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.
“Offers a fresh opportunity to engage in a timeless debate—an essential element of understanding military history and grappling with contemporary military affairs.”
—ArmySee all reviews...
“Makes an invaluable contribution by complicating our understanding of the nature of combat and will certainly become a standard work for historians of soldiers’ experiences under fire.”
“Hamner’s book offers a smoothly written, closely argued, but perhaps deceptively compelling explanation why Americans confronted with the horrors of the battlefield generally choose fighting over flight. Looking at the experiences of American soldiers in the War of American Independence, the Civil War, and the Second World War, Hamner argues that changes in fighting methods required new mechanisms to allow soldiers to endure battle.”
—War in History
“Drawing on insights from psychology and sociology, Hamner has written an engaging history that seeks to understand the experience of combat as powerfully contingent upon time and place. . . . [Such quibbles aside,] this book can readily be recommended as a study of combat motivation in history. ”
—Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“Hamner has created an American counterpart to John Keegan’s The Face of Battle. An excellent and valuable addition to the growing literature on combat motivation and the experience of soldiers in battle.”
—Peter R. Mansoor, author of The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions
“Makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the soldier’s experience in combat and how that experience can change over time.”
—Peter S. Kindsvatter, author of American Soldiers: Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam
“This is ‘long range’ history of a high, assured order.”
—Earl J. Hess, author of The Union Soldier in BattleSee fewer reviews...
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.