McNamara's Morons, aka Project 100,000 (recruiting mentally challenged people during Vietnam)

I had never heard of this until last night; in short, during the Vietnam era, and to a lesser extent in the Iraq/Afghanistan era, the military lowered their standards to a point where people with significantly subnormal IQs were admitted into the military, and usually given KP or other noncombat duties, if they made it through boot camp at all.

Here’s a 36-minute speech from someone who wrote a book about it.

If you watch it, you’ll also see a lot of pop-ups from the controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson where he discusses this and similar issues. Back then, intelligence was thought to be a more fluid thing than it actually is, and in the presentation, it’s mentioned that military officers thought they could raise IQ as much as 20 points with proper training, etc.

I do remember that in the “Unbroken” story, Louis Zamperini said that towards the end of the war, the Japanese soldiers he encountered became, as he put it, progressively stupider, so it wasn’t just the U.S. that has done this.

funny thing is I heard of a plan the other day to lower the physical requirements a bit so someone like me who is just "slightly to moderately " (I have cerebral palsy) disabled can be given non combat duties like desk jobs mechanics ect ……

As OP points out, this is not that unusual. Practically every army throughout history has started off trying to recruit the most desirable and competent soldiers (at least for the jobs of any importance) and then moved down the scale to the less capable as the war dragged on. The first recorded instance I can think of was during the Peloponnesian War, when the Greeks realized they couldn’t fill their ranks with middle-class landowners. They had to start mass-producing state-sponsored equipment to issue to lower-class people. There was probably some Athenian shouting, “Oarsmen can’t be hoplites! This is madness!” And then Pericles was like, “Madness? This… is… ATHENS!”


Fast forward to 1944 and we see something similar. I had never heard of the Japanese getting ‘stupider.’ That’s both sad and funny. But part of the reason Japan did so poorly was that they had a hyper-stratified culture. Check out the Japanese requirements for their fighter pilots. They put their candidates through all kinds of physical hardship and torture to identify the ‘best’ (by whatever arbitrary standard they were looking for) and then wondered why they weren’t producing enough pilots to fill their seats. The Germans definitely had a manpower problem as well. Americans landing in Europe noticed that they consistently found units composed of old men and very young boys.

The modern US Army totally does this, too. I know my MOS had a significant decrease in quality. I can only speak anecdotally, but around 2006-ish they dropped the standards for ASVAB scores and eliminated some other training requirements. When I went through the schoolhouse I saw soldiers dropped because they couldn’t write well (which was a major job requirement) but by 2007 we were pulling our hair out because some of our new recruits could barely write English.

They also had periods where they increased the numbers of annual waivers. Each year the Army allows a certain number of ‘waivers,’ and then tracks those candidates through their careers. I needed a medical waiver when I joined for a childhood (mis)diagnosis. The Army knew that candidates with waivers - especially ‘moral’ (read: criminal) waivers - had a higher wash-out and UCMJ rate that other soldiers. But there were some years they increased the number of waivers and took the risk that came with recruiting less-desirable soldiers.

Now I know why banzai charges were a thing in the Pacific.

Marines with M1 Garand and M1903 Springfield rifles had deadly rapid fire. Not to mention the medium and heavy machine guns. Banzai charges weren’t going to work.

The Banzai has little to do with the quality of the recruits. It was mostly about reinforcing the ideology of fanatacism. The Japanese wanted their soldiers to be fanatics, so they promoted the idea of suicide being preferable to surrender. The Banzai charge was a method of demonstrating their loyalty and fervor, rather than a function of their intelligence.

In the latter phase of the Pacific campaign, they actually stopped using the Banzai entirely because…

Who knew Pyle in “Full Metal Jacket” and Forrest Gump were based on real people?

I could see some nutritional problems leading to correctable performance deficits on tests. But how much this would have been a contributor to people during Vietnam as opposed to earlier days, I don’t know.

Literally every basic training cycle has at least one Pyle.

The You Tube link I posted in the OP has a reference to a soldier who died in Iraq whose fellow soldiers actually did nickname him “Forrest Gump”, and he didn’t get it.

p.s. When that movie came out, some people thought it was a documentary, and some of them were surprisingly intelligent. One woman I knew was a retired high school teacher who would always have a special-ed class, and she said, “No way could that be true. I used to have to try and teach kids like that.”

p.p.s. Don’t forget Zero in the “Beetle Bailey” comic strip.

I took the time to actually watch the video this morning. Holy shit.

I met some absolute idiots in my Basic training. I mean, some of these guys were the dumbest people I’d ever seen, but they were at least mostly-functional human beings. The author in the video describes people with severe impairments, probably lifelong nutritional deficits, who were not just illiterate and incompetent, but a threat to the people around them. And after hearing about all the different ways in which the wealthy and middle-class could win deferments, it becomes hard not to perceive it as deliberately exploiting the weakest and most vulnerable people in society.

There is no one standard to be lowered. The military constantly raises and lowers qualifications on a month by month or even week by week basis.

When I first walked into a recruiting station the first thing they asked was if I had a high school diploma. At the time they were not taking GEDs or people who dropped out. When I got to Basic training a couple of guys got pulled out a few times a week in the evening to get their GED. The difference? A couple of weeks difference in enlistment dates.

At the time I joined they weren’t desperate for troops and standards were pretty high. One guy did somehow get through. He had obvious mental defects and could do nothing for himself. Even though they did not appear to care on the surface, the Drill Sergeants were paying close attention. Before we got to a range with live ammunition he was pulled out of the platoon and chaptered out of the Army.

Maybe some:

That’s from a review of the book * McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War*, by Hamilton Gregory, which is the book companion to the video linked to, above. The review goes into a lot more detail.

Here’s a longish quote from the book, which is in the review as well:

Some people can be lifted to average in the way McNamara hoped, but the military is not the place to do that, military training is not the way to do that, and wartime is not the time to do that, at least if you intend to do it in the military using military training. However, some people, one of my late relatives having been one of them, cannot be lifted that high, and we must be prepared to admit that.

Before I forget, this is also in the review:

I would object to drafting those people against their will but, if they wish to serve their country in the military in some capacity, I see nothing wrong with accepting them and giving them a job that they can handle.

I’m not sure what, exactly, you are objecting to.

Very few people volunteer to be drafted. In fact, being drafted is kind of the opposite of volunteering.

And, seriously, “those people”?

Which is what she said. No good drafting those people and putting them into the kinds of danger they can’t think their ways out of. But if they want to enlist (which she may or may not know involves picking your job–including mentally undemanding noncombat roles like cook, light wheel mechanic, G1 commander), then let them.

Way to misread my post. I said I would object to them being drafted (draft still existed during Vietnam), but I wouldn’t object to them volunteering (no longer a draft) because they want to serve in some capacity. In fact, the law states that the disabled are to be accommodated by employers if possible.

So, I ask you again, since you pointedly avoided my question, what is it that you are objecting to in terms of the disabled serving in our draft free military?

I apologize. When you said “I would object to drafting those people against their will …” I took that to imply that you would be all in favor of them being drafted with their consent. Otherwise, why would you say “…against their will…”.

I wasn’t aware your question was pointed at me, as you posed it before I even read the first post in this thread. But, to answer a question you never asked of me, I am not objecting to the disabled from serving in our draft free military. I have to wonder what gave you the impression that I did. Sheesh!

It was not clear to whom you were speaking or what ‘objection’ you were referring to.

Two big reasons:

  1. The law states that the disabled are to be accommodated by employers if possible. The military is a mentally and physically challenging job. It is often NOT possible to accommodate disabilities. The military needs people who can deploy to austere conditions, exercise initiative, demonstrate sound judgment, and perform demanding work. If they don’t, people die. The entire point of the video is that McNamara was putting soldiers into jobs they were NOT suited for. The result was great loss of life (both for the soldiers and the people around them). Even the modern (2018) military tracks less-qualified and waivered soldiers and finds a higher rate of attrition, worse performance, and more UCMJ action. So every time the military agrees to take a less-qualified soldier, they are accepting a certain degree of risk.

So what if we take patriotic young Americans and find them low-risk, non-threatening jobs that are within their capabilities? That brings us to the second problem.

  1. Congress authorizes a certain number of service members each year. If the military is already at it’s “end-strength,” they cannot add new soldiers. All soldiers need to be deployable, and if someone’s limitations make them permanently non-deployable they are discharged. In the modern 2018 military, there is just no room for a less-capable, non-deployable soldier because they take up a ‘slot’ that could be used on a soldier who is physically and mentally capable.

If someone’s limitations make them unqualified for military service, they can seek employment as a civilian performing some kind of non-deployable administrative or support task.

TLDR: In a full-strength military there is no room to add an unqualified or under-qualified recruit. In a military experiencing a manpower shortage, less-qualified recruits are sometimes accepted but this comes at a cost of worse performance and unnecessary fatalities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act says:

So the ADA, at least, does not require the military to hire those with disabilities. If someone knows of another law that does, please let us know.