Wednesday, August 20, 2014

War Challenge #16

I read this for the 2014 War Challenge with a Twist at the reading challenge blog War Through the Generations

Reconciliation Road: A Family Odyssey of War and Honor - John Douglas Marshall, 1993

The author is a grandson of S.L.A. Marshall (1900 - 77), author of highly respected descriptions of small unit combat such as The River and The Gauntlet and Pork Chop Hill. Marshall also wrote a book, Men Against Fire. In it, he argued that most infantry men don’t fire their weapons for various reasons and  that assertion strongly influenced how the army trained infantry troops in the years running up to the Vietnam era.

In 1989, an American Heritage magazine article said that after his death in 1977, Marshall’s papers did not include statistical analyses of the rates of fire of infantry soldiers. The article implied that Marshall did not even conduct individual and group interviews, a data collection technique that he pioneered.  

In order to clear up these charges of data monkey-business in his grandfather’s field research, Marshall set out on a cross country tour of research centers and interviews with military retirees who worked with his grandfather. This mission was colored by the fact that the family had disowned the author due to his honorable discharge from the Army as a conscientious objector in 1971.

While interviewing, he found out that the critics of his grandfather didn’t have much on which to base their beliefs but prejudice and animus. His grandfather’s supporters conceded that there didn’t seem to be statistics behind the assertions and conclusions, but his influence contributed to the Army in terms of battlefield doctrine. Not accurate, one granted, but meaningful (sounds kind of like the defenders of serious literary fiction). At the very least, he proved that Marshall conducted the hundreds of after action interviews to collect data

I think this would have been a better book if he had spent a little time on reviewing his grandfather’s books, getting at how the punchy writing style made them so popular with the general public. The last third of the book seemed rushed, with interviews summarized in only a perfunctory fashion. Overall, though, an interesting book about the family discord caused by the Vietnam War.

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