The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War


McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War
by Hamilton Gregory (Author)

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. Many military men, including William Westmoreland, the commanding general in Vietnam, viewed McNamara’s program as a disaster. Because many of the substandard men were incompetent in combat, they endangered not only themselves but their comrades as well. Their death toll was appallingly high.

In addition to low-IQ men, tens of thousands of other substandard troops were inducted, including criminals, misfits, and men with disabilities.

This book tells the story of the men caught up in McNamara’s folly.

Comments to Steve Sailer:

* Low-IQ infantrymen as cannon fodder are not new today and weren’t new in the Vietnam war either.

In his superb classic book The Sharp End John Ellis presents a wealth of statistics showing that low-IQ enlistees and conscripts were relegated to the infantry whose units suffered something like 75% of all battle casualties.

Ellis also shows this for British forces as well. The British, much harder pressed for manpower than was the United States, consigned their lowest-IQ personnel to the Pioneer Corps whose members were menial laborers to dig ditches, roll airfields level, fill sandbags, erect fencing, clean latrines, &c. By late 1943 even the United States had run out of intellectually qualified conscripts and had begun to draft men not up to the lowest standards that had applied earlier in the war.

* Once I asked an army veteran of vietnam during the 1970′s if he thought platoon, full metal jacket, etc were very realistic. He said they weren’t, not at all, and neither was every other war movie he’d seen but with one eerily accurate exception. This movie is exactly what being in the army was like, he said. The movie is Stripes.

* Related to this, scholarly studies that look at life expectancy and IQ have found that people with low IQs are far more likely to die in accidents.

Now in an environment like the Vietnam War where you deal with guns and bombs everyday, that effect is magnified. Just think of the ways to accidentally die or kill: getting lost in the jungle, misunderstanding orders, accidentally shooting at fellow Americans, not taking proper precautions to prevent falling victim to friendly fire, mishandling explosives.

* Low IQ troops may not have helped in the Vietnam War but the rot was with the high IQ leaders. Read McMasters’ Dereliction of Duty.

BTW, the flawed U.S. Grand Strategy in Vietnam was essentially based on Maxwell Taylor’s highly influential book, amongst the Democrats, The Uncertain Trumpet. If I remember correctly, Taylor was near top of his class and proficient in several languages. It’s pretty certain that he had a high IQ.

McNamara and his “Whizz Kids” were also pretty bright, but not when it came to fighting a war.

Seriously, Steve, I think you’ve got to get around to reading Keith Stanovich. He is a legitimate cognitive researcher whose specialty is understanding why high IQ sometimes leads to stupid. The Scientific American ran an article by him which you might want to peruse.

Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking that IQ Tests Miss.” Google it up.


* “How do the WW2 soldiers’ IQ compare to Vietnam era soldiers and how do the standards compare?”

They compare identically.

Early in both wars the military took in the best quality human material; later in the wars the military lowered the standards and inducted a lot of far from the best quality human material.

In the two wars the reasons for this shift differ: in WWII the nation(s) simply ran out of the best quality human material – the shortage was actual; while in the Vietnam War the best quality human material was exempted from induction – the shortage was artificial. In both instances the military was compelled to induct lower quality personnel.

The actual WWII & Vietnam War standards for IQ (or AFQT) don’t matter, as in both instances the bar was set high early and later lowered, and in both instances the military inducted from the then-available pool of manpower. The IQ ranges of those two wars’ manpower pools may not have been exactly the same (Flynn effect) but their graphs are parallel as are the graphs of the intelligence of the two wars’ inductees.

* Anecdotally, the stories I have heard from my friends who were officers in the Vietnam war certainly suggest that the troops they had were among the least prepared, least motivated, least trainable and most drug addicted that any US Army has gone to war with. One obvious factor is that in Vietnam inner city blacks made up a significant level of the troops. In WWII blacks generally weren’t allowed in combat units.

* The Iraq War turned out great in this sense: combat deaths were 10% of losses in Vietnam and 1% of losses in WWII. In some years, losses were less than in the peacetime years of the Cold War. A lot of this can be explained by the fact that we had a smaller, smarter army in Iraq.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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