Enduring Battle

American Soldiers in Three Wars, 1776-1945

Christopher H. Hamner

Throughout history, battlefields have placed a soldier's instinct for self-preservation in direct opposition to the army's insistence that he do his duty and put himself in harm's way. Enduring Battle looks beyond advances in weaponry to examine changes in warfare at the very personal level. Drawing on the combat experiences of American soldiers in three widely separated wars—the Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II—Christopher Hamner explores why soldiers fight in the face of terrifying lethal threats and how they manage to suppress their fears, stifle their instincts, and marshal the will to kill other humans.

Hamner contrasts the experience of infantry combat on the ground in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when soldiers marched shoulder-to-shoulder in linear formations, with the experiences of dispersed infantrymen of the mid-twentieth century. Earlier battlefields prized soldiers who could behave as stoic automatons; the modern dispersed battlefield required soldiers who could act autonomously. As the range and power of weapons removed enemies from view, combat became increasingly depersonalized, and soldiers became more isolated from their comrades and even imagined that the enemy was targeting them personally. What's more, battles lengthened so that exchanges of fire that lasted an hour during the Revolutionary War became round-the-clock by World War II.

“Provocative, illuminating.

—Publishers Weekly

“Offers a fresh opportunity to engage in a timeless debate—an essential element of understanding military history and grappling with contemporary military affairs.

—Army
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The book's coverage of training and leadership explores the ways in which military systems have attempted to deal with the problem of soldiers' fear in battle and contrasts leadership in the linear and dispersed tactical systems. Chapters on weapons and comradeship then discuss soldiers' experiences in battle and the relationships that informed and shaped those experiences.

Hamner highlights the ways in which the "band of brothers" phenomenon functioned differently in the three wars and shows that training, conditioning, leadership, and other factors affect behavior much more than political ideology. He also shows how techniques to motivate soldiers evolved, from the linear system's penalties for not fighting to modern efforts to convince soldiers that participation in combat would actually maximize their own chances for survival.

Examining why soldiers continue to fight when their strong instinct is to flee, Enduring Battle challenges long-standing notions that high ideals and small unit bonds provide sufficient explanation for their behavior. Offering an innovative way to analyze the factors that enable soldiers to face the prospect of death or debilitating wounds, it expands our understanding of the evolving nature of warfare and its warriors.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series