Book Review: McNamara’s Folly By Hamilton Gregory


Reviewer: Robert L. Hanafin, Major, USAF-Retired, GS-12, Department of the Navy-Retired

Yes I’m still alive John Allen and Gordon Duff, maybe not to stay but to occasionally poke my head in VT’s Door as a Veterans Rights and Peace Advocate, if I may.

I came across a promotion for this Amazon Best Seller in the November/December 2015 issue of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)  monthly magazine – The Veteran. The endorsements by Jan Scruggs, President Emeritus, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (the vet who led the crusade to build the Vietnam Wall), and Anthony C. Zinni, General, U.S. Marine Corps-Retired were not the only inspiration I had for reading the book. My primary inspiration to read it was being eligible for Project 100,000 when I enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 at the age of 17.

Who is Hamilton Gregory?

Hamilton Gregory is a Vietnam veteran and a longtime advocate for the needs of veterans with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities.

In the Prologue of McNamara’s Folly, he writes, “While I was in the Army (1967-1970), I got to know some of McNamara’s substandard soldiers, and I vowed that someday I would tell their stories and give the historical background. This book is the fulfillment of that vow.”

Mr. Gregory is also a former Associated Press writer, and author of a best-selling college textbook Public Speaking for College & Career, an integrated program that helps students practice, build confidence, and achieve success in public speaking, both in the classroom and beyond, which is in its 10th Edition.

What was Project 100,000?

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara were desperate to find additional troops for the Vietnam War, but they feared that they would alienate middle-class voters if they drafted college boys or sent Reservists and National Guardsmen to Vietnam. So, on October 1, 1966, McNamara lowered mental standards and inducted thousands of low-IQ men. Altogether, 354,000 of these men were taken into the Armed Forces and a large number of them were sent into combat.

My Review

My book review on McNamara’s Folly is from the perspective of a high school dropout, given a choice of military enlistment or reform school for the petty crimes of underage drinking, and truancy from High School. The review also is based on notes taken from discussions with Mr. Gregory. I consider my review to be balanced, fair, but in high praise of what Mr. Gregory has written.

I’m most impressed with the very extensive primary and secondary sources he used, his writing style of beginning with his own personal experience with Project 100,000 in basic training as an introduction to his more detailed description of the project, and those who were for, against, and part of it. This is only the second book on the Vietnam War that I’ve read having such a wealth of reliable sources. I told Mr. Gregory that upon close examination of his sources that he did indeed make extensive use of official sources that surprisingly were accurate not sugar coated.

A Writing Style that sticks to the facts

Mr. Gregory does not come across expressing any opinion, but focuses mostly on facts that can be reliably verified. As a Retired Military Intelligence Officer, and Retired Department of the Navy Civilian, myself, I already knew how to research official Pentagon documentation on Project 100,000, but Mr. Gregory beat me to it. His index and 281 sources (pages 219 – 251) are predominantly from official Department of Defense documentation on Project 100,000.

It becomes clear from his sources that the Pentagon opposed, but reluctantly accepted, Robert McNamara’s plan to lower standards for each service to accept draftees, and volunteers, with low-IQ’s, over or under weight, misfits, and like me with criminal records that varied in degree of severity.

I know that the Pentagon published its own findings about the Program, but I did not recall how long after the fall of Saigon. What I do recall reading leaned more toward the failures of the program. Upon closer examination, official reports were being written shortly after the program began in 1966. I’ve come across other Pentagon documents on Project 100,000 dated circa 1969, and 1972 both reflected the program to have been a disaster. The negative tone of these early reports was not surprising given Pentagon opposition to the program from its early stages.

What I found very interesting is that as recent as 2011 the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Historical Office wrote an official DoD history series called SECRETARIES OF DEFENSE HISTORICAL SERIES in several volumes. Mr. Gregory quotes extensively from Chief Historian Edward J. Drea’s Volume VI – McNamara, Clifford, and the Burdens of Vietnam 1965-1969. Suffice it to say that Mr. Drea referred to Project 100,000 in several chapters of his official DOD history, and one whole chapter focused entirely on Project 100,000.

In chapter 2 – Vietnam: Escalation Without Mobilization, Drea covers most of the ground that Mr. Gregory does about the sociology-political environment and events leading up to Project 100,000 but Drea goes into more detail. In chapter 10 – The Home Front, Drea covers the subjects of Conscripts and Volunteers: Lower Standards, Greater Inequality, and most of the chapter details Project 100,000, Race and Casualties.

Lastly, although I was allowed to enlist under Project 100,000 due to need for a morality waiver and not having a high school diploma, I believe several factors kept me out of Vietnam, and combat arms. I was white (not a minority), and I scored high enough on the AFQT to end up in a clerical MOS instead of an infantryman. Not knowing any better at the time, I volunteered for Vietnam, but I was sent to Okinawa, and later Fort Carson, CO with the 4th Mechanized Infantry as a Training NCO.

Regardless, I still remember experiencing the aspects of the program as discussed by Mr. Gregory while I was in Basic Training. However, my experience in 1969 was more along the lines of guys from Puerto Rico who could not read, write, or speak English trying to interact with poor blacks, poor whites, and a sprinkling of just a few brighter recruits with high school diplomas, and college degrees who enlisted rather than wait to be drafted.

My experience with Project 100,000 was the exception not the rule. I was raised by my grandmother, and I was 17 about to turn 18 when I enlisted in the Army with guardians permission since I was under age. That said, the Army did not send me to Basic Training (Fort Jackson, SC) until I turned 18. Thus, I really enlisted in 1968 but did not go on active duty until November 1969.

I served 3 years on active duty in the Army with a promotion to E5 in 2 years. While at Fort Carson, CO circa 1971, I and quite a few Specialist 5s where given additional weapons training (sawed off shot gun) and made hard stripe SGTs due to a shortage of SGTs to do Sergeant of the Guard. Yet another Army fiasco, but a sign that the Army was falling apart.

In 1972, I was given an early out (so to speak) but assigned to the Ready (not standby) Reserve. I remember reporting to the Army Reserve and being told to stay home until notified of assignment to a unit. I received orders promoting me to E6, but I was never assigned to a unit.

Mr. Gregory could relate to my experience when the Army issued those of us who scored high on the AFQT a High School GED equivalent. While in AIT at Fort Jackson, a large group of us were marched to some administrative building went in, and we were handed paperwork to sign. Before we exited the back door, we were congratulated for passing the GED test. Frankly, none of us took any test. This would come back to haunt me when I tried to get into college.

During this period I was experiencing just about what every other Vietnam Vet or Era Vet was – not feeling welcome home. I began feeling like the only place I felt welcome was in the military, but I was determined to avoid the Army at all cost.
Ironically, I was allowed to attend Air Force ROTC while still assigned to the Army Ready Reserve. Now that was fascinating!

I also appreciate how Mr. Gregory connects the dots between the Vietnam Project 100,000 and when (mostly the Army) lowered standards for Iraq and Afghanistan although not to the degree possible during Vietnam.

The book has more positives than negatives, and I would strongly advise any Vietnam Veteran to read it regardless if you were part of Project 100,000 or not, or it you served in Vietnam or not.

Despite my very positive review of McNamara’s Folly, the book had a few negatives. I don’t mean to nitpick, but his information about a Project 100,000 recruit’s disabilities at the beginning of Chapter 24, (pages 127-128) could be a bit misleading. On page 128 he gives a rundown of these disabilities, and infers that his disabilities occurred on August 18, 1969. Mr. Gregory’s point is right on, however I can’t speak to the other disabilities, but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was not officially recognized until 1980.”

NOTE: In 1980, PTSD was recognized as a disorder with specific symptoms that could be reliably diagnosed and was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

This means that this Project 100,000 veteran had to fight the VA system from August 18, 1969 to whatever date in 1980 that PTSD was recognized by the APA.

The Vietnam Veterans Movement spearheaded by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), and later other Vietnam Veteran groups including VVA fought a long hard battle to get PTSD recognized against heavy opposition from the VA, and of course the Department of Defense, especially prior to 1975. This opposition (which included support from old line Veterans groups dominated at the time by WWII Vets) would have had a very significant impact on Project 100,000 men suffering mental stress and illness.

I believe from experience (working within the VA prior to 1980), and my own knowledge of the VA Application system, that what you list on page 128 is most likely the Project 100,000 Vet’s overall combination of disabilities at the time his application was adjudicated and rating approved which had to be post-1980.

I also believe that his overall VA rating is probably 100% service-connected, and this is not something easy for any Veteran regardless of generation to earn. I’m also rated 100%, and we both know that having PTSD alone will not get any Veteran rated 100%. In fact, my primary disabilities that rate the highest are (1) Bipolar or as the VA defined it Mood Swings, and (2) High Blood Pressure acquired while on active duty. (3) Hearing loss in both ears. Anything else has been “secondary” to these three primary disabilities.

Unfortunately, that is something many Veterans of all wars don’t understand is that as they age – illnesses (even minor ones) they had on active duty could get worse with age. VA claim adjudication rules have changed very little over time, and I know that Vets can make claims for any recognized condition that may be secondary to what occurred while on active duty (if it is documented in his/her military medical records).

Secondly, Mr. Gregory tends to place more blame on the Johnson Administration, especially Robert McNamara (well-deserved of course), and he “almost” let the Pentagon off the hook due to the opposition of military leaders to Project 100,000. However, there was more than enough blame to go around.

The Johnson administration wanted Project 100,000, it was up to Robert McNamara and the flag officers that worked for him to implement it. Once the uniformed services realized they were stuck with it, due to state refusal to call up the National Guard, and federal preference to not deploy Reserve units for deployment to Vietnam, the Pentagon had no choice but to implement Project 100,000 anyway military leaders saw fit. They evidently saw fit to use such recruits as cannon fodder.

Mr. Gregory should be able to relate as an intelligence specialist himself during Vietnam, that one of my many duties as a former Military Intelligence Officer was familiarity with military operational and intelligence plans as they pertained to units an MI is assigned to.

If the Pentagon had made and enforced policies from above, and passed down to each service that Project 100,000 men could not be sent as cannon fodder into combat in Vietnam as described in McNamara’s Folly. They could have done so.

Of course that would have meant sending me (and other Project 100,000 men who scored higher on aptitude tests) to Vietnam, but that is beside the point.

Lastly, I noted another constructive comment, in Chapter 18, McNamara’s Plan – Mr. Gregory mentions that, “If the U.S. had sent 543,000 men to Vietnam in 1966 and kept them there until the war was over, there would have been no problem in meeting manpower needs. But the Pentagon had created a shortage by deciding that any man sent to combat zone would not be required to stay longer than one year. Because most men did not volunteer to extend their tour of duty, thousands of fresh troops had to be deployed to Vietnam every month to replace the thousands who were departing.”

Well this is technically true, however, given the benefit of hindsight, and what we know about the effects of exploitation and mind blowing operations tempo of the All-Volunteer Force, (especially the Army and Marines) during the past decade or so, I strongly believe there still would have been problems meeting manpower needs in the Army and Marines in Vietnam circa 1966.

What comes across in Mr. Gregory’s above point is a comparison of Vietnam to WWII when both draftees and volunteers were sent to the Pacific, Mediterranean, and Europe for the duration of the war. This cannot be a realistic comparison to Vietnam.

First, WWII was a popular national war, and all Americans were called upon to make sacrifices for the war effort. In the case of Vietnam (similar to Iraq and Afghanistan), there was no shared national sacrifice, life went on as usual for most Americans during the Vietnam Era with the exception of the time and effort spent on getting out of going to Vietnam by certain socioeconomic classes.

Although not really called an All-Volunteer Force as we think of it today, as I understood Mr. Gregory’s meaning, and based on my own experience, the 543,000 men mentioned would have been predominantly “volunteers” not draftees.

I witnessed and see the Vietnam War divided into two periods, or two diverse generations of Vietnam Vets (keep in mind given that Vietnam “was” our longest war of over a decade also means about a decade of separation in the age group sent). This was divided by the Tet offensive meaning that I believe most of the volunteers sent to Vietnam from let’s say 1964/65 to 1968 most likely believed in what they were fighting for. I’d go as far to say most still do.

Regardless, and this is the key to why I believe there still would have eventually been manpower problems, during WWII the U.S. government had the near total support and sacrifice of the American people. Given those 543,000 would have been little different than our All Volunteer Force today (of course minus the status given female troops), the fact remains that the U.S. government began losing the support of the American people around 1968.

If those men had been kept in Vietnam for the duration, even without a crystal ball, there still would have been an end in duration when the American people figured out the fiscal, if not the humane cost – again much as today. Suffice it to say that given the lack of shared national sacrifice and minus a sure plan for some sort of defined victory in Vietnam, I believe those 543,000 volunteers would have had to be exploited and put through a worse ops tempo than our young troops of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Readers need not take my word for it, simply ask any Afghanistan or Iraq war veteran how they would feel about being kept in those war zones for the duration of the war.

I was in the All-Volunteer Force

I personally witnessed the creation of the All-Volunteer Force (while still in the Army) and later in the Air Force, I must say Vietnam War Veterans would be shocked at the lengths and expense the Pentagon went in formation of the AVF, which at the time most uniformed service leaders felt would be a failure to entice enough volunteers.

When I was sent to Fort Carson, CO in 1971/72 it was like being sent into an entire different Army in just a short 3 years. There had to be pay increases, especially for entry level positions regardless of MOS. With the exception of basic training, and that was even soon to change, recruits and “volunteers,” no longer lived in WWII period barracks, for the military had adopted the dormitory system. It was as if the military wanted youngsters to believe they were going to college rather than the Army or Marine Corps.

For good measure, KP disappeared as a GI function and was contracted out to private companies as early as 1971. I doubt if it is even this way today, but not only did KP disappear (although military cooks remained), grunts could go into the Mess Hall (excuse me Dining Hall for even military terminology was changing to be more user friendly) at any time between 0500 and 2300 to what the military came closest to creating – fast food hours when hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza was being served. This was in addition to your 3 squares a day.

Yes, there would have been no manpower shortage per se in 1966, but without the support and sacrifice of the American people, and with the socioeconomic makeup of our ground forces still having the Officer corps predominantly from the Middle Class, and the NCO, and enlisted force from the working, and related lower classes there would have been a breaking point from within the military leading to a disintegration of the ground forces and forcing our government to bring an end to the duration of the Vietnam War with some sort of illusion to Peace with Honor.

More to the point, from my experience in the Pentagon during the Gulf War, I could see that even then, our civil government and uniformed service leaders looked closely at Public Relations mistakes that were made by the Johnson and Nixon administrations (lessons learned if I may) to try retaining the support of the American people for what we have today.

The Formula for Never Ending Wars fought by an All-Volunteer Force while America continues Shopping

I could draw readers a verifiable game plan that has been used by our government since 9/11, however in simplified form since I’ve taken up more than enough time on this very positive review:

Rule Number 1. The All Volunteer Force is easier to control, exploit, and manipulate, because well “they volunteered,” and given resistance of Middle and Upper Class Americans to the sacrifices asked of them during the Vietnam War (meaning the Draft), we must continue to reassure the American people that there is no need for a draft, because we have sufficient volunteers to handle global commitments regardless if we do or not.

Rule Number 2. (This is in fact more important than rule number 1). We must do everything imaginable to retain the support of the American people, especially support for our troops. This may require setting up a public affairs propaganda program (America Supports You, comes to mind) that reinforces in the mind of our troops that well America supports us. Remind us over and over, and we just might believe it. This will only work if we never ask the American people for shared sacrifice or direct support on the battlefield.

Links exposing Donald Rumsfeld’s Folly – America Supports You.

DOD Inspector General Finds that America Supports You Solicited Support from Corporations in Violation of Pentagon Conduct an

DOD Inspector General finds America Supports paid Celebrities for their support

America Supports Bought Mainstream Media Support in violation of DOD ethics rules.

Rule Number 3. (And without this one we cannot accomplish 1 & 2) Since we have an All-Volunteer Force, we must NEVER – EVER ask the American people to share in the sacrifice of those volunteers, tell them that going on with life as usual (shopping) is OK, the anti-terrorist thing to do.

Rule Number 4. (Closely related to 3) Lastly, for good measure make the American people believe they are not paying for the war(s). In fact, instead of raising taxes to pay for war as we did in every war America has been involved in since the Civil War, we must cut taxes, and take out a loan (mortgage our children’s future) to pay for the war(s).

What I believe the All-Volunteer Force May Become – A Warrior Class

Today, what the All-Volunteer Force is becoming and most likely will continue to become is a “Warrior Class.” Maybe not in our Vietnam War generation(s) lifetime (or at least I hope not), but eventually like every other empire in history – evolution of a warrior class would threaten a republic or democracy.

In fact, right now I’m reading a book called, Shane Comes Home by Rinker Buck, and it is the first time I’ve noted that any author has referred to the AVF not as the All-Volunteer Force, but the All-Volunteer Class. The front and back flaps of the book are really what intrigued me to read it.

“Shane Comes Home is the story of this intelligent, gifted soldier [well Marine] who embodied the soul of today’s all-volunteer warrior class….”

I’m reading the book to try figuring out what was on Buck’s mind when he wrote the term – all volunteer warrior class?

I’ve finished the book, and the first Marine Officer to die in Iraq reflects a closer comparison to me (prior enlisted to officer) except he had a high school diploma, and qualities far beyond those of non-typical Project 100,000 troops like me. There is nothing in the book that defines what an all volunteer warrior class is other-than maybe a perception of the writer.

Do we really want an All-Volunteer Military Class?

Do we really want an All-Volunteer Military Class made up predominantly of a Lower to Upper Middle Class Officer Corps, and Lower Working Class enlisted force? Do we really want such a “warrior class” that at least for now has the illusion of support from the American people, but not the reality of shared sacrifice? Do we really want a force, especially higher ranking officers in that force, who retain an attitude that of course rolls downhill that WE do the fighting and dying and THEY do the shopping?

I am seriously concerned that this formula for a military warrior class may not lead to the end of United States of America, but it will certainly lead to the end of the American Empire.

SP5, U.S. Army [1968-1976]
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired [1977-1994]
GS-12, Department of the Navy [1995-2000]


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