Week 8: Class Divide in Vietnam War

The Vietnam war was a very different war than what American troops had been exposed to in the past. It was a new type of terrain and fighting technique that troops hadn’t been properly trained for. Soldiers may had gone into the war with an idea of what to expect, but the different from what could have been to what it actually was had been all too big. But before I get into a few different aspects of the war and its affects on troops, we must address who had been fighting the war.

Christian Appy’s essay “A Working-Class War” gives us a clear idea of who had been involved within the US’ troops. He starts off be letting readers know that 80% of troops present had been from the working class (regardless of race). Appy states that schools and the draft itself tended to lean towards and persuade working class youth/men to join the armed forces. Whereas men from more elite or “white collar” backgrounds were directed to the college setting. According to this essay, while some – but few- higher class men joined the war, boys from poorer (urban) living areas had been “ four times” more likely to die than those from the suburbs. Along with this, areas that had higher high school drop-out rates were more likely to experience high amounts of loss. And those same high school drop-outs were more likely to go through heavier combat. Why do we think that is? I believe that although military officials may have wanted to get as many troops on the field as possible, I think it may be fair to say that they may have seen someone from the working class as more expendable than a person who would have been more qualified to attend or had gone through college. Would there had been time for favoritism? Or was it more coincidence sense the working-class demographics were simply higher?

But a question to address the now: does there continue to be a class divide when to comes to the armed forces? I haven’t looked into any current demographics from todays armed forces to compare to that provided by Appy, but I believe there is. When ever I have spoken to someone who either has been in the forces or wanting to join, their reason for joining has been multiple family members had been involved before. I believe that although there are many new benefits that come with the forces, it can definitely been seen as a generational participation – for lack of a better word. And if the person I had talked to hadn’t joined because of family, it had to do with a specific benefit the forces could offer. It comes down to a divide of “can I achieve what I need/want through my current position (due to family establishment)” or “must I join as a means to an end?”

Onto the next point, readings through Appys work, he had an account from a veteran who had said that going into and through this war had been natural or not special for men of his generation. That it hadn’t necessarily been something to be proud of, just something one experienced. Reading that seems to invalidate all the hardships troops had to go through, especially since it was a different type of war. Troops had been misled, demoralized, and even felt betrayed from those back at home. Appy mentioned how soldiers had been told they would be going over seas to stop communism and protect civilians and innocent villages, yet shortly after arrival they would see it was all a lie. Apparently, communism and violence couldn’t be bound to any boarder. It was difficult to protect villages and people since the enemy didn’t wear proper uniform. Enemy boys and men of all ages would ambush, sometime women too. Appy include a few soldiers account where they felt if an enemy had taken over a village, than the whole village was made an enemy, and they all were to be killed. The proceeding essay “A Grunt’s Life” by Gerard DeGroot highlights how those misleading along with the combat and mindset deteriorated soldiers moral. Since US troops had been met with guerrilla warfare, they had to try and adapt with a Search and Destroy method. In this, companies/larger groups of men would essentially wonder until coming across the enemy and destroying them. During these “missions” soldiers would come across many traps set up by the enemy. Many were easily wounded and killed if they didn’t know what to look for. One soldiers account compared this method to when he had hunted deer back at home. That he would in a way get excited when something or someone would appear. This combat method would result in a high number of civilian deaths, which led to the military focusing on total body count as an untrustworthy way to see war progress. Many troops were demoralized because they could hardly ever tell apart enemy from civilian or would have to attack whole villages. Soldiers were always on edge because of the guerrilla warfare. Many began self-medicating using marijuana, heroin, and other narcotics during wartime. After a while, most didn’t even have a purpose to fight, other than simply staying alive to get back home.

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