Are Most Soldiers Reluctant to Kill?

John Horgan looks back at some earlier research:

Surveys of WWII infantrymen carried out by U.S. Army Brig. Gen. S.L.A. Marshall found that only 15 to 20 percent had fired their weapons in combat, even when ordered to do so. Marshall concluded that most soldiers avoid firing at the enemy because they fear killing as well as being killed. “The average and healthy individual,” Marshall contended in his postwar book Men Against Fire, “has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility. … At the vital point he becomes a conscientious objector.”
Critics have challenged Marshall’s claims, but the U.S. military took them so seriously that it revamped its training to boost firing rates in subsequent wars, according to Dave Grossman, a former U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and professor of psychology at West Point. In his 1995 book On Killing, Grossman argues that Marshall’s results have been corroborated by reports from World War I, the American Civil War, the Napoleonic wars and other conflicts. “The singular lack of enthusiasm for killing one’s fellow man has existed throughout military history,” Grossman asserts.

Category: Observations

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