Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam

By Christian G. Appy | Go to book overview

2
Life before the Nam THE BOUNDARIES OF CHOICE

"Boy, you sure get offered some shitty choices," a Marine once said to me, and I couldn't help but feel that what he really meant was that you didn't get offered any at all. Specifically, he was talking about a couple of C-ration cans, "dinner," but considering his young life you couldn't blame him for thinking that if he knew one thing for sure, it was that there was no one any where who cared less about what he wanted. -- Michael Herr, Dispatches

A draftee: "It was either go to Canada, go to prison, or go in the army. What choice did I have?"

A volunteer: "It was either college, a job, or the military. College was out of the question. We couldn't afford it. And I couldn't get a good job. So I enlisted." 1

These cryptic explanations hardly exhaust the range of attitudes among Americans who entered the military during the Vietnam War, but they do suggest the narrow boundaries of choice within which these men faced the prospect of military service. Whether draftees or volunteers, the great majority believed they had no real or attractive alternative. Even many who eagerly enlisted were drawn to the military as much by the pressures and constraints of their civilian lives as they were by the call of patriotism or the promised attractions of military life.

"It's not just a job. It's an adventure." So reads the recruiting slogan. But what other jobs were available? The economy as a whole in the 1960s did remarkably well. It was the final decade of the extraordinary postwar economic boom. Between 1960

-44-

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Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - Facing the Wall 1
  • 1 - Working-Class War 11
  • 2 - Life before the Nam 44
  • 3 - Basic Training 86
  • 4 - Ominous Beginnings 117
  • 5 - The Terms of Battle 145
  • 6 - Drawing Fire and Laying Waste 174
  • 7 - A War for Nothing 206
  • 8 - What Are We Becoming? 250
  • 9 - Am I Right or Wrong? 298
  • Notes 323
  • Bibliography 343
  • Index 355
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