Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Grossman, S.L.A. Marshall, and Sheep (Ratio of Fire)

Tam brought up the work of S.L.A. Marshall, on which many of David Grossman's claims (principally that most people are physiologically and psychologically incapable of harming other people up-close-and-personal) are based. Marshall is famous for his widely-accepted assertion that only a small percentage of even trained soldiers actually fire their weapons in battle, let alone ferociously attack their enemy.

In answer to that lately-questioned assertion, and the highly remunerative programs based upon it, I found this interesting.
A parallel study to Marshall’s interviews, then, fully documented and straight from the subjects themselves [Canadian WWII combat vets] with no intermediary, presents data that is in direct contradiction to that of Marshall. The questionnaire respondents were exclusively Canadian, of course, and they cover a completely different set of subjects than Marshall’s interviews. They also apply only to the Canadian experience. However, Marshall strongly implied that his 15 to 25 percent ratio of fire was a universal condition of modern warfare, and Grossman has been very explicit in his championing of the universality of this phenomenon as a part of human nature. The evidence from the Canadian battle experience questionnaires indicates that non-participation in combat by riflemen was not a problem in the Canadian Army between 1943 and 1945; that infantry fire was usually quite effective; and that if there was a problem with the firing it was always due to too much fire rather than too little. Supposing Marshall was correct with respect to his claims, and there were problems with non-participation in the US Army, then either the Canadian Army was, by Grossman’s reckoning, many times more effective a fighting force (of which there is no evidence) or else claiming the universality of Marshall’s findings is factually incorrect. While it might be going too far to call S.L.A. Marshall a liar, he appears to have simply been wrong in his claims about the ratio of fire.

Although Grossman cites a few other pieces of evidence from military history to support his “killology” thesis, S.L.A. Marshall’s “hard data” is the centerpiece of his argument regarding the inability to kill: most of what remains is either derived from Marshall or anecdotal in nature. Since it is Marshall that forms the core of evidence underlying many of Grossman’s claims about killing in war, there are obvious problems inherent to reading the “killology” literature without reservation.
RTWT. This being the case, Grossman's "sheep, wolves and sheepdogs" metaphor, with its placid flocks of productive citizens all incapable of harming their fellow man in any way and desperately in need of a hard blue shell of professional "warriors," becomes ... oh, what's the word ... ah, yes. Bullshit.

This does, however, leave us with the undeniable reality of quite a large percentage of people who really do seem to fear and loathe the presence of fellow humans who are not defanged. That reality will need to be explained in some other way. Personally, I suggest a look at the "educational" system.


Tam said...

If you have a copy of Hackworth's About Face handy, the chapter on his assignment squiring Marshall about Vietnam is pretty damning.

Anonymous said...

Rest assured, the bullshit assessment is most accurate.
That is unless your only interviewees are UC Berkeley students who grew up in the ZARDOZ like bubble existence of Irvine or Eagle Rock only to move into the bubble like campus life or hardcore Buddhist monks; most people with fight like animals when need be.
You've met my quiet, shy, tiny, unobtrusive wife. She'd cut your throat in a heartbeat if she had to. As would my mother and so would have my dad. Fact is dad would have done it for fun, but that's a digression. I can tell you from experience that when fired upon, most men at arms immediately revert to training and do what is necessary to get the enemy to break contact.... they fire back.
If all goes well they do so with discipline. If all goes as usual, they can become quite ferocious about it and there is a wall of lead in front of them.
Being shot at tends to first scare the shit out of you, then proceeds to piss you off.

Marshall, and his statism are in fact..... full of shit.


Joel said...

I've read About Face, and wish I still had it here because I don't recall what Hackworth said about Marshall. Judging from the Vietnam-related parts I do remember, it was probably scathing.

Matt said...

I spent half my life a Soldier. I've spent all my life working with Soldiers. S.L.A. Marshall's findings were and always had been bunk. The conclusions were decided then data created to support them. S.L.A. Marshall is/was a liar. The conclusions were only accepted by people that wanted to believe U.S. Soldiers don't want to and were incapable of fighting. Bunk.