This is the book that Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has derived not only much of his soldier firing rate data from, but upon which he has based many of his conclusions. 

But, what did SLA Marshall actually say? And, what conclusions did Marshall himself actually come to, based on his own research?

Having read Men Against Fire (MAF), more than once, I have come to several conclusions that differ greatly from Grossman's. I am providing specific quotes from MAF, as well as the pertinent pages in which interested individuals might find them.


It must be noted that the methodology SLA Marshall utilized in gathering the data that is central to MAF's thesis has come under serious question in recent years.


"New Evidence Regarding Fire Ratios"

"The Marshall Problem: Untrustworthy History"

"SLA Marshall's Ratio of Fire"

While Marshall's books make excellent reading regarding battle on a soldier's level, Marshall's work seems to have lacked even rudimentary attention to accepted standards of scientific inquiry. In essence, there seems to be no evidence of ANY definitive research into individual soldier firing rates in SLA Marshall's wartime efforts.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that while SLA Marshall was an excellent wartime journalist, he never conducted anything even remotely resembling empirical research.

The implications from this are quite clear. If Dave Grossman has based most of his foundational beliefs (i.e., that men must be conditioned to fire at human targets) upon Marshall's dramatic views of soldier firing rates, then everything that Grossman has built his "On Killing" thesis upon is literally a house of cards.

SLA Marshall vs. Dave Grossman

Grossman's Basic Premise:

"When we human beings are overwhelmed with anger and fear, we slam head-on into that midbrain resistance that generally prevents us from killing. Only sociopaths--who by definition don't have that resistance--lack this innate violence immune system."

"The military and law enforcement community have made killing a conditioned response. This has substantially raised the firing rate on the modern battlefield. Whereas infantry training in World War II used bull's-eye targets, now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop into their field of view. That is the stimulus. The trainees have only a split second to engage the target. The conditioned response is to shoot the target, and then it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response--soldiers or police officers experience hundreds of repetitions. Later, when soldiers are on the battlefield or a police officer is walking a beat and somebody pops up with a gun, they will shoot reflexively and shoot to kill. We know that 75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training.   From "Trained To Kill"

Aveni Note: According to a landmark 1992 FBI study, 85% of officers killed feloniously are killed without firing a shot in their own defense. Both hard data and anecdotal evidence suggest that slain officers GENERALLY aren't firing due to (1) officer inattention to threat cues, (2) inadequate time to accurately identify an emerging threat, under light conditions that further complicates threat ID, and (3) that the officer's assailant is able to fire much more quickly than the officer can react to the emerging threat to himself. For Mr. Grossman to suggest that the law enforcement community has, "made killing a conditioned response," is an incendiary  generalization!

Is there anything in MAF to substantiate Grossman's Basic Premise?

Yes, and No!

Men Against Fire, page 78, paragraph 3:

"A revealing light is thrown upon this subject (low soldier firing rates) through studies by Medical Corps psychiatrists of the combat fatigue cases in the European Theater. They found that fear of killing, rather than fear of being killed, was the most common cause of battle failure in the individual, and that fear of failure ran a strong second."

There are three very critical shortcomings here. (1) It deals only with the European Theater, where opposing soldiers shared ethnic similarity with Allied troops, and (2) opposing soldiers lacked a reputation of mistreatment of Allied prisoners, when taken, and, most seriously, (3) the "study" dealt only with soldiers suffering from "combat fatigue," which may not  accurately reflect the attitudes shared by the vast majority of soldiers who were never treated for this malady.

Since Grossman tends to heavily stress the role of "Classical Conditioning" upon one's tendency to kill other human beings, I am offering Grossman's attempt to corroborate this position with SLA Marshall's seemingly contrastive observation.

Grossman (From "Trained To Kill") :

"The Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with their soldiers. Early in World War II, Chinese prisoners were placed in a ditch on their knees with their hands bound behind them. And one by one, a select few Japanese soldiers would go into the ditch and bayonet "their" prisoner to death. This is a horrific way to kill another human being. Up on the bank, countless other young soldiers would cheer them on in their violence. Comparatively few soldiers actually killed in these situations, but by making the others watch and cheer, the Japanese were able to use these kinds of atrocities to classically condition a very large audience to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. Immediately afterwards, the soldiers who had been spectators were treated to sake, the best meal they had had in months, and to so-called comfort girls. The result? They learned to associate committing violent acts with pleasure."  

Men Against Fire, page 65, paragraph 5:

"In the Pacific campaigns, our forces were impressed time after time by the phenomenon of enemy troops (Japanese) who had quit their arms and who appeared incapable of any offensive or self-protecting gesture. Yet these troops stood their ground like plants rooted in the earth and insisted on being killed to the last man. Their living bodies were the defensive base around which the action of their more willing comrades proceeded."

But, there are many more problems with Grossman's position, as based on his interpretation of Marshall's writing in MAF. 

The following reflects what might amount to an "antithesis" of the central Grossman thesis.

Aveni Thesis #1:

Soldier's Who Fail To Fire Their Weapons In Combat Are Paralyzed More Often By:

(1) Fear of Death or Serious Bodily Injury

(2) Low Morale 

(3) Lack of Combat Experience

This Is In Contrast To Grossman's Central Thesis; That Soldiers Are Paralyzed By An Aversion To Killing Other Human Beings.

Men Against Fire, page 71, paragraphs 2 & 3:

"In training, there being no real bullet danger even on the courses which employ live ammunition, every advance under a supposed enemy fire is unrealistic. 

Almost as an afterthought, Marshall adds what is Grossman's primary thesis: 

"Too, in training, the soldier does not have a man as his target. He is not shooting with the idea of killing." 

Marshall then refocuses upon a primary theme:

".....When the infantryman's mind is gripped by fear, his body is captured by inertia, which is fear's Siamese twin. "In an attack half of the men on the firing line are in terror and the other half are unnerved.'     So wrote Major General J.F.C. Fuller when a young captain." 

Men Against Fire, page 47, paragraph 3:

Marshall seems to suggest that a soldier's "surprise" (regarding battlefield realities) contributes to his combat paralysis:

"Here is surprise of a kind which no one had taught them to guard against. The design of the enemy has little to do with it; it is the nature of battle which catches them unaware. Where are the targets? How does one engage an enemy who does not seem to be present?

Men Against Fire, page 41, paragraph 6:

Marshall observes the effect that soldier morale might have upon his willingness to fight:

"On the field of fire it is the touch of human nature which gives men courage and enables them to make proper use of their weapons. One file, patting another on the back, may turn a mouse into a lion; an unexpected GI can of chocolate, brought forward in a decisive moment, may rally a stricken battalion. By the same token, it is the loss of this touch which freezes men and impairs all action. Deprive it of this vitalizing spark and no man would go forward against the enemy."

Men Against Fire, page 56, paragraphs 2 & 3:

"Yet, making allowances for the dead, we could identify only 36 men as having fired at the enemy with all weapons.....

"It is true that these were green troops who were having their first taste of combat."

Aveni Thesis #2

WWII-era, U.S. Army Training May Have Contributed To Diminished Soldier Rates, But More Often As A Consequence Of Emphasis Upon Ammunition Conservation, Rather Than Upon What Target Medium They Were Trained Upon (As Grossman Contends).

Men Against Fire, page 81, paragraphs 3 & 4:

"Indeed, so much was said in training for the past war about harboring ammunition and making certain of the target that it became a brake upon field operations. The ranks frequently objected that their officers were overriding their own principles when the time came in battle when they insisted on heavy fire with no targets to be seen."

"Undue emphasis on conservation is a great danger to firepower as is an excess expenditure of ammunition. Bullets kept in the magazine when they should be fired are certainly bullets thrown away."

Men Against Fire, page 82, paragraph 5:

"The doctrine of fire discipline has accented for so long the need of controlled fire that it has almost obscured the fact that the fundamental problem is how to build up fire volume and develop more willing firers."

Aveni's Thesis #3:

"The Soldier's Perception of The Potency Of His Issued Weapon Will Have a Profound Effect Upon The Soldier's Proclivity To Fire His Weapon."

Men Against Fire, page 67, paragraph 2:

SLA Marshall quotes Napoleon:

"It is on supply that war is made"

Upon which Marshall observes:

"simply underscores the fact that primarily war is made with fire, and that logistics have a decisive effect upon the arena only when they enable military forces to bring a superior fire to bear. "


"In war the moral is to the material as three to one."


"This is a truth only as it is related to the state and possibilities of fire. Among fighting men morale endures only so long as the chance remains that ultimately their weapons will deal greater death or fear of death to the enemy. When that chance dies, morale dies and defeat occurs."

Men Against Fire, page 82, paragraph 5:

"As another experiment, unwilling rifleman may be switched to heavier and more decisive one-man weapons. This sounds like a paradox - to expect greater response to come from increased responsibility. But it works. I have seen many cases where men who had flunked it badly with a rifle responded heroically when given a flame-thrower or BAR."

Men Against Fire, page 57, paragraph 3:

"Usually, the men with heavier weapons, such as the BAR, flamethrower or bazooka, gave a pretty good account of themselves, which of course is just another way of saying that the majority of men who were present and armed but would not fight were riflemen.

Men Against Fire, page 56, paragraph 2:

"Yet, making allowances for the dead, we could identify only 36 men as having fired at the enemy with all weapons. The majority were heavy weapons men."

Aveni: Assuming that Marshall's observations are valid, they would seem to support my thesis as to why Vietnam-era soldiers had a higher firing rate. Virtually all soldiers and marines, throughout the Vietnam conflict, were armed with fully-automatic weapons (M14 & M16), in addition to the prevalence of M60's, LAW's, and M79 grenade launchers. In essence, many U.S. combatants in Vietnam may have perceived an ability to confront enemy fire with withering counter-fire.

Other Grossman Quandaries to Consider:

"Throughout human history, when humans fight each other, there is a lot of posturing. Adversaries make loud noises and puff themselves up, trying to daunt the enemy. There is a lot of fleeing and submission. Ancient battles were nothing more than great shoving matches. It was not until one side turned and ran that most of the killing happened, and most of that was stabbing people in the back. All of the ancient military historians report that the vast majority of killing happened in pursuit when one side was fleeing."   From "Trained To Kill"

Aveni Note: If we accept that ancient warriors killed adversaries more often when they were running away  (which seems absolutely absurd), might we assume that they were emboldened by the fact that a running adversary was no longer one they would fear the infliction of death from? Again, what do soldiers fear most? Killing another human being (as Grossman contends) or being killed?

"Another route to reduced violence is gun control. I don't want to downplay that option, but America is trapped in a vicious cycle when we talk about gun control. Americans don't trust the government; they believe that each of us should be responsible for taking care of ourselves and our families. That's one of our great strengths--but it is also a great weakness. When the media foster fear and perpetuate a milieu of violence, Americans arm themselves in order to deal with that violence. And the more guns there are out there, the more violence there is. And the more violence there is, the greater the desire for guns."   From "Trained To Kill"

"We are trapped in this spiral of self-dependence and lack of trust. Real progress will never be made until we reduce this level of fear. As a historian, I tell you it will take decades--maybe even a century--before we wean Americans off their guns. And until we reduce the level of fear and of violent crime, Americans would sooner die than give up their guns."   From "Trained To Kill"

And, if you have the stomach left for it, and  if you really wish to view the most sensational, unscientific, self-serving, wasteful use of internet bandwidth imaginable, you might derive some perverse chuckles from this Grossman offering:

"Teaching Kids To Kill"

Thomas J. Aveni