Some warriors are drawn to the thrill of combat and find it the defining moment of their lives. Others fall victim to fear, exhaustion, impaired reasoning, and despair. This was certainly true for twentieth-century American ground troops. Whether embracing or being demoralized by war, these men risked their lives for causes larger than themselves with no promise of safe return.
This book is the first to synthesize the wartime experiences of American combat soldiers, from the doughboys of World War I to the grunts of Vietnam. Focusing on both soldiers and marines, it draws on histories and memoirs, oral histories, psychological and sociological studies, and even fiction to show that their experiences remain fundamentally the same regardless of the enemy, terrain, training, or weaponry.
Peter Kindsvatter gets inside the minds of American soldiers to reveal what motivated them to serve and how they were turned into soldiers. He recreates the physical and emotional aspects of war to tell how fighting men dealt with danger and hardship, and he explores the roles of comradeship, leadership, and the sustaining beliefs in cause and country. He also illuminates soldiers' attitudes toward the enemy, toward the rear echelon, and toward the home front. And he tells why some broke down under fire while others excelled.
Here are the first tastes of battle, as when a green recruit reported that "for the first time I realized that the people over the ridge wanted to kill me," while another was befuddled by the unfamiliar sound of bullets whizzing overhead. Here are soldiers struggling to cope with war's stress by seeking solace from local women or simply smoking cigarettes. And here are tales of combat avoidance and fraggings not unique to Vietnam, of soldiers in Korea disgruntled over home-front indifference, and of the unique experiences of African American soldiers in the Jim Crow army.
By capturing the core "band of brothers" experience across several generations of warfare, Kindsvatter celebrates the American soldier while helping us to better understand war's lethal reality and why soldiers persevere in the face of its horrors.