Fragging

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Fragging is a term first encountered during the latter years of the Vietnam War. It refers to the killing of officers and noncommissioned officers using fragmentation hand grenades, often thrown into a sleeping area at night. A broader definition encompasses murder by a variety of other means, including mines, shooting, and hit and run with a vehicle.

Instances of leaders being killed by subordinates have occurred in American forces since the Revolutionary War. Often the cause appeared to be concern for survival in a combat environment made more hazardous by a leader perceived to be incompetent or unconcerned with soldier welfare. Although records are incomplete, the rate of such incidents was relatively low until the Vietnam War, when fragging increased dramatically. The highest incidence in Vietnam occurred between 1968 and 1972. Most episodes were in the army and Marine Corps, especially among support and rear area units. There were approximately 830 actual and suspected fraggings in Vietnam, with the annual number peaking at 333 in 1971. Fragging declined significantly in 1972 as American troops were withdrawn.

The explanation for the fragging epidemic can be found in the interaction of two broad factors, one societal and the other organizational. Widespread and severe change and conflict emerged in American society during the period. This combined with unfortunate organizational policies and a demoralizing military strategy to produce an unprecedented internal crisis within U.S. forces, characterized by poor leadership and unit performance. An individual replacement system that rotated soldiers back to the U.S. after twelve months along with frequent reassignments within Vietnam had a strongly corrosive effect on unit‐leader bonding. In Vietnam, erosion of effective leadership, and the unraveling of unit cohesion exposed the forces in Southeast Asia to the full impact of drug abuse, racial conflict, and antiwar activism then rampant in the United States. Fragging was an unfortunate symptom of the internal crisis experienced by the U.S. military in Vietnam during this period.
[See also Morale, Troop.]

Bibliography

Eugene Linden , The Demoralization of an Army; Fragging and Other Withdrawal Symptoms, Saturday Review (January1972).
Guenter Lewy , American in Vietnam, 1978.
W. D. Henderson , Cohesion: The Human Element in Combat, 1985.

William Darryl Henderson