again, giving Robert   McNamara some credit — should develop skills  translatable to civilian life. With that said,   around 40% of NSM received combat assignments,  and 37% of that 40% fought as infantry in Vietnam.
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Between October 1966 and December 1971, 354,000  NSM served in the US military, with more than 90%   being accepted due to lower mental standards  and the remainder being accepted under the   MREP. Of these men, whose average age was 20,  around 55% volunteered; the rest were drafted. To the American military, Project 100,000 was  a disaster. NSM struggled to absorb military   training and were outright incompetent in  combat, not only endangering other non-NSM   soldiers but also themselves, boasting three times  the fatality rate of non-NSM soldiers. In total,   just under 5,500 NSM soldiers perished in the  American War, while some 20,000 were wounded   and many deserted or went otherwise AWOL. To say  it in another way, around 10% of NSM were killed,   wounded, or dishonourably discharged  in their first 18 months of service.
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Project 100,000 was also a failure back on  American soil, as it failed to remedy the   societal issue McNamara claimed it would. NSM  servicemen failed to learn and/or translate   military skills into civilian society  and/or find employment, and for many,   circumstances became even worse than they were  before military service. Many carried physical   and emotional wounds which made civilian life  impossible. Others were carried home in caskets. War correspondent Joe Galloway wrote a commentary  for McClatchy DC after McNamara died in his sleep   in 2009. A section of the commentary read:  "The young men of Project 100,000 [...] could   not be taught any more demanding job than  trigger-pulling [...], [so most] went straight   into combat [...] “[T]hese almost helpless young  men died in action in the jungles at a rate three   times higher than the average draftee. The Good  Book says we must forgive those who trespass   against us—but what about those who trespass  against the most helpless among us; those  
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willing to conscript the mentally handicapped, the  most innocent, and turn them into cannon fodder?” In her article Project 100,000: The Great  Society's Answer to Military Manpower Needs   in Vietnam, Lisa Hsiao suggests the DOD used  Project 100,000 to fight the war on poverty   in America and the American War in Vietnam  simultaneously. She aligns with the view   that DOD were serving their own interests while  operating under the guise of Project 100,000. What do you think? Was Robert McNamara sincere  with his intentions to spare America's poor and   otherwise disadvantaged from "idleness,  ignorance, and apathy"? Or was Project   100,000 a ploy to bring more "cannon  fodder" to the American War in Vietnam?

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