Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

If the ultimate objective of combat is to break the enemy’s will — to foster submission or flight responses — then this comes down to superior posturing, which includes noisemaking, David Grossman (On Killing) reminds us:

Griffith (Battle Tactics of the Civil War) quotes an account of yelling in its finest form in the thick woods of the American Civil War’s Wilderness Battle:

…the yellers could not be seen, and a company could make itself sound like a regiment if it shouted loud enough. Men spoke later of various units on both sides being “yelled” out of their positions.

In these instances of units being “yelled” out of positions, we see posturing in its most successful form, resulting in the opponent’s selection of the flight option without even attempting the fight option. And, of course, this is the biological objective in posturing during intraspecies conflicts: it prevents the males of a species from killing themselves off during ritualistic confrontations.

As soldiers we posture primarily through firepower, and the value of artillery as a means of psychological domination should not be underestimated by the maneuverist. Firepower can have a psychological effect that is far greater than the physical attrition it inflicts upon the enemy, but such firepower-based posturing must be accompanied by a physical manifestation of close-range, human aggression in order for it to cause the enemy to submit or flee.

If we consider firepower to have a significant psychological or “posturing” value, then we may need to carefully consider such factors as the decibels put out by our artillery rounds and our close-support weapon systems (i.e., is it a good idea to replace 7.62mm, M60 machine guns — a truly daunting noisemaker — with the 5.56mm Squad Automatic Weapon in the light infantry platoon?), the realism of the volume put out by blank adapters (could it be that part of the initial resistance to the M16 vs. the M14 was the “wimpy” way it sounds when fired with its distinctive blank adapter?), and the nuances of using a new generation of electronic hearing protection on the battlefield. That is, is it feasible to build an ear plug-type device that would make it possible to hear friendly commands while shutting out most of the sounds of the enemy’s fire, and still have the soldier feel that his fire is a daunting presence on the battlefield? An important element in such a decision may be the degree to which the concussion of a weapon’s firing signature can be “felt” by the firers; anyone who has fired an M60 or has been next to one when it is firing will understand what I mean by “feeling” a weapon fire.

While reading Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, about his experiences in the Great War, I kept thinking about the soldiers living with artillery fire without hearing protection, and how that might have contributed to shell shock.


  1. Old Coyote says:

    I worked with WWII vets on the floor of a Navy Shipyard machine shop. If a large piece of plate metal accidentally dropped to the floor, those old fellows fell to the floor as well, trembling almost in a fit. It was explained to me that they had experienced inland naval bombardments. Vietnam vets who called in close support aerial bombing often are ruined for life as well.

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