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Project 100,000: The Vietnam War's cruel experiment on American soldiers
Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?
- During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
- The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
- Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
For many people, joining the military is a way to lift oneself out of poverty, find better opportunities, and get a shot at a better life. It can provide a way to pay for the exorbitant cost of college, job training, a sense of discipline and purpose, all in exchange for a few years of following orders, risking one's life, and potentially taking others'.
It's a tradeoff, to be sure, one that not everybody is comfortable with. But for those with the aptitude and the desire, it might be a tradeoff worth taking. The problem in that last sentence, however, is that desire and aptitude don't always go hand in hand. Sometimes, both are absent entirely. That certainly was the case with Project 100,000.
American soldiers get off helicopters during the operation "Double eagle" against a Vietcong position at Bon Son, south Vietnam, 07 March 1966.
Cruelly nicknamed McNamara's Morons, Project 100,000 was an initiative started under—you guessed it—Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War. In this project, over 320,000 men were either drafted or volunteered for service, nearly all of whom failed the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which is used to determine basic eligibility for military service.
Project 100,000 inductees placed in the lower 10th to 30th percentiles of the test, referred to as Category IV. Normally, candidates who place in Category IV are deemed unsuitable for military service and are told to return to civilian life. Project 100,000, however, was an experiment to see whether military entry requirements could be lowered.
Ostensibly, the project's goals were to combat poverty. Lyndon B. Johnson had recently begun his War on Poverty program. Thanks to the G.I. bill and other veterans' programs, military service can be a great way to get out of poverty. But this was a nice bonus to the project's other purpose: The Vietnam War needed more men, and lowering recruitment standards was one way to get them.
Although about half were volunteers, the other half was drafted, and neither group had any business being in a war zone. The Armed Forces Qualification Test evaluated a variety of domains, all of which were geared toward assessing somebody's eligibility for service. As a result, Project 100,000 brought men to the war who were ill-equipped in different ways.
Some had physical impairments, some were over- or under-weight, and, most troublingly, many had low mental aptitude—often to the point of being mentally handicapped. Many were illiterate. Since this was an experiment, a small cadre of soldiers were also admitted under the program to act as controls: these were "normal" soldiers.
Once in the military, Project 100,000 soldiers were treated as any other soldier; to do otherwise would void the experiment. Various human resource personnel wrote up anonymized monthly reports on the soldiers, documenting their progress in military life and in war. The results were not good.
A failed experiment
A soldier having his wounds treated during Operation Hue City in Vietnam, 06 February, 1968.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES/AFP/Getty Images
Project 100,000 soldiers were about three times more likely to be killed in action. This is not surprising; in addition to being physically and mentally ill-equipped for war, they were unlikely to qualify for technical training that would otherwise keep them off the front lines. As a result, many of them were used as infantry soldiers.
They were also reassigned 11 times more often than their peers and were between 7 and 9 times more likely to require remedial training. Project 100,000 recruits were more likely to be arrested, too.
For the ones who survived the war, their outcomes were worse than comparable men who did not join military service. They earned $7,000 less per year than their civilian peers, equivalent to a little under $16,000 today. They were more likely to be divorced and less likely to own a business.
The reasons for these differences aren't entirely clear: it could be the trauma of war, the lack of access to social programs available in civilian life that weren't available in military life, the possibility that they would have otherwise gone on to complete high school and college—any number of explanations can be offered. But this does show that the ostensible purpose of Project 100,000 was completely invalidated. Offering ineligible soldiers a pass in order to give them a leg up out of poverty through the military did not work.
A review of Robert McNamara's In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam published in the Washington Post quoted Herb DeBose, a first lieutenant who served in the Vietnam War. He summed up Project 100,000 thusly:
I saw [Robert McNamara] when he resigned from the World Bank, crying about the poor children of the world. But if he did not cry at all for any of those men he took in under Project 100,000 then he really doesn't know what crying is all about. Many under me weren't even on a fifth-grade level... I found out they could not read... no skills before, no skills after. The army was supposed to teach them a trade in something—only they didn't.
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Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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