« A Surprise Romantic Cottage Garden - 1 | Main | Suite Antique »

Delanceyplace: Soldiers Are Reluctant To Kill

"Most soldiers are reluctant to fire their weapons when
confronted by the enemy,'' writes Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

During World War II, U.S. Army Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall asked the average
soldiers what it was that they did in battle. His singularly unexpected discovery
was that, of every hundred men along the line of fire during the period of an encounter,
an average of only 15 to 20 'would take any part with their weapons.' This was consistently
true 'whether the action was spread over a day, or two days or three.'

Marshall [and his team] based their findings on individual and mass interviews
with thousands of soldiers in more than four hundred infantry companies, in Europe
and in the Pacific, immediately after they had been in close combat with German
or Japanese troops. The results were consistently the same: only 15 to 20 percent
of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy.

... The question is why. ... [The answer] is the simple and demonstrable fact that
there is within most men an intense resistance to killing their fellow man. A resistance
so strong that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die before
they can overcome it. ...

There is ample supporting evidence to indicate that Marshall's observations are
applicable not only to U.S. soldiers or even to the soldiers on all sides in World
War II. Indeed, there are compelling data that indicate that this singular lack
of enthusiasm for killing one's fellow man has existed throughout military history.

Paddy Griffith estimates that the average musket fire from a Napoleonic or Civil
War regiment (usually numbering between two hundred and one thousand men) firing
at an exposed enemy regiment at an average range of thirty yards, would usually
result in hitting only one or two men per minute! Such firefights 'dragged on until
exhaustion set in or nightfall put an end to hostilities. Casualties mounted because
the contest went on so long, not because the fire was particularly deadly.'

Thus we see that the fire of the Napoleonic-and Civil War-era soldier was incredibly
ineffective. This does not represent a failure on the part of the weaponry. John
Keegan and Richard Holmes in their book Soldiers tell us of a Prussian experiment
in the late 1700s in which an infantry battalion fired smoothbore muskets at a target
one hundred feet long by six feet high, representing an enemy unit, which resulted
in 25 percent hits at 225 yards, 40 percent hits at 150 yards, and 60 percent hits
at 75 yards. This represented the potential killing power of such a unit. The reality
is demonstrated at the Battle of Belgrade in 1717, when 'two Imperial battalions
held their fire until their Turkish opponents were only thirty paces away, but
hit only thirty-two Turks when they fired and were promptly overwhelmed.'

Sometimes the fire was completely harmless, as Benjamin McIntyre observed in his
firsthand account of a totally bloodless nighttime firefight at Vicksburg in 1863.

It seems strange ...,' wrote McIntyre, that a company of men can fire volley after
volley at a like number of men over a distance of fifteen steps and not cause a
single casualty. Yet such was the facts in this instance.' The musketry of the black-powder
era was not always so ineffective, but over and over again the average comes out
to only one or two men hit per minute with musketry. ...

Muzzle-loading muskets could fire from one to five shots per minute, depending
on the skill of the operator and the state of the weapon. With a potential hit rate
of well over 50 percent at the average combat ranges of this era, the killing rate
should have been hundreds per minute, instead of one or two. The weak link between
the killing potential and the killing capability of these units was the soldier.

The simple fact is that when faced with a living, breathing opponent instead of
a target, a significant majority of the soldiers revert to a posturing mode in
which they fire over their enemy's heads.

Author: Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Title: On Killing
Publisher: Back Bay

Date: Copyright 1995, 1996, 2009 by David A. Grossman
Pages: 3-4, 16, 10-11
On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
by Dave Grossman by Back Bay Books
If you wish to read further: Buy Now http://www.delanceyplace.com/view_archives.php?1980

If you use the above link to purchase a book, delanceyplace proceeds from your
purchase will benefit a children's literacy project. All delanceyplace profits
are donated to charity.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.