Bad War

Bad war

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.


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119 Responses to Bad War

  1. j says:

    Rufst du, mein Vaterland
    Sieh uns mit Herz und Hand,
    All dir geweiht
    Heil dir, Helvetia!
    Hast noch der Söhne ja,
    Wie sie Sankt Jakob sah,
    Freudvoll zum Streit!

    When you call, my Fatherland,
    see us, with hand and heart
    all dedicated to you.
    Hail unto you, Helvetia!
    Who still hast such sons
    as Saint Jacob saw them,
    going to battle joyously!

    Old Swiss Anthem. And the Swiss are the most peaceful people in Europe, had not started a war in say 500 years. The French hymn is decidedly blood-thirsty. If the young Europeans joining the ISIS have a message, it is that Europe is starving for a good fight.

    • Peter Lund says:

      They’ve been providing mercenaries to the rest of Europe for a very long time. They still do to the Vatican.

    • John Hostetler says:

      How many of these ‘young Europeans’ are 50/40/10 for WHG/EEF/ANA?

      More like MEF coming home to roost.

      Hope I live to see the day that starvation ends for the 50/40/10.

  2. MawBTS says:

    Even if people did have an instinct against killing, 85% of rifles unfired would be bizarre. Shooting has all sorts of uses apart from killing people – laying down suppressing fire, restricting the enemy’s movements, puncturing tires on vehicles.

    Surely you’d let loose a three round burst every now and then just for appearance’s sake.

    • Isegoria says:

      Going into WWII, American infantry were not trained to use rifles for suppression. The M1 was a precision weapon with no precision targets in the hedgerows of Normandy.

      • gcochran9 says:

        True. We would have done better with assault rifles. In general, American infantry weapons weren’t as effective as German ones: their machine guns, the Panzerfaust, etc.

        But let me lay it on the line: no one familiar with the history of war could ever have taken S. L. A. Marshall or Grossman seriously. No one.

        • Isegoria says:

          The piece I just cited, by Gen. DePuy, itself cited S.L.A. Marshall.

        • Patrick Boyle says:

          Lt. Col Grossman interviewed a lot of soldiers and found that they felt guilty about killing. Yet we have a rich literature of warriors who in battle get ‘Sword Fever’. They are exhilarated by killing. What goes?

          There is a paper by Moran, Weierstal and Elbert that presents a theory of what they call Reactive versus Appetitive aggression that shows that their are different sub-cortical neural structures that support two distinct types of aggression. In one type men (and other animals apparently like cats) display a host of flight-fright-fight reactions and in the other type they don’t. Rather they get or learn to be exhilarated by the opportunity to kill. They find it pleasurable.

          Read their paper for yourself. They claim that these two varieties if violence are quite distinct. They have brain imaging evidence. It looks convincing.

          ‘Differences in brain circuitry for appetitive and reactive aggression as revealed by realistic auditory scripts’. It is on the web with no pay wall.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Applying a weight of zero to pretty much everything Grossman says seems appropriate

          • Mortimer says:

            Its perfectly possible to enjoy killing while also feeling guilty about it – the two are not exclusive at all. I’m not in the least surprised that many soldiers from liberal democracies profess guilt at killing, but I would never conclude from that they they didn’t do it or didn’t derive pleasure from it and do it with gusto.

            Besides, what you’re “supposed to say” and what you actually do and feel are miles apart anyways – how many of us would openly admit to enjoying war and bloodshed even if we did? I’m betting few.

      • Campesino says:

        The US Army up through WWII had itself convinced that if individual riflemen were given a rifle that would allow them to fire rounds at a high rate they would quickly fire off all their ammunition and cause supply problems. So the M1 is semiautomatic but with only an 8 round capacity. The M1918 BAR was supposed to fill the gap but didn’t.

        That finally started to break down with addition of the M3 grease gun (30 rounds) and the M1 carbine (15 rounds)

  3. MawBTS says:

    if u liek Swiss pikemen, here’s something a friend once wrote.


    blockquote>THE BATTLE OF SEMPACH: about 1500 Swiss pikemen were faced by four times their number of Austrian knights. Realizing from earlier battles that the Swiss pike phalanx was dominant over knights, the Austrians dismounted and marched into combat as infantry, using their lances as spears. The Swiss were more lightly-armored, but more ferocious. For a time, the two sides simply pushed back and forth at each other with their 5-7 meter (!) long pikes. Then, the heroic Switzer, Arnold Winkelreid, dropped his pike and reached out to gather as many Austrian pikes into his arms as he could. He, of course, almost instantly died, with a dozen or more pikes buried in his chest. But this created a gap in the Austrian ranks which the Swiss immediately exploited. As the Austrian columns split and tried to react, other gaps appeared. The Swiss broke the Austrian line, and decisively crushed the Austrian army. This was THE deciding battle of the war. A short time thereafter, the Hapsburgs recognized Swiss independence, ending a century of warfare. One fighting man achieved victory in the battle for his entire side, and through that victory, bought freedom for his entire nation.

    • The swiss pike phalanx goes all the way back to Alexander the Great. He didn’t lose with this military strategy but met his match down India way when they barely won a battle against a charge of drunken battle elephants. Elephants are skittish so they were given a big bowl of red wine before battle to reduce this tendency. They were never cleaned up so it looked for all the world like they had been drinking blood. After barely winning one battle against these huge and horrible blood drinking beasts the army of Alexander basically told their commander no more, we are going home. The war elephant never became a highly exploited military weapon not because they couldn’t be exported up to Macedonia and the rest of Europe, but because of their skittishness. The perfect strategy to turn a charge of battle elephants right back into the army it came from was to light oiled and highly flammable pigs on fire and to release these squealing burning animals underneath the feet of the charging elephants. honest injun.

      • Toad says:

        barely won a battle…
        After barely winning one battle

        Battle of the Hydaspes
        Casualties and losses:
        Macedonia: 80-700 infantry, 230 cavalry
        Paurava: 20,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry

        Note, 25 to 1 loss ratio.

        Plutarch 62.1:
        For having found it hard enough to defeat an enemy who brought but twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse into the field,
        Note, number of elephants not mentioned.

        Elephants trample troops on their own side:
        The beasts being now cooped up into a narrow space, their friends were no less injured by them than their foes, being trampled down in their wheeling and pushing about.

  4. Jus' Sayin'... says:

    As further evidence of your position, the British military historian, John Keegan, in his ground-breaking study of combat, The Face of War, spends a chapter describing how difficult a process surrender is for individuals or small groups of soldiers. Apparently, once the blood lust is aroused it is very difficult to control.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I’ve read some of Keegan’s work. I think it was lousy. He gets basic facts wrong, among other things.

      • Jus' Sayin'... says:

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.

        • gcochran9 says:

          You have to agree with me that he got basic facts wrong. In The Price of Admiralty, he has the Nautilus finishing off a Japanese carrier at Midway – which never happened. One torpedo failed to run, two ran erratically, and the fourth was a dud that broke apart, with the flask acting as a life preserver for some Japanese sailors.

          I remember Keegan, in 2003, saying that that the Iraqis should have put Republican Guard units out in the South to “blunt” American forces. Consider Medina Ridge, back in the Gulf War: a straight-up battle between an American and an Iraqi tank brigade at Medina Ridge destroyed all the Iraqi armored vehicles in two hours at the cost of 1 American KIA. Two hours. Then extrapolate to 2003, assume that JDAMS hit 70% of the time, with no real countermeasures available to the other side. Out in the open, Iraqi armored units would have vanished like the morning dew. Really, Keegan had no clue.

          Judging from the reviews, Intelligence in War is far worse. Keegan argued that luck was the key to the US victory at Midway, rather than cracking the Japanese codes. He’s wrong.

          • Jus' Sayin'... says:

            Okay! I concede on the torpedoes and Republcan Guard. It’s been a long time since I skimmed through Intelligence in War and I wasn’t all that impressed but I can reconstruct Keegan’s point about Midway from my memory of how that battle played out. The US STRATEGY at Midway was definitely based on knowing the Japanese plan from cracked naval codes. The TACTICS that actually sank the Jap carriers were successful in good part because of a streak of luck. The biggest piece of luck was that US dive bombers happened to strike the Jap carriers just as they were in the midst of refueling and re-arming their planes. I cannot remember the exact circumstances behind this (part was due to Jap indecision about how to arm their planes, i.e., for land or sea operations) but that combined with lack of fire control measures on the part of the Japs doomed their fleet. Another piece of luck was the timing between the US torpedo plane attacks and the later bomber attacks. The incredibly heroic sacrifice of the torpedo plane crews helped add to the confusion on the Jap carrier decks when the dive bomber attacks occurred.

            • gcochran9 says:

              Of course luck played a role. We had a flurry of unsuccessful air strikes from Midway – they did no direct damage, but they were distracting as hell, slowed the Japanese down, and left Japanese CAP in bad position when the dive bombers showed up. All those attacks were possible because Nimitz knew in advance,and had crammed in as many aircraft as Midway could hold – knew the day, the hour, and the order of battle. You really want to load the dice before you throw them.

              Perhaps the biggest piece of luck was the fact that the scout plane from the Tone , the one that would eventually detect the American fleet, was late in launching.

  5. Jim says:

    Surrender doesn’t necessarily save your ass. Execution of prisoners is routine in war. This despite the “relunctance” to kill. Also according to Rudolph Rummel the total number of unarmed non-combatants slaughtered in war exceeds over the historical record the total number of combatants killed. Humans may have some inhibition against killing other members of their own society but they exhibit little hesitation about killing members of others societies.

  6. Isegoria says:

    Again, I’ve been reading Grossman’s work — not On Killing, but Defeating the Enemy’s Will and other essays — and excerpting it on my own blog recently, and it mischaracterizes Grossman’s argument to say soldiers are loathe to kill in battle and then leave it at that.

    If you read what he writes, he’s describing when and how soldiers will kill, as well as when they won’t. They will kill if they’re on display — firing a crew-served machine-gun, for instance, or when the sergeant’s at their shoulder — and they will kill if the enemy is sufficiently foreign, or running away, etc. Those are examples he explicitly brings up in his own writing.

    I think reluctance to kill is only a small part of the phenomena he’s trying to explain — at least compared to reluctance to get killed — but he does bring up the conspicuous bravery of soldiers in nonviolent roles — running into fire to retrieve wounded comrades, etc.

    • gcochran9 says:

      He’s full of shit. He’s perfectly willing to lean on ‘facts’ like S.L.A. Marshall’s claims of low fire ratio, known to be false by anyone that ever checked it out. Or that nonsense about multiply loaded Civil War muskets being a way of avoiding shooting the enemy.

      He also seems to think that things like violent video games contribute to rising rates of murder – except, of course, murder rates are declining. He seems to specialize in explaining stuff that never even happened.

      What we need to explain is not low fire ratio, which does not exist, but why so many people swallow such nonsense and reward those who originate it. Grossman was teaching at West Point when he should have been eating out of garbage cans.

      • Isegoria says:

        I’m pleased to see that you went back and edited your reply to continue on beyond that first sentence.

        I’m assuming Grossman encountered S.L.A. Marshall’s work before it was cast into doubt. It was taken seriously for decades, after all.

        He was wrong about video games, and I never believed his hypothesis about them, but it wasn’t ludicrous.

        If you don’t believe in a S.L.A. Marshall’s low fire ratio, or the notion that riflemen won’t shoot much of the time, you’re still left with other observations. For instance, Paddy Griffith (Battle Tactics of the Civil War) found musket fire oddly ineffective:

        Even in the noted “slaughter pens” at Bloody Lane, Marye’s Heights, Kennesaw, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor an attacking unit could not only come very close to the defending line, but it could also stay there for hours — and indeed for days — at a time. Civil war musketry did not therefore possess the power to kill large numbers of men, even in very dense formations, at long range. At short range it could and did kill large numbers, but not very quickly.

        Combat casualties don’t match non-combat estimates:

        Griffith estimates that the average musket fire from a Napoleonic or Civil War regiment firing at an exposed enemy regiment at an average range of 30 yards would usually result in hitting only one or two men per minute! Such firefights “dragged on until exhaustion set in or nightfall put an end to hostilities. Casualties mounted because the contest went on so long, not because the fire was particularly deadly.”

        This does not represent a failure on the part of the weaponry. John Keegan and Richard Holmes in their book, Soldiers, tell of a Prussian experiment in the late 1700’s, “in which a battalion of infantry fired [smoothbore muskets] at a target one hundred feet long by six feet high, representing an enemy unit, resulted in 25 percent hits at 225 yards, 40 percent hits at 150 yards, and 60 percent hits at 75 yards.” This represented the potential killing power of such a unit. The reality is demonstrated in their account of the battle of Belgrade in 1717, during which “two Imperial battalions held their fire until their Turkish opponents were only thirty paces away, but hit only thirty-two Turks when they fired and were promptly overwhelmed.” Sometimes the fire was completely harmless, as in Benjamin McIntryre’s observation of a totally bloodless nighttime firefight at Vicksburg in 1863:

        It seems strange however that a company of men can fire volley after volley at a like number of men at not over a distance of fifteen steps and not cause a single casualty. Yet such was [sic] the facts in this instance.

        (Cannon fire, like machine-gun fire in WWII, is an entirely different matter, sometimes accounting for over 50 percent of the casualties of the black powder battlefield, and artillery fire has consistently accounted for the majority of combat casualties in this century. There is reason to believe that this is as much due to the enhanced psychological effectiveness of these systems — due to group accountability processes at work in a cannon, machine gun, or other crew-served weapons firing — as it is to their increased mechanical killing potential, i.e., their contribution to what artillery officers like to call the “metal density of the air.” This critical point will be addressed in detail later.)

        • gcochran9 says:

          Paddy Griffiths is full of it too. Sheesh, I know more about the Civil War than he does. Possibly more about everything: if he thinks that the effective range of a Brown Bess musket was 200 yards, he must be retarded. The idea that entrenchments weren’t useful in the Civil War – utter rot. By late 1864, properly entrenched troops could hold off six times their numbers, which is why the campaign around Richmond turned into a siege, why they tried stuff like the Crater, etc.

          Come to think of it, I know a LOT more about the Civil War than Griffith does.

          There have been tens of thousands of books written about the Civil War. Grossman managed to find a stupid one: what an accomplishment.

          • Patrick Boyle says:

            I think these phenomena are related. When a subject has been thoroughly researched and every possible angle has been the subject of several books – what is the poor would be author to do? The answer – write rot. Write something stupid about some stupid notion.

            Last year I read a book on rifled muskets in the Civil War. The author seemed to believe that the trajectories of smoothbores were always straight and flat unlike the rifled ones which were subject to gravity and curved.

            By the way Holbein in your illustration suffers the same sort of fallacy. Real pikes and sarissas droop a little. I made one a few years ago and it had quite an arc. The short ones the Swiss Guard and the recreators use also droop. Holbein was simplifying his draftsmanship with all those perfectly straight poles.

            Pikes work well against naïve opponents. Flaminius showed the Greeks at Cynoscephalae their weaknesses and they went out of style for more than a millennium. They are vulnerable to rear attack, maneuver on broken ground, and missile attack.

      • Campesino says:

        Or that nonsense about multiply loaded Civil War muskets being a way of avoiding shooting the enemy.


        I have heard these stories as well, but always saw it portrayed as emblematic of soldiers distracted/disoriented by the noise and frenzy of combat, not as a way of avoiding shooting

    • pyrrhus says:

      I spent about half an hour last year interviewing a 92 yo who had been part of Merrill’s Marauders. He was an engineer who had never fired his weapon in earnest before the first (and apparently only) major battle with the Japanese. One Japanese soldier broke through and our friend was out of ammo (5 shot clip), so he used his knife, and managed to kill the guy. He regrets it to this day, and has no dislike at all for the Japanese, but it was a survival thing, he explained.

  7. Cpluskx says:

    In Gallipoli/Turkey there are many fused bullets that hit each other in mid-air from WW1. I am not a military expert but i think this would be more likely if lots of soldiers were firing at each other at close range rather than not firing or firing up in the air.
    More intelligent people don’t like physical violence. They probably usually interact with other non-violent intelligent people too. Maybe because of this they think that the average guy must be like them, with low tendency to violence.

    • Patrick Boyle says:

      The idea that more intelligent people don’t like physical violence is manifestly wrong. Or in Dr. Cochran’s colorful parlance – “You are full of shit”.

      No people were more bloody than the Japanese in China and Manchuria yet according to Lynn and Vanhanen they are second only to Koreans in national IQ. On the other side of the Asian supercontinent the Vikings and other Norse practiced the ‘Blood Eagle’. Yet today both peoples in their homelands or in America have very, very low rates of violent crime. Nordics are quite non-violent in America and do well in the public schools.

      Advanced northern races seem to be just as violent as tropical savages but they seem to be able to ‘turn if off’ when circumstances change – something the peoples of New Guinea or sub-Saharan Africa don’t seem to be able to do. My personal hypothesis is that this has something to do with MAOA. But I would like Dr. Cochran or Dr. Harpending’s ideas on this issue.

  8. “I think this is not far from the military norm.”

    I know you do, Greg. And I’m not unsympathetic to your position; I doubt I would have any difficulty myself killing in a wartime situation, so that tends to make my default notion the same as yours. Yet, a few examples showing that some people, under older circumstances, didn’t have much squeamishness themselves doesn’t tell us even how typical these attitudes were then, let alone later on.

    Remember, part of the idea behind claims of a low fire ratio is that soldiers were able to pretend to kill. This is not really feasible in hand-to-hand combat, or even in giant groups of archers which loose visible arrows. But it is definitely possible within, for instance, a firing squad; why line up multiple soldiers with blanks when only one man with loaded gun will do? Members of firing squads wrote things like “I had the satisfaction of knowing that as soon as I fired, the absence of any recoil… I had merely fired a blank cartridge.” (see ) At least some people do claim to experience inhibitions about shooting to kill.

    So your conclusion is just not well supported. And frankly, I have no idea why you even need to have a conclusion, or want anyone else to share it. We don’t know how many soldiers tried to miss or pretended not to fire in any given conflict. Definitely fewer than 100%, or pretending would no longer work, but probably not 0% as well. If I had to guess, I’d say the typical percentage of fakers was low; something like 5%. But that’s all it is – a lot of discussion about personal guesses.

    • gcochran9 says:

      There’s a thing called history. Try reading it.

      • The darndest thing is that when I do, I never find any mention of percentages of people shooting guns.

        • Sean II says:

          Then give current events a shot…er, so to speak Everyone seems convinced we have this big huge problem with cops being too eager on the trigger. No one’s complaining much about non-firers in that profession.

          Now I know what you’re thinking: did I fire six shots, or did self-selection just wash out all the non-firers. Well, to go from 85% down to near 0%, it’d have to be the most powerful self-selection ever made, so I guess you have to ask yourself one question…

        • gcochran9 says:

          In reading about Frederick William I of Prussia and his son Frederick the Great, I am led to understand that they put great emphasis on drill, part of which was aimed at increasing the firing rate. Each soldier was expected to fire six times in a minute, three times as fast as most armies. A lot of time and effort was spent on this.

          Maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture, but it seems to me that much of the effect is lost if the soldiers don’t actually fire.

        • setstamov says:

          Do you find any mention of percentages of military casualties in battles? Any idea how did they die exactly, if not shut? Was it distress? Anxiety? Collective suicides?
          During second world war, Germany lost 8 millions of soldiers and Soviets lost at least 25. What do history books say about these mysterious deaths? Did they die from old age or something, or some epidemics that coincided with the war?
          And what about the artillery troops, did they fake it as well? I mean, shooting empty shells or fake grenades etc?
          Human domestication is a lengthy process and still has some way to go. I suppose convincing the animal that killing is not in his nature is part of the taming.

  9. simontmn says:

    “I looked up from where I was and there was two Germans coming up a pretty steep hill. They were reminding me of turkeys the way they were sticking their heads out looking this way and that way and looking the other way. One of ‘em was right in my rifle sights and I thought “Well, I don’t care anything about shooting him. There’re just two of ‘em.” And I didn’t, but directly somebody else saw and you never heard as much shooting going on in your life. They hit one of the scouts for the Germans and knocked him up against a tree and the other one took off down that hill. I bet they shot ten thousand rounds of ammunition at him and never did touch him. That other one was laying over there under the tree and an old boy got up and walked over there – he was crying and moaning and carrying on. He walked over there and just took his gun and shot him.”

    From my grandfather in law’s oral history, para 79 at
    This kind of tale seems pretty typical to me for the war in western Europe. All indications are that there was no such hesitation in the Pacific war.

  10. Campesino says:

    “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.”


    Enjoy this quote from “Quartered Safe Out Here” one of my faves. I just re-read it over Christmas after your book recommendations post reminded me of it.

  11. Greying Wanderer says:

    1) If ease of killing is partly genetic (like everything else) then it will have a frequency and that frequency can go up and down among different populations depending on the selection pressure so what was true for certain populations or the same population at different times doesn’t have to be true for other populations or at other times.

    2) “If it had actually existed, low fire ratio would have been the tactical issue.”

    Since when can most people hit a target at 300 yards anyway? One of the advantages of spray and pray is you don’t need people to actually shoot straight. People can fire without aiming – and miss – and it makes no difference as they couldn’t hit something they aimed at anyway. The same half dozen calm guys doing all the aiming are the ones doing all the killing either way.

    3) “Imagine that the vast majority of soldiers just couldn’t bring themselves to kill.”

    It’s not the vast majority of soldiers though. The vast majority of soldiers / warriors throughout history were self-selected so the soldiers throughout most of history could have been 95% easy killers regardless of the base frequency among the rest of the population. It only becomes an issue when you have citizen soldiers which historically: Greeks, early Romans, Macedonians, Flemish, Swiss etc correlates with massive shields or massive pikes – funny that.

    4) “Frederick the Great, or Napoleon would have put up with empathy in the ranks?”

    If they’re all bunched up together directly under the eye of their NCOs and officers with the sort of discipline punishments available during the black powder era then I’m sure nearly all of them would fire – even if most of them had their eyes closed.

    5) “I’ve read plenty of personal accounts of war – somehow all leave out the bit about the majority of soldiers refusing to kill.”

    The people who find war a sport would be having too much fun to notice most of their comrades have their eyes shut.

    6) “Sure, they were both Scotsmen, but I think this is not far from the military norm.”

    Well that’s where you’re going wrong. Scottish regiments like bayonet charges. How many references are there in military history going back to Alexander the Great that mention hill tribes as being especially fierce? (aka higher frequency of easy killers)

    7) “The illustration of pike mercenaries is by Holbein”

    Warrior elite, raiders, legionaries, mercenaries = self-selected easy killers.


    8) “The idea that soldiers are loathe to kill in battle”

    There’s two parts to this imo: loathe to kill and loathe to be killed, and the two are being jumbled up.

    The loathe to be killed part is (imo) why both hoplon shields were so big and why civil war troops fired high and anyone can test part of that for themselves – just stand aiming or pretending to aim a rifle and then scrunch your head right down – what happens to the barrel? Your left arm goes up automatically so you’ll mostly fire high – even more so in a trench / foxhole and even more if your eyes are closed.

    The loathe to kill part is a separate thing.

  12. Campesino says:

    Though I was in the US Army Reserve I never served in combat and cannot speak to this topic from first-hand experience.

    My father did serve in the Korean War, dangerous front-line duty as an artillery forward observer with the Second Infantry Division. He has told me that the most dangerous thing he saw there was the typical 19 or 20 year-old American infantryman. Once the kids realized that they had the sanction to kill and destroy (he called it “getting a taste of blood”) they took delight in taking any opportunity to shoot or blow up anything that could possibly be interpreted or misinterpreted as a threat. That included domesticated animals, random civilians, not to mention actual enemies. They really enjoyed the killing and destruction.

    That was a United Nations war, so battalions of troops from other countries served in the line with his division. My father got to spend significant amounts of time as an FO attached to Korean, French, Thai, and Turkish units. He said that none of the troops from the other countries ever seemed to display the pure love of destruction and mayhem he saw in American troops. The only exception to that was the Turks, whom he said considered rifles for sissies, and preferred knife fighting. He said they would build fires near the edge of the battle zone at night, pretend to be asleep around the fire in hopes of luring Chinese over for hand to hand combat.

    He also told me that he and his fellow FOs would call in fire missions to blow up abandoned villages for the “fun” of just blowing things up, claiming they’d seen Chinese troops there. Of course that’s not quite the same thing as being afraid or not afraid to fire your rifle.

  13. Greying Wanderer says:

    I can tell you how you could test for it as well.

    1) Get a beef carcass and hang it from the ceiling.
    2) Put a bunch of posters of smiley, friendly cartoon cows on the wall behind.
    3) Place a metal table by the carcass with an as nasty looking as possible combat knife on it
    4) Get a load of students and ask them one at a time to go to the table, pick the knife up and stab the carcass with it.

    The results you’d get would be
    1) A lot of the girls won’t be able to pick the knife up at all
    2) Most of the rest will prod at the carcass with varying degrees of reluctance
    3) A few will plant their feet and twist their hips to get max torgue and drive it right in – and when they turn back round they’ll have a big grin on their face cos killing makes them high
    4) A few will do the same but won’t be grinning when they turn back round. They can do it but it doesn’t make them high. Most of those will end up in the military or police at some point in their life. The ones like that who don’t end up in the military for whatever reason will read a lot of military history and think their ability to handle violence (psychologically) is normal.

    • Sean II says:

      Major flaw in your experiment: cows are more sympathetic than humans.

    • Bill says:

      No offense, but this sounds like a terrible experiment that doesn’t test for anything remotely resembling wartime behavior in battle situations.

      Women on farms handle animal carcasses and large cuts of meat. Even housewives that cook lots of meat at home have to handle cuts of meat that are bloody and resemble the animal. If you’ve ever cleaned a turkey before cooking it, you know how it feels like skin and looks the animal and there’s blood and you can touch and feel the severed neck, etc. However, I don’t think housewives would necessarily make ruthless, efficient soldiers in the heat of battle as a result of such “training”.

    • Yuri Glesner says:

      This is a poor idea for reasons others have stated, but about this idea that people have wide variance in some automatic reflex and sick feelings towards “violence”: what do people think this “instinct” is based on? Smell?

      You’d think that if it was visual, a plausible requirement for the idea that soldiers might fire shells and bombs at a distance but not on other humans up close enough, that then huge segments of the population would never be able to play various videogames, watch movies etc… True, if some sort of smell processing was required then maybe that’s why people don’t get this “sickness” from visual violence in videogames, but what prior probability do you assign to that hypothesis? The uncanny valley folks have something to talk about perhaps but if you’re trying to measure this “instinct” and not peer pressure or other social effects then at least contrasting a virtual, videogame response and anything real and physical would be a useful part of the experiment.

  14. James Graham says:

    My older brother carried a BAR during pre-invasion training in the UK with the recon battalion of the 2nd Armored Division. Because it weighed 20 pounds his companions were glad they didn’t haul that automatic rifle. But, as I was assured by another veteran of that battalion, once they entered combat they all wanted the BAR.

    On page2 273-274 of Donald E. Houston’s history of the 2nd Armored he describes one recon platoon’s encounter (at most 30 men) in September 1944 with a group of Germans near Waterloo:

    “They found a group of Germans washing their clothes. They were not dug in and had not posted sentries. The platoon … placed every weapon (I bet most were BARs) in firing position and laid out their ammunition. On signal everyone opened fire …” Score: 186 dead Germans and zero Americans casualties.

    Marshall wrote bull shit and just made stuff up:”The “systematic collection of data” that made Marshall’s ratio of fire so authoritative appears to have been an invention.”

  15. IC says:

    Personal anecdote.

    All my high school classmates enlisted in Chinese army were eager to be in battle and to use their guns. They were really itching for hard battles and could brag about it.

    • IC says:

      This Chinese move “ASSEMBLY’ was made awhile ago. But it captured ordinary Chinese soldiers mentality. They will fight to the last man. Only one character was shitting with fear . Another relevant point is that most soldiers are volunteers. This is advantage of huge population base which provides enough free will soldiers without drafting. Most ancient Chinese armies were also volunteers army. Qin dynasty used it as way to advance social class based on enemy head harvested. Feudal classes were eradicated with such meritocratic system. This was military version of imperial exam. In Han dynasty, a slave(卫青)actually was able to advance himself to the general level with wars against xiongnu。

      Recently, hollywood movie Fury (2014 film) shows the similar spirit with sense of duty to fight until last man.

  16. Sarmange says:

    There was this newly arrived Swedish troops in ISAF ( International Security Assistance Force ) in Afghanistan. They were harassed by local bands and exposed to sporadic fire, but was ordered not to return the fire. This continued for several days and the soldiers began to be very frustrated and disturbed over the situation, felt despair even.
    And at last they were permitted to answer the fire. They really enjoyed it!

    The embedded Swedish female psychologist, who was there to study them and take care of traumatized soldiers, among other thing, was dismayed over the soldiers reactions and couldn’t believe it – they actually seemed to enjoy killing the enemy and became very exited! She couldn’t get her head around it.

    • difference maker says:

      In all the documentaries of the recent Afghan war whenever they get around to it everyone always says they love shooting the bad guys

      • melendwyr says:

        Putting people in painful or dangerous situations which they have no control over is very stressful. It’s why so many religions exist, and why superstitions thrive – they give people an illusion of control over uncontrollable situations. Actual control – or at least the ability to usefully respond – is even more satisfying.

        And this ‘psychologist’ didn’t understand this basic and widely-accepted principle? Sounds more like a therapist to me.

  17. After my student deferment expired I thought I was going to be drafted to go to Viet Nam. I had absolutely no interest in killing anyone from a country that I did not see as an enemy and sent in the paper work to become a conscientious objector. If I had been drafted I still could have gone to Viet Nam as a medic. Fortunately the war was winding down and I did not go. But I will tell you this, if someone is shooting at me I would 100% of the time shoot back if given the opportunity. My ethics would fly right out the window if it came down to saving my own skin.

    I have a very hard time imagining people making any other choice in the thick of battle. Someone is shooting at you and you have a gun in your hand and you decide not to shoot back because of ethical reasons? I don’t think so.

  18. Hipster says:

    Thankfully I have never even heard this claim outside of reading it here. Having talked about wars and historical conflicts with far left types, never heard of this one bit.

    • gcochran9 says:

      There’s left then and left now: people like Rokossovsky didn’t spend much energy arguing that people couldn’t be like that. I doubt if Mao thought so either. Now quite a few do.

      Still, it’s nice to hear that not every dumbshit idea has yet achieved wide circulation.

    • Jay1 says:

      You mustn’t spend any time on reddit.

    • Sean II says:

      Sorry to break bad news, but the “most troops don’t fire” story is a widely repeated trope in military, police, security circles.

      Cochran’s right though. Commanders seem to both know it’s bullshit (in their day-to-day work), and yet regard it as a settled truth established by a respected expert named Dave Grossman (when they’re in talky, seminar-attending mode).

      You find a lot of that in the armed professions. For example, in operations mode no one really believes that women can be street cops. You can tell because they do lots of little things to prevent women cops from getting killed. And you can tell they’re doing it deliberately because, well, they’re successful. Yet back in talk mode, you can hardly find a police chief anywhere who won’t swear by the equality of female officers.

      It helps to recall that cops and soldiers are accustomed to lying and keeping secrets. Especially when it comes to sheltering the public from the truth about violence, which is, after all, part of their job.

  19. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:
  20. cassander says:

    Soldiers are very willing to use their weapons, they just fire to miss. And I, for one, am not at all convinced that generalizations about combat with aimed rifles apply to, say, melee combat with swords.

  21. cassander says:

    Also, the marines at guadalcanal used a squad that was build around two, later 3, machine gun fire teams. Grossman points out that machine gunners almost always fired, and this likely helps explain part of the phenomenal success the marines had against japanese infantry.

  22. j says:

    Maybe preposterously, the sentence “only 15% of Americans riflemen in WWII ever used their weapons” makes perfect sense to me. Let me tell me my personal experience as an Israeli soldier during the Lebanon War. I am also a “rifleman” (“rovay 5”) – everybody around was one, it meant that we underwent successfully the basic training. I was in a mobile antiaircraft battery – but our cannons never shot even once and no on in the group ever shot with its M-15 or MAG. In fact, the whole antiaircraft force of Israel never fired (except in one unfortunate accident). There were few infantry vs infantry fights, mostly the tanks and cannons advanced (very solwly) and shot from long distance. And helicopters and air bombardment. No one was actually shooting people in sight. The only “riflemen” actually moving on the terrain was the elite Parachutist Brigade, which mostly did guard duty behind the front or contact line. I heard stories of these elite boys assaulting bunkers or houses, they are professionals and used the heavy weapons for that. When they attacked personally, they worked in groups divided into the dominant fellows who go first while the others are in charge of covering the rearguard – thus only the leaders shoot and the rest follow the chief like Indians. The chiefs hate the Indians shooting. People were rotated every month. From say 30000 riflemen at any time – lorry drivers, cooks, mechanics, guards, “phillippines” (auxiliary non combat troops), etc. – may be 300 actually participated in Hollywood style confrontations. Fifty years ago in Europe it may have been 15%, in Lebanon it was much lower and in modern organized wars it will be even less. But you are right, however, every boy will shoot if allowed.

    • gcochran9 says:

      WWII was a little tougher than Lebanon 1982. Germans, a little tougher than Arabs. Riflemen fought, fired, and were used up rapidly.

      • j says:

        Sure. In the Napoleonic Wars, infantry formed in a hollow square and would volley fire at approaching cavalry, either by file or by rank. Every soldier fired when the order was given. 100%. In WWI there were masses of infantry troops confronting each other. Everybody had a chance to shoot at the enemy in sight. And they did. WWII was a bit more mechanized but there was some infantry battles. Modern wars are long distance affairs – foot soldiers are used to secure territory or to intimidate the enemy. I think we are misinterpreting the observation that only 15% of American riflemen used their rifles. It is impossible that the 85% (passively) refused to shoot.

        I never heard of a soldier refusing to fire. We had one Pentecostalist (Jew) who refused to carry weapons, but he too was forced to go through basic training and received Rifleman rank. He never fired even once.

    • Candide III says:

      But that’s not what Grossman and Marshall are talking about! As I gather, they’re talking about 85% of riflemen in actual rifle squads not firing their weapons on the battlefield, not about logistics troops and auxiliaries.

    • Sean II says:

      Of course you’ve merely saved the Grossman argument by destroying it. There’s a trivial sense in which X% of rifleman in a conflict won’t have fired because they’re actually just mislabeled in-the-rear-with-the-gear guys. The Marine Corps habit of insisting that even their IT support guys are “rifleman” would certainly yield this result, although no serious researcher would fail to note (and state) the reason.

  23. TWS says:

    It’s simple really. First history is pretty clear that humans have no problem killing each other in war. As one commenter noted, ‘what, did they all die of old age?’. Second, any army that was reluctant to kill would be wiped out by anyone willing to kill. Those populations that were unwilling to kill would quickly give way to those that were willing to kill and the population would be more willing to kill when it was socially acceptable than when not.

    Humans have been killing each other in groups at least since we were still chimps’ kissing cousins. We didn’t become the only bipedal primate on the planet because we were unwilling to kill other people.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Not-shooting is unstable, in a game-theoretic sense.

      • Bill says:

        Right, in a battle situation as an infantryman, you’re either facing the enemy hidden off in the distance somewhere that you know could kill you at any second, or you’re facing bayonet charges or human wave attacks coming at you. Both situations are extremely unnerving and will be eliciting basic fear and survival instincts. And shooting is obviously the dominant strategy here according to game theory. The idea that some sort of squeamishness would override basic rationality or basic fear and survival instincts when the stakes are this incredibly high is preposterous. This isn’t like testing game theory with 10 year olds and Monopoly money. The stakes here are personal life or death. I’d expect only mentally or developmentally disabled individuals would have trouble shooting in such situations.

        • j says:

          Bayonet charges? I dont think Grossman was talking about bayonet charges, as there were none in WWII.

          • Bill says:

            There were bayonet charges in Korea and in other more recent conflicts.

            And by bayonet charge, I don’t mean only formal tactical bayonet charges, but also small arms close combat that would include hand to hand fighting and attacks with the bayonet.

      • RCB says:

        I note that this is essentially a group-selection argument. These can work (and lots of folks think that have played a role in human history) – just thought I would make it clear.

        Suppose we add the strategy “hang back, let other guys charge to the front, lie low, and only shoot when you’re threatened.” A guy employing this tactic probably has a better chance of surviving than a fearless warrior. Now we have the classic issue where within-group selection favors cowardice, but between-group selection favors better armies. Which one wins? That’s what mathematical models are for.

        • gcochran9 says:

          If that were the whole story, hanging back would likely be dominant. But humans can enforce social norms, sometimes with extreme prejudice. If they caught you refusing to fire at Stalingrad, the Sovs would shoot you. “It takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army.” This makes things more complicated: considering that enforcement exists, group selection for tribal patriotism might fly.

          wanting to save your butt we see a lot: I don’t think that there’s any doubt that cowardice exists. But that wasn’t the point: the claim was that there’s an innate reluctance to scrag the enemy, which is just silly.

          • Bill says:

            In that case, wouldn’t the selection be for being a good “enforcer” i.e. getting other people to be patriotic, rather than for patriotism itself?

        • Bill says:

          Wouldn’t cowardice be the dominant strategy in that scenario?

          • RCB says:

            Bill, re selection for being a good “enforcer”: There’s a big literature on “altruistic punishment,” where people expend a cost to punish people who break the rules. The problem, of course, is the cost: It’s easier just to let someone else do the punishing. This is sometimes called 2nd-order defection. You could push it back further but the problem is always there: it’s easier not to punish the person who failed the punish the person who was bad (ad infinitum). That being said, people often do enforce rules, and some folks think that’s an important feature of human groups. Not everyone.

            Google Scholar things like “altruistic punishment,” “strong reciprocity,” “cultural group selection,” for some current buzzwords. As always, a lot of what you read will probably turn out to be wrong, but that’s just how it is. (I’m assuming you can access stuff behind the typical academic pay wall, otherwise you’re in trouble.)

          • Bill says:

            I’ve heard of altruistic punishment. I don’t think that’s really what I have in mind here. In altruistic punishment, the punisher isn’t affected by the behavior that is punished. Whereas a general or king in a war “enforcing” his soldiers to fight and be patriotic is invested in the behavior and is affected by it.

  24. RCB says:

    The idea that men would charge into battle outnumbered ten-fold is surprising for an entirely different reason: why run into near-certain death? We may not have much aversion to kill, but we certainly don’t like to be killed. The military must be very good at getting folks to do things that are bad for them.

    • Gordo says:

      As long as it’s for two brothers or eight cousins it’s okay. Recently it has been bad for us.

      • RCB says:

        I’m aware of Hamilton’s rule. I also know that it is only an approximation that is most appropriate under weak selection. It’s hard to believe that the benefits to your close kin of charging into a near-death battle (what are they?) are large enough to offset the rather immediate cost of dying as a man in your physical prime. Certainly that’s not the case in nation-level battles, where the benefit a single soldier provides is essentially divided across the entire nation’s population (i.e. not toward kin).
        As you suggest, maybe it was closer to the truth in distant prehistory, when groups were smaller and therefore possibly a bit better genetically distinguished (more would folks would be close relatives). The evidence I’ve seen suggests that extant hunter-gatherer groups are actually NOT strongly kin-based; people move around a lot between bands, and so have lower relatedness than larger agricultural villages. But this may not be true of prehistoric foragers. In any case, the idea that we’ve evolved to sacrifice for Uncle Sam seems poorly supported.

        • Bill says:

          Neolithic and modern large scale organizations like nation-states and religions seem designed to exploit kinship based psychology. Hence the language they use e.g. brothers in Christ”, “Muslim Brotherhood”, the fatherland, motherland, etc. They tend to employ kinship language and institute rituals and social customs and practices to get their adherents to view their fellow adherents like their close family members:

          <blockquote>“I am . . . obliged to pay taxes to the [U.S.] government,” Hamzah Khan wrote. “This in turn will be used automatically to kill my Muslim brothers and sisters. . . . I simply cannot sit here and let my brothers and sisters get killed, with my own hard-earned money. . . . I cannot live under a law in which I’m afraid to speak my beliefs. I want to be ruled by the Sharia [Islamic law]. . . . Me living in comfort with my family while my other family are getting killed is plain selfish.”</blockquote>
          • RCB says:

            Kin-based labels are certainly common, and it probably does play some role in motivating people to fight. But note that people who ignore this cheap talk would be favored, because they wouldn’t be killing themselves off for illusory relatives. And I’m skeptical that simply calling your comrade or co-citizen a “brother” would be enough to trick your brain to the point of sacrificing yourself on the battlefield. I suspect bonding through a common struggle is what does it (in boot camp, on the battlefield, etc.). But maybe I’m wrong.

            I believe that chimpanzees live in more closely smaller, more related-groups than most humans do. I’m not aware of any altruistic self-sacrifice among chimps. Hard to imagine that it would have been favored in our ancestors. I’ve heard that chimp raids are quite cynical: engage if you’ve got a large numerical advantage, otherwise watch your own back. I don’t know much about this, though.

          • Bill says:

            Presumably there’d be an arms race between exploiting and defending against kinship psychology exploitation.

    • dearieme says:

      “The idea that men would charge into battle outnumbered ten-fold is surprising for an entirely different reason: why run into near-certain death?” When running away is certain death, attacking the beggars might be the better policy.

      • RCB says:

        Certainly. Does that condition often hold? I profess ignorance.
        Certainly the imaginary protagonist of Red Badge of Courage got away with defection; I wonder if some real guys did, too.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Reinforcement were on the way, and Swiss pikemen were very mobile. They had a choice. For that matter, they refused surrender.

    • Bill says:

      What about the early Christians in Rome who preferred to be fed to the lions to lighting incense for the emperor? The military doesn’t seem to hold a candle to the early Christian proselytizers.

    • Difference Maker says:

      The early Germans are noted for such charges and determination.

      Fights of course depend on morale, the will to fight, and in ancient encounters with less lethal ranged firepower, such excitement, fearlessness and ferocity will more obviously have its chance to dramatically impact other warriors both friendly and foe on the battlefield, where the thought of mortality, as you rightly say, must needs not be far away

      Even today, in sports, in video games, a bold charge of unmitigated aggression can cause the enemy to be taken aback, have second thoughts, break their formations, inspire your own troops. If your troops happen to be kin and cooperating, the aggressive instinct can be helpful in enabling the military formation to execute tactics that dramatically alter the outcome of battle

      Of course, there is still the matter of extending such cooperation to larger, vaguer social groups, and of the fighting to the death of entire armies

    • Anonymous says:

      The military, RCB, are professionals in getting folks to do thing that are very bad for them. 50% of the military genius is getting the folks into desperate situations where they have no choice but to fight. Americans did not want to fight the Germans or the Japanese, but when deposited on an island full of Japanese, say, Iwo JIma, they fought like corralled lions.

      • Tarl says:

        “Americans did not want to fight the Germans or the Japanese” — BALDERDASH. Especially regarding the Japanese, who were hated.

        “when deposited on an island full of Japanese, say, Iwo JIma, they fought like corralled lions” — more twaddle. The Marines had very high fighting spirit. Read any accounts of them in WW2 and you certainly don’t get the impression of men who did not want to fight.

  25. j says:

    An army is not an undifferentiated mass but a coalition of small platoon size “brotherhoods”. Soldiers will die for their close buddies. Not for democracy, not for Uncle Sam.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Often true, not always. Whole armies can and have been imbued with some kind of fighting ideology, not least defending the homeland.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Yes, certainly the Imperial Japanese Army was. Brave men, regardless of how utterly reprehensible their behavior was in other areas. The little bastards really did fight to the last man. And I never heard of a single one of them failing to shoot.

        • dearieme says:

          They were even brave when they were losing:
          “Sakurai’s Twenty-Eighth Army was not ready to start the break-out until 17 July. The break-out was a disaster. The British had placed ambushes or artillery concentrations on the routes the Japanese were to use. Hundreds of men drowned trying to cross the swollen Sittang on improvised bamboo floats and rafts. Burmese guerrillas and bandits killed stragglers east of the river. The break-out cost the Japanese nearly 10,000 men, half the strength of Twenty-Eighth Army. British and Indian casualties were minimal.”

  26. Al says:

    What did you put in the last paragraph? I can’t stop reading it over and over…

  27. Greying Wanderer says:


    “but this sounds like a terrible experiment that doesn’t test for anything remotely resembling wartime behavior in battle situations.”

    It’s not supposed to – other than maybe roughly guess what percentage will aim with their eyes closed. I think most of what is seen as reluctance to kill is more to do with reluctance to be killed. This is to test for both the other two parts of the story: reluctance to kill and ease of killing / eagerness to kill.

    I think there are two opposing forces / chemicals at work one pushing reluctance and one pushing eagerness and it’s the balance that creates the final effect.


    @Sean II

    “Major flaw in your experiment: cows are more sympathetic than humans.”

    That’s the point. The aim is to find a mid-point between scary adult human male and fluffy kitten (or pet dog)

    (or baby – which is where it comes from imo)

    with a wide range of people and see which chemicals they pump out. The reluctant killers will have more of x and the easy killers will have more of y and some will be in the middle.



    “The idea that men would charge into battle outnumbered ten-fold is surprising for an entirely different reason: why run into near-certain death? We may not have much aversion to kill, but we certainly don’t like to be killed.”

    They were high on battle juice.

    It makes sense for males in an environment where there’s a lot of single or small scale combat to be as fierce as possible e.g. a lot of HG environments, other environments where raiding is a way of life or welfare ghettos where resource provision isn’t a viable way to compete so either being fierce or a smooth talker are the two routes to reproductive success.

    Two chemicals, one reluctance, one eagerness.

    In more organised violence it probably pays to be less fierce so you stay in the ranks and don’t charge ahead on your own like a berserker.


    “Execution of prisoners is routine in war.”

    But does everyone do their share or is it the same few guys do 90% of it?

    • Difference Maker says:

      They were high on battle juice.

      It makes sense for males in an environment where there’s a lot of single or small scale combat to be as fierce as possible e.g. a lot of HG environments, other environments where raiding is a way of life or welfare ghettos where resource provision isn’t a viable way to compete so either being fierce or a smooth talker are the two routes to reproductive success.

      Yes, should also be mentioned. RCB should be asked, have you ever been 21?

      But then, extremely bold and aggressive males are by necessity a minority. If in sports someone is particularly aggressive and fearless, that only means that many others are not so by comparison

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “But then, extremely bold and aggressive males are by necessity a minority.”

        Yes. If

        killer vs killer = one of them probably dies / maimed
        killer vs non-killer = non-killer probably dies / maimed
        non-killer vs non-killer = probably no-one dies / maimed

        then if there are too many killers you get something like the Crack Wars and the percentage plummets for a while and then slowly grows back again.

        plus too much battle juice = generally reckless imo (so more automobile accidents etc)

  28. For readers who missed this reference that Cochran put into his last thread rather late I recommend you read it

    I hope that Cochran keeps on putting up threads and links from this astounding Bronze Age time period. Anthony is a top notch scholar, weird that he threw quotes from Grossman on page 29 of the above link that 80 to 85% of World War 2 rifleman did not shoot to kill their enemy. I am no expert but I don’t buy it. The whole conversation that follows on page 29 to page 30 strikes me as nuts. It states as fact that people will commonly risk their lives in battle but will overwhelmingly refuse to kill other people. Call me highly skeptical. The quote in this otherwise excellent paper that really jumps the shark is “they did not fear dying, but they did fear killing.”

    Full of shit as a description doesn’t do justice to this belief. Maybe so full of shit that if you gave them an enema you could bury them in a matchbox comes closer. This is especially true when you move further and further back into time, like when these bands of bronze age young male warriors went out and raised all kinds of hell in the surrounding territories. Some scholar sitting in his comfy office in 2014 has no stinking clue what is was like to be in the trenches in World War 2, much less what it was like to be a member of a youthful war band running amok in enemy territory during the Bronze Age.

    People can cherry pick their facts to believe whatever they want to. Which is why west hunter will never run out of subject matter.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “bury them in a matchbox” Golden words.

      “they did not fear dying, but they did fear killing” Wasn’t that the Comanche motto?

      I see David Anthony as a fairly sensible person embedded in a nuthouse (academic archaeology). I bet that the ancient DNA evidence will make him more and more reasonable. Probably it already has.

  29. Hugh Mann says:

    “The trouble with our British lads is that they are not natural killers” – General Montgomery comparing British and German conscript infantry.

  30. Steve Sailer says:

    A kill or be killed situation is probably different from, at the other extreme, a sniper who goes looking, at great personal danger to himself, to shoot the enemy while they are cooking breakfast. That Finnish sniper who shot over 500 Russians in 1939-40 is recognized as extraordinary.

    I suspect that some of the difference in productivity among snipers is how quickly a sniper decides to call it a day. The Finnish White Ghost probably took every opportunity imaginable, while other snipers might have a daily bag in mind and knock off after killing a few enemies. And snipers are probably different in nature and nurture from run of the mill soldiers.

    • I read your post on the Finnish White Death and it was amazing. Good writing. But I doubt if he took every opportunity imaginable. After all Simo killed 505 Germans before he got his jaw shot off. I’ll bet he was pretty damned careful.

  31. Peter Akuleyev says:

    Low fire ratio is utter nonsense. One of the dilemmas facing European armies in the mid-19th century was whether to replace muzzle loaders with faster firing breech loaders. The Austrians are often considered idiots because they were still using Lorenz muzzle loaders against Prussian troops armed with “Needle guns” in 1866, but there was actually a solid rationale behind the Austrian reluctance to switch. The officers were afraid that a soldier with a breech loader would simply shoot too quickly and run out of ammunition. Doesn’t sound like they were concerned with “low fire ratio”. A lot of military training once breech loaders were introduced was about getting soldiers to slow down and be disciplined. Both the Austrians and the Russians discovered in 1914 that conscripts will indeed fire their guns like crazy, and both armies suffered from serious ammunition shortages as a result.

    • Laban Tall says:

      Churchill in “My Early Life” describes effort towards disciplined fire in trying circumstances on the NW Frontier :

      “Our Sikhs opened an independent fire, which soon became more rapid…I armed myself with the Martini and ammunition of a dead man, and fired as carefully as possible thirty or forty shots at tribesmen on the left-hand ridge at distances from eighty to a hundred and twenty yards. The difficulty about these occasions is that one is so out of breath and quivering with exertion, if not with excitement. However, I am sure I never fired without taking aim…I saw that the white officers were doing everything in their power to keep the Sikhs in close order. Although this formation presented a tremendous target, anything was better than being scattered. The tribesmen were all bunched together in clumps, and they too seemed frenzied with excitement….But meanwhile the Captain had made his commands heard above the din and confusion. He had forced the company to cease their wild and ragged fusillade. I heard an order: “Volley firing. Ready. Present.” Crash! At least a dozen tribesmen fell. Another volley, and they wavered. A third, and they began to withdraw up the hillside.”

      I don’t get the impression that any of the combatants were shooting to miss.

  32. M Simon says:

    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 have noticed this although it is not written about much. It is suggested though that those with the killer “instinct”, estimated at 4% IIRC, be used to stiffen the line. What is expected of most troops is firing in the general direction making the other guys keep their heads down.

  33. M Simon says:

    BTW in modern warfare artillery does most of the killing. I was off shore from DaNag and got to hear the arty going off like a 4th of July celebration. I was thinking “it must be brutal under that barrage.”

    Also note: I was raised post WW2 (born ’44) when there was still considerable military tradition in the US. It seems to have declined markedly since then. The end of the draft has had its good and bad points. I volunteered. USN and became a Naval Nuke. The nerdiest you can be and still be on the line.

  34. Sean says:

    Swiss pikemen best soldiers ever, and richest country in the world. Koreans incredibly good soldiers and took on Apple and won. Co-incidence? I think not. Altruism, group selection call it what you will. Individually tough people do not make good soldiers.

  35. Pale_Primate says:

    Have you read ” About Face” by David Hackworth?

    He spent lots of time with S.L.A. Marshall, said he was a fraud.

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