True or false: "Soldiers tend to intentionally fire over the enemy's head, or not to fire at all."

There’s also the question of motivation and retaliation. I’ve just been reading Robert Graves’ account of his experiences in WWI (“Goodbye to All That”). He mentions that in some areas the German and Allied forces seemed to reach a bit of an unspoken agreement not to try too hard to kill each other on a day to day basis. If there was a major offensive then they would attack/defend obviously, but on a day to day, just-maintaining-the-lines basis, many soldiers couldn’t see much benefit in continually trying to pick off guys on the other side. It wasn’t going to make a noticeable difference to the overall war effort, and if it motivated revenge, then it was positively detrimental to you.

So if the other side pops up a head, better to fire a shot that he can tell was really just a warning, and hopefully if you accidentally pop you head up, he’ll do the same for you.

Except that modern infantry, if properly trained, *does *fight in formation, and *does *strive to end up face to face with the enemy. A firefight isn’t just a bunch of guys shooting at each other from behind cover - there are a variety of tactics and maneuvers, all with the same goal: to storm the enemy position and force the enemy to flee, surrender or die.

When a soldier sees his commander or comrades get up and run into enemy fire, he isn’t going to hang back (out of shame and peer pressure, if nothing else), and he certainly isn’t going to let them die by not shooting.

Cite! And I mean a cite that the animals were actually killed. The link you provided doesn’t say any such thing, and I can find no other references on the net suggesting that this was the case. I find it difficult to believe that ethics approval, even in 1972, would allow dogs to be killed by slow electrocution administered by random members of the general public.

WTF do you mean “cannibalism is very rare”? Cannibalism is ubiquitous. Can you name even one pre-agricultural society that wasn’t cannibalistic?

No puppies were killed from what I can read on this, sounds like they were given three shocks that elicited responses.

I think it’s really an issue of psychology. It’s more an issue of outmoded training. In the 19th century, guns weren’t really all that accurate in battlefield conditions. So you trained soldiers to shoot at the enemy rather than training them to shoot a particular opponent. With one regiment of infantry shooting at another regiment, people would end up getting shot even with relatively random fire.

This practice continued even though rifles became more accurate and it was possible to hit a specific target in a battle. WWII produced a mountain of data and finally convinced generals that it was time for a change. Soldiers in basic began being trained to shoot a target rather than just shoot at a target.

Is that it? So it’s about on par with me taking my pup in to have its course of vaccinations, where the animal also gets three painful stimulations that also elicit a response. As in that case I would have thought that most people would administer the pain knowing it was being done for a greater good.

If that’s the case then the result is even less meaningful than the original Milgram experiment. Frankly I’m surprised that so many people refused. It seems to me that this tells us more about human sentimentality and squeamishness than about authority. Even knowing that the minor and temporary pain is necessary for a greater good some people couldn’t bring themselves to administer it. I can understand that, but it hardly seems to have any bearing either way on human willingness to follow authority.

I think glowacks shot as close as possible to the answer to this without actually hitting it.

I submit that the further back you go into the history of warfare, the more you’re going to see anger, fear, moral outrage and outright hatred enter the picture. It’s pretty easy to see killing someone who clearly “needs killin’.” In WWII newspaper headlines using terms like Japs, Nips, etc. would not create a considerable scandal. I’ve yet to see a front-page announcing the war effort against the Rag-Heads, and I’d be surprised if there were any in the 50s & 60s going on about Gooks or even Charlie. We’re still racists on the surface, but I think something’s changing that makes it harder to accept in our hearts that our political enemies actually deserve to die. I blame Tolkein.

Here’s a good summation of the anti-Marshall argument from the Army journal Parameters.

Actually, soldiers in the pre-modern era had plenty of problem engaging at close combat, particularly impressed or partisan fighters who did not receive training and engage in tightly controlled small unit operations, which is why kill levels were so low. It was only with the advent of ‘modern’ small unit tactics that close engagements became particularly lethal encounters.

The Greeks, and later the Romans, found that the solution to this was twofold: one, to force soldiers to work in tightly integrated units led from the immediate rear by experienced soldiers (what today would be the non-commissioned officers corps) whose job was to compel the fighters in front to thrust and stab rather than slash and parry; the second, to put highly mobile fighters on the field in cooperative roles, i.e. the two-man chariot with driver and archer. Despite the fact that the chariot is less maneuverable and requires more support than cavalry, it was found to be substantially more effective, in no small part because it was impossible for foot troops to outrun it as they were routed from the field of battle, and the co-support of two or more men working in conjunction tends to overcome the natural inclination not to harm random strangers, hence while a single rifleman may intentionally miss the target or refuse to fire, a machine gunner and loader, or a sniper and spotter has much higher rates of effective fire; both have shared responsibility and neither wants to let down the other. This is an extension of the same kind of group dynamics that makes a person who might be safe from an individual neighbor but who may be at risk to be lynched by a mob.

A rout is generally considered a victory, not just because it allows the victor to take command of the field and any tactically superior ground, but also because most killing is done as the routed opponent turns away to run; in other words, it is much easier for people to kill when they don’t have to face their opponent. This is basic inborn behavior, and is true as much in the animal world (where engagements between two contestants of the same species over resources or mating rights are very rarely lethal except in desperate circumstances). We see the same behavior in our closest relatives, chimpanzees. Tribes will rarely attack each other directly, preferring to fling fruit, sticks, and poo at each other, but once a group is forced to retreat it may be aggressively pursued and attacked by the victors who will frequently kill and cannibalize any routees that can’t escape. Similarly, anyone who works with dogs knows that the last thing to do with an aggressive dog is to turn your back and run, as it stimulates the predator behavior. The same is true when dealing with other predatory animals including large cats, large mustelids, and ursines. Even the normally reclusive and non-predatory American black bear may be stimulated to attacking a retreating person who has turned their back during egress.

By the way, those of you attempting to apply rationality to the decision process of killing in the heat of combat: stop it. It is well-established, both in empirical studies and by direct observation of neural activity, that when under the kind of stimulation and duress found in combat that the rational cognitive areas of the brain (in the forebrain region, including the speech cortex) effectively shut down, while areas of the more primitive midbrain associated with basic perception and autonomic response become highly stimulated. This means that when you believe yourself to be at risk for grave injury or death, your thinking capability becomes suppressed or detached, and you respond as you have been trained by rote instruction or natural predisposition. This is why modern “instinctive” rifleman training at responsive, realistic-looking targets which is done by all modern armies shows dramatically higher rates of effective aimed fire as compared to armies trained with marksmanship-style target training. Those posters who have been in a life-threatening or combat situation can attest to the various limitations that occur, like not being able to speak coherently or thinking about things that are entirely inappropriate to deal with the threat at hand.

As for research, both S.L.A. Marshall and Dave Grossman have been countered, but not effectively. Most of the criticisms I’ve seen of Marshall question some of the claims about his career rather than the quality of his research. Field studies of psychological behavior are necessarily somewhat subjective, of course, but Grossman’s hypotheses seem to fit both with the casualty numbers and with the experience of many combat veterans. I think Grossman overstates his case at times, but his overall assertion–that most people are not naturally inclined to kill another person at visual or closer range without severe impetus, and usually with significant psychological impact unless reassured by social peers–fits in very well with both accepted combat psychology and my own personal observations of people in life-threatening situations.


I’m sure that some soldiers do try not to kill; I’m not sure they’re the majority, as claimed by S. L. A. Marshall and others.

I don’t think it’s inherent in human nature so much as cultural. Three issues that bear on your question:

  1. Cultural differences in the aversion to killing. Knights were trained their whole lives to glorify the act of fighting (and to have callous disregard for the peasantry). Other cultures had various different approaches, of course, I’m not just singling out European knights. But some warrior cultures inculcated a different social stigma or reward for killing (think of Spartan boys strangling helots). When killing is more acceptable it would flourish, is my guess.

  2. Statistics for medieval and ancient battles are notoriously poor. When, as is often the case, you don’t know how many fought to within an order of magnitude or how many casualties there really were, it makes it difficult to draw scientific conclusions about whether those willing to hack indeed formed a majority. Despite having very good stats for some battles, it’s hard to be confident in extrapolating that universally. In other words, maybe pre-modern soldiers did have problems killing, maybe they didn’t. We get the exciting song of the bards, not science.

  3. Critical distance. Even in modern wars, face-to-face fighting in buildings, trenches, and confined spaces is notoriously the most savage, specifically because at close range the fight-or-light response switches over to MUST FIGHT very strongly (John Keegan has written of this). Critical distance is more evident when you wield a gladius than when you’re a button-pusher on an MLRS.

Can you explain in more detail? Seems to me Tolkien taught us “orcs are always bad and it’s okay to make their heads burst asunder.”

I think he’s referring to Sam’s musings on seeing a slain Easterling.

The Comanches

Weren’t they agriculturalist until the introduction of the horse made buffalo a lot easier for them to hunt?

  1. Comanche’s practiced cannibalism.

  2. Comanches were nomadic herdsmen, ie agriculturalists.

Would you like to try again?

If survival cannibalism in extreme circumstances counts as practicing cannibalism then the phrase “practicing cannibalism” becomes meaningless. As your cite notes, the penalty for cannibalism amongst the Comaches was death.


But then, doesn’t everyone practice cannibalism under extreme circumstances? Why, just last winter…

Things are changing, and fast. As a multi-war combat disabled veteran I am here to share with you that indeed, the powers to live and let live dramatically out weigh the powers to kill. The main reason for this change is the socialty explosion that has come by way of our technologies hence, the more we tend to talk, the softer we get. But it gets even better.

I once was a Warrior. I fought amid the most frigid conditions known in the Cold War. I helped end this war. We won.

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, but the ops had names like shield & storm. Two decades later a warrior (my nephew) honored the duty of closing our colors in Iraq a year ago (meaning roll up our flag we’re done!). I helped start this war. We won.

I am a Warrior. But now, I am a new breed of Warrior. I am a Warrior Monk. A Jedi Warrior Monk.

Because of the fact that 90%+ of new soldiers that enter combat for the first time aim high the message is VERY clear; the love for life, completely outweighs the act of killing life. This being the case I am dedicating my life to helping to create a worldwide shift in our species approach to war.

It is now time for our great military to begin the transformation. The transformation from warriors, to Warrior Monks, in which we shall begin to win wars through the hearts, minds and souls of what once were our enemies, and do this through love.

I need People from all parts to take part in helping assist in the process of this transformational shift (if you are a student, a soldier, teacher or civilian anyone and have an interest in helping out contact me ASAP -caliwebman

And you needed to join this board this month and then respond to a four year old thread in order to make your pitch?

btw; lots of people have had that idea, the one you claim above. Every. Last. One. Failed.

So Good Luck With That.

I’m gonna say that resurrecting a zombie thread is not jerk behavior, unlike threadshitting and deliberate rudeness to a new guest.

Shame on you, Chimera, and welcome, caliwebman. Thank you for your service.

Resurrecting it and not addressing the actual subject of the thread, on the other hand…

Welcome, caliwebwoman, but seriously, start your own thread (prolly in Great Debates or IMHO) if you want to have that conversation. More people may see it.