Don’t Dumb Down the Army

Kelly Greenhill, a Wesleyan political scientist and fellow at Harvard, is worried by recent statistics showing that the Army is dealing with its difficulties in recruiting by accepting more people in the lowest quartile (Cat-IV) on its aptitude test.

She bolsters her case by extensive reference to a social experiment from the Vietnam era:

Four decades ago, during the Vietnam War, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara created Project 100,000, a program intended to help the approximately 300,000 men who annually failed the Armed Forces Qualification Test for reasons of aptitude. The idea behind Mr. McNamara’s scheme was that the military would annually absorb 100,000 of the country’s “subterranean poor” — people who would otherwise be rejected.

Using a variety of “educational and medical techniques,” the Pentagon would “salvage” these Category IV recruits first for military careers and later for more productive roles in society. Project 100,000 recruits — known as New Standards Men — would then return to civilian life with new skills and aptitudes that would allow them to “reverse the downward spiral of human decay.”

Mr. McNamara further concluded that the best way to demonstrate that the induction of New Standards Men would prove beneficial was to keep their status hidden from their commanders. In other words, Project 100,000 was a blind experiment run on the military amid the escalation of hostilities in Southeast Asia.

Needless to say the experiment, which was discontinued in 1971, failed. Not only was it a disaster for the military, it didn’t even provide the promised benefits for the New Standards Men upon return to civilian life.

There are few with any significant experience with or knowledge of modern warfare who would disagree with Greenhill. Unfortunately, it is a simple fact of life that a volunteer military will have fluctuating standards depending on the military and economic climate of the day.

There are no good solutions to this fact. We could reinstitute the draft, which would not only be politically unpopular but present all manner of problems militarily. We could bolster pay and benefits for soldiers or recruit non-citizens more heavily, turning the force into a mercenary Army. Neither of those alternatives is better than the current practice.

Related links in the extended entry.


Elsewhere: James Joyner, “Backdoor Draft?” TCS, 11 January 2005.

OTB: Military Personnel, General

OTB: Military Recruiting


Correction: Corrected the math above. In both cases, my argument was actually slightly strengthened by proper calculation.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    I wonder how much the “dumbing down” has to do with incidents like the rapes and assaults on women in Japan and Korea by GIs?

  2. LJD says:

    Excuse me, IDIOT.

    Back on the subject…

    Before the Iraq war and the supposed ‘recruiting crunch’ soldiers that did not have necessary ASVAB skills to advance were given instruction and counseling. These score enhancing courses allowed soldier to attend academies they previously would not have qualified for. So what’s the difference with recruits?

    On a side note, do they make draftees take the ASVAB too? OR if you’re dumb enough, you’re not qualified to support the war effort in any way?

  3. ken says:

    James, the ‘solution’ you cannot see is to make sure that when we go to war it is justified.

    Americans are not fools. Americans will not support a war based upon lies.

    Americans will unconditionally support, with blood and treasure, any legitimate defense of our nation.

    The solution, James, lies in Washington. We need a change in leadership. No one wants to fight under a commander in chief who leads with a lie.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Ken: The problem is that your solution isn’t a solution. The President and Congress authorized this war. It was, in their view, justified.

    Regardless, let’s imagine a war that even you would consider justified that requires the same degree of resources as this war. What then?

  5. ken says:

    James, I am sure a lot of people bought into the lies the administation told to get them to initially support the War on Iraq. The problem is that when it was found out that the War was based upon lies, then no one wants to support it. Who can blame them?

    For a war to be justified it must rise to same level as the justification for you using deadly force to protect youself and your family. And this ‘justification’ must stand the scrutiny of our fellow man and the test of time. Whenever America has been faced that situation we have never had a problem raising an army. I don’t see any reason why Americans are any less willing to defend themselves today than they have ever been.

  6. LJD says:

    Ken, your duly elected representatives that voted for the war are big boys and girls, with the mental capacity (most, anyway)to be able to disseminate information and make rational decisions. Saying they were ‘lied to’ or ‘tricked’ is an absolute cop out. They were privy to the same information the administration had, and the world body was in agreement.

    As adults living in a global situation, you can’t just go around changing your mind when you think the facts have changed. A President certainly does not have that luxury.

    The war you describe, that would be ‘worth fighting’ would be over long before it began. Bacuase it takes so much evidence for you lefties to get involved. There would be numerous mushroom clouds in the air before the left got off their collective posterior.

    There is a long history of anti-war at all costs policy on the left. Look at the inaction in Yugoslavia, in Africa, in the Middle East. Look at the price paid by innocents because no one would help. All this while the party of ‘the people’ was more concerned about THEIR income, THEIR government handouts.

    I donÂ’t see any reason why Americans are any less willing to defend themselves today than they have ever been.

    Look around in your peer group, Ken. The ones who think war is NEVER justified. The ones who think we don’t need a military, just more social programs and free love… Look closely, your ‘friends’ may not be standing next to you when you think the time is right.

  7. ken says:

    LDJ, your not smart enough to understand today’s situation or what happened leading up to the war. I suggest you to withhold comments until the judgement of history becomes clearer for you.

  8. Mook says:


    Please use the correct name when trying insult someone. your credibility suffers. And you really need help in that area.

    That is the problem with you lefty types. You get your head handed to you with logic and facts and all you can do is fly off in a snit and say that someone is ill informed when you yourself are as transparent as crystal. When it comes to knowledge and facts.

    The under lying issue with you Ken is the truth hurts and you cant admit to truth as you world would crash down around you as it is based on falsehood and lies.

    Ken the truth will set you free. Aways has and aways will.


  9. anjin-san says:

    The vote for war powers is no mystery. In a post 9/11 world, congressman came to the conclusion that any vote that could be interpeted as weak on national security could very well be a career killer.

    When given a choice between asking hard questions about Iraq and risking sticking their necks out or just playing it safe and going along with Bush, they quickly caved.

    Both parties have a lot to answer for.

  10. floyd says:

    ken; is your real name pollyanna?

  11. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Ken, my goldfish is smarter then you.