"Fragging" and "Combat Refusals"
in Vietnam

The question of crimes such as "fragging", "combat refusals", desertion and AWOL within the Vietnam conflict is one which brings emotions to the fore. Many veterans deny that "fragging" or "combat refusals" occured, whilst others feel desertion and AWOL was merely a means of resisting what was felt to be a unjust and illegal conflict.

One partial reason for such sharp differences in the perceptions of veterans: support for the war back home, and the perceived prospects for victory, declined sharply during the seven years of heavy American involvement in Vietnam.

Indeed, military leaders themselves recognized a crisis among Vietnam soldiers in the war's last years. In an article called "The Collapse of the Armed Forces" published in the Armed Forces Journal in June, 1971, Colonel Robert Heinl declared that the army in Vietnam was "dispirited where not near mutinous."

Combat Refusal. Where soldiers refused to obey orders this became known as a "combat refusal". In a report for Pacifica Radio, journalist Richard Boyle went to the base to interview a dozen "grunts" from the First Cavalry Division. The GI's had been ordered on a nighttime combat mission the previous night. Six of the men had refused to go and several others had objected to the order. This is also referred to in "NAM - The Story of the Vietnam War (Issue 8)" where a photograph can also be found and captioned "These battle-weary troops from the 1st Air Cav had just staged a "combat refusal" at the PACE firebase.

Combat refusal at PACE firebase.

"They'll have to court-martial the whole company," one soldier told Boyle. "I say right away they can start typing up my court-martial."

The GI's told Boyle they objected not only to what they saw as a suicidal mission but to the war effort itself. Their commanding officer wouldn't let them wear t-shirts with peace symbols, they complained. "He calls us hypocrites if we wear a peace sign," one GI said. "[As if] we wanted to come over here and fight. Like we can't believe in peace, man, because we're carrying [an M-16] out there." Rough figures for "combat refusals" are indicated in column b. below.

Another soldier piped in: "I always did believe in protecting my own country, if it came down to that. But I'm over here fighting a war for a cause that means nothing to me." Historians say so-called "combat refusals" became increasingly common in Vietnam after 1969. Soldiers also expressed their opposition to the war in underground newspapers and coffee-house rap sessions. Some wore black armbands in the field. Some went further.

Fragging. When one American killed another American, usually a superior officer or an NCO, the term "fragging" came into use. Although the term simply meant that a fragmentation grenade was used in the murder, it later became an all encompassing term for such an action. It is known that "fraggings" did occur during Vietnam, but the precise number is uncertain.

"During the years of 1969 down to 1973, we have the rise of fragging - that is, shooting or hand-grenading your NCO or your officer who orders you out into the field," says historian Terry Anderson of Texas A & M University. "The US Army itself does not know exactly how many...officers were murdered. But they know at least 600 were murdered, and then they have another 1400 that died mysteriously. Consequently by early 1970, the army [was] at war not with the enemy but with itself." Rough figures for "fraggings" are indicated in column a. below.
Desertion and Absence Without Leave (AWOL). Figures for the Vietnam Conflict are also not known but figures for all US forces throughout the world are known. They are indicated in columns c. and d. below. The orginal source for these figures is here.

Year Fragging 'Combat Refusal'
World-wide figures for US Forces Vietnam
Drug Offences
AWOL Desertion
1965     Not available Not available 0.25 per 1000
1966     Not available Not available 0.25 per 1000
1967     46.8 per 1000 13.2 per 1000 0.25 per 1000
1968   82 138.5 per 1000 15.7 per 1000 4.5 per 1000 (marijuana)
0.068 per 1000 (opium)
1969 239 117 46.9 per 1000 21.1 per 1000 8000 arrested
1970 383 131 66.3 per 1000 25.8 per 1000 11058 drug cases
(1146 hard drugs)
1971 333 Not provided 84.0 per 1000 33.9 per 1000 7026 hard drugs
1972 58 Not provided 74.9 per 1000 27.5 per 1000  
1973     77.0 per 1000 24.6 per 1000  

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