The Working Class on the frontlines

In MacMahons reading, “Americans in Combat,” there are two essays written by Jerald R DeGroot and Christian Appy. These two historians write about the US soldiers during the Vietnam war along with the discriminations between social classes and the overall low morale the Americans had for the war.

In his writing, Christian Appy goes into detail about the average American soldier during the war. He notes how the Vietnam war had the youngest average age for American soldier in history. With most men being drafted out of High School. The average age was brought down to around twenty to twenty one years old. Compared to World War Two in which the average age was around Twenty Five. This led to a much younger and naive generation of Americans reaching the front lines of combat. Along with this change, Appy writes about the inequality of the social classes in war. Most men who were drafted came from middle to lower classes and generally did not attend university after high school. After the war, 22% of veterans of the war had attended some sort of higher education, compared to over 48% from nonveterans at the time. There was clearly a class divide in the military with those with higher education being put in positions of safety and far away from combat. Soldiers on the front lines were often used as bait in order to clear out the Viet Kahn before American bombing runs would take them out. This carelessness of the soldiers on the ground often led to high numbers of casualties and little gains on territory. The working class man was put to work in the jungles of Vietnam. Some men firing their first shots in combat. This division between the privileged and poor would cause a divide in the states as well with many blue collar families losing their sons. Black Americans were also discriminated in Vietnam. With many Blacks being sent to the front lines or used as bait, their casualty numbers were also hidden from the press as they had by far the largest amount out of any ethnicity in the American forces. Overall, Appy depicts the American military in a dark and twisted way. Going backwards in savagery even with a forward leap in technology compared to the Second World War.

DeGroot also writes about the problems with the American military during the Vietnam war, however he dives deep into the personal psyche and mindset of those fighting. Unlike the Second World War, the United States was never directly attacked by the Vietnamese, they instead acted like an imperial power in trying to suppress the Communist revolution in Vietnam. While the policy of containment was one of the major reasons why the United States was involved with Vietnam. The American public saw the war as unnecessary and reckless. Most soldiers had no idea what they were fighting for, they did not have strong patriotism for their country and did not feel pride in attacking innocent Vietnamese, some Americans had to kill civilians and burn down hundreds of small villages, this sheer brutality made the soldiers question their government and what they were fighting for. They also questioned if they were truly the good guys in the war. These Americans, ironically, felt like they were the British during the revolutionary war, fighting against a country that wanted to run things its way.

One thought on “The Working Class on the frontlines

  1. Jack,
    I think you did a great job at both explaining the demographics of the Vietnam War and also the characteristics of service in Vietnam that led to low morale. I like how you focused on how the class divide is not just important among the draft, but also among the positions given out to soldiers. It was the soldiers of working-class backgrounds that took the dirty and more dangerous jobs. Your last paragraph touches on what Dr. Wright discussed in the lecture. The Vietnam War marked an era of division among Americans and a loss of trust in government as many struggled to find the purpose of this war.


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