Two Native Americans, recruited during the Vietnam War for their exceptional tracking skills, are involved in an extraordinary training exercise. One has the traditional long locks of First Nation people, the other has a standard G.I.’s buzz cut. “Enemies” then creep up on the pair, resulting in two different outcomes.
Throughout the years, the Native American population have played an integral role for their country’s military. For instance, did you know that the U.S. Army included over 40,000 Native Americans in World War Two? To give you an idea of just how significant that number was, there were fewer than 350,000 of them living in the States back then.
Once that conflict ended, the U.S. Army would eventually join the Vietnam War in March 1965. Over the course of the next decade, it’s believed that around 42,000 Native American troops aided the war effort, ahead of its conclusion in 1975. But while they certainly contributed to the fight, here’s something else to consider.
Indeed, those efforts were largely overlooked in the past, as Native American veterans struggled to share their experiences from Vietnam. However, some of their contributions have since come to light. As we highlighted earlier, certain soldiers took part in a fascinating experiment during the war that centered on their hair.
Before we dive into that, though, let’s focus on another aspect of the Vietnam War. While the conflict raged in south-east Asia, a draft came into effect across America. As part of that process, more than two million young men were recruited to play their part, leaving their homes behind.
After those men joined the army, they were obligated to sport a particular haircut for the duration of their service in Vietnam. Unlike some of the more popular looks of that era, the soldiers’ locks were trimmed down significantly. Unsurprisingly, the same instructions applied to the Native American recruits too.
Regardless of the requirements, that instruction might’ve been very difficult to accept for the Native American troops. For you see, long hair continues to play a big role in their society, tying back into the past. On that note, let’s take a closer look at the reasons why that’s the case.
In the eyes of Native American communities, their long locks help to define their “cultural identity.” To expand on that, the aforementioned term also encourages self-confidence and feelings of assuredness as well. Furthermore, in an effort to maintain those emotions going forward, they act upon some important teachings from their families.
Indeed, Native American people learn to look after their flowing hair, trying out different styles as time goes on. These unique looks can range from braided hair to a simple dash of paint. And if that wasn’t enough, pow-wow events normally encourage guests to work on their families’ follicles too.
So with that in mind, you might be wondering if there’s a specific meaning behind some of those hairstyles. The braided locks certainly harbor a bit of symbolism, as we’re about to discover. In that respect, a braid not only represents strength in a Native American’s hair, but it also highlights the importance of their community.
In addition to those meanings, Native Americans have harbored another belief regarding their long locks. For years, they’ve been of the opinion that hair forms part of the human body’s nervous system. As a result of that, their lengthy follicles are sometimes looked upon as biological “antennae” of sorts.
However, that’s not to say that Native Americans don’t trim their hair at certain points in time. For instance, if an individual lost a loved one, they might cut their mane as part of the mourning process. Alongside that, a major alteration in their life could prompt a similar response, so it’s not a frequent practice.
For those who enlisted during the Vietnam War, though, that choice was taken out of their hands. But outside of Native American culture, hair has played an integral role in other myths and stories. Those old tales suggest that they’re not the only ones to see the benefits of long follicles.
One of the most famous stories centers on Samson, an individual from the Bible. He was granted incredible strength and sported long hair. Thanks to his power, Samson could fight lions with his bare hands, tearing through the beasts. Yet despite all of that, this mythical character did harbor a frailty.
After forming a romantic relationship with a woman named Delilah, Samson said that the source of his power came from his hair. She then betrayed him by shearing off those locks while he rested, leaving him vulnerable. In the end, his adversaries took advantage of the situation and enslaved him.
Keeping that story in mind, other societies held a somewhat similar belief regarding hair too. For example, when an adversary cut someone’s mane in the past, that was seen as their way of asserting dominance over them. But moving away from that, how much importance can actually be placed on a human’s locks?
Well, a group of researchers from the Baltimore-based John Hopkins University School of Medicine conducted an intriguing study on the subject of hair in 2011. Over the course of that project, they tried to learn more about the connection between the nervous system and the body’s exterior. Specifically, the Maryland team looked at the follicles found on the latter.
To explain more, one of the researchers spoke to the John Hopkins Medicine website in January 2012. Professor David Ginty said, “You can deflect a single hair on your arm and feel it. But how can you tell the difference between a raindrop, a light breeze or a poke of a stick?”
“Touch is not yes or no,” Ginty added. “It’s very rich, and now we’re starting to understand how all those inputs are processed.” To get the answers they needed, the group observed a number of mice. These animals boast three distinct hair types known as the zigzag, the guard hair and the awl/auchene.
Prior to starting the experiment, the researchers made a slight genetic alteration to the mice, which allowed them to view the results with a microscope. In the end, they discovered that the zigzag hairs and the awl/auchene follicles were tied to a nerve cell called C-LTMR. Those strands serve as a connection between the spine and skin tissue.
Simply put, those genetic findings suggested that the mice’s hair could be seen as an extension of their nervous system. And in Ginty’s mind, humans have a similar arrangement within their bodies as well. So on that note, the Native Americans might’ve been correct in flagging up the connection before.
Bearing that theory in mind, let’s redirect our focus back to the Native Americans’ involvement in the Vietnam War. As we highlighted earlier, some of the soldiers took part in an unorthodox exercise for the U.S. Army following their arrival. The experiment called on privates with both long and short hair.
So what was this bizarre experiment all about? It had all started after the Native Americans with their special tracking skills were recruited. It had long been recognized they possessed an incredible ability to navigate difficult areas in the United States, which would’ve been very useful for the army in south-east Asia.
Shortly after joining the army, they lost that phenomenal sixth sense that apparently underpinned their particular skills. As a result of that, countless Native American troops were unable to complete their missions during the war, leaving the higher-ups flummoxed. What was going wrong? Some of the First Nation soldiers believed they knew what the problem was.
Indeed, the Native Americans claimed that the mandatory army haircuts had caused them to lose their tracking abilities. This tied back to their beliefs regarding the connection between hair and the nervous system. The troops were of the opinion that their locks gave them unmatched powers of perception when traversing the environment.
Not only that, but the Native Americans believed that their long hair could alert them of an incoming presence too. So with that in mind, the soldiers summed up their thoughts with a simple message to their military superiors. Cut off the hair, these men said, and you lost those uncanny “superpowers.”
At that stage, the army then devised a new routine that tested certain Native American troops, as they faced down an “enemy.” In the training exercises that followed, which pitted a man with flowing locks intact against a crew-cut G.I., the results appeared to be conclusive. The long-haired G.I. would either escape his would-be attacker or apprehend him and “kill him.”
Meanwhile, the short-haired Native American would be seized. And the tests had shown that even when the First Nation soldier was asleep, as long as he had his hair, he could respond to the threat of an incoming “enemy” effectively. So the U.S. Army made the only sensible decision it could.
Native American recruits, unlike other Americans, were given a special dispensation to keep their hair long. It was a fascinating process, but details surrounding the exercises didn’t reach the public until after the Vietnam War. In fact, the information remained classified up to the 1990s, at which point a psychologist was given access to it.
The individual in question plied his trade at a veterans medical facility at the time, helping out soldiers who’d been to Vietnam. One day, though, he got hold of the files that detailed the Native American experiment. Incredibly, that information left a lasting impression on the psychologist, as we’re about to discover.
To explain more, the medical worker’s partner recalled what happened next via the Signs of The Times website. She was simply referred to as Sally, with the site changing her name to shield her “privacy.” And during the conversation, the woman also claimed that her husband wasn’t the only one to be affected by the documents.
Sally revealed, “I remember clearly an evening when my husband came back to our apartment on Doctor’s Circle carrying a thick, official-looking folder in his hands. Inside were hundreds of pages of certain studies commissioned by the government. He was in shock from the contents. What he read in those documents completely changed his life.”
“From that moment on my conservative, middle-of-the-road husband grew his hair and beard,” Sally added. “And [he] never cut them again. What is more, the VA Medical center let him do it, and other very conservative men in the staff followed his example.” Clearly, the story struck a chord with them.
In response, several online users shared their reaction to the story in the website’s comments section, discussing the findings. However, one of those messages really stood out from the rest. According to an individual posting under the name “Plain Tiger,” they went through some unique experiences when their hair was long.
The user wrote, “It was around the time I started growing my hair very long that I started to have lucid dreams and astrally project. At a certain point when I got older, the dreams seemed to diminish and almost cease at one point. I’m pretty sure it was around the time I started keeping my hair shorter.”
Those experiences tie back into some of the other beliefs that Native Americans have regarding their lengthy locks. As we suggested earlier, long hair carries a spiritual connotation within the communities, as proved by their reasoning to finally cut it. To shed a bit more light on that, a woman sat down to talk with the Vox website in May 2017.
Her name was Chelsey Luger, and she claimed that a person’s “spirit” was reflected through their hair. During her chat with Vox, she also reiterated that a Native American would only trim their locks in certain circumstances. So on that note, Luger provided an example from her childhood, when her sibling was battling cancer.
“That was the first time that I organically recognized and heard from my elders how much energy our hair carries, and how symbolic it is,” Luger recalled. “It’s an extension of us. When I saw that my sister had to lose hers, we’re sisters, we’re one and the same, and so I couldn’t let her lose that energy without giving some of mine.”
Meanwhile, Native Americans believe that shorter hair can cause other issues as well, which we’ll get into right now. In addition to the problems that their soldiers faced during the Vietnam War, they claim that trimmed follicles can play a part in “environmental degradation.” And their opinions don’t end there.
Indeed, it’s suggested that a Native American could experience relationship issues after they shorten their hair. And if that wasn’t enough, trimmed locks are also said to contribute to frustrations in the bedroom. So keeping that in mind, it’s not too difficult to understand why they might be reluctant to face the shave.