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Enduring Battle: American Soldiers in Three Wars, 1776-1945 (Modern War Studies) Hardcover – April 7, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Hammer, assistant professor of history at George Mason University, addresses changes and continuities in how American infantrymen have been motivated to face battle in the Revolution, the Civil War, and WWII, as technology changed the nature of combat. His major contributions are a discounting of ideology as a motivator, and a significant modification of the group cohesion, or "band of brothers" thesis. Hammer makes a convincing case that across two centuries, while group cohesion, coercion, and the example of a group leader may have induced men into battle, modern technological warfare, with its dispersion of soldiers, required that the irrational abandonment of the instinct of self-preservation be turned into a rational act. Soldiers were taught that despite the chaos and randomness of battle, there was "a series of rational choices that could be mastered to some degree," and those choices could save their lives. In a series of provocative, illuminating chapters, Hammer demonstrates how training, leadership, weaponry, and comradeship each contribute to that sense of agency, which in turn contributes to combat effectiveness. (Apr.)
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"Hamner has created an American counterpart to John Keegan’s The Face of Battle. An excellent and valuable addition to the growing literature on combat motivation and the experience of soldiers in battle."—Peter R. Mansoor, author of The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions "Makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the soldier’s experience in combat and how that experience can change over time."—Peter S. Kindsvatter, author of American Soldiers: Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam "This is ‘long range’ history of a high, assured order."—Earl J. Hess, author of The Union Soldier in Battle
Top customer reviews
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Hamner attacks his subject through an exploration of the changing nature of infantry combat. His principal finding is that battle, at least for modern American infantry, has evolved from mass formations fighting a visible enemy to a seemingly empty battlefield in which troops are dispersed to avoid the much more lethal effects of modern weaponry. The principal impact of this evolution is to attenuate the seeming importance of visible comradship in getting troops to stay in the fight.
Hamner acknowledges continuities in the effects of fear on soldiers; what is new here is the increased need for training and psychological conditioning to build an individual soldier who operates as part of a task-oriented team but with a much greater need for autonomous tactical decision-making. Hamner offers some very interesting data on the different drivers of soldier bonding from the examples cited by Keegan.
Hamner may lack Keegan's well-known literary gifts; "Enduring Battle" is in places both dry and repetitious. However, Hamner more than compensates with a detailed, data-driven, clear-eyed look at a difficult and still very relevant subject. "Enduring Battle" is very highly recommended to both students and practitioners of the art of warfare.
This is a specialized academic work. However, it is easy to read and suitable and useful for the general reader.
Full disclosure: I know the author who is a good friend of my son.
In Enduring Battle, Hamner focuses on the individual infantry soldier instead of "band of brothers" groups, examining not only their experiences but their social organization as well. The evolution of infantry combat from mass formations fighting a visible enemy and soldiers in relative comfort side by side to a less crowded battlefield with troops dispersed either singly or in pairs in much less comfortable foxholes out of sight of each other. The important element of visual comradeship is lessened in this combat environment and increases the fear factor, which is a continuum throughout the book. More visibility increases the chances of troops staying in the fight while modern weaponry dictates less visibility/vulnerability and survival on the battlefield. It is quite a dilemma and still a concern on the modern battlefield.
Hamner's book is highly recommended to students of warfare and those who practice the art.