Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Do these words still apply?

Still applicable?

Part of Michael Yon's "Gates of Fire" ["Kurilla, though down and unable to move, was fighting and firing, yelling at the two young soldiers to get in there; but they hesitated. BamBamBamBam! Kurilla was in the open, but his judo roll had left him slightly to the side of the shop. I screamed to the young soldiers, “Throw a grenade in there!” but they were not attacking. “Throw a grenade in there!” They did not attack. “Give me a grenade!” They didn’t have grenades.] came to mind while I read this observation from 1947*
"To clear up this point, it is necessary to take a somewhat closer look at the average, normal man who is fitted into the uniform of an American ground soldier.

He is what his home, his religion, his schooling, and the moral code and ideals of his society have made him. The Army cannot unmake him. It must be reckon with the fact that he comes from a civilization in which aggression, connected with the taking of life, is prohibited and unacceptable. The teaching and the ideals of that civilization are against killing, against taking disadvantage. The fear of aggression has been expressed to him so strongly and absorbed by him so deeply and pervadingly - practically with his mother's milk - that it is part of the normal man's emotional make-up. This is his great handicap when he enters combat. It stays his trigger finger even though he is hardly conscious that it is a restraint upon him. Because it is an emotional and not intellectual handicap, it is not removable by intellectual reasoning such as 'Kill or be killed.'"

I know not whether the above applies to what Yon saw, but it did make me wonder - do those words still apply today? Is American culture less restrictive on the prohibition of violence than what Marshall once saw (violence in movies, video games, and rap lyrics, abortion, assisted suicide, etc) or is it more restrictive (banning any form of aggressive play in grade school, restrictions that fall under the rubric of "PC")?

*S.L.A. Marshall, Men Against Fire, p. 74, 1947


Blogger Inner Prop said...

I contend that it is more restrictive and that is one of the reasons that school shootings happen.

In our culture there is no "healthy" outlet for "violent" behavior therefore if you are going to break the taboo of non-violence it is immediately elevated to lethal force.

Still, the US armed forces tend to be better educated and by association, more gentile than the general populace so maybe you are correct in terms of the US service member. Additionally the US service member is now markedly more feminine in that there are females in active service now.

Lots of words for "maybe."

12:52 AM  
Blogger geekWithA.45 said...

The hallmark of decent men is that they resort to their fists last, only after all other honorable recourse has failed.

The benefit of living in a civilized, decent society is that the need to resort to the fist is few and far between.

The deficit of living in a civilized, decent society is that with so little experience with, and exposure to the raw, unmitigated world of "the law of the jungle" is that one becomes an alien to that world.

The well balanced man is capable of the full range of expression, and possesses the wisdom to know what and when.

Such qualities are not in abundance.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

"Not having grenades" is a symptom of not trusting the troops to actually handle grenades, not upbringing. I saw this 20 years ago in the US Army, and I guess nothing has changed.

While patrolling the DMZ in Korea, we were given a basic load of small arms ammunition (and had to account for it at the end of every patrol) but we were not given hand grenades. Pretty much because we were not trusted to handle them.

Our APC's had stored on them small arms and machine gun ammuntion, but no hand grenades. That, I was told, was because some one had stolen one (sometime in the 1970's) and had grenaded a bar downtown.

Remember, that solder from the 101st who fragged his officers did so with a grenade. I do not know, but I suspect, that after that incident, grenades were not issued to soldiers.

Come to think of it, the only video I've seen of anyone actually throwing handgrenades were Marines fighting in Fallujah.

People hesitating in combat isn't anything new. The granularity of Yon's account is something new. I'm not even sure Ernie Pyle (despite getting killed by a sniper) got as close to the fighting as Yon did that day.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Major John said...

Marshall would argue that wisdom has no time to react, as he stresses that emotion is the hang-up to firing when necessary.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Major John said...

BTW - grenades were available when I was in Afghanistan :)

7:55 AM  
Blogger Punditarian said...

Dear Major John, Although I respect GEN Marshall as a thinker and contributor to the discussion, the data upon which he based his conclusions have been challenged, and in fact some authors in the field have apparently noted the absence of any actual field records, and have gone so far as to claim that there are no real underlying for some of GEN Marshall's famous claims regarding the proportion of soldiers who actually fired a rifle in the enemy's direction.

That being said, his observations about the training that soldiers need when you take them out of a milieu in which conflict, aggression, and violence are unacceptable, are spot on.

Our opponents in the Ummah come from a milieu in which aggression and conflict, albeit often stylized conflict, are the expected and celebrated norms of masculine behavior.

We also need to think about what it means to grow up in a society where one's mother, sister, daughter, or aunt may have been brutally murdered by her own male kinsmen who determined she was a stain on their "honor." Men who come out of such a world may make soldiers very different than we make.

However, that doesn't necessarily make them any more effective. I think the experience of the IDF, whose members come out of a world in which violence and aggression are subdued, is that they are effective against armies whose members come from far more violent and aggressive milieux.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I am reminded of one of my favorite Usenet siglines:

To be civilized is to restrain the ability to commit mayhem.
To be incapable of committing mayhem is not the mark of the civilized,
merely the domesticated.
– Trefor Thomas

Our society is an odd mix of the barbarian, the civilized, and the domesticated.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Tantor said...

Some of SLA Marshall's conclusions have been sensationalist and of dubious accuracy. His claims that most soldiers did not fire their rifles in combat have been vigorously disputed by combat soldiers from WWII. Yet, some historical anecdotes tend to support his conclusions.

It appears that it's difficult to overcome the normal person's socialization against violence. In every small unit, there may be only one or two killers. The bulk of soldiers tend to organize themselves into horse holders or support.

For example, in the Civil War, oftimes a small unit would have one soldier who shot at the enemy while the rest would load muskets and pass them on to the shooter.

Civilians picking up muskets on the Gettysburg battlefield found that many of them were unfired and held multiple loads. Apparently, in the excitement, soldiers forgot they loaded their musket and loaded it again. And again. And again. But didn't fire it. One musket had twenty loads in it. That implies that some soldiers in the thick of battle did not fire their muskets but kept reloading them in a panic.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Dave Hardy said...

Training was, from what I understand,different in WWII (and the changes are largely due to Marshall's findings). Basically, small arms training then consisted of marksmanship firing against black vaguely humanoid paper targets. No sense giving anyone the idea that they may be shooting at people someday. I believe Marshall found that in WWII and Korea up to 90% of men failed to engage clearly visible enemies, and that with the changes, the rate of engagement is MUCH higher today.

With regard the civil war and Gettysburg, another explanation for the enormous number of multiple-loaded muskets found is that some were misfiring, their owners in a state of mind where they didn't notice (unable to hear in the din of thousands of men firing, and not noticing lack of recoil), and so just kept pulling the trigger and reloading.

(One 1864 study of some II Corps soldiers, II Corps having been badly shot up then, found that a third of men in the ranks had never fired their musket, even in practice. They'd trained in loading some with wooden substitutes for the cartridge, that was it. Their first round would be touched off in battle).

10:19 AM  
Blogger Major John said...

Punditarian and Tantor,

Note, I am only relaying this one passage. I don't feel the need to go into his statistics gathering (which he tried to use in support of his push for a training program "Train Fire" - which is obsolete at this time anyways).

12:05 PM  
Blogger Punditarian said...

Major John,

Fair enough. I think the passage you quoted is eloquent, but I'm not sure I believe it. You, however, would know better than I. I realize that every soldier is not going to be a Simo Hayha, but I wonder if understanding the reasons for which he fights (part of the "Gung Ho" program developed by COL Evans Carlson) and proficiency in the field as an outdoorsman and a hunter don't provide all you need. In reading about some of the exploits of some of the men who settled in the Ohio Valley during the Revolutionary War, I think it was their skills as hunters in the woods, rather than a predisposition to kill, that gave an advantage. But as I say, you know better than I, and if you think SLAM was right, I'll take your word for it.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Major John said...

I am not as much asserting as asking. I think the passage is useful in asking the question - but I do not have an answer either way.

9:53 PM  

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