The Vietnam War sparked countless controversies, from when it started and even years after it ended. But did you know that there was an extreme course of action the government took during the Vietnam War, which cost the lives of many American soldiers?
Project 100,000 was an idea of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to increase the recruits of American soldiers for the Vietnam War. He lowered the recruitment standards, which in turn significantly increased war casualties.
Robert McNamara’s 100,000
The American involvement in the Vietnam War was rapidly escalating in 1966. Then-President Lyndon B. Johnson faced the huge challenge of recruiting men enough to impact the war. Robert McNamara, President Johnson’s secretary of defense, had a brilliant idea.
McNamara wanted to widen the pool of Americans eligible for drafting into the military forces. McNamara’s plan was simple, the number of people eligible to be drafted would dramatically increase if the standards were lowered. McNamara pointed out that many young people flunked the military’s entrance exam, the Armed Forces Qualification Test.
The former secretary of defense argued that if the standards for passing the test were lowered, tens of thousands of previously unqualified individuals would suddenly be available for military service. By August 1966, McNamara unveiled his plan in the convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars, promising that his plan could salvage some 40,000 draft rejects and substandard volunteers who were mostly from poverty-encrusted backgrounds.
His framing of the plan was a compassionate rescue mission of disadvantaged youths who will have a chance of a better life through military services and the training it would provide them. McNamara further argued that the military could raise the intelligence of those low-aptitude students through various means like videotapes and closed-circuit TV lessons.
McNamara’s plan was a dramatic expansion of the Special Training Enlistment Program (STEP). STEP was supposed to be a three-year program of the exact nature but was declined by Congress in the previous years.
The program was called Project 100,000, named for its target first fiscal year recruitment, and was launched on October 1, 1966. By the end of the Vietnam War, the project recruited more than 350,000 soldiers, to which President Johnson privately referred to as second-class fellows. (Source: History Net)
The Aftermath of Project 100k
McNamara’s 100,000 came to be known as McNamara’s Misfits. Many reports from service members’ observations that many people with extremely low mental capacities were drafted into the war. Many could not read nor write, didn’t understand the paperwork they were filling in, and ultimately didn’t know they were going to war.
Serviceman Hamilton Gregory accounts the story of one of these men. He and other service members struggled to help second-class fellows. They had to help them tie their shoes, make their beds, and even read and write.
Despite their reports and pleas for these men’s safety, they were ignored, and the soldiers were shipped to Vietnam. It was reported that these men died three times at the rate of their peers. It was estimated that 5,500 were killed in action and some 20,000 wounded. (Source: The Happy Neuron)