Old myths about Vietnam resurface
In the wake of the Richard Blumenthal nonsense, Larry Pressler, former Republican senator from SD and a Vietnam vet writes a pretty good indictment of the deferment generation Blumenthal represents and how their thinking about war in general evolved from the time they’d have had to participate to the time when others would have to do so. Unsurprisingly they’re more for the latter than they were for the former.
But there was a line in his article that again perpetuates a myth about the Vietnam war:
The problem is that for every person who won a deferment or a spot in a special National Guard unit, someone poorer or less educated, and usually African-American, had to serve.
Let me say this very clearly: NOT TRUE.
Goodness knows there have been a number of studies that address this canard. And their findings do not support the contention. Here are the raw numbers:
Of all the men and women who served in Vietnam, 275,000, or 10.6%, were black. The remaining 88.4% were Caucasian. At the time of the Vietnam War, Blacks represented approximately 12.5% of the total U.S. population.
There is a persistent myth that Blacks were used as “cannon fodder”, being assigned to infantry units where they were forced to “walk point”. This is not supported by the casualty data which indicates that 86.8% of those killed in action were Caucasian, while 12.1%, or 5,711, were Black. Again, this number is approximately the same as the percentage of Blacks in the general population during the war.
Another study produced the same result:
Sociologists Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, in their recently published book “All That We Can Be,” said they analyzed the claim that blacks were used like cannon fodder during Vietnam “and can report definitely that this charge is untrue. Black fatalities amounted to 12 percent of all Americans killed in Southeast Asia – a figure proportional to the number of blacks in the U.S. population at the time and slightly lower than the proportion of blacks in the Army at the close of the war.”
So put that one to bed if you hear it repeated. It’s simply not true. Nor is the “poor and less educated”. Perhaps in in the context that Pressler uses it (he’s talking about the “elite” in Ivy League schools at the time) it has some legs, but in the context of the force as a whole it doesn’t hold up:
Servicemen who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers.
Vietnam Veterans were the best educated forces our nation had ever sent into combat. 79% had a high school education or better.
Certainly the military was strained then and those of us who served at that time remember the Cat IVs (if I’m not mistaken 100,000 were admitted and didn’t last long – they simply weren’t equipped to handle the military), but in general, it was, as General Barry McCaffrey notes above, the best educated force we’d ever fielded at the time.
There are a few other myths I’d like to see go away and now seems the perfect time address them with some statistics:
91% of Vietnam Veterans say they are glad they served.
74% said they would serve again even knowing the outcome.
There is no difference in drug usage between Vietnam Veterans and non veterans of the same age group (from a Veterans Administration study).
Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison than the general population – only 1/2 of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been jailed for crimes.
97% were discharged under honorable conditions; the same percentage of honorable discharges as ten years prior to Vietnam.
85% of Vietnam Veterans made a successful transition to civilian life.
Vietnam veterans’ personal income exceeds that of our non-veteran age group by more than 18 percent.
Vietnam veterans have a lower unemployment rate than our non-vet age group.
87% of the American people hold Vietnam Vets in high esteem.
Here’s one of my favorite myths – most Vietnam veterans were drafted:
2/3 of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers. 2/3 of the men who served in World War II were drafted. Many men volunteered for the draft so even some of the draftees were actually volunteers.
Approximately 70% of those killed were volunteers.
And, of course, you’ve heard the one about the average age of the infantryman in Vietnam being 19? It wasn’t. It was 22.55 years old.
While I certainly agree with Pressler’s greater point about those like Blumenthal, he doesn’t need to use myths in place of facts to do so. The attitude toward Vietnam vets has changed significantly and for the better over the years. However, these myths, perpetuated by the anti-war crowd and the media have persisted and cast a shadow on their service. Time to put them to rest once and for all.
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