- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Univ of Oklahoma Pr (1 September 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0806132809
- ISBN-13: 978-0806132808
- Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 1.4 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 299 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command Paperback – 1 Sep 2000
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"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
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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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!
Marshall's main prescriptions are that the way to train and treat the infantryman is to realize that he is human and that, as a human, he needs social clues and the understanding of groups to be able to operate. This is especially true in modern battlefield conditions where the infantryman who's been shot at, finds the nearest little scrap of cover and hides as much of himself as possible. The battlefield is empty as neither side shows themselves. So, why and where should he go? Who and how does he get direction from? Etc. These thoughts are the strongest parts of the book and as a veteran myself, these are the thoughts that ring the truest for me. Marshall has some very practical and eminently sensible suggestions on what the NCO's and officers should be doing in a battle. Those suggestions should be followed closely.
To make his point even stronger, Marshall cites a fantastic statistic. According to him, based on his research with veterans of many battles moments after the battles ended, most infantrymen do not fire their weapons. He actually claims that only about 15% of the infantrymen use their weapons and fire them. When I read this I was very skeptical as it did not seem right to me either logically, or based on my own experiences. To clarify this point, he relates this only to the individual riflemen and points out that and crew-served weapons did not display this problem. There is an introduction to this book that must have been written after Marshall's death as in it this problem is resolved. Marshall made up the statistic. It was never discussed or researched; it was simply made up as a way to shock the readers into paying attention. I suppose Marshall intended this as a pedagogical device, but I know that this one factor alone made me think twice about the rest of the contents of the book and still leaves a bit of a bitter flavor in my mouth - can I really believe what he says?
Leaving aside this problem, what else does Marshall discuss? Well, he suggests several different ways in which leaders need to behave to get action from their troops. Starting with training in more realistic conditions; communicating both front to back and laterally; Making sure that your words are sent along to all your soldiers and understood in the way that they were meant to be; communicating with adjacent units whether or not they are part of the larger unit that you belong to; communicating constantly and loudly; treating your soldiers like human beings; and much more is dealt with in the rest of this relatively slim volume.
If you are thinking of becoming a leader of troops who will become embroiled in a battle, or are already in such a position, this book is a must read. Even if you are not, but are interested in how to lead people, this book will help. I also found many other interesting little tidbits in it that still ring true even though we are almost 70 years removed from its writing. The only one that I will quote here goes like this: "There is something almost fatally quixotic about a nation which professes lofty ideals in its international undertakings and yet disdains to talk patriotism to its citizens, as if this were beneath its dignity." Those are words to remember in 2012, in the United States.
Marshall criticized 1940's doctrine as having adapting 20th century weapons to 18th century tactics and postulated that the most important factor in combat is the volume of lethal fire that can be directed onto the enemy. Thus all movement should be made with the intent of maximizing fire output. Logically, any troop refusing to fire at the enemy reduces the maximum achievable fire output. Marshall called the ratio of firers to non-firers, the Ratio of Fire. Marshall stated only 15 to 25 percent of individual infantry riflemen in close contact with the enemy would actually shoot unless compelled by an officer standing over them. Marshall felt the ratio of fire equation could be maximized by improving unit cohesion and by providing realistic training to educate soldiers on what physical and psychological conditions to expect on the battlefield.
Chapter 1, "The Illusion of Power," highlights the need to integrate infantry into strategic plans. Examples illustrate how shortages in infantry reserves nearly crippled operations in Europe after D-Day. In Chapter 2, "On Future War," Marshall makes a projection as to the nature of future international warfare and mutual destruction. Projections echo the Cold War, but fail thereafter. Modern counterinsurgency roles and pinpoint strike capabilities were beyond Marshall's comprehension.
In Chapter 3, "Man on the Battlefield," Marshall explores battlefield neurosis. Differences between Hollywood's romanticized versions of combat and reality are examined and convincing explanations are offered as to how this affects soldiers fulfilling responsibilities on the battlefield. Chapter 4, "Combat Isolation," offers a powerful description of the phenomenon of battlefield isolation, the psychological experience that occurs when soldiers lose sight contact of comrades while under fire, and its effect on fighting spirit.
In Chapter 5, "Ratio of Fire," Marshall explains the concept of Ratio of Fire... clearly leaving no room for debate as to the importance of maintaining a high ratio of fire. However, Marshall fails to provide any collaborating documentation anywhere in Men Against Fire, to include a single named witness, to substantiate his statistics. Chapter 6, "Fire as the Cure," advances a non-traditional idea that even non-firing soldiers fulfill useful battlefield functions by reducing isolation, maintaining momentum, and holding ground as non-firers are reportedly no more likely to give ground than firers. The presence of non-firers is still demoralizing to enemies.
Chapter 7, "The Multiples of Information," insightfully explores the confusion inherent in military communications. The importance of small unit communications is clearly defined and concise explanations are offered as to why communications laterally disintegrate. Chapter 8, "The Riddle of Command," then explores the relationship between intelligence flowing rearward, and logistics and orders flowing forward. Common obstacles preventing each level of the command structure from receiving critical information are explored.
Chapter 9, "Tactical Cohesion," masterfully describes the familiarization process by which units become experienced in functioning under battle conditions. Verbal communication is stressed as critical in close combat and building unit cohesion. Chapter 10, "Why Men Fight," strongly emphasizes verbal communication as the primary means of initiating action, maintaining discipline and controlling emotion.
Chapter 11, "The Aggressive Will," quantifies the fighting spirit and makes a strong connection between morale and the Army's willingness to provide for soldier welfare. Chapter 12, "Men Under Fire," illustrates how combat morale ebbs and flows. Adaptable leaders must fit the situation and still focus on responsibilities.
Chapter 13, "Footnote to History," stands alone and applauds the decision to chronicle the fighting line as weapons alone are valueless.
Men Against Fire is very insightful. I highly recommend it anyone wanting to comprehend the psychological factors affecting infantry in close combat. Ratio of fire was very controversial in 1947, as it is today. The Army examined the issue and other evidence existed to support Marshall. French Col. Ardant du Picq made similar observations in Battle Studies in 1870 and Civil War battles historically showed disproportionate numbers of misses. The Army made dramatic changes to its training doctrine, adapting Marshall's recommendations.
Modern evidence suggests that Marshall may have indeed invented the specific numbers quoted in his ratio of fire statistics to add credibility to his claim, though evidence suggests he did genuinely seem to believe that the ratio of fire issue was very real.