Reading and Discussion Questions
Christian Appy, Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers &
1. Why does Appy begin his book with a description of the Vietnam Memorial?
2. How and why have public perceptions of Vietnam veterans changed during
the past twenty-five years?
3. What contradiction was at the heart of veterans’ experience
in Vietnam, according to Appy?
4. What does Appy mean when he calls Vietnam a “working-class war”?
5. What demographic picture emerges of who fought and why?
6. What point is Appy making by contrasting the World War II generation
with the Vietnam generation?
7. Appy comments on the presence of African-Americans in the U.S. military
during the Vietnam era. What exactly was the relationship between race
and class in structuring the composition of the armed services? Does Appy
conclude that one was more determining than the other? Why?
8. “Most of the Americans who fought in Vietnam were powerless,
working-class teenagers sent to fight an undeclared war by presidents
for whom they were not even eligible to vote” (p. 27). Why is this
important in understanding the history of the 1960s?
9. What was Project 100,000?
10. How did draft boards work? Why does Appy describe how medical exemptions
11. What were student deferments? How did they influence the composition
of the military?
12. What does Appy think is wrong with the stereotype of the patriotic
hawk (i.e. Archie Bunker) who despised antiwar activists?
13. Appy suggests that class position was closely related to the “choices”
that young American had (or did not have) during the Vietnam era. Do you
14. Explain why Appy thinks that active avoidance of the draft looked
more or less legitimate to men in different social and economic positions.
15. Americans of diverse backgrounds were exposed to John Wayne movies
and other examples of mass culture that glorified militarism and masculinity.
Did this popular culture influence working-class men more deeply than
middle-class men? Why or why not?
16. Appy argues that the arrival of a draft notice created personal and
family crises of different kinds in working-class and middle-class communities.
Explain why he thinks this was the case. Do you agree?
17. What were the most important features of basic training? What kind
of soldiers did the military aim to produce?
18. What was the point of the routine verbal abuse that accompanied military
training? What special significance does Appy attach to derogatory terms
that equated recruits with women and homosexuals? What special significance
does Appy attach to the terms used to describe the enemy, such as “gook”
19. What were the characteristic features of soldiers’ arrival
20. What was an FNG? What was the significance of this term?
21. “The war is best understood not as a civil war between North
and South but as a revolutionary war fought in the south over two different
visions of Vietnam” (p. 150). Explain.
22. What kind of battlefield did American soldiers find themselves on
in Vietnam? What difference did it make that this was a guerilla war?
23. “Attrition was the central American strategy; search and destroy
was the principle tactic; and the enemy body count was the primary measure
of progress”(p. 153). What did these things mean for the soldiers
who fought in Vietnam?
24. What does Appy have to say about General William Westmoreland, the
top military commander in Vietnam?
25. What was “a narrowly technocratic approach to the war”
(p. 157)? Why was it important?
26. Appy argues that the U.S. was defeated in Vietnam because policymakers
failed to understand the character of the war and the motivations and
loyalties of both the North and South Vietnamese people. Explain exactly
what he means.
27. What was “humping the boonies”? What was the point? How
did “grunts” perceive their jobs?
28. How does Appy interpret the many instances in which U.S. service
members brutalized, raped, and murdered civilians in Vietnam? How does
he assign responsibility for such war crimes? Do you agree with his analysis?
29. What did most combat soldiers understand (and not understand) about
the war before they were sent to Vietnam? How did being “in country”
alter their views? What is Appy’s aim in contrasting the government’s
“official justifications” with the day-to-day experience of
30. Why does Appy includes a description of mutinies and fragging in
this chapter? (What is “fragging”?)
31. What does Appy think about the unprecedented number of medals given
to soldiers who fought in Vietnam?
32. What typical means did soldiers use to cope with their tours of duty?
33. Appy holds U.S. policymakers ultimately responsible for the tragedy
and horror that American soldiers faced in Vietnam, yet he also concedes
that many of those soldiers blamed, hated, and brutalized the Vietnamese.
Is this a contradiction? How does Appy explain the mindset and behavior
of many ordinary soldiers? How would you?
34. What was the My Lai massacre?
35. How did drugs figure in soldiers’ response to the war? How
would you interpret drug use in the military? How does Appy?
36. How would you characterize Appy’s view of the relationship
between veterans and the antiwar movement? What other view is he trying
to revise? Why?
37. Did veterans mobilize politically after they returned to the U.S.?
Why or why not?
38. How do you think Vietnam movies ("Coming Home," "Born
on the Fourth of July," "Platoon," "Forrest Gump,"
"Apocalypse Now," etc.) have shaped the public's understanding
(and your understanding) of the war, the antiwar movement, and
the experiences of soldiers and veterans?