Book Review: Fratricide in Battle: (Un)Friendly Fire


by Charles Kirke, editor

London / New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2012. Pp. xx, 266. Tables, diagr., notes, biblio., index. $48.95 paper. ISBN: 1472523032

The problem of “friendly fire” incidents in war. 

Incidents in which troops unwittingly fire on their our comrades, sometimes called “blue on blue” incidents, are usually thought of as a rare phenomenon of modern war with its “empty battlefield” and long range weapons.  But one of the first essays in this volume, “An Historical Analysis of Fratricide,” demonstrates that such incidents are not only ancient, but also far from rare. 

Following an introduction the volume has eleven essays on various aspects of the problem of fratricide and a conclusion, all by various military historians, former active duty personnel, and specialists in human factors, information design, and military technology.  The essays are grouped into three sections.

Part One, “The Problem,” has four essays which examine how military situations and human factors influence incidents of “friendly fire,” takes an historical look at fratricide, then reviews some proposed solutions, and considers what influence the phenomenon should have on risk management.

Part Two, “Understanding the Human Dimension to Fratricide,” looks at various aspects of the causes of fratricide, which can be situational, institutional, or even technological. 

Part Three, “Tackling Fratricide,” is perhaps the most important, as it addresses ways to reduce fratricide with attention to particular combat environments, notably air-to-ground operations and the need for yet more sophisticated training, but concludes with “Fratricide Prevention: A Skeptic’s View.”

The book concludes with “So What? Where do We Go From Here?”

Most of the essays are based on more than just academic ruminations and include strong historical inputs, and some are by scholars who have also been warriors. 

Although, of course, it does not actually "solve" the problem, Fratricide in Battle is a very important read for those interested in war whether as practitioners or as historians.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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