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Thread: Did soldiers really frag officers in Vietnam?

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    Purveyor of intelligent reading material Lt-Col A. Tack's Avatar
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    Default Did soldiers really frag officers in Vietnam?

    Did soldiers really frag officers in Vietnam?

    July 3, 2009



    Dear Cecil:

    I recently read a speech by Noam Chomsky in which he says that during the Vietnam war "soldiers were fragging officers." I, a man too young to have served in that conflict, have heard this before but thought it was just a rumor. Can you shed some light on this dark matter?

    — Tom, Chicago



    Cecil replies:

    I can, but frankly not much — and in my opinion, that's a story all by itself.

    Fragging — assaulting a superior officer using a fragmentation grenade or other explosive — was surprisingly common during the Vietnam war. The most reliable figure is 730 suspected incidents from 1969 through 1971, much higher than in U.S. wars before or since. Oddly, there’s no official count of fragging deaths; one unofficial source says 86, another 45.

    Prior to Vietnam, assaults against U.S. military officers were rare. World War I saw one incident leading to court martial per 12,700 servicemen, a ratio said to have remained fairly steady during World War II and the Korean war. During the Vietnam conflict, the fragging rate rose from 1 incident per 3,300 servicemen in 1969 to a peak of 1 per 572 servicemen in 1971.

    Few Vietnam fragging cases went to trial, so comparison with earlier wars is risky. Still, these are astonishing statistics, suggesting an army at the point of degenerating into a mutinous rabble. You'd think in the wake of Vietnam the U.S. military would have closely investigated fragging to avoid another brush with chaos.

    As far as I can tell, it didn't. I had my assistant Una scour the databases and contact the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the Combat Studies Institute. Even with the help of these sources she was able to turn up only a few short papers on fragging. Sure, maybe the Pentagon has some classified research it isn't telling anybody about. But here's pretty much all that's publicly known:

    * Two articles on fragging, "Assaults with Explosive Devices on Superiors" by David Gillooly and Thomas Bond (Military Medicine, 1976) and Bond’s "The Why of Fragging" (American Journal of Psychiatry, 1976), were based on analysis of 28 convicted fraggers. These articles are the most detailed research on fragging we have. However, each is just three pages long.

    * The Center of Military History sent us an unsigned two-page report entitled "Murder of U.S. Army Company Grade Officers in Vietnam by Enlisted Men," apparently written in response to claims that 40 percent of captains and lieutenants killed in Vietnam were murdered by their men. Not likely, says the report. About 3,000 such officers died during the war; 40 percent of that number is about 1,200; no way would slaughter on that scale have escaped official notice.

    * The tally of 730 fragging incidents comes from Guenter Lewy's 1978 book, America in Vietnam, which cites 1971 army testimony before Congress: 126 incidents in 1969, 271 in 1970, and 333 in 1971 (presumably as of the date of testimony). It's unlikely fragging suddenly ceased in 1972, so 730 is probably low.

    Why did fraggers do it? Journalist Eugene Linden, writing in Saturday Review in 1972 ("The Demoralization of an Army: Fragging and Other Withdrawal Symptoms") blamed the "futility and senselessness of the war." A more persuasive story emerges when you look at the Bond-Gillooly data points: (a) 80 percent of the murders happened at base camps, not in the field; (b) 90 percent of the assaults took place within three days after an argument with the victim; (c) offenders typically felt they had been unfairly treated; (d) 88 percent of attackers were drunk or high when they did it; (e) on average they had been in Vietnam for six months; (f) 26 of the 28 were volunteers, not draftees; (g) only five had graduated from high school; and (h) many were loners or had psychological problems.

    In short, for all the tales of soldiers assaulting gung-ho officers they feared would get them killed, a more likely explanation is that fragging was the work of rear-echelon misfits with anger management and substance issues who sulked after getting chewed out and decided to have their revenge.

    The nature of the war as such likely contributed only indirectly — its unpopularity discouraged enlistment and compelled the military to accept more trouble-****e recruits. The prevalence of drugs couldn’t have helped either — one study of soldiers returning from Vietnam found one-fifth had been addicted to narcotics.

    But that's just my guess. Bond and Gillooly concede they didn't have much information to work with, and evidently little other research was done. Perhaps it doesn't matter; as of 2008, only two fragging cases had gone to court martial since the beginning of the war in Iraq. In a New York Times article about one of them, unnamed experts attribute the improved record to increased professionalism stemming from establishment of an all-volunteer army in 1973. Maybe, but most fraggers in Vietnam were volunteers, too. The truth is, we don't really know.

    — Cecil Adams

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    Purveyor of intelligent reading material Lt-Col A. Tack's Avatar
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    This statement bothers me:

    Fragging — assaulting a superior officer using a fragmentation grenade or other explosive — was surprisingly common during the Vietnam war.

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    Member hank2222's Avatar
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    there has been a lot of talk that subect from the vietnam era vets..
    most of my nco where vietnam era vets that had served over for at least one or more tours of vietnam one of my nco said that officer that got frag fell into two groups of officers and here where the typles of officers

    first group was this typle he said

    some of the men belive that the officer got men killed for no good reason other than they need a high emeny body count to help out there career ..

    second group of officers fell into this group of officers

    some of the men belive that the officer did not care about there rates of casualty that they where doing to there platoon or company..as long as they took there prostion or place they where told to assault at the time..

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    Thanks for the read, very interesting.

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    Member El Diablo Rojo's Avatar
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    Everything I've read up to this point said that this was an overstated occurrence. I think it's also worth pointing out that there are many other uses for the word "frag," also.

    Quite frankly I'd take anything were Noam Chomsky was mentioned as a source (in the answer OR the question) with a grain of salt.

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    i wouldn't doubt if it were true, maybe not prevalent, but probably did happen from time to time.

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    It has happened in every conflict.

    It is murder.

    It is employed by criminals who choose to believe they can take matters into their own hands.

    To state "it was common" needs a lot more backup.

    It was a very rare occurance, but sensationalised by the antiwar crowd.

    American soldiers, by and large for the most part have better standards than hat.

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    Senior Member ZoneOne's Avatar
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    Must have been some real pissed off Joe's with some ****ty Officers.

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    Senior Member Atlantic Friend's Avatar
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    I too remember that 700+ number of investigated cases (but- I thought it was for the whole conflict, not just 1969-1972).

    I doubt the US Army was/is keen to highlight the exact number of cases (whether it's 700+, well above or well below that) so it's probably safe to take with a grain of salt any statement about how common (or how rare) such cases were :...

    There's a site (http://home.mweb.co.za/re/redcap/vietcrim.htm) that gives the following figures for fragging and other things, but its source lacks confirmation (basically Terry Anderson's book I suppose) :

    1969 : 239 cases
    1970 : 383 cases
    1971 : 333 cases
    1972 : 58 cases

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    Senior Member scttgillies's Avatar
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    Military urban myth is that it still happens. And that is in the british army. I know of one "myth" of an officer, a major no less being hit with 3 different calibre rounds during a live fire exercise just south of devil dog dragoon ranges in Saudi back in early 91. Real popular guy. He was hit with 1x 5.56, 1x 7.62 and a 9mm spotting round from a 94mm LAW. "MYTH"

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    Unfortunately, "statistics" from Vietnam used in an essay must be nuanced by who is using them. For four decades, the left has so perverted scholarship by just "making up" facts about Vietnam, that it now is an iron requirement to document in depth to be taken seriously.

    I sincerely doubt the 700+ number of frag incidents. This article is also to be questioned because the source material for that number is not referenced in a way that can be checked. It is third hand at best... quoting a book which quotes testimony supposedly given to congress by someone, who got it from some other source.

    Furthermore, that fantastic statement that "one study of soldiers returning from Vietnam found one-fifth had been addicted to narcotics" is so obviously BS that it casts doubt on the whole essay. What study? Who did it? What was its context? To just drop that into an essay as support for some other fantastic data is a red flag for BS.

    Three million US servicemen were in Vietnam. Do you really think there were 600,000 addicts? Do you know of someone KIA in Vietnam? Well... there were only 58,000 KIA. Do you personally know of ten times as many ex-Viet vet drug addicts as you do KIA? No?....
    Last edited by Jacknola; 07-23-2009 at 01:42 AM.

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    Member Chalkblock's Avatar
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    Cool Fragging an Officer

    Most of the Officers in Nam that got Fragged from I heard from some of my fathers friends and fathers of some of my friends, was that they were DUM ASSEs and it was either Frag him and get him out of the unit or let him get you and your buddies killed.

    I know from first hand that I had a soldier in my unit in Germany in 1980 or 1981, was on guarding the ammo point for a range we were running and took a shot at the Bde Commander. Luckly he missed. The Platoon sgt came close to pounding this soldier. When he asked why he shot at the commander, the soldier replied, I was mad about being on ammo guard.

    During the 2nd Gulf war, a soldier frag, not only his company commander but several of the troops too. Why?? He stated he did not want to fight his Muslim brothers. Case still pending

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    And I'm sure that there have been cases of officers who have retaliated to problem cases by calling in fire a wee bit too short.

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    [FONT=Verdana]I've always thought the incidences of fragging in Vietnam were, at best, blown way out of proportion, if they weren't some kind of urban myth altogether. I joined the Army in 1976 and encountered dozens (hundreds?) of Vietnam vets throughout my 4 year enlistment. If you ever heard about fragging incidents it was ALWAYS second (or third) hand. I never encountered anyone who had witnessed one. That would certainly explain why there is so little documentation on the subject.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana] [/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]As far as it being an "urban myth" I will cite an example of an "incident" I heard about when I first arrived in Germany in 1978. I was in a 3d Armored Division ASA Company In Frankfurt-Hoechst. We lived across the street from 32d Signal Battalion, a V Corps unit. 32d Signal Bn had a reputation as a place to stay away from (fostered by the "elite" members of the Army Security Agency). We shared their motor pool and the snack bar was in their building. In reality I never encountered a single reason to consider them any different than any other unit in the Army. But facts never stopped people from buying into the myth.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana] [/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]Anyway, the story went that, in the bad old early to mid-'70's, a 32d Signal Lieutenant was stuffed into a wall locker and the wall locker shoved out a 3d story window of the barracks. Presumably the man died. It sounded horrible and I stored it away in my memory. In 1983 I returned to Germany as an officer, stationed in 1st AD in Bamberg. There I heard a story about a Lieutenant who had been, guess what, shoved out a 3d story window in a wall locker. I later heard the same story when I went to Wiesbaden for a course. Apparently there were a whole lot of officer-filled wall lockers flying out of windows all over Germany in the '70's and '80's. It became clear to me this was just one of those urban myths that pop up and it seemed every Kaserne in Germany had one. I'm somewhat doubtful an original incident even occurred at all.[/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana] [/FONT]
    [FONT=Verdana]I'm not saying there were NO valid fragging incidents in Vietnam. However, once again, there are many people who still refuse to allow facts to get in the way of their argument.[/FONT]

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    Purveyor of intelligent reading material Lt-Col A. Tack's Avatar
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    I excerpted a bit from the article and highlighted a few bits of information that I thought were significant -

    A more persuasive story emerges when you look at the Bond-Gillooly data points:
    (a) 80 percent of the murders happened at base camps, not in the field;
    (b) 90 percent of the assaults took place within three days after an argument with the victim;
    (c) offenders typically felt they had been unfairly treated;
    (d) 88 percent of attackers were drunk or high when they did it;
    (e) on average they had been in Vietnam for six months;
    (f) 26 of the 28 were volunteers, not draftees;
    (g) only five had graduated from high school; and
    (h) many were loners or had psychological problems.

    In short, for all the tales of soldiers assaulting gung-ho officers they feared would get them killed, a more likely explanation is that fragging was the work of rear-echelon misfits with anger management and substance issues who sulked after getting chewed out and decided to have their revenge.

    The nature of the war as such likely contributed only indirectly — its unpopularity discouraged enlistment and compelled the military to accept more trouble-****e recruits.

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