The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

What happens when the two sides of a war fundamentally disagree?


“Uh…well,” you’re thinking, “that’s pretty much the definition of war and you’re kind of a donut for asking, aren’t you?”

Yes, but hang with me. What I mean is, what happens when the disagreement goes beyond politics or ideology or territorial dispute, when the two sides disagree, on a basic level, about what the war they’re fighting is even about? And as a result, fail to agree on how the war will be fought?

Such cases produce quagmires of horrifying scope and duration.

One such case was the Vietnam War.

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

For America, Vietnam began as an earnest attempt to free a small country from unwanted and undesirable Communist conscription. As the war ground on, however, idealism gave way to a more basic agenda, to prove the rightness and righteousness of America as a function of its overwhelming military power.

Also read: Green Beret: The US is fighting a 100 year war

For the North Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong guerrillas who aided them, the war was about finally shaking off the yoke of western colonialism. After years of occupation by the French, American military presence seemed merely the heavy hand of a new foreign master. They were fighting to reunify North and South Vietnam under the ideology of their choice, which happened to be communism.

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

In 1956, then Congressman John F. Kennedy was a wholehearted champion of the Cold War-era clarion call to Stop the Spread of Communism.

Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike.

But after an extensive fact-finding tour through the Middle and Far East, he returned to the U.S. convinced that preventing the threat of a new communist colonialism in Indo-China would require more than simply offering — by friendship or force — an American colonialism as the superior alternative. Much better to promote the nationalistic aspirations of the region’s native peoples, so long as those aspirations tended toward an American-style love of liberty.

But as the stakes were raised on his own Presidency by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the raising of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy felt an increasingly dire need to prove democratic righteousness and might (Mighteousness?). It was a terrifying time. The nuclear prerogative, which had once been ours alone, was now in the hands of nations whose ideals seemed to us not so much foreign, as alien. Vietnam would have to be, for the American Way, a definitive demonstration. Kennedy again:

…we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place.

Had he lived to serve his full term in office, who knows if Kennedy might have have been able to carry out a nuanced foreign policy in Vietnam. He was assassinated in Nov. 1963 and the Vietnam War would become the problem of two more successive administrations. The practical result was a strategy of force, bombardment and attrition that floundered in the face of an enemy who refused to fight by those rules.

The facts on the ground in Vietnam made it clear to American servicemen that there was a grave disconnect between what we thought we were doing there (and the strategy we’d devised for achieving those goals) and how the Vietnamese — allies, enemies, and civilians in between — saw things.

A 1965 skirmish near Danang in which U.S. Marines killed 56 Viet Cong guerrillas put a very fine point on the issue. Among the Vietnamese dead was a 13-year-old boy who, just a day earlier, had been hospitably selling drinks to the Marines. Found on his body were hand-drawn maps of the Marine’s positions and defenses, intelligence for the Viet Cong.

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
(Photo via Flickr, manhhai, CC BY 2.0)

 

It’s a hard pill to swallow for soldiers who view themselves as a liberating force, to realize that the people they’ve been sent to help view them as the enemy, as occupiers, as aliens. It’s an issue our troops have faced every day in Afghanistan and on the fronts of the War on Terror. Righteousness is a delicate stance and a dangerous dance.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 things you probably didn’t know about chaplains

Military service members are all familiar with chaplains, the qualified religious leaders who serve troops and their families, but they are somehow still shrouded in mystery.

If you ever get the chance to talk to one, especially someone with a few deployments under their belt, you’ll start to get an appreciation for what they offer to troops (also, the more I talk to chaplains, the more combat ghost stories I hear…but I’ll just sort through that on my own time…).

Here are seven fascinating facts about chaplains:


The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

U.S. Army chaplain Capt. Thomas Watson, left, and Spc. Timothy Gilbert arrive at Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah, Ga., Jan. 17, 2010 after returning from a nearly year-long deployment in Iraq.

(DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen, U.S. Air Force/Released)

1. Chaplains don’t fight in combat

Chaplains are in the military — but they do not fight in combat. Chaplains are non-combatants as defined by the Geneva Convention. Chaplains may not be deliberately or indiscriminately attacked and, unless their retention by the enemy is required to provide for the religious needs of prisoners of war, chaplains must not become POWs. And if they are captured, they must be repatriated at the earliest opportunity.

But that doesn’t mean chaplains have never seen combat…which leads us to…

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

U.S. Air Force Capt. Norman Jones, a chaplain with the 20th Fighter Wing, prays over a draped casket during a simulated ramp ceremony as part of Patriot Warrior 2014 at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 10, 2014.

(DoD photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen, U.S. Air Force/Released)

2. Despite non-combatant status, many have been killed

419 American chaplains have died in the line of duty, including Confederate chaplains during the Civil War.

Father Emmeran Bliemel, a Catholic priest serving in the Confederate Army, became the first American chaplain to die on the field of battle. He was administering last rites to soldiers during the Battle of Jonesborough during the Civil War when he was killed in action by cannon fire.

In 2010, Army Chaplain Dale Goetz was killed in Afghanistan, becoming the first chaplain to die in combat since the Vietnam War.

In 2004, however, Army Chaplain Henry Timothy Vakoc was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq and he died from his wounds five years later.
The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

3. Nine chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor

Nine chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Four served during the Civil War, one served during World War II, one served during the Korean War, and three served during the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

U.S. Army Chaplain Maj. Carl Phillips, assigned to the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, leads worship with a hymn during the garrison’s Easter sunrise service, April 1, 2018, in Wiesbaden, Germany.

(U.S. Army photo by William B. King)

4. They represent 200+ denominations

Chaplains in the military represent more than 200 different denominations.

TWO HUNDRED.

Denominations recognized by the Pentagon include many variations of the major religions of the world — including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — but Chaplains provide care for people of all faiths.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

U.S. Army Capt. Demetrius Walton, a chaplain with the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, navigates a confidence course at Fort Dix, N.J., March 26, 2012.

(DoD photo by Sgt. Peter Berardi, U.S. Army/Released)

5. They hold rank, but not command

In the United States, service members have a constitutional right under the first amendment to engage in religious worship. While chaplains are commissioned officers and can obtain the rank of major general or rear admiral, they will never hold command.

And even though they hold rank, the proper title for any chaplain is, in fact, “chaplain.” Not “major.” Not “general.” Not “captain.” Chaplain.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

View of the judges’ panel during testimony at the Nuremberg Trials, Nuremberg, Germany.

(United States Army Signal Corps photographer – Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University)

6. They served during Nuremberg trials

Two U.S. Army chaplains ministered to the Nazis on trial in Nuremberg. The Allies didn’t trust Wermacht chaplains to counsel war criminals like Hermann Goering, one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi party, or Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the man responsible for the Nazi extermination camp system, so they sent their own chaplains.

Within the Nuremberg jail, Chaplains Henry Gerecke and Sixtus O’Connor created a 169-square-foot chapel and honored their duty to offer the nazis a chance to return from the darkness and into the light.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

7. One is being considered for sainthood

A Korean War chaplain is being considered by the Vatican for sainthood.

Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun moved from foxhole to foxhole under direct fire to provide aide and reassurance to soldiers fighting in the Battle of Unsan. He recovered wounded men and dragged them to safety or he dug trenches to shield them from enemy fire. He was captured and tortured by the Chinese, but even then he continued to resist and provide comfort to his fellow prisoners. He died in captivity on May 23, 1951.

He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism, patriotism, and selfless service.

Articles

This Marine batted the enemy’s grenades back at them

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Hector Cafferata, Jr. was a semi-professional football player serving in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He received just two weeks of additional training before being shipped overseas.


Assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines just days before landing at Inchon, he, along with the rest of the 1st Marine Division, battled his way into North Korea. By November 1950, Cafferata and the Marines were preparing for an offensive in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir.

As the Battle of Chosin Reservoir began, the Marines of Fox Company were defending the Toktong pass. On the night of Nov. 28, the Chinese attacked to dislodge them.

What happened next is a legendary story in the Marine Corps — and Cafferata had a large role to play in that.

The Marines of Fox Company had been unable to properly dig in due to the frozen ground and instead cut and gathered tree branches and whatever else they could find to provide cover and concealment.

Due to an intelligence failure, the Marines were unaware that the entire Chinese 9th Army was advancing on their position. That night they crawled into their sleeping bags with minimal security on watch.

At around 0130, the Marines of Fox Company were awoken to a terrible surprise as all hell broke loose around their position. An entire Chinese division, the 59th, were attacking into the Toktong pass to cut off the 1st Marine Division.

The only things standing in their way were Cafferata and the rest of Fox Company.

Hearing the sounds of the attack, Cafferata sprung from his sleeping bag and hurried into the firing line. In his rush to get into the action, he left behind his boots and heavy coat.

In the opening minutes, most of Cafferata’s squad became casualties so he rushed from position to position gathering ammo and pouring fire into the attacking Chinese.

This video is an animation produced by Veterans Expeditionary Media that depicts the battle conditions that night.

He was joined by another Marine, Kenneth Benson, who was temporarily blinded after a grenade explosion had ripped his glasses right off his face. Together they made their way to a small depression and set up to make their stand against the Chinese onslaught.

As the Chinese pressed forward, Cafferata, a crack shot with his M-1 Garand, would empty his clip into the advancing infantry — eight shots, eight communists down.

He would then hand the weapon to Benson to reload while he threw grenades. When the Chinese attacked with their own grenades, he threw them back.

At one point he picked up his entrenching tool and batted the enemy’s grenades right back at them. According to a 2001 interview, Cafferata said he “must have whacked a dozen grenades that night.”

As the Chinese continued to advance, threatening to breakthrough his thinly held portion of the line, he gave them everything he had. He fired his weapon so much he had to pack snow on it to cool it off.

Eventually, Cafferata’s luck began to run out. As he hurled back yet another Chinese grenade, it went off just after leaving his hand. The explosion severed part of his finger and severely damaged his right hand and arm.

Though he was injured, Cafferata’s quick reaction saved several of his comrades.

Despite his wounds, he fought on. The Chinese couldn’t get past him.

Finally, just after daybreak, Cafferata was wounded by a sniper’s bullet and evacuated from the line. When the medics brought him to the aid station, they realized he was suffering from frostbite after fighting in subzero temperatures in his socks all night.

Despite Cafferata being out of action, the rest of Fox Company and the Marines at Chosin Reservoir still had quite a fight on their hands.

According to the Medal of Honor citation for Capt. William Barber, Fox Company’s commander, his 220 Marines held out “5 days and 6 nights against repeated onslaughts by fanatical aggressors.”

And of those 220 Marines, only 82 “were able to walk away from the position so valiantly defended against insuperable odds.” They carried their wounded out with them, including Cafferata and Barber who were both wounded on the first day of fighting.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Cafferata receives his Medal of Honor. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Cafferata’s wounds earned him 18 months of recovery in various hospitals. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor.

The day after Cafferata’s amazing stand, the Marines “counted approximately one hundred Chinese dead around the ditch where he fought that night,” but according to one source, they “decided not to put that figure in their report because they thought no one would believe it.”

Cafferata was officially credited with fifteen enemy kills.

Cafferata, always humble, would later state, “I did my duty. I protected my fellow Marines. They protected me. And I’m prouder of that than the fact that the government decided to give me the Medal of Honor.”

Hector Cafferata, Jr. passed away on April 12, 2016 at the age of 86.

Articles

These are some of the most fascinating discoveries of lost ships and planes

There has always been something alluring about lost ships and planes. Maybe it’s the massive treasure some wrecks hold in their belly, or maybe it’s the clues to lost history that some ghost ships provide.


Some of these wrecks were civilian vessels, like the former USS West Point (AP 23), which also had names like SS America. Others were planes that crash-landed like the Akutan Zero did. Mostly, there is just this sense of mystery around them.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
The ill-fated crew of the B-24D Lady Be Good. (USAF photo)

Take for instance the Lady Be Good, a B-24 Liberator that got lost during a sandstorm that ended up flying two hours south of its base. It was missing for over a decade until discovered by an oil exploration crew. All but one of the crew were accounted for, but when parts of the B-24 were used on other planes, several suffered mishaps. A curse? Or just coincidence?

The Lady Be Good is not the only B-24D on the list – another one, which landed on Atka Island in the Aleutians, also made the list. This time, the plane was found sooner but left in place. It now constitutes part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

Also on the list is an RB-29 called Kee Bird, whose crew survived, but which caught fire during a salvage attempt.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
The wreck of the SS American Star, formerly USS West Point (AP 23), among other names. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the craziest story is that of the Sverdlov-class cruiser Murmansk. This was a powerful ship, with a dozen 152mm guns in four triple mounts, 10 533mm torpedo tubes in two quintuple mounts, 12 100mm guns in six twin mounts, and 32 37mm anti-aircraft guns. However, her end was sad.

Sold to India to become razor blades, she broke from her towline and ended up on the Norwegian coast.

So, check out the video below to see some of the world’s most fascinating ghost ships and planes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British marksman could have killed George Washington

It’s difficult to imagine how history would have been altered if George Washington had been killed during the Revolutionary War. Without the father of our country leading its fight for freedom, the war might have been lost and America might still be a British colony. In fact, this alternative history might have come true if not for the moral convictions and gentlemanly ethics of a Scottish infantry officer named Patrick Ferguson.


The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

A miniature of Ferguson c. 1774-177 (Artist unknown/Public Domain)

Ferguson was born into nobility in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on May 25, 1744. His father was a senator at the College of Justice and his mother was the sister of Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank. He began his military career early, joining the army at the age of 15. He served with the Royal Scots Greys and fought in the Seven Years’ War before he returned home due to a leg injury. In 1768, he returned to military service, purchasing command of a company in the 70th Regiment of Foot under the Colonelcy of his cousin, Alexander Johnstone. He commanded the company in the West Indies until his leg injury forced him to return home.

Ferguson arrived in Britain in 1772 and participated in light infantry training where he helped develop new tactics for the army. During this time, he also invented the Ferguson breech-loading rifle, arguably the most advanced sharpshooting rifle of its day. His sharp intellect and ingenuity caught the attention of General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of British land forces in the colonies. Consequently, he was sent to fight in the American War of Independence.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

British Army manual for the Ferguson rifle

In 1777, Ferguson arrived in the colonies and was given command of what became known as Ferguson’s Rifle Corps, a unit of 100 riflemen equipped with the new Ferguson rifle. One of their first engagements was the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania on September 11.

Ferguson’s light infantry tactics emphasized small units of well-trained marksmen maneuvering around the battlefield over the doctrinal rank and file style of combat of the day. As such, Ferguson and his rifle corps moved ahead of General Howe’s army as they advanced on Philadelphia. As they maneuvered, Ferguson spotted a prominent American officer alongside another officer in Central European hussar dress; the two officers were conducting a reconnaissance mission on horseback. With their accurate sharpshooting rifles, Ferguson and his men could have easily cut the officers down in a volley of musket fire. However, the officers had their backs turned to the Brits. As a man of honor, Ferguson decided not to fire on the officers who were unaware of his presence.

Later in the battle, Ferguson was shot through his right elbow and taken to a field hospital. There, a surgeon told Ferguson that some American soldiers who were treated there earlier said that General Washington had been in that area earlier in the day. Ferguson wrote in his journal that, even if the officer had been Washington, he did not regret his decision.

Although the identity of the American officer remains uncertain, the man in hussar dress was almost certainly Count Casimir Pulaski, one of the Founding Fathers of U.S. Cavalry (along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy). During the battle, Pulaski conducted reconnaissance missions and even scouted a retreat route for Washington after his army was defeated. If the American officer was indeed Washington, and if Ferguson had decided to take the shot, September 11, 1777, might have been a turning point in American history.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Portrait of Casimir Polaski (Artist: Jan Styka/Public Domain)

Ferguson took a year long hiatus from military service to recover from his wound and returned to battle in 1778. He continued to fight in the American War of Independence until his death during the Battle of King’s Mountain, on the border of North and South Carolina, on October 7, 1780. During the battle, Ferguson was shot from his horse. His foot was caught in the stirrup and he was dragged to the American side where he was approached for his surrender. In response, and as a final act of defiance, he drew a pistol and shot one of the Americans. The Patriots responded by shooting him eight times, stripping his body of clothing, and urinating on him before he was buried in an oxhide near the site of his fall.

While Ferguson’s actions at the Battle of King’s Mountain were less than gentlemanly, his determination to go down fighting embodies the warrior spirit. This is juxtaposed by his moral conviction to hold his fire at the Battle of Brandywine. Whether or not the American officer there was General Washington, Ferguson’s legacy will forever be marked by the shot he didn’t take.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time Special Forces combat divers recovered 26 Americans from the floor of the Pacific Ocean

One of the first-ever Special Forces underwater operations wasn’t targeted against an enemy. Rather, it was to assist in the search and recovery of 26 Americans who had perished in a freak aircraft collision.

On March 7, 1958, a United States Marine Corps (USMC) R4Q (C-119) “Flying Boxcar” transport and a United States Navy (USN) AD-6 Skyraider fighter were returning to Okinawa-Naha Air Force Base (AFB) after a mission in the Philippines. As they prepared for their final approach to the base, the weather suddenly turned to rain, seriously limiting visibility. The pilots, thus, decided to make an instrument landing.

At that crucial moment, however, the Navy Skyraider lost its communication with both the USMC transport and the control tower. The Marine pilots frantically tried to reach their Navy colleague on the radio, to no avail. Moments later, the Skyraider smashed into the fuselage of the R4Q, turning both aircraft into a fireball of debris and human flesh.

After the aircraft were lost from the radar, the call went out to the standby Search-and-Rescue (SAR) crews. SAR planes and helicopters from Naha AFB and other bases scrambled into action and scoured the cold Pacific Ocean for traces of the wreckage with hopes of finding survivors. After days of futilely combing the ocean, the search was called off.

In the end, the wreckage of both aircraft was discovered on the floor of the Pacific about three miles offshore. Faced with a delicate and complex recovery effort, the Marine Corps and Navy turned to the Green Berets of the 1st Special Forces Group (SFG). Dive operational detachments were then assigned to the task. In the end, after herculean efforts, they managed to recover all 26 bodies.

In the wake of their success, the Commanding General of the IX Corps sent a letter to the 1st SFG.

“In times of such tragedy and sorrow, it is most gratifying to know that local military personnel and organizations, as exemplified by the First Special Forces Group (Airborne), may be relied upon to render promptly such outstanding professional assistance,” he wrote.  “I am confident that the parents, wives and loved ones of the deceased share my deep appreciation and sincere thanks for [your] outstanding contribution…to the successful accomplishment of the search and salvage operation.”

Tragically, a number of the Green Berets who participated in the recovery operations would be killed in action in Vietnam a few years later.

The year 1958 was a bad one for the C-119. In total, an astounding five aircraft were lost due to accidents, with a total loss of life of 34 servicemembers. But the venerable Flying Boxcar continued to serve in numerous capacities in the U.S. military for a number of years.

This article was originally published in June 2020. 

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army Air Corps pilot stole a Nazi plane to escape from a POW camp

Jimmy Doolittle – the man who bombed Tokyo just 5 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – called Bob Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.” Hoover had only been flying for five years by the time World War II broke out.


Hoover was captured by the Nazis after being shot down on his 59th mission over Europe.

The ace wasn’t about to spend the war in a prison camp, though. After 16 months as a POW, he was determined to get out and get back to the action. He staged a fight between fellow prisoners, jumped over the Stalag’s barb wire fence, and stole an unguarded Focke-Wulf 190 from the nearby airfield. He then flew it to newly-liberated Holland.

After the war, Hoover had an illustrious aviation career. He became a test pilot and Air Force legend, even backing up Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 in 1947.

A “pilot’s pilot,” Hoover continued to fly in air shows until 2000.

Sadly, Hoover died on October 25, 2016, but was fondly remembered by his admirers and friends in the aviation community, including Buzz Aldrin, who tweeted:

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s what US Army soldiers said in a WWII uncensored survey

In September 1940, World War II was a year old. The US was still a noncombatant, but it was preparing for a fight.

That month, the US introduced the Selective Training and Service Act — the first peacetime draft in US history. Mobilizing the millions of troops was a monumental task and essential to deploying “the arsenal of democracy” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Americans to provide.

Inducting millions of civilians and turning them into effective troops — and keeping them happy, healthy, supplied, and fighting — was also a daunting challenge.


In order to find the best way to do that, the War Department mounted an opinion survey, polling nearly a half-million soldiers stationed all around the world throughout the war. Their uncensored responses, given as the war was being fought, are an unprecedented window into how those troops felt about the war, the military, and their role in both.

“Entirely too much boot-licking going on,” one soldier wrote. “Some sort of a merit system should be instituted.”

“Spam, Spam, Spam. All I dream about is Spam,” wrote another.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

(National Archives photo)

In an email interview, Edward Gitre, a history professor at Virginia Tech whose project, The American Soldier in World War II, has compiled tens of thousands of responses to those surveys, explained why the Army sought the unvarnished opinions of its soldiers and what those opinions revealed.

Christopher Woody: Why did the War Department conduct these surveys? What did it want to find out about US troops and how did it want to use that information?

Gitre: Henry Stimson, the aged Secretary of War, outright barred the polling of US troops when one of the nation’s leading pollsters, Elmo Roper, first pitched the idea in spring 1941. The War Department was not in the habit of soliciting the “opinions” of foot soldiers.

Yet an old friend of the Roosevelt family, Frederick Osborn—who had already helped to institute the country’s first peacetime draft in 1940—quietly but effectively made the case.

Chiefly, he convinced Stimson and other leery officers that surveys would be for their benefit. Surveys would provide them information for planning and policymaking purposes. Allowing and encouraging GIs to openly air their “gripes” was not part of Osborn’s original pitch.

When George C. Marshall became chief of staff in 1939, he compared the US Army to that of a third-rate power.

With the passage of the draft in 1940, the War Department would face the monumental challenge of rapidly inducting hundreds of thousands, then after Pearl Harbor millions of civilians. Most lacked prior military experience. But this new crop was also better educated than previous generations of draftees, and they came with higher expectations of the organization.

The surveys, then, would help address a host of “personnel” issues, such as placement, training, furloughs, ratings, so on and so forth.

The civilian experts the Army brought in to run this novel research program were embedded in what was known as the Morale Branch. This outfit, as the name suggests, was tasked with shoring up morale. These social and behavioral scientists had to figure out, first, how to define morale, and, second, how to measure it.

Some old Army hands insisted that morale was purely a matter of command, that it was the byproduct of discipline and leadership. But reporting indicated pretty clearly that morale correlated to what soldiers were provided during off-duty hours as well, in terms of recreation and entertainment.

To address the latter, the War Department created an educational, recreational, welfare, and entertainment operation that spanned the globe. The numbers of candy bars and packages of cigarettes shipped and sold were accounted for not in the millions but billions.

If you were coordinating the monthly global placement of, say, two million books from best-sellers’ lists, wouldn’t you want to know something about soldier and sailor preferences? A whole class of survey questions were directed at marketing research.

Woody: What topics did the questions cover, and what kind of feedback and complaints did the troops give in response?

Gitre: The surveys administered by the Army’s Research Branch cover myriads of topics, from the individual food items placed in various rations, to the specific material used in seasonal uniforms, to the educational courses offered through the Armed Forces Institute.

A soldier might be asked a hundred or more multiple-choice and short-answer questions in any one survey. They would be asked to record more their behaviors, insights, and experiences related to service directly. They were asked about their civilian lives as well, including their previous occupation, family background, regional identity, religion, and education. This information could be then correlated with other military and government records to provide a more holistic picture of the average American GI.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

One of this research outfit’s most reliable “clients” was the Army’s Office of Surgeon General. The quality and effectiveness of medical and psychiatric care had wide implications, not least in terms of combat readiness. The Surgeon General’s office was interested in more than the care it provided. Soldiers were asked about their most intimate of experiences—their sexual habits and hygiene among them.

Administered in August 1945, Survey #233 asked men stationed in Italy if they were having sex with Italian women, and, if so, how frequently; did they pay for sex, how did they pay, did they “shack” up, use a condom and if not why not, drink beforehand, and did they know how to identify the symptoms of an STI? The battle against venereal diseases knew no lines of propriety.

The Research Branch surveyed or interviewed a half-million service members during the war. The answers they received were as varied as one can imagine, though there were of course common “gripes,” which the old Army hands could have easily ticked off without the aid of a cross-sectional scientific survey.

Yet the scope WWII military operations and the influx of so many educated civilians did create innumerable challenges that were often novel.

But from the soldier’s perspective, it should not come as a shock that so many of them might have taken to heart the premise of the US’s involvement in the war, that the US was committed to defending democracy, and alone if necessary.

Respondent after survey respondent demanded, then, that the US military live up to the principles of democracy for which they were being called to sacrifice. And so, they savaged expressions of the old Regular Army’s hierarchical “caste” culture wherever they saw it, but especially when it frustrated their own hopes and ambitions.

They wanted, in the parlance of the day, “fair play” and a “square deal.” They wanted to be respected as a human being, and not treated like a “dog.”

Woody: The US military drew from a wide swath of the population during WWII. How do you think that affected troops’ perception of the war, of military and civilian leadership, and of what the troops themselves wanted out of their service?

Gitre: The WWII US Army is known as a “citizen soldier” army (as opposed to a professional or “standing” army). It was also at the time described as a “peacetime army.” Compulsory service was passed by Congress in September 1940, roughly 15 months prior to Pearl Harbor. Military conscription was from its inception a civil process.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy photo)

That year-plus gap had a deep and lasting impact on how the War Department approached the rapid expansion of US forces. Just the same, it also shaped the expectations of Americans who were called to serve—as well as of their family members and loved ones, and the wider public.

The success of the Selective Service System would depend on the state in which the Army returned soldiers back to civil life. They would need to feel that they had gained something from the military, in the form of skill training or more education.

“In a larger sense [compulsory military training] provides an opportunity to popularize the Army with our people which is essential for an efficient fighting force,” the secretary of war said. “Maintenance of a high military morale is one of the most important contributing factors to good public morale,” he continued.

This view filtered down into the ranks. Sailors and soldiers expected to receive useful training and additional education. They also believed the military would put the skills, experiences, and practical know-how they already possessed as civilians to good use.

Woody: Was there anything in the troops’ responses that surprised you?

Gitre: What has surprised me most, I think, are the many remarks not about command and leadership but race.

We know that leaders of and activists in the black community pressed the War Department and Roosevelt administration to confront the nation’s “original sin” and strike down legal segregation. How otherwise could the US claim to be a champion of democracy while systematically denying the rights of a population that was liable, as free white citizens were, to compulsory service?

Black leaders embraced the V-shaped hand signal that was flashed so often to signify allied Victory, and they made it their own, calling for “Double V” or double victory: that is, victory abroad, and victory at home.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution

Participants in the Double V campaign, 1942.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Surveys from black soldiers demonstrate in rather stark terms how pervasively this message took hold among the rank and file. African Americans were especially well attuned to and critical of the military’s caste culture and to its reinforcement of white supremacy.

It is especially jarring, then, to read commentaries from soldiers defending the continuation of white male supremacy. Not only did some of these respondents opine on the virtues of segregation and the inferiority of blacks. A whole host of them objected likewise to women in uniform.

But undoubtedly the most shocking responses are those that espouse naked anti-Semitism. These cut against the grain of our collective memory of the American GI as liberator of the German death and concentration camps. Statements of these sort are rare. Yet they exist.

Woody: What’s your biggest takeaway from these surveys about troops’ feelings about the war and their attitudes toward the military?

Gitre: When I first encountered these open-ended responses, I was almost immediately captivated by how similarly white and black soldiers wrote about equity in the military. These two populations sometimes used the same exact phrasing.

For so many black soldiers, military service presented itself as an opportunity to break the shackles of structural inequality. They pleaded for merit-based assignments, postings, and promotions. You can flip over to surveys written by white enlisted men and you can see them wrestling with the same involuntary constraints arising from their own submission. They vigorously protested being treated like a “dog,” or a “slave.”

The leveling effect of military service was profound — and not simply for the individual soldier, psychologically. The survey research Osborn’s team conducted on race, merit, and morale demonstrated that not only were black soldiers just as effective in combat, but that the proximity of black and white troops in combat situations improved race relations, instead of destroying morale, as had long been feared. This research fed the 1947 Executive Order 9981 desegregating the US armed forces.

That brings us back to that 1940 peacetime decision to make military service compulsory as a civic duty. You can’t overestimate its significance. This isn’t a plea for compulsory military service. Yet as I continue to read these troop surveys, I am confronted daily by the prospect that we are losing the hard-won insights and lessons of a generation that is passing into its final twilight.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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Watch award-winning actor Bryan Cranston narrate the D-Day landings

“The only way they could capture the beach was to blast the Germans out of each pillbox… and that’s what they did,” wrote Jay Kay, a U.S. Navy ensign who piloted a landing craft filled with American troops during the D-Day invasions of June 6, 1944. Ensign Kay survived the war and would move to Florida to become a dentist in the postwar years, leading an ordinary life for a man who did an extraordinary thing.


Kay was just one of thousands of American, British, and Canadian troops who did their job assaulting Hitler’s vaunted Fortress Europe and then wrote home about it. Now, thanks to AARP and the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University, we have a chance to watch the memories of Kay and others come alive with the help of award-winning actor Bryan Cranston.

AARP has taken original 35mm film footage of D-Day, from preparation to landing and beyond, and digitized it to full-quality 4K footage. This captivating imagery was then skillfully edited and narrated by the Emmy-award winning actor, whose credits include the acclaimed shows Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad, as well as the Broadway hit Network and many, many film credits.

In three vignettes created by AARP, Cranston reads the words written by American troops, officer and enlisted alike, who supported the landings at Normandy that day. From the sea, he reads the words of Ens. Jay Kay, who piloted landing craft. From the air, the words come from Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, who was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Unit Citation after the war. On the ground, the words are from PFC. Dominick “Dom” Bart, part of the first wave of Operation Overlord.

The three videos recount the feelings shared by the men who jumped into occupied France, who drove other men onto the beaches through mine-filled waters, and the men who risked everything on those beaches to free the millions of Europeans who lived and died under the Nazi jackboot.

At times, they are equally hopeful and heartbreaking, a recollection of a rollercoaster of horrors and anticipation felt by those who fight wars. They are filled with the memories of young men who are encountering war and death, often for the first time, in a trial by fire that took them through one of history’s most extraordinary events, a battle that signaled the beginning of the end for one of the world’s most sinister monsters.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These were Britain’s ‘manned torpedoes’ in World War II

You’ve probably heard about Japan’s Kamikaze tactics, and maybe you’ve even heard about Japan’s manned rockets and torpedoes. But, oddly enough, Japan wasn’t the only combatant in World War II that had manned torpedoes. Britain used manned torpedoes and did so years before Japan.


The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
A Kaiten Type 10 manned torpedo. Japanese manned torpedoes were a little more “terminal” than British ones. (Kansai Man, CC BY-SA 2.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

But there is an important distinction between the two programs. Britain’s manned torpedoes were designed with a focus on getting the pilots back safely after the mission, while Japan’s program was essentially Kamikaze tactics, but under the water.

For Britain, it all started in December 1941. Less than two weeks after Pearl Harbor, Britain suffered its own surprise naval raid on December 19. Two British battleships and a tanker suffered serious damage in the Port of Alexandria in Egypt when large explosions ripped through their hulls from outside.

But the captain of the HMS Valiant had captured two Italian divers just before the explosions, and one of them had asked to meet with him just before the blasts. Coincidentally, they had been detained in the room just above the damage to the hull. So he summoned those dudes again and asked what, exactly, had happened to his ship and the two others. (A fourth ship was damaged by the blasts, even though the Italian teams had only hit three targets.)

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Two British sailors on a manned torpedo, the Chariot Mk. I. (Royal Navy Lt. S.J. Beadell)

 

Four other divers were captured by Egyptian police in the following days, and Britain pieced together how the attacks were carried out. The men had launched from an Italian submarine on a torpedo modified to propel the divers through the water. These torpedoes not only had warheads, but they also had two little seats for the divers.

Basically, imagine a two-person motorcycle, but shaped to fit in a large torpedo tube and propelled by a propeller instead of wheels. Now attach a mine to the front. Or you could’ve just looked at the picture above, but whatever. Let’s keep going.

Britain saw this and was all, “Hey, Brits can be strapped to metal tubes, too! We should strap dudes to metal tubes.” So they developed the Chariot starting in April 1942 and attempted the first manned torpedo mission that October.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
A British Chariot Mk. 1. (Imperial War Museum)

 

The British Chariot Mk. I was about 22 feet long, 3 feet wide, and weighed over 1.75 tons and had a 600-pound Torpex warhead, equal to almost a 1,000 pounds of TNT. The plan was that divers would get onto the torpedo and steer it through the water to a target. Then the divers would remove the warhead from the torpedo and place it on the target ship’s hull with a timer, and then pilot the submersible away.

If all went to plan, the 600 pounds of high explosive would then blow a large hole in the target.

The first Chariot mission failed after the torpedoes were lost at sea as a ship delivered them into range of their target. Their target, by the way, was the German battleship Tirpitz, which would’ve made for an epic combat debut if it had succeeded.

But Britain modified submarines to carry the new torpedo and began sending the Chariot into combat.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
U.S. Navy SEALs prepare to fly through the water in a SEAL Delivery Vehicle. (U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle)

 

Chariot torpedoes were used against Italian ships, the beaches of Sicily, and Japanese ships in Phuket, Thailand. And, yeah, it turns out those massive warheads do work. Britain even made a new design of Chariot, the Mk. II Terry Chariot, that was faster, had a warhead twice the size, and a larger combat radius.

But if it was so good, why aren’t there a bunch of manned torpedoes zipping around today? Well, there are actually a few. The U.S. Navy has the SEAL Delivery vehicle which is, basically, a manned torpedo that SEALs use to get to targets, but the Navy is looking to can it and get mini-subs instead. These would perform the same mission, but SEALs wouldn’t need to be exposed to the outside water in the mini-subs.

But yeah, manned torpedoes have mostly given way to submersibles and mini-subs because manned torpedoes were really valuable for delivering divers. When it comes to delivering warheads, even during World War II, it made more sense to fire conventional torpedoes.

Today, guided torpedoes make the use of manned torpedoes for explosive delivery completely unnecessary.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of the Civil War’s only double-barrel cannon

It always struck me as odd when I read history books as a kid: cannons are pretty much giant shotguns — why didn’t they ever make double-barreled cannon pieces? Well, I wasn’t the only genius with the idea.


A Southerner from Athens, Ga. named Pvt. John Gilleland forged one in 1862. Gilleland’s idea was to connect the two three-inch barrels by firing chain shot connected by two six-pound balls. When fired, the designer’s idea was for the balls to be shot at different angles to allow the ten-foot chain to fully extend.

If you’re not sure what chain shot does to walking bags of meat (soldiers), the guys at MythBusters demonstrated this on a pig carcass – warning: it doesn’t end well for the pig carcass.

So imagine a ten-foot nunchuck weighing in at roughly 50 pounds flying into a massed formation of people at more than a thousand feet per second. That was Pvt. Gilleland’s great idea. Except it didn’t go quite as he would have liked.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
This ends well for no one.

His tests showed erratic and often dangerous results. Though the gun was designed for both barrels to be fired simultaneously, they often didn’t, meaning an intense veering in an unintended direction. When they did fire, the chain would sometimes break apart, with two end of chain led by a ball, each veering three degrees away from each other at more than a thousand feet per second.

Gilleland still declared it a success and sent it to be tested with the Confederate Army. The Confederates found the cannon “not usable due to unpredictable rates of powder burn and barrel friction which led to unpredictable performance.”

No kidding.

So the Confederate government sent the cannon back to Gilleland in Athens. The weapons was still used in combat in just one battle. As Union raiders approached Athens on July 27, 1863, the double-barrel cannon was used as a signal gun to rouse the population to arms.

Some 9,000 Union cavalry approached Athens as part of General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Athens would be put to the torch, but not if the Georgia Home Guard Artillery could repel them.

At Barber’s Creek, just south of Athens, the cavalry hopped across the Confederate earthwork defenses. But before they could break the home guard completely, the city’s cannon and howitzers stole the initiative and fired a volley into the oncoming traffic. The yankees broke off the attack and Athens was spared.

Today the cannon is parked on Hancock and College Avenues in Athens.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Pointed North, of course.

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That time British Intelligence hacked al-Qaeda just to mess with them

One might assume that an international intelligence apparatus like Britain’s MI6 would wreak havoc when hacking into a terrorist-affiliated website. The truth is they did little more than likely annoy al-Qaeda after hacking a recruiting website. The result wasn’t exactly devastating unless you’re someone who hates cupcakes.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
Who could hate these? They’re ADORABLE. (Image by Michael Baragwanath from Pixabay)

While it’s hard to imagine even the most hardcore of Islamist extremist terrorists hating cupcakes (though it’s even harder to imagine one of them eating one like the adorable animal cupcakes pictured above), whether they made MI6’s infamous cupcakes is unknown – but they definitely had the recipe.

In 2011, the UK’s external intelligence service was in an all-out information war with al-Qaeda and the terrorist organization’s affiliate groups. In particular, Her Majesty’s secret service was looking to disrupt the activities of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its effort to recruit “lone wolf” attackers abroad. One of the ways it recruited disgruntled Westerners was through the use of its online magazine, called “Inspire.”

 

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
New rule: everyone who wakes up with the sun to say, “Guys, today let’s be inspired by Al-Qaeda” gets droned. (Image by Daniel Ankele from Pixabay)

But when avid readers of “Inspire” went to download the June 2011 Issue to read “Make a bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom” by “The AQ Chef” actually downloaded a semi-unintelligible computer code. The code still revealed a recipe, but it had nothing to do with your mom’s kitchen and everything to do with some cupcakes that *might* be described as “da bomb.”

MI6 reportedly hacked the website and replaced “Inspire” with a number of episodes for delicious cupcakes, including a recipe featured on The Ellen Degeneres Show dubbed “The Best Cupcakes in America” as well as a number of original recipes from Ohio-based cupcaker Main Street Cupcakes. Al-Qaeda initiates came looking for bomb-making information and instead received a flavor explosion, with varieties such as white rum cake with buttercream frosting, rocky road, and a delicious-sounding mojito flavor.

The Vietnam War was an example of good intentions but bad execution
“Inshallah you checked them with a toothpick before removing them from the oven.” (Image by Larissa Kozemekin from Pixabay)

On top of removing the bomb-making instructions, intelligence analysts replaced articles by Osama bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on “What to Expect in Jihad.” Both MI6 and the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency had been planning on disrupting the publication and dissemination of the magazine since they discovered its creation. The western allies have deployed a number of cyber weapons to disrupt al-Qaeda’s information warfare operations.

Although the CIA and MI6 were able to successfully put off the publication of “Inspire,” the full issue and more issues were published immediately anyway. The executive editor of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s signature magazine, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in a drone-strike in Yemen just a few months later.

Feature image: MGM

MIGHTY HISTORY

Tuxedo Park: The Secret Palace of Science that helped us win WWII

Millionaire scientist and Wall Street tycoon Alfred Lee Loomis who personally funded scientific research at his private estate and later went on to lead radar research efforts during WWII.

But the technological developments of Tuxedo Park didn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, Winston Churchill gave the US access to British intel and research that fueled Loomis’ efforts, ultimately leading to our Allied victory.

Loomis was born in Manhattan, and his family were privileged, well-connected members of society. Most of his relatives were physicians, though several of his cousins held cabinet positions in various presidential administrations. After studying math and science at Yale, Loomis then went on to graduate in law from Harvard.


In 1917, Loomis volunteered for military service and was commissioned as a captain. During his time in service, he earned the rank of Lt. Col and worked primarily in ballistics at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

It was at Aberdeen that Loomis invented the Aberdeen Chronograph, the first instrument to accurately measure the muzzle velocity of artillery shells and could be transported and used on the battlefield.

Anticipating the Wall Street crash of 1929, Loomis managed to save his fortune by converting his assets to gold. With liquid resources, he was able to purchase stocks that had plummeted in value. This fortune allowed him to work closely with President Roosevelt in preparing the United States for WWII. Loomis used his contacts in the financial and law sectors of New York to finance early developments in radar. It was with this vision in mind that he opened up his expansive enclave in Tuxedo Park and turned it into a research facility.

At Tuxedo Park, Loomis and his small research staff conducted experiments into the emerging field of spectrometry, electro-encephalography, capillary waves, and the measurement of time. His laboratory was state of the art and contained equipment that several top-tier universities couldn’t afford. Because of this, Loomis’ reputation spread quickly as a patron of science. Several prominent European scientists traveled to Tuxedo Park to meet with American peers and collaborate on projects. Enrico Fermi, Werner Heisenberg, and Albert Einstein all visited the luxurious estate.

In as much as Tuxedo Park provided scientists with access to state of the art materials and equipment, the location also served as a socializing spot, where like-minded individuals could come together to discuss current issues in technology.

By the late 1930s, Loomis was interested in radio detection studies and worked with his research team to build the first microwave radar. Deployed from the back of a van, the team drove it to a golf course and aimed it at a nearby road to track cars and trucks. Then they took it to the local airport to track small aircraft.

Several prominent UK scientists were working on radar experiments in hopes that a technology might emerge, which could prevent the nightly bombing of the Luftwaffe. These scientists developed the cavity magnetron, allowing their radar tech to be inserted into aircraft.

Loomis then invited the cavity magnetron developers to Tuxedo Park to continue their work on the magnetron. Because Loomis had more experience than anyone else in the US, he was appointed to the National Defense Research Committee as the chairman of the Microwave Committee and the vice-chairman of Division D.

With so many scientists working toward the same goal, Tuxedo Park soon grew too small. So Loomis closed the research facility and moved to the Rad Lab, headquartered at MIT, where he and the team worked tirelessly toward the development of radar technology. What started as a handful of people working toward a common goal quickly grew to a staff of over 4,000. The Rad Lab’s innovation directly resulted in helping us win the war.

The resulting 10cm radar was the key technology that enabled U-boats to be sunk, along with allowing British forces to spot incoming German bombers. This radar also provided the cover the American troops needed for the D-Day landing.

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