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By John Ketwig (reviewer)
McNamara's Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War
by Hamilton Gregory
(Infinity Publishing, 2015)
Just when we thought we had heard it all about the war in Vietnam, along comes a new book that shines a spotlight on a little-known but tragic aspect of the war. "McNamara's Folly" by Hamilton Gregory is informative, thoroughly researched, well-written and very readable. It is a terrific book, but caution: the subject matter will make you angry and disgusted, once again, with the government of the United States. The lowering of standards to make mentally handicapped men eligible for the draft was cruel and indefensible. Yes, we were aware of Project 100,000 as a footnote to history, but "McNamara's Folly" tells the whole ugly story factually, and in the most human ways. Author Gregory actually had some first-hand experience with "McNamara's morons," and he has found many others who witnessed the troubling effects of the Defense Secretary's sad effort to make numbers and fight an unnecessary war by concentrating on charts and graphs.
The young men drafted under the provisions of the project were mostly hampered by low mental capacities which made them very vulnerable in combat situations, but the book points out that they also put their colleagues at increased risk. Gregory explains in detail the pressures the unpopular war put on local draft boards. In order to meet their quotas, Project 100,000 allowed the draft to take men who were previously unfit for service. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara sold his program by making it seem that these less fortunate draftees would get special attention and training in the military that would allow them to return to civilian life better prepared to find employment and contribute to their communities. Sadly, the truth was that the military needed men, cannon fodder, to support the war in Vietnam. The war became more unpopular as it dragged on, so enlistments were down. At the same time, AWOL (absent without leave) and desertions were at peak levels. Even in basic training, instructors were very cautious about putting a rifle into the hands of these recruits, for fear they would harm their fellow troops. Commanders faced extreme pressures not to dismiss any soldier, so they looked the other way as the handicapped men were passed on to their next duty assignment. In combat in Vietnam, they could be a real hazard, and it was often left to their fellow soldiers to look out for them, and assign them to duties where they would have the least opportunity to do harm. The accounts of combat veterans who looked out for the poor guys drafted under McNamara's program are heartwarming.
McNamara's Folly also makes us aware that the lower standards allowed many convicted lawbreakers and social misfits to enter the service, often instead of going to jail. Of course, some of them took advantage of the opportunity to better themselves, but some simply brought their problems to a new field of operations. If things weren't tough enough in Vietnam, the assignment of men with known anti-social or sociopathic behavior patterns added great stress to the burdens of the soldiers around them.
Hamilton Gregory has done an outstanding job researching and telling this grim story. "McNamara's Folly" redefines the term, cannon fodder in a most effective manner. As a VVAW member, he has done an outstanding job explaining the madness, cruelty and tragedy of America's military adventure in Vietnam. This book tells exactly why VVAW needed to come into existence, and it adds invaluable insights into the historical folly and tragedy of the Vietnam War. Highly recommended.
John Ketwig is a Life member of VVAW, and the author of "...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam" which will mark its 30th anniversary in print this May. John is currently working on a new book which is intended to challenge the government's 50th anniversary commemoration.