Christian Appy argues that the Vietnam War was a “working-class war” due to the fact that approximately 80% of Americans who served in the war came from working-class and poor families (McMahon, 2007). At the same time Appy asserted that many aspects of American society such as the draft, public schools and the American job market encouraged and pushed lower-income Americans to the armed forces while at the same time upper-class Americans were able to avoid military service by going to college (McMahon, 2007). Due to the fact that wealthier Americans were able to avoid the draft and as a result, poorer Americans were forced to fight, the conflict became a situation where America’s poorest were made to do the nation’s “dirty work.” According to Appy, the experiences of American soldiers during the war in Vietnam was much different than that of their predecessors during the Second World War and the Korean War. To be specific, the working class veterans of WW2 and the Korean War were able to feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments, yet the veterans of the Vietnam War felt no sense of accomplishment or respect. The veterans of the Vietnam War often felt that American society did not care about their contributions (McMahon, 2007). In his article, Appy notes that the effects at home of the economic disparities between those who served and those who didn’t was easily noticeable. According to Appy, men who grew up in poorer towns were four times more likely to die as a result of the war than those who came from nearby but affluent neighborhoods. In general, the vast majority of those who served in the war came from the bottom half of American society (McMahon, 2007).
According to DeGroot, one reason that American soldiers became demoralized during the late 1960’s was on account of the unrealistic expectations that soldiers were taught regarding their own military capabilities. According to DeGroot, when the M16 rifle entered service with the U.S Army in Vietnam, soldiers were told that the rifle would be perfectly effective against the VC and that if they kept it clean that they would function perfectly. In reality, within the unforgiving terrain of the jungles of Vietnam it was nearly impossible to keep the M16 clean. At the same time, American soldiers grew jealous of the fact that their foe had access to the ever reliable AK-47 which could have sand poured in it or be run over by a truck and still work perfectly (McMahon, 2007 ). It should seem obvious that having ineffective or even inoperable weapons while one’s enemy has access to extremely reliable and effective weapons would damage the morale of an armed force. Another cause of US soldiers’ low morale during the late 1960’s was the use of traps by the Viet Cong. For example, one of the most primitive yet effective traps used by the VC was the Punji Spikes, which were a series of sharpened spikes planted into the ground and covered by brush and often covered excrements in order to encourage infections. When US soldiers fell into these traps they would often receive horrific wounds and would sometimes die of infection from gangrene. DeGroot notes in his article that these traps often led to low-morale amongst US troops and created a sense of constant fear (McMahon, 2007). Finally, the lack of any clear victories against the VC resulted in a feeling of uselessness amongst GI’s. To be specific, progress was measured via the body count, that is, the tallying of deaths inflicted on the Vietnamese by US forces. However, to most soldiers this was not a sufficient measure of success. There were no situations where US forces would capture a village and hold on it nor was there any notion that the enemy had been thoroughly defeated. Some US soldiers came to realize that the enemy would surely return (McMahon, 2007). The effects of the low-morale amongst American soldiers and a sense of failure created conditions in American society whereby average Americans felt resentful of the war and took out their frustration on returning veterans. US soldiers became an easy group to blame for the failure of the war for many Americans. At the same time the inability to achieve any clear success in the war created a scenario where many GI’s did not quite know what they were fighting for. There was a growing belief amongst US soldiers that society was ungrateful of their contributions to defending democracy in Asia (McMahon, 2007).
I would argue that there does exist a class divide in the US military today. One can reference some easily accessible and simple statistics to make this argument. According to the Council on Foreign Relations in their article titled, “Demographics of the U.S. Military” the majority of military recruits actually come from middle-class backgrounds. The report then asserts that as a result of this, upper and lower classes are actually underrepresented in the United States Armed Forces while middle-class Americans are overrepresented (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020). As a result, I would argue that while there exists a class divide within the US military today it is not a situation where the poor are fighting in place of the rich. I argue that it is a situation where middle class Americans are fighting in place of the poor and the rich.
- McMahon, Robert J. Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War: Documents and Essays. 4th ed. Cengage Learning, 2007.
2.) “Demographics of the U.S. Military.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, July 13, 2020. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/demographics-us-military.
One thought on “Blogpost #6”
I really enjoyed reading your discussion post. I found it very interesting that you brought in the article “Demographics of the U.S. Military” in which it states that the majority of military recruits actually come from middle class backgrounds. When I read this I was not too surprised, but I still did find it very interesting, and I am curious why are more people from the middle class entering the military than any other social class.