The idea that soldiers are loathe to kill in battle – that they shot to miss in the Civil War, that only 15% of Americans riflemen in WWII ever used their weapons, etc – reminds me of the young lady (a graduate student in anthropology) who suggested that male dogs do in fact help take care of puppies, but nobody had ever noticed this over the past few thousand years.
If it had actually existed, low fire ratio would have been the tactical issue.
Imagine that the vast majority of soldiers just couldn’t bring themselves to kill. Every low-level commander – every sergeant, every lieutenant, every centurion – would have noticed this, and they wouldn’t have liked it. I have to think that experienced commanders would have noticed it as well. They would have complained about it, and raising that 15% figure would have been the key objective of military training. Do you think that Hannibal, or Frederick the Great, or Napoleon would have put up with empathy in the ranks? I don’t think so. Do you think Marine commanders at Guadalcanal would have shrugged aside a 15% fire ratio, on the grounds that jarheads are just that way? Would commanders have managed to censor every account of close combat in a way that seamlessly removed all mention of this crucial problem? I’ve read plenty of personal accounts of war – somehow all leave out the bit about the majority of soldiers refusing to kill. They mention different feelings – for example:
“I turned to see a Jap racing across in front of the bunker, a sword flourished above his head. He was going like Jesse Owens, screaming his head off, right across my front; I just had sense enough to take a split second, traversing my aim before I fired; he gave a convulsive leap, and I felt that jolt of delight – I’d hit the bastard! – and as he fell on all fours the Highland officer with whom I’d played football dived on him from behind, slashing at his head with a kukri.”
Sure, they were both Scotsmen, but I think this is not far from the military norm.
The illustration of pike mercenaries is by Holbein. You might enjoy reading about the battle of St. Jacob an der Birs, where 1500 Swiss pikemen saw 20,000 French troops across the river. They charged, which was their way of expressing the natural human disinclination to kill in battle.