May 10, 2011


Entitled “A Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man,” Luke Mogelson’s story described the murder of an Afghan elder in Kandahar province as well as two other civilians by five members of one army platoon. Since the news had already been reported elsewhere, Mogelson had a broader point to make. As his title made clear, he saw the activities of one small group of soldiers led by a sociopathic sergeant as representative of the U.S. military—not only the spirit of the American effort in Afghanistan, but the governing ethos of the U.S. military as a whole. Although the number of U.S. war crimes has been relatively small, Mogelson believes it is wrong to view them as exceptional. The fault is not so much “the exceptional few” who commit atrocities, but the “institutional failures” of the military and the nature of the wars that we are fighting. To buttress this assertion he claims:

Over the course of military history, American soldiers have become increasingly willing to kill. In World War II, just 15–20 percent of infantrymen fired their rifles at the enemy during battles; in Korea that number increased to 55 percent; in Vietnam it reached 90.

The source of these statistics was General S. L. A. Marshall, a military historian who included it in his 1947 book Men Against Fire. Mogelson pulled them from a more recent book by retired military psychiatrist Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, whom Mogelson quotes as accusing the military of “programming” soldiers to kill indiscriminately.

But what Mogelson fails to disclose in his article is that, more than 20 years ago, the New York Times itself published an article debunking the numbers upon which his entire argument rests.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

I have read some of Col. Grossman’s books and have taken a course from him in person.  He would never accuse “the military of “programming” soldiers to kill indiscriminately.”  Now I can believe someone could take some of what Col. Grossman has writtten and by taking his words out of context twist it so it seems he is saying the opposite from what he really is saying.  Col. Grossman admires the men and women of our military and law enforcement.

UPDATE: Related thoughts from Bryan Preston at the Tatler.

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