Race and War

Christian Appy argues that the Vietnam War was a working class war because of who fought in it. The majority of those who enlisted or volunteered were from middle and low classes. Appy writes that very few people of the upper class volunteered and many were able to evade the draft when it came. Therefore, America saw an army of mostly impoverished young men coming from a working class family. The demographics of the enlistees were mostly young men. Of those young men, only two races were really tracked and studied: white Americans and African-Americans. Other races and ethnicities fought but they were not/are not studied. Interestingly, in the beginning of the war, 20% of combat deaths were from African-Americans. This was about “twice their portion of the U.S. population” (Appy). 

DeGroot writes that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam became demoralized for many reasons. The first major one he talks about is the conditions of work. The soldiers were forced to carry extremely heavy loads throughout the dense jungle. This made travel difficult and dangerous. Because they were in the jungle, they could easily be ambushed by people who knew the land better than them. Because it was the jungle, dirt was everywhere and got everywhere. The mud would jam their weapons and they could not fight back with the prowess they would have liked. Another demoralizing thing that soldiers experienced in Vietnam is seeing their friends die regularly. O’Brien shares that he became demoralized by seeing the destruction of what the Americans were doing. They were not used to killing people (soldiers and civilians). It became a war they did not want to fight anymore. I suppose that many of them never wanted to fight in the first place. This may be untrue, but I read a fact that a great deal of shots fired by American troops were aimed several feet above the enemy’s head. This was because they did not actually want to kill the enemy. They just wanted to act like they were doing their job for their non-commissioned and commissioned officers. 

I do think that a class divide still exists in the U.S. military. However, I do not think it is as bad as the divide that existed in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. I am in the military now and have seen that class divide in person. I know people that joined the Air Force because they would have become homeless or dead if they hadn’t joined. I also know people who come from well off military families who decided to keep the family tradition going by enlisting. Most people I know in the military joined for the education benefits. While class divide still exists in the military today, I think it has become less of an issue. The people who come from lower classes are treated mostly the same as those who come from upper classes. I say mostly because there still is racial and gender biases in the military.

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