A Poor Man’s Fight


As the Vietnam War dragged on, soldiers took matters into their own hands.

A fragmentation grenade may wobble silently for about six seconds before it detonates. When it explodes, scores of razor-sharp projectiles spew outwards, shredding tent walls, shattering munitions canisters, puncturing cans of water and fuel oil — and, if you rolled it right, killing your commanding officer before he has time to lift his head from his bed.

The Vietnam War inspired opposition even from within the ranks of the military. In 1971, a US Army colonel wrote, “The morale, discipline, and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at anytime in this century and possibly in the history of the United States. By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.”

Roughly one-third of privates were draftees. Unseasoned officers freshly drawn from elite military schools and Reserve Officer Training Corps programs sometimes found themselves commanding combat detachments full of men who had grown tired of following orders. We may never know the scale of desertion, refusal to fight, and officer “fragging” that took place in Vietnam, but these numbers tell part of the story.