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

4 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This is one of the great volumes on fighting published since World War II and should be required reading for every staff officer as well as every combat officer of the arms which fight on the ground. It deserves a place among the really great volumes on combat and command".

Military Affairs

From the Back Cover

S. L. A. "Slam" Marshall was a veteran of World War I and a combat historian during World War II. He startled the military and civilian world in 1947 by announcing that, in an average infantry company, no more than one in four soldiers actually fired their weapons while in contact with the enemy. His contention was based on interviews he conducted immediately after combat in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II.

To remedy the gunfire imbalance he proposed changes to infantry training designed to ensure that American soldiers in future wars brought more fire upon the enemy. His studies during the Korean War showed that the ratio of fire had more than doubled since World War II.


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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: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #875,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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During World War II, S.L.A. Marshall was busily engaged in recording the history of the war and had developed a method of capturing data from soldiers within a short time of the conclusion of various battles. As he was doing this, he started realizing that there was a problem with our infantry and the way they were fighting the war. He pulled his thoughts together into this book and excerpts of it were also published as a series of essays that appeared in the "Infantry Journal" in 1947. The problem that he identified was that U.S. Infantry forces were not fighting as coherently as they should have been and consequently were either not winning battles fast enough, or were defeated unnecessarily.

While he called the book "Men Against Fire" the much better title for it is the subtitle of "the Problem of Battle Command." This book is really a call for action on how to train American infantrymen to fight the battle. The book starts out with Marshall's thoughts on why Infantry are the important elements of the Army at this time and likely to be so in the future as well. To put this in context, these words were written in the 1946 and 1947 when many military theorists were supposing that the Nuclear age had ushered in an era where Armies are no longer needed as sending over some bombers or missiles armed with nuclear warheads will finish things off. It is quite interesting to read his thoughts in 2012 as the U.S. is still engaged in Afghanistan and the U.S. Army is just completing a transition from a heavy mechanized force to one that is heavily Infantry-based! What is particularly interesting is that his arguments still resonate and were proven correct in many of the conflicts that took place in the intervening 65 years!
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