Another issue Mansker brings up is the subject of "fraqging". This occurs to a character named "Sgt. Bragg" in "Bad Attitudes", and the book details exactly why this happens. Although "fragging" was more commonly used as a term to define friendly fire in Vietnam, in this case it's meaning was to assassinate an unpopular officer of one's own fighting unit (often by means of a fragmentation grenade, hence the term). A hand grenade was most often used because it would not leave any fingerprints, and because a ballistics test could not be done to match a bullet with a firearm. Usually, the grenade would be thrown into the officer's tent while he slept. A fragging victim could also be killed by intentionally friendly fire during combat. In "Bad Attitude's" case, Sgt. Bragg's death would be blamed on the enemy, and due to the dead man's unpopularity, the killer would assume that no one would contradict the story. Very few history books like to tarnish America's view of our troops, especially when it comes to killing our own men. However, there were reasons for fragging in Vietnam. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character It most often involved the murder of a commanding officer, or a senior N.C.O. who was viewed as unpopular, harsh, incompetent or overzealous, especially in a war that was already lost.
Many soldiers were not overly keen to go into harm's way, and preferred leaders with a similar sense of self-preservation. "Bad Attitude's" story took place after the "Tet Offensive" of 1968, where a scale-down of troops as well as the U.S. turning the brunt of the war over to the South Vietnamese (called "Vietnamization") was the direction the U.S. war effort had taken. If a C.O. was incompetent (Sgt. Braqgg's character embodies this!) fragging the officer was considered a means to the end of self preservation for the men serving under him. Fragging might also occur if a commander freely took on dangerous or suicidal missions, especially if he was seeking glory for himself. Soldiering On in a Dying War: The True Story of the Firebase Pace Incidents and the Vietnam Drawdown (Modern War Studies) The whole concept of fragging served to warn junior officers to avoid the ire of their enlisted men through recklessness, cowardice, or lack of leadership. Junior officers could in turn arrange the murder of senior officers when finding them incompetent, or wasting their lives needlessly. As in the attack on "Hamburger Hill" and "Operation Ripcord", underground G.I. newspapers sometimes listed bounties offered by units for the fragging of unpopular commanding officers. The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story After the My Lai Massacre, soldiers serving under Lt. William J. Calley Jr. disliked him so much that they considered fragging him. From 1965 to 1973, there were documented cases of at least 230 U.S. officers killed by their own troops, and over 1,400 other officer's deaths could not be explained. Another subject Mansker covers, which cannot be done now with the current situation in the war with Iraq, is that during the Vietnam war, if a youth fell into legal trouble, a judge would offer the offender as a diversion the choice to go to Vietnam or jail. This happens to Mansker's protagonist, Farnsworth Smith. Mansker's story is so realistic when describing the sights and sounds of Vietnam, anyone that was there will pick up on it immediately.
Mansker describes Farnsworth Smith's arrival in Vietnam on a commercial airplane as follows: "We drop too quickly from a safe, high altitude. The plane glides over little villages scattered among neatly patterned rice paddies. we're close enough to see people in fields wearing black pajamas and straw cones for hats. They look like Viet Cong you see on television, and I wonder why they just don't blast us out of the sky. Then we're down with a quick thump on the concrete runway of Bien Hoa air base. It's the middle of the morning in Vietnam and I'm completely disorientated. I'm still on West Coast time and tired from not sleeping. Somewhere we've lost a whole day because of the so-called International Date Line. As soon as the plane stops, a couple of ground crew flyboys push a rolling ramp up to the door and I'm the first one off. What Are They Going To Do, Send Me To Vietnam? I stop short when I run up against a wall of heat, humidity, and a lush rotten jungle smell, mixed with a nasty combination of urine and burning garbage, all topped off with the slight bouquet of disinfectant. The guy behind me gasps, gurgles "airborne" and prods me in the back. A dark line of blue busses waits for us at the edge of the runway and we are hurried onto them. There's no glass in the windows, but they are all covered with a thick mesh of heavy wire, like a miniature cyclone fence. "What's this" a guy behind me asks. "This looks like a prison bus." "It's not to keep us in." somebody else says. "It's to keep them out." "Huh?" "You know, grenades, satchel charges, stuff like that." Welcome to Vietnam.
I have read a multitude of stories by other vets, all virtually identical to this book's story of a G.I's first impression of South Vietnam. Other taboo historical subjects Mansker writes about are the venereal disease problem in Vietnam. Mansker writes that new GI.s' are warned as such: "We are given a welcome briefing by a bored captain. He drones about duty, honor, country, and tells us not to have sex with any Vietnamese women while we're here. He say's they've all got a strain of clap that's incurable. If you get it, you have to go live on an island in the South China Sea and no one will hear from you again." The Saigon Zoo: Vietnam's Other War: Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n Roll On the insect problem of Vietnam, Mansker asserts: "Bugs are fluttering around the three naked light bulbs. About a million bugs. White casually picks up an olive drab aerosol can and blasts the center of the cloud of bugs circling the closet light. As far as I can tell it has no effect. The bugs seem to like it." On the sounds of Vietnam: "I edge my way out of the hooch and make a short tour of the company area. Then I sit on a sandbagged wall and smoke cigarettes until chow call. The rest of the day is quiet. Except for the constant clatter of helicopters overhead, jets landing and taking off at the air base which seems like it's ten feet away, the muffled blast of distant artillery, and the complaint-filled jabbering of a little monkey on a chain that one of the company cooks has staked out next to our hooch."
Mansker's description of the indigenous Vietnamese that work on the base is classic. He writes: "Groups of Vietnamese men and women gather there, stand around and jabber, and then climb onto the ancient smoky buses or the scooter-taxi's and leave, off to their jobs, I guess. It strikes me as odd that these people can go about their regular lives in the midst of the war. At night, probably half of these people are the war." Down South: One Tour in Vietnam Another subject Mansker hits on is the military industrial complex and how the Vietnam War was an economic exploitation for some companies. Mansker writes: "What do you know about Brown and Root?" "They're Everywhere. Their insidious goal is to eventually build up and pave over all of Vietnam. They're the ones who are really in charge of the war. The only reason we're here is to keep the Vietnamese off guard while they go about their nefarious schemes and suck money out of Uncle Sugar." The Halliburton Agenda: The Politics of Oil and Money "Brown and Root" is really an American engineering and construction company, a private military contractor and a subsidiary of Haliburton. This company has had many contracts from the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, as well as today involving Iraq. It also built 85% of the infrastructure needed by the Army during 1965-1973.
During the height of the war resistance movement of the 1960's, Brown and Root was derisively known as "Burn and Loot" by protestors and soldiers. Read more ›