MIT Study of the Vietnam Death Rates – by Dr. Arnold Barnett, Professor of Operations Research at MIT’s Sloan School of Management
Vietnam Deaths Spread Over Economic Spectrum – Charles H. Ball, News Office, September 30, 1992
The widely held belief that many more poor and working class youths died in the Vietnam War than their middle and upperclass counterparts is "a great exaggeration," say MIT researchers who studied the family incomes of the 58,000 American war dead in Vietnam.
In a report based on the study, the researchers said that their data analysis "offers substantial evidence that, in terms of the bereavement it brought to America, Vietnam was not a class war." The study, funded by the US Army and MIT, found that affluent communities had only marginally lower casualty rates than the nation as a whole, while poor communities had only marginally higher rates. Furthermore, the report said, "Data about the residential addresses of war casualties suggest that, within both large heterogeneous cities and wealthy suburbs, there was little relationship between neighborhood incomes and per capita Vietnam death rates."
The authors of the report – which appears in the September-October issue of the journal Operations Research – are Dr. Arnold Barnett, Professor of Operations Research at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and two former graduate students, Captain Timothy Stanley, who now teaches at the US Military Academy, and Michael Shore. Professor Barnett specializes in applied probabilistic and statistical analyses related to health and safety. His earlier studies on such topics as air safety and homicide have been widely reported.
The researchers believe that their study was "the first comprehensive scientific analysis relating Vietnam war casualty patterns to economic status." They undertook it, they said, because of a "strong public interest in the historical accuracy of judgments about the bitterly controversial Vietnam War" and because the belief about class war "continues to influence contemporary policy debates" and even current presidential elections.
The existing perceptions "contribute to a sense of pervasive unfairness in which the benefits of being rich go well beyond material possessions," the authors said. They took note of present Vietnam War-related controversies about Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s draft status and Republican vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle’s National Guard duty.
The perception that Vietnam was a class war, they said, "seems to arise more from anecdotes and personal impressions than from any systematic study" relating casualty patterns to economic status.
Citing several examples, the authors declared that "prestigious newspapers and magazines and Academy Award-winning movies have depicted the conflict as a `class war,’" and "distinguished defense analyst James Fallows explicitly described it as one."
They added: "If untrue, the belief that affluent citizens were conspicuously missing from the Vietnam war dead is harmful to all Americans. It demeans the sacrifices of the wealthy by implying that such sacrifices were nonexistent. It demeans the sacrifices of the nonwealthy by suggesting that, manipulated and misled, they shed their blood in a conflict in which the privileged and influential were unwilling to shed theirs."
The study concentrated on US servicemen killed in the war, reasoning that they and their families were presumably the Americans who suffered the most in the conflict, the researchers said. It considered how the families of the 58,000 war dead compared with a random sample of 58,000 contemporary American youths.
In their analysis, they said, they used information about the deceased that appears in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Directory of Names, supplemented by more precise data from the National Military Archives in St. Louis (MO) about key subsets of casualties. Through scrutinizing the data in conjunction with diverse statistics from the 1970 census, they were able to make inferences about the economic backgrounds of the war dead.
The authors performed numerous analyses of local, regional and national data, some based on a random sample of essentially every 40th name in the alphabetical list of US casualties. While the data analyses were individually imperfect, their weaknesses did not overlap, the researchers stated. Hence, "the credibility of their collective outcome may far transcend that of any isolated result."
In analogy with a widely used economic indicator, the authors devised a "disparity score" under which "zero" means no net link between economic status and casualty rates, and "one" means an extreme concentration of war deaths among the poor. They estimated the national disparity score for Vietnam to be about 0.06, which suggests only weak association between income and per capita casualty rates.
The researchers said they also undertook several specialized calculations, one of which examined the contention by Fallows that, with gold stars going to families in rural and working-class areas, "the mothers of Beverly Hills [CA] and Chevy Chase [MD] and Great Neck [NY] and Belmont [MA] were not on the telephones to their Congressmen screaming "you killed my boy."
"We found," they said, "that per capita death rates exceeded the national average in three of the four `upscale’ communities, as did the overall rate for the four."
Another calculation involved the fact that public discontent with the war grew steadily over time. "A concentration of casualties among wealthy citizens towards the start of the war, therefore, might imply that such citizens rapidly withdrew from participating in the conflict once they ceased supporting it," they said. "Date-of-casualty data indicate, however, that deaths of servicemen from the richest 10 percent of the nation’s communities had essentially the same distribution over time as the deaths of other servicemen."
Other specialized calculations estimated that, among the dead, those from prosperous communities were about twice as likely as the others to have been officers (24 % vs 13 %) and that men from such communities who went to Vietnam were about 10 percent likelier to die there than were other servicemen.
They explained: "That excess reflects the disproportionate presence of the affluent in such hazardous roles as pilots or infantry captains and lieutenants. Even if few affluent youths were among the `grunts’ in the Vietnam front lines, it could be fallacious to infer from that circumstance that well-off Americans were out of harm’s way."
Because few conscripts become officers, the relatively high ranks of affluent servicemen also raised the issue of voluntary vs compulsory Vietnam service, the researchers said, and whether "the real difference between rich and poor was that Vietnam service was optional for the former and mandatory for the latter."
"One should be cautious in advancing that viewpoint," they said, "given strong evidence that many `volunteers’ only enlisted as an alternative to imminent induction. But suppose that middle and upper class youths were in fact far better equipped than other Americans to avoid the military draft. To reconcile that premise with the findings in our paper, one would have to infer that the affluent did not proceed en masse to exploit their special advantages. Less vulnerable than other youths to unrelenting pressure to serve in Vietnam, they nonetheless appear to have gone there in sizeable numbers."
Vietnam Era Tunes – Billboard Top 100 of 1971
Joy to the World – Three Dog Night
Maggie May/Find a Reason to Believe – Rod Stewart
It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move – Carole King
One Bad Apple – Osmonds
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart – Bee Gees
Indian Reservation – Raiders
Go Away Little Girl – Donny Osmond
Take Me Home Country Roads – John Denver
Just My Imagination Running Away With Me – Temptations
Knock Three Times – Dawn
Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
Tired of Being Alone – Al Green
Want Ads – Honey Cone
Smiling Faces Sometimes – Undisputed Truth
Treat Her Like a Lady – Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose
You’ve Got a Friend – James Taylor
Mr. Big Stuff – Jean Knight
Brown Sugar – Rolling Stones
Do You Know What I Mean – Lee Michaels
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – Joan Baez
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Uncle Albert Admiral Halsey – Paul McCartney
Aint No Sunshine – Bill Withers
Signs – Five Man Electrical Band
She’s a Lady – Tom Jones
Superstar – Murray Head and The Trinidad Singers
I Found Someone Of My Own – Free Movement
Amos Moses – Jerry Reed
Temptation Eyes – The Grass Roots
Superstar – Carpenters
My Sweet Lord/Isn’t it a Pity – George Harrison
Sweet and Innocent – Donny Osmond
Put Your in the Hand – Ocean
Chick-A-Boom – Daddy Dewdrop
For All We Know – Carpenters
Help Me Make It Through the Night – Sammi Smith
Rainy Days and Mondays – Carpenters
If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot
Gypsies Tramps and Thieves – Cher
Never Can Say Goodbye – Jackson 5
Rose Garden – Lynn Anderson
Don’t Pull Your Love – Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
It Don’t Come Easy – Ringo Starr
Mr. Bojangles – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
I Love You for All Seasons – Fuzz
Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get – Dramatics
That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be – Carly Simon
If You Really Love Me – Stevie Wonder
Spanish Harlem – Aretha Franklin
I Don’t Know How to Love Him – Helen Reddy
Yo-Yo – Osmonds
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Aretha Franklin
Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted – Partridge Family
Draggin’ the Line – Tommy James
Proud Mary – Ike and Tina Turner
Beginnings/Color My World – Chicago
Stay Awhile – Bells
Sweet City Woman – Stampeders
Me and You and a Dog Named Boo – Lobo
Another Day/Oh Woman Oh Why – Paul McCartney
If – Bread
Mercy Mercy Me – Marvin Gaye
One Toke Over The Line – Brewer and Shipley
She’s Not Just Another Woman – 8th Day
Bring the Boys Home – Freda Payne
I Just Want to Celebrate – Rare Earth
Never Ending Song of Love – Delaney, Bonnie, & Friends
Easy Loving – Freddy Hart
Liar – Three Dog Night
Stick-up – Honey Cone
Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep – Mac & Katie Kissoon
Love Story – Andy Williams
Wild World – Cat Stevens
When You’re Hot You’re Hot – Jerry Reed
Funky Nassau – Beginning Of The End
If Not For You – Olivia Newton-John
Groove Me – King Floyd
Watching Scotty Grow – Bobby Goldsboro
Woodstock – Matthews’ Southern Comfort
Amazing Grace – Judy Collins
I Hear You Knocking – Dave Edmunds
Lonely Days – Bee Gees
Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again – Fortunes
Won’t Get Fooled Again – Who
Trapped By a Thing Called Love – Denise Lasalle
Mama’s Pearl – Jackson 5
Timothy – Buoys
I Woke Up In Love This Morning – Partridge Family
Theme from "Shaft" – Isaac Hayes
If I Were Your Woman – Gladys Knight and The Pips
I Am I Said – Neil Diamond
Wedding Song – Paul Stookey
Don’t Knock My Love Pt. 1 – Wilson Pickett
Love Her Madly – The Doors
Here Comes the Sun – Richie Havens
Sweet Mary – Wadsworth Mansion
Right On the Tip of My Tongue – Brenda and The Tabulations
One Less Bell to Answer – Fifth Dimension
Riders On the Storm – The Doors
It’s Impossible – Perry Como
THAT’s ALL FOLKs — THE END — ain’t no mo . . . . . . .