The Vietnam War can be said to be the only war that America has lost. Due to a lack of men volunteering for combat (and a large number of young men getting exemptions from service from their doctors and many other ways), standards were lowered in order to meet quotas. They recruited those with low test scores who came to be known as ‘McNamara’s Morons’—a group of 357,000 or so men. With ‘mental standards’ now lower, the US now had men to fight in the war.
This decision was made by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Lyndon B. Johnson. This came to be known as ‘McNamara’s Folly’—the title of a book on the subject (Hamilton, 2015). Hamilton (2015: 10) writes: “A total of 5,478 low-IQ men died will in the service, most of them in combat. Their fatality rate was three times as high as that of other GIs. An estimated 20,270 were wounded, and some were permanently disabled (including an estimated 500 amputees).”
Hamilton spends the first part of the book describing his friendship with a man named Johnny Gupton who could neither read nor write. He spoke like a hillbilly and used hillbilly phrasing. According to Hamilton (2010: 14):
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.
Hamilton describes an instance in which they were told that on their postcards they were to send home, they should not write anything “raunchy” like the sergeant said “Don’t be like that trainee who went through here and wrote ‘Dear Darlene. This is to inform you that Sugar Dick has arrived safely…’” (Hamilton, 2015: 16). Hamilton went on to write that Gupton did not ‘get’ the joke while “There was a roar of laughter” from everyone else. Gupton’s postcard, since he could not read or write, was written by Hamilton but he did not know his address; he could not state the name of a family member, only stating “Granny” while not able to state her full name. He could not tie his boots correctly, so Hamilton did it for him every morning. But he was a great boot-shiner, having the shiniest boots in the barracks.
Writing home to his fiancee, Hamilton (2015: 18) wrote to her that Gupton’s dogtags “provide him with endless fascination.”
Gupton had trouble distinguishing between left and right, which prevented him from marching in step (“left, right, left, right”) and knowing which way to turn for commands like “left face!” and “right flank march!” So Sergeant Boone tied an old shoelace around Gupton’s right wrist to help him remember which side of his body was the right side, and he placed a rubber band on the left wrist to denote the left side of the body. The shoelace and the rubberband helped, but Gupton was a but slow in responding. For example, he learned how to execute “left face” and “right face,” but he was a fraction of a second behind everyone else.
Gupton was also not able to make his bunk to Army standards, so Hamilton and another soldier did it for him. Hamilton stated that Gupton could also not distinguish between sergeants and officers. “Someone in the barracks discovered that Gupton thought a nickel was more valuable than a dime because it was bigger in size” (Hamilton, 2015: 26). So after that, Hamilton took Gupton’s money and rationed it out to him.
Hamilton then describes a time where he was asked by a Captain what they were doing and the situation they were in—to which he gave the correct responses. A Captain then asked Gupton “Which rank is higher, a captain or a general?” to which Gupton responded, “I don’t know, Drill Sergeant.” (He was supposed to say ‘Sir.’) The captain talking to Hamilton then said:
Can you believe this idiot we drafted? I tell you who else is an idiot. Fuckin’ Robert McNamara. How can he expect us to win a war if we draft these morons? (Hamilton, 2015: 27)
Captain Bosch’s contemptuous remark about Defense Secretary McNamara was typical of the comments I often heard from career Army men, who detested McNamara’s lowering of enlistment standards in order to bring low-IQ men into the ranks. (Hamilton, 2015: 28)
Hamilton heard one sergeant tell others that “Gupton should absolutely never be allowed to handle loaded weapons on his own” (Hamilton, 2015: 41). Gupton was then sent to kitchen duty where, for 16 hours (5 am to 9 pm), they would have to peel potatoes, clean the floors, do the dishes etc.
Hamilton (2015: 45) then describes another member of “The Muck Squad” but in a different platoon who “was unfazed by the dictatorial authority of his superiors.” When an officer screamed at him for not speaking or acting correctly he would then give a slightly related answer. When asked if he had shaved one morning, he “replied with a rambling of pronouncements about body odor and his belief that the sergeants were stealing his soap and shaving cream” (Hamilton, 2015: 45). He was thought to be faking insanity but he kept getting weirder; Hamilton was told that he would talk to an imaginary person in his bunk at night.
Murdoch was then told to find an electric floor buffer to buff the floors and he “wandered around in battalion headquarters until he found the biggest office, which belonged to the battalion commander. He walked in without knocking or saluting or seeking permission to speak, and asked the commander—a lieutenant colonel—for a buffer“. When in the office, he “proceeded to play with a miniature cannon and other memorabilia on the commander’s desk…” (Hamilton, 2015: 45). Murdoch was then found to have schizophrenia and was sent on home medical discharge.
Right before their tests of physical fitness to see if they qualified, young-looking sergeants shaved their heads and did the tests for them—Gupton got a 95 while Hamilton got an 80, which upset Hamilton because he knew he could have scored 100.
Hamilton ended up nearly getting heatstroke (with a 105-degree fever) and so he was separated from Gupton. He eventually ended up contacting someone who had spent time with Gupton. He did not “remember much about Gupton except that he was protected by a friendly sergeant, who had grown up with a “mentally handicapped” sister and was sensitive to his plight” (Hamilton, 2015: 51). Gupton was only given menial jobs by this sergeant. Hamilton discovered that Gupton had died at age 57 in 2002.
Hamilton then got sent to Special Training Company because while he was out with his fever he missed important days so his captain sent him to the Company to get “rehabilitation” before returning to another training company. They had to do log drills and a Physical Combat Proficiency Test, which most men failed. You needed 60 points per event to pass. The first event was crawling on dirt as fast as possible for 40 yards on your hands and knees. “Most of the men failed to get any points at all because they were disqualified for getting up on their knees. They had trouble grasping the concept of keeping their trunks against the ground and moving forward like supple lizards” (Hamilton, 2015: 59).
The second event was the horizontal ladder—imagine a jungle gym. Think of swinging like an ape through the trees. Hamilton, though as he admits not being strong, traversed 36 rungs in under a minute for the full 60 points. When he attempted to show them how to do it and watch them try, “none of the men were able to translate the idea into action” * (Hamilton, 2015: 60).
The third event was called run, dodge, and jump. They had to zig-zag, dodge obstacles, and side-step people and finally jump over a shallow ditch. To get the 60 points they had to make 2 trips in 25 seconds.
Some of the Special Training men were befuddled by one aspect of the course: the wooden obstacles had directional arros, and if you failed to go in the right direction, you were disqualified. A person of normal intelligence would observe the arrows ahead of time and run in the right direction without pausing or breaking stride. But these men would hesitate in order to study the arros and think about which way to go. For each second they paused, they lost 10 points. A few more men were unable to jump across the ditch, so they were disqualified. (Hamilton, 2015: 60-61)
Fourth was the grenade throw. They had to throw 5 training grenades 90 feet with scoring similar to that of a dartboard where the closer you are to the bull’s eye, the higher your score. They had to throw it from one knee in order to simulate battle conditions, but “Most of the Special Training men were too weak or uncoordinated to come close to the target, so they got a zero” * (Hamilton, 2015: 61). Most of them tried throwing it in a straight line like a baseball catcher rather than an arc like a center fielder to a catcher trying to throw someone out at home plate. “…the men couldn’t understand what he was driving at, or else they couldn’t translate it into action. Their throws were pathetic little trajectories” (Hamilton, 2015: 62).
Fifth was the mile-run—they had to do it in eight minutes and 33 seconds but they had to have their combat boots on. The other men in his group would immediately sprint, tiring themselves outs, they could not—according to Hamilton—“grasp or apply what the sergeants told them about the need to maintain a steady pace (not too slow, not too fast) throughout the entire mile.”
Hamilton then discusses another instance in which sergeants told a soldier that there was a cat behind the garbage can and to pick up a cat. But the cat turned out to be a skunk and he spent the next two weeks in the hospital getting treated for possible rabies. “He had no idea that the sergeants had played a trick on him.”
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.
Sometimes trainees from other companiees, riding by in trucks, would hoot at us and shout “morons!” and “dummies!” Once, when a platoon marched by, the sergeant led the men in singing,
If I had a low IQ,
I’d be Special Training, too!
(It was sung to the tune of the famous Jody songs, as in “Ain’t no use goin’ home/Jody’s got your girls and gone.”)
Hamilton states that there was “One exception to the general unattractiveness” who “was Freddie Hensley.” He was consumed with “dread and anxiety”, always sighing. Freddie ended up being too slow to pass the rifle test with moving targets. Hamilton had wondered “why Freddie had been chosen to take the rifle test, but it soon dawned on me that he was selected because he was a handsome young man. Many people equate good looks with competence, and ugliness with incompetence. Freddie didn’t look like a dim bulb” (Hamilton, 2015: 72).
Freddy also didn’t know some ‘basic facts’ such as thunder precedes lightining. “As Freddy and I sat together on foot lockers and looked out the window, I passed the time by trying to figure out how close the lightning was. … I tried to explain what I was doing, and I was not surprised that Freddy could not comprehend. What was surprising was my discovery that Freddy did not know that lightning caused thunder. He knew what lightning was, he knew what thunder was, but he did not know that one caused the other” (Hamilton, 2015: 72).
The test used while the US was in Vietnam was the AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) (Maier, 1993: 1). As Maier (1993: 3) notes—as does Hamilton—men who chose to enlist could choose their occupation from a list whereas those who were forced had their occupation chosen for them.
For example, during the Vietnam period, the minimum selection standards were so low that many recruits were not qualified for any specialty, or the specialties for which they were qualified had already been filled by people with higher aptitude scores. These people, called no-equals, were rejected by the algorithm and had to be assigned by hand. Typically they were assigned as infantrymen, cooks, or stevedores. Maier (1993: 4)
Most of McNamara’s Morons
came from economically unstable homes with non-traditional family structures. 70% came from low-income backgrounds, and 60% came from singleparent families. Over 80% were high school dropouts, 40% read below a sixth grade level, and 15% read below a fourth grade level. 50% had IQs of less than 85. (Hsiao, 1989: 16-17)
Such tests were constructed from their very beginnings, though, to get this result.
… the tests’ very lack of effect on the placement of [army] personnel provides the clue to their use. The tests were used to justify, not alter, the army’s traditional personnel policy, which called for the selection of officers from among relatively affluent whites and the assignment of white of lower socioeconomic status go lower-status roles and African-Americans at the bottom rung. (Mensh and Mensh 1991: 31)
Reading through this book, the individuals that Hamilton describes clearly had learning disabilities. We do not need IQ tests to identify such individuals who clearly suffer from learning disabilities and other abnormalities (Sigel, 1989). Jordan Peterson claims that the military won’t accept people with IQs below 83, while Gottfredson states that
IQ 85 is a second important minimum threshold because the U.S. military sets its minimum enlistment standards at about this level. (2004, 28)
The laws in some countries, such as the United States, do not allow individuals with IQs below 80 to serve in the military because they lack adequate trainability. (2004, 18)
What “laws” do we have here in America ***specifically*** to disallow “individuals with IQs below 80 to serve in the military”? ** Where are the references? Why do Peterson and Gottfredson both make unevidenced claims when the claim in question most definitely needs a reference?
McNamara’s Folly is a good book; it shows why we should not let people with learning/physical/mental disabilities into the war. However, from the descriptions Hamilton gave, we did not need to learn their IQ to know that they could not be soldiers. It was clear as day that they weren’t all there, and their IQ score is irrelevant to that. The people described in the book clearly have developmental disabilities; how is IQ causal in this regard? IQ is an outcome, not a cause (Howe, 1997).
Both Jordan Peterson and Linda Gottfredson claim that the military will not hire a recruit with an IQ score of 80 or below; but they both just make a claim and attempting to validate the claim by searching through military papers does not validate the claim. In any case, IQ scores are not needed to learn that an individual has a learning disability (like how those described in the book clearly had). The unevidenced claims from Gottfredson and Peterson should not be accepted. In any case, one’s IQ is not causal in regard to their inability to, say, become a soldier as other factors are important, not a reified number we call ‘IQ.’ Their IQ scores were not their downfalls.
* Note that if one does not have a good mind-muscle connection then they won’t be able to carry-out novel tasks such as what they went through on the monkey bars.
1/20/2020 Edit ** I did not look hard enough for a reference for the claims. It appears that there is indeed a law (10 USC Sec. 520) that states that those that get between 1 and 9 questions right (category V) are not trainable recruits. The ASVAB is not not a measure of ‘general intelligence’, but is a measure of “acculturated learning” (Roberts et al, 2000). The ‘IQ test’ used in Murray and Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve was the AFQT, and it “best indicates poverty” (Palmer, 2018). This letter relates AFQT scores to the Weschler and Stanford-Binet—where the cut-off is 71 for the S-B and 80 for Weschler (both are category V). Returning to Mensh and Mensh (1991), such tests were—from their very beginnings—used to justify the current military order, having lower-class recruits in more menial jobs.