American Soldiers: Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam [Kindsvatter]


Author: Peter S. Kindsvatter

Nonfiction, Paperback

Command Historian at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools, Aberdeen Proving Ground, and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, Kindsvatter offers a phenomenological history of the hearts and minds of Army ground troops. Using a comprehensive spectrum of printed and unprinted sources from the subtitle's eras, Kindsvatter argues that soldiers of those times began with unreal images of war that allowed them to memorialize conflict by fictionalizing it.

But despite military training, nothing could prepare them adequately for the modern battlefield with its harsh physical environment and extreme emotional stress; the typical progression was from initial confusion through relief at surviving to a period of peak effectiveness. Comradeship was important to that process. So was belief in "America" and "America's cause"; if those constructs vanished as ideals, nothing could replace them. The excitement of battle was also engaging. Besting the enemy was a challenge, allowing pride in a job well done. American soldiers, Kindsvatter finds, were neither too frightened nor too guilt-ridden to kill. Some were reluctant; some enjoyed it; few hesitated to pull their triggers when necessary.

Eventually, however, for most combat veterans some event or emotion, usually accompanied by physical exhaustion, triggered loss of confidence or nervous collapse. While improved therapeutic methods made it possible to return many breakdown cases to the line, the best treatment was preventive: relief, temporary or permanent, from combat's alien environment. Much of this book is geared toward commanders or scholars looking to understand troops, but its fascinating, unsentimental arguments about the minds of soldiers are ripe for magazine adaptation.