McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War plus The Induction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits
West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania: Infinity Publishing, 2015
Hamilton Gregory unveiled a seldom-explored facet of modern military history with McNamara’s Folly. Similar subject matter is touched on with the inspiring film Forrest Gump and the unfathomably grimmer Full Metal Jacket. One of the things that McNamara’s Folly reveals is that standards indeed were lowered during America’s quintessential spit-in-your-eye war, enough so that it was hardly implausible for obvious misfits to be in uniform during those times. As it happens, the extra inclusiveness was not an improvement.
This began as a scheme to increase troop numbers in Vietnam while causing minimal political fallout.
How could [President] Johnson and [Secretary of Defense] McNamara round up enough men to send to war? They realized that they would anger the vote-powerful middle class if they drafted college boys and if they sent National Guardsmen and Reservists to Vietnam. So instead they decided to induct the low-scoring men, whom Johnson referred to (in a secret White House tape) as “second-class fellows.” On October 1, 1966, McNamara launched a program called Project 100,000, which lowered mental standards. Men who had been unqualified for military duty the day before were now deemed qualified. By the end of the war, McNamara’s program had taken 354,000 substandard men into the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy. Among the troops, these men were often known as “McNamara’s Morons” or “the Moron Corps” or “McNamara’s Boys.”
“Moron” used to be a normal word, as were the worse categories of “imbecile” and “idiot.” Later, those who are two standard deviations below the mean on the intelligence bell curve came to be called retarded. In its original context, the word implies “delayed,” rather like it’s a matter of temporarily being held back or not having the right education yet. (That’s almost always an incorrect assumption, but one that plays a key role in this matter.) Now that “retarded” is falling out of favor, they’ll probably have to come up with another name for people with IQs below 70. The introductory notes do point out that terminology like this is dated and isn’t for general use these days.
Basic training with the mentally challenged
The first part of the book describes the author’s encounter with the program from the beginning. As soon as he was inducted, he was told to care for another recruit, Johnny Gupton. This poor unfortunate would have made Gomer Pyle seem like Otto Skorzeny. He was illiterate, didn’t know where he was from, and he had to be instructed carefully on how to tie his bootlaces.
I was surprised that he knew nothing about the situation he was in. He didn’t understand what basic training was all about, and he didn’t know that America was in a war. I tried to explain what was happening, but at the end, I could tell that he was still in a fog.
Still, despite the rigors of boot camp, he didn’t mind the experience too much. Gupton was very glad to get three square meals a day, something he obviously hadn’t been getting back home. So were some others, who also were happy to get free medical care, wear uniforms instead of rags, and in some cases get glasses so that they could see properly for the first time.
Other than that, although the author was a college graduate, others sometimes assumed he was one of “McNamara’s Morons” because of his looks. As he explained, his face was always “goofy looking,” but after he got the standard haircut, he appeared “positively moronic.” He does mention later another recruit, Freddie Hensley, who was exceptionally good looking but retarded. However, aside from Freddie (low IQ with good looks) and the author (high IQ with bad looks), there seemed to be a general correlation with nonstandard anatomy and lack of intelligence. It’s not too uncommon for those in the mattoid spectrum  as well. Later on, he wrote:
It was true that most of us were unimpressive physical specimens — overweight or scrawny or just plain unhealthy-looking, with unappealing faces and awkward ways of walking and running. In a letter to my fiancée, I showed off with some fancy prose, describing Special Training men as “the ugly young: the glum faces and misshapen bodies you see hunched on benches late at night in a Greyhound bus station.”
Because of his appearance, along with lack of athleticism, he first is assigned to the “Muck Squad” in basic training. This is a formation for those who are “lower than whale shit,” which one drill sergeant helpfully informed them. Being singled out like this is a drag. The following contains striking parallels to part of the film Full Metal Jacket:
One night a member of the Muck Squad (who was from a different platoon) ran away. He was called Fat Boy by the sergeants, and he apparently couldn’t tolerate the stress and harassment (I heard that his drill sergeant and platoon mates had taunted and hazed him mercilessly). [. . .] Instead of being turned over to the MPs, he was returned to the barracks. The next day his entire platoon was punished for his going AWOL. They were required to perform extra PT — push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run. To exact revenge, they gave him a blanket party that night. A blanket party is an old Army tradition whereby a blanket is thrown over a man during the night while he is lying in his bunk, and he is beaten by his tormenters, who are anonymous in the dark.
The lack of athleticism caught up with the author, who passed out from heat exhaustion and had to be dunked in a vat of ice at the hospital to reduce his 105 Fahrenheit temperature. After having to recover, he got sidelined and sent to the Special Training Company as a remedial measure. The term “special,” which sometimes is used now in place of the older term “moron,” was indeed fitting in many cases. Several of them found it impossible to complete the obstacle course because of their limited intelligence. Even when instructed, they couldn’t figure out how to throw a grenade properly, an obvious problem in real-world scenarios. However, some had other difficulties.
The log drill was used frequently, which involves half a dozen recruits picking up a telephone pole, generally a means of torture to keep the Special Training Corps from seeming like an attractive way to get out of the regular boot camp. One of the recruits, who was mentally normal but not athletic, refused to continue training. For this, he was sent to the stockade, and eventually got a four-year sentence to Fort Leavenworth for defying orders. (I’m not sure what conditions were like in the 1960s, but in the 1980s it had the reputation of being a rape camp. The book doesn’t go further into his fate, but it would be unsurprising if he emerged as a flaming Leftist, and I hardly could blame him for that perspective.) Right after that incident, another one of them refused to train too. He changed his mind after an officer helpfully explained to him that “stockade” means “jail.” Following all the hoopla, a colonel came out to deliver a pep talk.
Later, the author did graduate basic training. So did the others in “Muck Squad.” The way that Project 100,000 was sold, admission standards would be relaxed, but everyone would be subject to the same training standards. However, reality turned out a bit differently. The boot camp’s commander was obsessed with having his statistics look good, so he had drill sergeants impersonate the most unfit of the recruits to take their qualifications tests for them.
The Captain’s ruse jacked up the company average, but it meant that in Gupton’s personnel file, he would stand out as a bright and athletic soldier and an expert with the M-14 rifle. When I heard the news, my first thought was that his impressive test scores would probably enhance his chances of being assigned to infantry in Vietnam.
As for those in the Special Training Company, they got passed even without resorting to this trickery, kind of a “No Child Left Behind” shtick:
He informed me that all of the men I had known at Special Training had been “administratively passed” and sent on to advanced training. He said the company commander had been ordered to certify that the men were malingerers who could have passed the final tests if they had truly wanted to.
I was stunned. This meant that Freddie Hensley and Joe Tucker and the other low-ability men might be in the pipeline to Vietnam. I feared that because they had supposedly graduated from basic training, there would be nothing to keep them out of combat.
Immediately he tried to notify Congress about what was happening. However, he was never able to get their attention, other than Robert Kennedy, who couldn’t follow up on it for obvious reasons. Later, his normal-looking but retarded friend Freddie Hensley died in Vietnam, despite reassurances to his family that he was going to be in a pogue role out of harm’s way.
That much was a grim read. The circumstances aren’t spelled out, but Freddie likely was a sitting duck for a Viet Cong sniper, and so were others like him who had the slow reflexes which (as the author observed) correlate with being retarded. The politicians — and of course the money men backing them — have asked far too much  from our citizens already during our century of perpetual warfare. Generally, soldiers who end up dodging bullets in the battlefield know the geopolitical circumstances of how they got there, or at least have heard the cover story. However, apparently many of “McNamara’s Morons” didn’t have a clue about any of that up to the bitterest of ends.
Conscription and its malcontents
Although the author enlisted for patriotic reasons, he also discusses the draft, as well as the many ways there were to dodge it. For example, Joe Namath beat the draft because of bad knees, though obviously the famous quarterback wasn’t too handicapped to keep playing football. Surely he could’ve run circles around the author. Then the “chicken hawks” are discussed, a point which certainly is not lost on the Leftists about contemporary neocon figureheads; for example:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who spent the war in college and graduate school, sought and received five deferments from his draft board (four student deferments and one hardship deferment), even though he was pro-war. Years later, when he was one of the prime architects of the war in Iraq and was accused of being a hypocrite for sending thousands of men into combat, he justified his Vietnam-era behavior in this way: “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service. I don’t regret the decisions I made.”
College deferments were a popular way out. I’ll say that in the realm of pure theory, the idea made sense. However, this also exposed the young Boomers to a new crop of radical professors who found the draft dodgers to be a receptive target audience. Many of those kids exhibited epic bad taste by looking down their noses at those who did get sent to war.
To a large degree, those who went to Vietnam versus those who didn’t came down to a matter of social class. I’ll further add that in historical terms, this isn’t so unusual. (It’s one more confirmation of the crude observation that life is a shit sandwich, and the more bread you have, the less shit you must eat.) There was a racial dimension to it as well, though the book doesn’t attempt to disentangle this from social class or average intelligence.
Because of draft dodging and a rule limiting combat tours to one year, the war effort needed more meat for the grinder. Ending college deferments or sending in National Guard units would’ve been politically unpalatable.
There were plenty of men of the right age in the poorer neighborhoods, but many of them had flunked the military’s entrance exam — the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara desperately needed them, however, so they lowered the standards for passing the AFQT. Suddenly thousands of low-aptitude men, once declared unacceptable because of low AFQT scores, were now subject to the draft.
Project 100,000 was marketed as a humanitarian effort to uplift the lower classes. In a way, all that sounded pretty noble and high-minded, since the rhetoric didn’t emphasize the part about steamy jungles full of mines, tripwires, and Viet Cong snipers. The gimmick was to “raise the intelligence of low-ability men through the use of videotapes and closed-circuit TV lessons.” It wasn’t explained how this was going to work better than the schoolteachers who couldn’t get through to them the first time around. I’ll add that McNamara certainly wasn’t the first or the last policymaker who thought the military was a testbed for rolling out social experiments.
The typical inductees were likely to come from urban ghettos and rural “poverty pockets.”
Between October 1, 1966, and December 31, 1971 (the official dates of the program), Project 100,000 took in some 354,000 men, 91 percent on the basis of lowered mental standards, the remaining nine percent because of less stringent physical standards (for example, men who had been deemed too heavy, too skinny, or too short were now accepted).
Project 100,000 men were, on average, 20 years old. Half came from the South, and 41% were minorities.
The program also was supposed to assist LBJ’s “war on poverty” by giving them marketable skills and discipline. I’ll add further that liberals are really compassionate, always looking out for the helpless and vulnerable, and surely LBJ with his super big heart only wanted the best for these guys getting sent to dodge AK-47 bullets.
The gap between expectations and reality about intelligence
Then the author discusses intelligence standards. The brief section discussing the meaning of IQ is somewhat weak, sounding a little too close to sociology boilerplate , though this much isn’t a serious flaw:
IQ — which stands for Intelligence Quotient — is a rough indicator of how well a person performs on intelligence tests in comparison to how his or her peers perform. Often criticized for being crude, shallow, and unfair, intelligence tests omit such important variables as creativity and intuition. Nevertheless, they are widely used as evaluation devices in education, business, and the military.
Armed Forces Qualification Test results were sorted into five categories. Normally Category III, beginning at the equivalent of IQ 92, is the lowest admissible range, with few exceptions. That actually did exclude a large number of potential recruits. (Those who are familiar with demographics should know which population groups have an average IQ below that.) However, this episode taught us the hard way that there was a reason for minimum standards.
Loosening of the standards allowed in the Category IV range was also tried. These people are dull, but generally can function independently in society. (I’ll add that there is some impairment at this point, and The Bell Curve argues persuasively that low intelligence — no matter in which race it’s found — strongly correlates with social problems.) Whether this category could function in a battlefield environment is another matter entirely. These were likely the most numerous in Project 100,000, though much of the book discusses the lower outliers.
Even some in Category V got in, which is IQ 71 and below. That’s pretty close to where the “special” range begins. Category V should’ve been inadmissible according to the rules, but sometimes they got conscripted anyway via a frequently abused loophole designed to catch people who deliberately fail the induction tests. Also, for some illiterates, others took the tests for them. Recruiters lie; film at 11.
In practice, little of the promised additional training actually materialized. (Mission creep notwithstanding, apparently the military just isn’t geared toward special education. Neither did they get the budget suitable to become an institution of remedial learning.) That which did occur apparently had limited effectiveness:
While some observers wished that more training had been offered, others felt that training was a waste of time — a hopeless endeavor. “We are being asked to train the untrainable” was the bitter complaint sometimes made by officers and NCOs. Trying to teach skills to low-performing men — often with limited success — took up an inordinate amount of time and resources, forcing instructors to short-change the rest of the troops.
The operating assumption was that the Project 100,000 recruits merely lacked a decent education, but would have “street smarts” to compensate; enough raw talent to work with. If being uneducated is someone’s only problem, then remedial efforts actually are helpful. (Later, it does describe a small number of success stories.) However, the problem was that most of them were just born that way.
The author doesn’t say so, but this gets right to the center of the problem with certain liberal ideas about intelligence. The harsh truth is that people have a certain natural potential, something which varies individually, and generally is a function of genetics. Obviously it’s good for people to try to achieve the best they can do. However, there’s a limit; diminishing returns will begin when one’s potential of peak educability draws near. Going beyond that obviously won’t work. For example, it’s a waste of resources to try to teach advanced algebra to someone with a 70 IQ, and the frustration will be disempowering. Even if he were sent to college, the poor fellow wouldn’t be able to get much out of it.
The mentally challenged at war
In practice, “McNamara’s Morons” seldom could qualify for any skilled MOS. Therefore, they generally went in as infantrymen, right into the firing line. If instead they at least had been slotted into pogue roles that were within their abilities and would’ve kept them out of danger, disaster could’ve been averted.
Most of the 354,000 men of Project 100,000 went to Vietnam, with about half of them assigned to combat units. A total of 5,478 of these men died while in the service, most of them in combat. Their fatality rate was three times that of other GIs. Although precise figures are unavailable for non-fatal injuries, an estimated 20,270 were wounded, and some were permanently disabled, including an estimated 500 amputees.
The author mentions that the true numbers are higher, from others let in under relaxed standards but not counted as Project 100,000 recruits. All told, it’s pretty clear that they couldn’t hack it under combat conditions. They probably weren’t much help to their normal intelligence comrades either. This brings to mind the words of one former German chancellor who remarked that eight cripples arm in arm couldn’t defeat one gladiator. It’s all about the Fascist “quality over quantity” principle.
Agreeing that the quality of battlefield troops declined in the last years of the war, William Westmoreland, the commanding general in Vietnam, said that Project 100,000 was a major factor in the decline because it sent “dummies” into the war zone. He estimated that only about 10 percent of the “dummies” could be molded into real soldiers.
Lowering of standards even affected the quality of some of the officers. One of them pulled off the My Lai massacre. Although it was orders of magnitude smaller than Eisenhower-grade thuggery, it’s nonetheless an ugly stain on American history.
Warfare is no longer about simple moves like swinging swords or thrusting spears:
To survive in combat, you had to be smart. You had to know how to use your rifle effectively and keep it clean and operable, how to navigate through jungles and rice paddies without alerting the enemy, and how to communicate and cooperate with other members of your team.
Sad to say, many low-aptitude men were not smart enough to be successful in combat, and as a result, they were killed or wounded.
This is one of the reasons why substandard recruits have limited effectiveness. Another problem is that their incompetence puts their normal comrades in danger. Apparently some of them didn’t really understand why they were there, what they needed to be doing, or even where they were supposed to point their rifles. How were they going to be effective fighting against the Viet Cong?
All told, the top brass generally wasn’t too enthusiastic about Project 100,000 being foisted upon them. The military generally is regarded as an employer of last resort, and as a means of straightening out troubled youths, but this new development was a step too far. One of the officers likened the inclusion of them to “sending a five year old into combat.” Indeed, there’s something to that gruesome comparison. Another noted, “Thanks to Project 100,000, they were just flooding us with morons and imbeciles. These men couldn’t learn well and they’d get frustrated and become aggressive.” A Congressman investigated and found that “the growing number of individuals in mental group IV had made training and discipline nearly impossible.” Several anecdotes follow about these mentally challenged recruits getting themselves killed, or causing friendly fire incidents.
If that weren’t bad enough. . .
Generally, these types didn’t handle stress well. Many of them had mental problems. Their comrades sometimes had little patience for them, and occasionally bullied them. As a result of these things, some went postal, or killed themselves.
Besides intelligence, other standards started getting relaxed as well. Health problems were overlooked, as well as height and weight requirements. (These ones made up for 9% of Project 100,000.) One surreal story discussed a dwarf who couldn’t get boots that fit, and for some reason a normal medical discharge wouldn’t work, so they had to process him out as if he were wounded in action. Obese recruits were allowed in, only to get persecuted mercilessly.
Other than that, criminals were allowed in, sometimes as a choice between enlistment and a jail sentence. Fragging became a major problem. (The book doesn’t mention the racial angle, but many such incidents were black-on-white murders.) Then there were antisocial types who would’ve washed out in earlier times. Obviously discipline became a major problem.
The major illegality in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War was absenteeism — AWOL (an absence of less than 30 days) and desertion (30 days or longer). “During the entire period of the Vietnam War,” say Baskir and Strauss, “there were approximately 1,500,000 AWOL incidents and 500,000 desertion incidents. At the peak of the war in 1968, an American soldier was going AWOL every two minutes, and deserting every six minutes.” In 1970 alone, wrote Marine Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr., “the Army had 65,643 deserters, or roughly the equivalent of four infantry divisions.”
The Project 100,000 recruits were overrepresented in this number, which could get them a dishonorable discharge and a stigma going into civilian life. Other problems readjusting were common as well.
The program ended in 1971, but the lessons weren’t learned as well as they should’ve been. In our newer round of spit-in-your-eye wars, this time on behalf of the globalists, recruiting standards unofficially became more relaxed, sometimes with horrific results. The same old tricks emerged, such as other people taking tests for those who had no chance of passing. Finally:
One of the lessons of McNamara’s Project 100,000 is that low-aptitude individuals should never be used in a war zone or in dangerous rear-echelon areas. Putting their lives at risk is cruel and immoral, and on a sheer practical level, it degrades the effectiveness of war efforts.
The least intelligent among us should never be viewed as expendable units of manpower, but as our fellow sojourners on this fragile earth, deserving respect and compassion — and gratitude for the contributions they make to our families and to our society.
Hopefully, this lesson will be heeded in the future.
As counterproductive as Project 100,000 was, this was not what caused American efforts in Vietnam to come to nothing. Neither did it have to do with rules of engagement or lack of resolve at the top. These things didn’t help, but the decisive bungle was by Henry Kissinger, who signed off on a sucker deal in the Paris Peace Accords. However, all of that is another story. His fellow swamp creature Robert McNamara comes across looking like a worm, but it was the author’s opinion that the former Secretary of Defense believed his own nonsense until the end of his days.
What was McNamara’s problem? One might suspect that he was just as retarded as some of the unfortunates he was getting killed. The book explores political expediency, but there’s more to it than that. Coming from a corporate environment — you know the type  — he had a particular obsession with statistics, and anything that didn’t calculate into the equation didn’t matter. To that way of thinking, a warm body is a warm body. This type of mentality drives much other mischief in the corporate world, but all of that’s another story too.
A greater problem here is ideological. This was an instance of IQ denialism, in which the nature of intelligence is misunderstood, its importance is diminished, or is even regarded as nothing more than how someone scores on a test. Its origin is the liberal tendency to take Rousseau’s “blank slate” notion as an absolute. The usual result of this misunderstanding in public policy involves throwing billions at social programs, and then wanting to double down on them when they don’t work. Another result is futile efforts to fix dysfunctional schools, without actually understanding what makes them dysfunctional, or at least being willfully ignorant about the educability of certain populations. The results of IQ denialism were directly fatal in the case of Project 100,000.
This is why thousands of these recruits, some with the mental age of children, were coming back in body bags. Effectively, they were human sacrifices to the idol of absolute egalitarianism. It’s time to stop doing that to them. Better yet, the politicians could stop involving us in their spit-in-your-eye wars. To paraphrase Louis-Ferdinand Céline , we should send a neocon to every foxhole next time.
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