Project 100,000 (also McNamara's 100,000) was a 1960s program by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) to recruit soldiers that would previously have been below military mental or medical standards. While the project was promoted as a response to President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, it has been an object of criticism.
At various times in its history, the United States military has recruited people who measured below specific mental and medical standards. Those who scored in certain lower percentiles of mental aptitude tests were admitted into service during World War II, though this experience eventually led to a legal floor of IQ 80 to enlist. Another instance occurred in the 1980s due to a misnormed Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
Project 100,000 was initiated by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in October 1966 to meet the escalating manpower requirements during American involvement in the Vietnam War and ended in December 1971. Promoted as a response to Johnson's War on Poverty by giving training and opportunity to the uneducated and poor, the recruited men were classified as "New Standards Men" (or, informally and pejoratively, as the "Moron Corps") and had scored in Category IV of the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which placed them in the 10-30 percentile range. The number of soldiers reportedly recruited through the program varies, from more than 320,000 to 354,000, which included both volunteers and conscripts (54% to 46%). Entrance requirements were loosened, but all the Project 100,000 men were sent through the normal training processes with other recruits, and performance standards thus were the same for everyone.
Project 100,000 soldiers included those unable to speak English, of low aptitude, with physical impairments, as well as those who were too short or too tall or were overweight or underweight, among other categories. They also included a special category—a control group of acceptable soldiers. Each of the different categories was identified in their official personnel records with a large red letter stamped on the first page of their enlistment contract. Human resources offices had to prepare reports on them, to be submitted monthly to Department of the Army. The monthly reports did not include the identity of the soldiers.
Regarding the consequences of the program, a 1989 study sponsored by the DoD concluded that
Comparisons between Project 100,000 participants and their nonveteran peers showed that, in terms of employment status, educational achievement, and income, nonveterans appeared better off. Veterans were more likely to be unemployed and to have a significantly lower level of education. Income differences ranged from $5,000 [to] $7,000, in favor of nonveterans. Veterans were more likely to have been divorced.
A 1995 review of McNamara's book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam in the Washington Monthly severely criticized the project, writing that "the program offered a one-way ticket to Vietnam, where these men fought and died in disproportionate numbers...the men of the 'Moron Corps'provided the necessary cannon fodder to help evade the political horror of dropping student deferments or calling up the reserves, which were sanctuaries for the lily-white."
Project 100,000 was highlighted in a 2006 op-ed in The New York Times in which former Wesleyan assistant professor and then Tufts assistant professor Kelly M. Greenhill, writing in the context of a contemporary recruitment shortfall, concluded that "Project 100,000 was a failed experiment. It proved to be a distraction for the military and of little benefit to the men it was created to help." As for the reasons why veterans from the project fared worse after returning to civilian life compared with nonveteran peers, Greenhill hypothesized that it might be related to the psychological consequences of combat or unpreparedness for the postmilitary transition.
As Seymour Hersh has reported in "My Lai: A Report on The Massacre and Its Aftermath," Lieutenant William Calley Jr. was a reflection of the type of soldier recruited during the Project 100,000 initiative. Calley "who'd flunked out of Palm Beach Junior College... and couldn't even read a map properly...was given command of a platoon."
- Greenhill, Kelly M. (February 17, 2006). "Don't Dumb Down the Army". The New York Times. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- Gottfredson, Linda S. (January–February 1997). "Why 'g' Matters: The Complexity of Everyday Life". Intelligence. p. 91. doi:10.1016/S0160-2896(97)90014-3.
- "Project 100,000; New Standards Program" (PDF). RAND. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- MacPherson, Myra (May 30, 2002). "McNamara's 'Moron Corps'". Salon.com. Retrieved August 23, 2014.
- Laurence, Janice H; et al. (December 1989). "Effects of Military Experience on the Post-Service Lives of Low-Aptitude Recruits: Project 100,000 and the ASVAB Misnorming". Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) (September 1968). "Project One Hundred Thousand; Characteristics and Performance of "New Standards" Men. Description of Project One Hundred Thousand.". Retrieved November 22, 2009.
- MacPherson, Myra (June 1995). "McNamara's 'other' crimes: the stories you haven't heard - Robert McNamara" 27 (6). The Washington Monthly. p. 28.
- Perlstein, Rick, Nixonland, Scribners, 2008