- Fragging: Why U.S. Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers in Vietnam by George Lepre
During the Vietnam War, an alarming number of enlisted men assaulted and killed their commanding officers. In the vast majority of these assaults the soldiers used fragmentation or “frag” grenades to kill or injure their superiors. The prevalence of these attacks in Vietnam led to the coining of a new term: fragging. While the phenomenon of fragging is well known to historians of the Vietnam War, no scholarly work has focused on the subject until now. George [End Page 216] Lepre’s Fragging: Why U.S. Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers in Vietnam is the result of a decade of research on the topic, and it sheds much-needed light on this poorly understood aspect of the war.
Throughout the history of warfare, soldiers have turned against their commanding officers. The American armed forces prove to be no exception, with enlisted men attacking and killing their superiors as early as the Revolutionary War. But these episodes had been extremely rare leading up to the Vietnam War, and even during the first several years of that war fragging was almost unheard of. But in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in early 1968, something changed. Incidences of fragging steadily climbed as the US effort in Vietnam was effectively winding down. The final tally shows that a staggering number of fraggings occurred: nearly one thousand incidences in Vietnam involving both the army and the marines, with hundreds of men injured and at least fifty-seven killed. Almost all of these assaults happened in just a four-year span, from 1968 to 1972. In light of this sudden explosion of violence against officers, Lepre raises the most pressing question: why?
To answer this, he begins by examining the morale crisis within the US armed forces following the Tet Offensive. Lepre points to a number of issues that contributed to the decline in morale in Vietnam, including the nature of limited warfare, the short one-year tour of duty (which weakened unit cohesion), and the difficulty of obtaining quality personnel due to the rapid buildup in Vietnam. But in addition to these problems, the nature of the war changed after Tet; it became obvious that the war was increasingly unpopular at home, and with the advent of “Vietnamization,” the writing on the wall was clear. And yet US servicemen remained in Vietnam for several years, and frustration began to mount over a seemingly pointless war. The crisis in morale led in turn to a breakdown in discipline, which created an atmosphere ripe for fragging.
Lepre then examines the fragging phenomenon in closer detail and demonstrates that the popular perception of fragging is deeply flawed. The usual portrayal is that of a gung ho officer looking to win medals and promotions for himself at the expense of his men’s safety. The soldiers, disgruntled that their lives are being risked and lost for no reason other than their commander’s personal gain, conspire to “do a job” on him, often by tossing a frag grenade into his tent in the middle of the night. Lepre points out that this was almost never the case. Most of the fraggings occurred in noncombat support units, where officers did not in any way place anyone’s life at risk. Furthermore, those fraggings that did occur in combat units were usually over a personal conflict. Lepre notes a number of incidences where officers were fragged over extremely trivial matters: one soldier was angry because he believed he was owed more cigarettes; another lashed out because the officer forced him to cut his hair; and yet another soldier killed his sergeant because the officer reprimanded him for falling [End Page 217] asleep while on guard duty. With his in-depth research on these attacks, Lepre clearly demonstrates that rather than justifiable acts of self-preservation or protest, these fraggings instead represent nothing more than premeditated murder.
Overall, Lepre convincingly argues that while individual fraggings occurred for a number of reasons...