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Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command Paperback – September 15, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806132809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806132808
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #266,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

S. L. A. Marshall served in World War I and then embarked in a career in journalism. In World War II, he was chief combat historian in the Central Pacific (1943) and chief historian for the European Theater of Operations (1945). He is the author of World War I, Blitzkrieg, Armies on Wheels, The River and the Gauntlet, and Pork Chop Hill.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Canellis on January 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
First published in 1947, S.L.A. Marshall's "Men Against Fire" argues that in spite of long-range nuclear weapons, the next war of nations will not be a push-button war. Rather, individuals engaging each other on the battlefield will again provide the mainstay of a total war even more destructive than World War II. Obviously, Marshall did not foresee the advent of limited wars in Korea and Vietnam just around the corner. Nevertheless, Marshall poses some thought provoking questions of Americans in combat. In a highly controversial claim based on questionable research, Marshall concludes that in World War II, only one-in-four soldiers fired his rifle in combat. Marshall claims to have "personally" conducted mass interviews with approximately 400 infantry companies in the Central Pacific and European Theaters immediately following important battles (If you are doing the Arithmetic, approx. 200 men per company x 400 companies, you're getting the idea!). Not one platoon, company, or battalion commander, argues Marshall, was aware that only twenty-five percent of soldiers engaged in combat fired their weapons. As a result of his findings, Marshall then campaigned for the need of new training methods for infantry soldiers. He stressed, this individual training should be based on long-term psychological camaraderie, not the quick turnover replacement system that was utilized during World War II. Marshall's un-refuted claims (until recently) have influenced a generation of military historians including T.R. Fehrenbach and Russell F. Weigley. Marshall is quick to point out that the alleged seventy-five percent of those who did not shoot were not shirkers or meanderers. These men were on the front line with their assigned units and often performed other essential tasks relating to combat duty.Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D.S.Thurlow TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
S.L.A. Marshall spent a lifetime writing in and about the U.S. Army in conflicts from the First World War to Vietnam. A journalist by trade, he had some success as a historian writing between the wars he witnessed. His 1947 book "Men Against Fire" contained the controversial conclusion that some 75% of soldiers on the battlefield failed to engage the enemy in any given fight. He attributed this failing to fear, a sense of isolation on the dispersed modern battlefield, and a lack of leadership.

Marshall's conclusions have since been challenged on the basis of a suspect methodology, but he may have put his finger on a real problem. The individual replacement system in use in the Second World War and Vietnam had an unfortunate tendency to place new soldiers into units already on the fighting line. Many of these soldiers were undertrained and had little opportunity to be integrated into their units, let alone to get to know and trust their leadership. Add to this situation the normal fear and stress of combat, and you might get soldiers that failed to engage the enemy in a useful manner.

Marshall's recommendations are commonsensical and have long since been integrated into Army practice. Military units do best when they train long and hard under the same leadership that will take them into combat. Recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan bear this out. "Men Against Fire" is recommended as an historical mark on the wall on the Army's eternal struggle to field trained, ready, and effective combat units.
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29 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
I love this book. I've quoted it in articles and still recommend it to anyone currently in Army leadership training, especially PLDC or OCS. It's on my shelf with Keegan's "Face of Battle" and Grossman's "On Killing."
The criticisms of Marshall are entirely baseless. One example: a critic here claims that in the 1970s, veterans retiring from service disagreed with Marshall, claiming that his statements about low rates of fire in WII ("only 15-25% of riflemen actually fired their rifles in combat") MUST be untrue, because... well, because the rate was over 90% in Vietnam (which is the conflict a soldier would have retired from in the 1970s). None of these critics seem to notice that they were the beneficiaries of a training system based on Marshall's book, precisely designed to raise their rates of fire!
The Army applied the lessons Marshall wrote down, and the result was exactly what Marshall predicted.
His observations seem commonsense, but we have to remember that WWII began with a US Army completely unprepared for modern combat. They were still making some things up as they went.
An example of his findings: four men in the dark, who stay in communication and coordinate their weapons, will not panic as often as four men in daylight who make no effort at teamwork. You can prove this to yourself playing paintball. In fact, there is no better predictor of small-unit success.
As for the supposed "lies," such as not being present at D-Day: these are based on flimsy paper evidence ("floaters" like Marshall can often out-travel their paperwork), as well as personal attacks (I'm thinking specifically of Col.
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