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Project One Hundred Thousand – A DoD Social Experiment

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Project One Hundred Thousand – A DoD Social Experiment

vietnam war

In 1966, the DoD (Department of Defense) initiated Project One Hundred Thousand as a way to increase the military defenses by 100,000 enlisted men annually. Subsequently, those inducted into the various military branches were known as New Standards (NS) men.

The NS men term defined the changes made to the requirements for acceptance of those wishing to enlist or those drafted into one of the US military branches. The project was outlined and described in its 49 pages of what’s known as Characteristics and Performance of New Standards.

Mental Standards Lowered to Recruit More Military Personnel

The introduction of the project report argues past statistics of standards used during war time as justification for reducing the standards for mental test score requirements. The document cites previous mental standards as less than the current ones (1966).

“Current mental standards are considerably higher than they were in World War II, and are slightly higher than the standards which were in effect during the 1951–1958 period. In other words, the Military Services have had previous experience in training and utilizing men who score low on our entrance tests. Over the years there have been improvements in training methods and assignment procedures which have helped improve our success rate with men accepted under Project One Hundred Thousand.” (1)

The 1951–1958 period specifically refers to America’s involvement in the Korean War (1950-1953). The US supplied “88% of the 341,000 international soldiers which aided South Korean forces, with twenty other countries of the United Nations offering assistance.” (2)

Vietnam War Drives Need for New Standards

In 1965, the US military first deployed troops (ten years after the war began) and continued fighting until August 15, 1973. The Vietnam War immediately put a tremendous strain on the US military troops.

The need to infuse the military with more personnel necessitated the draft and Project One Hundred Thousand. In 1966, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara proposed Project One Hundred Thousand. It was often referred to as McNamara’s 100,000. The project ended in 1971. (3)

The New Standards of Project One Hundred Thousand ensured an increased recruitment of soldiers. The changes in the standards meant that those who were previously prevented from enlisting due to mental or medical conditions would in most instances now be accepted under the New Standards.

The project proved controversial, but nevertheless, the military moved forward with the New Standards for all US military branches. (3)

The sheer number of troops that fought in Vietnam demonstrates how effective Project One Hundred Thousand was. Mobile Riverine Force Association (9th Infantry Division Vietnam) reports that “Peak troop strength in Vietnam was 543,482, on 30 April 1969”.

US Military Statistics in Vietnam War:

–> 58,220 Died (4)

–> 303,704 Wounded

–> 2,338 MIA (Missing In Action)

–> 766 POWs (Prisoners of War) – 114 died in captivity

soldiers vietnam war

Who Were the New Standards Men?

Those recruited as “New Standards Men” were those who scored in “Category IV of the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which placed them in the 10-30 percentile range”. (3)

Statistics for those recruited via the project is 320,000 to 354,000 including both volunteers and those drafted. Even though the standards were lowered, the performance standards remained the same. That meant that all enlisted personnel had to be capable of performing the required duties.

While it was pointed out in the document that Category IV NS men were not “mentally retarded”, the stigma of being accepted in the low range percentile still followed them and those soldiers were dubbed the derogatory phrase of Moron Corps.

Those soldiers accepted into the military via Project One Hundred Thousand included:

–> Unable to speak English

–> Low aptitude

–> Physical impairments

–> Too short

–> Too tall

The personnel files of these soldiers were identified with a “red letter stamped on the first page of their enlistment contract”. The DoD kept track of these soldiers via monthly reports, but without revealing their identities.

Although their evaluations placed them at 90% of what the Control Group counterparts scored, the project document warns that percentage is likely much lower due to supervisors giving higher evaluations than justified.

New Standards Men DoD Goals and Results Statistics

The goal for the project’s first year was 40,000 New Standards men and the following two years, 100,000 men annually.

The DoD’s three-year goal was 235,000 NS men and they exceeded it with 246,000 New Standards men joining the military.

In the “Progress in Meeting Accession Goal”, part of the report that covers the period of October 1966 – September 1969, the DoD states:

–> 92% were enlisted as a direct result of the lowered mental standards.

–> 8% were medical remedials with correctable physical defects. 17% required surgery.

–> NS men represented 11% of total new input joining enlisted ranks.

–> 53% NS men were volunteers

–> 24% of the NS men were Group IVs with mental scores between 10% – 30%

–> 2/3 of the NS men didn’t meet “reenlistment eligibility criterion”. An additional unstated number were also ineligible due to unsuitability, misconduct or medical reasons.

Morality Debated and Military Criticized for Project One Hundred Thousand

Project One Hundred Thousand also stated an additional objective “the improvement of the competence of disadvantaged youth. This important social goal is being performed as a by-product of military service”.

Few civilians were swayed by such altruistic declarations by the military. The project was condemned by many critics as a way to avoid activating the National Guard and Reserves, and canceling college student deferments to the draft. In other words, the NS men were as The Washington Monthly referred to them, “cannon fodder”.

Within the “Progress in Meeting Accession Goal”, part of the project report is a statement that seemed to verify critics’ claims. The report cites that the project had “reduced the number of draft calls”.

The project document states that NS men were assigned “soft-skilled” jobs within the various branches of the military that would translate into civilian jobs once they left the military, but the New York Times called it a failed experiment. (3)

References & Image Credits:
(1) Department of Defense
(2) Wikipedia
(3) Wikipedia: Project 100,000
(4) Government Archives
(5) Mobile Riverine Force Association, 9th Infantry Division Vietnam
(6) War History Online

Originally published on

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