McNamara’s Folly by Hamilton Gregory

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Hamilton Gregory volunteered for the Army, and served three years, including one in the Vietnam War in military intelligence. He was a strong believer in America’s fight against communism, and thought it was his patriotic duty to serve.

Project 100,000 was promoted as a great social experiment that would provide troops to the Army and, in turn, the Army would teach these men to read and write—and brush their teeth. But the Army never got around to teaching these men anything. They just got shipped to Vietnam.

The men in this group were referred to kindly by President Johnson as “second class fellows.”  They were the men who were too heavy, too thin, too short. They often had medical liabilities, psychiatric disorders, criminal tendencies, and maladjustment problems. After these men served, they were often separated under other than honorable conditions. LBJ looked to these men as a way to avoid displeasing middle class voters by doing away with college deferments and National Guard special treatment.

America’s military leaders were not in favor of Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara’s plan to induct men previously labelled unfit for military service. They had “grave doubts” and only went along with this plan with “bitter disappointment,” Gregory writes in McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, Plus the Induction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits (Infinity Publishing, 262 pp., $16.95, paper; $7.95, Kindle).

It was the civilian bosses—McNamara and LBJ—who foisted this social experiment off on the military, which was ill prepared to educate the unfit.

Some military leaders felt that this plan showed that McNamara and LBJ had little understanding of the qualities a soldier had to possess to be successful at difficult and complex jobs such as handling loaded rifles and hand grenades. Do we want such men performing those tasks? I certainly don’t.

LBJ and McNamara

I went through basic training at Fort Ord with an unfit man, L.C. He scared us every day. We tried our hardest to communicate to our leaders what was wrong with the guy, but nothing got through.

The strongest part of this fine book is the section in which Gregory relates his own narrative about being in Special Training with unfit men at Fort Benning. Gregory ended up there due to physical problems and what he refers to as his “goofy” face.  He saw with his own eyes that “McNamara’s experiment in social engineering had the most awful results.”

His stories of the suffering of these men brought tears to my eyes. They were not supposed to be destined for a combat role in Vietnam, but guess what?  They went to Vietnam and many fought and died there.

Gregory began researching this book in the 1970s, but his experiences in 1967 at Fort Benning provided first-hand observations that became the bedrock of the story.

Gregory’s beloved wife, Merrill, believed her husband “was probably the only man in America who had the experiences and the commitment to tell the whole story of McNamara’s Folly.” I agree with her.

My only complaint about this fine book is that there was no photograph of Hamilton Gregory. I wished I could see with my own eyes his goofy face. Many saints have had less-than-ideal Ken Doll visages.

—David Willson

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