Enduring Battle: American Soldiers in Three Wars, 1776-1945

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Enduring Battle: American Soldiers in Three Wars, 1776-1945

by Christopher H. Hamner

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011

281 pages

$29.95

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The book is an attempt to compare the combat experience of American forces in three wars: the War of Independence, Civil War, and World War II. The author's primary thesis is to explain the role of fear on the part of soldiers as the technologies of war make it an ever deadlier environment. Hamner, an assistant professor of history at George Mason University, opens with a chapter contrasting the Battle of Cowpens during the War of Independence, the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War, and the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest during the Second World War from the combat soldier's viewpoint.

There is a great deal of interesting factology in the book, but its overall comprehension would have been greatly increased if greater attention had been applied to its editing. For example, if the paragraphs were condensed, the readability would have been markedly improved. There is little question the book makes a number of poignant observations; but in terms of supporting the author's thesis, the book is missing an overarching concept that would link the material together in a cogent manner. The result is a great deal of redundancy of facts and conclusions.

The author explores how the soldiers of the three wars experienced fear and what could be done to alleviate it. Hamner makes the point that for every soldier fear, at some point in combat, causes immobilization. A soldier can only fight so long before fear incapacitates him for combat. The reality associated with fear and overcoming it was understood by America's military as it transitioned and adopted its training, conditioning, and leadership from the War of Independence to World War II.

Professor Hamner explains that even when the battlefield adapted to new technologies, soldiers often had a difficult time inculcating these changes. He quotes from a 1941 US Army Field Manual to make this point: "Man is the fundamental instrument in war; other instruments change but he remains relatively constant."

Hamner believes imagination is one of the leading causes of fear and cowardice in combat. That is why, to teach individuals about the horrors of combat, soldiers received far more innovative training related to the hardships of war during World War II. The thought being that there are actions soldiers can take to decrease fear, thereby increasing their survival in combat. Most interesting is the author's belief that training can help offset fear but it cannot eliminate it to the point where a soldier can fight indefinitely. …