HOW many soldiers refuse to aim their guns at an enemy? Quite a few it seems.
General Samuel Marshall, the chief US combat historian during World War II, shocked military chiefs with his findings that, in an average infantry company during that war, only one in four soldiers actually fired their weapons while in contact with the enemy. About 75 per cent could not bear firing on another human being.
Marshall found that fear of killing, rather than the fear of being killed, was the most common cause of “battle failure” in the individual.
Marshall’s research methods have been questioned by some military analysts, but his broad conclusion is still accepted: soldiers often simply won’t shoot.
Research into killing ratios of other wars, including the US Civil War, has supported his claims. One historian wrote that at the great 1863 battle of Gettysburg, 27,000 muskets were left on field of battle and 90 per cent were unfired.
Psychologist Lt. Col. Dave Grossman,a former US Army Ranger and paratrooper, said there was a “the simple and demonstrable fact that there is, within most men and women, an intense resistance to killing other people. A resistance so strong that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die before they can overcome it”.
“Thus the evidence shows that the vast majority of combatants throughout history, at the moment of truth when they could and should kill the enemy, have found themselves to be “conscientious objectors”—yet there seems to be a conspiracy of silence on this subject,” he said.
The truth of the phenomenon has forced armies to develop sophisticated methods for overcoming our innate aversion to killing.