Department of Defense survey of soldiers and marines found that about half of
them would not report the killing or wounding of an innocent civilian. About 40
percent report they would use torture if life and death information were needed
immediately. Another ten percent admitted they had abused civilians. To that
end, only 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of marines believed that
civilians should be treated with respect. Some 64 percent of the troops surveyed knew someone who was killed
or seriously wounded in combat. What's interesting about these responses is
that they are remarkably similar to those given by soldiers during opinion
surveys conducted by the military during World War II. The surveys were conducted
by the Research Branch of the Information and Education Division of the U.S.
Army. Those pioneering surveys established, for those who hadn't already
figured it out already, the importance of the formation of small groups of
soldiers who knew and trusted each other well. It was also made clear that the
combat troops were fighting mainly to get it over with, and to not let their
buddies down. Mom, the American flag and apple pie had nothing to do with it,
nor did speeches and exhortations from big shots back home. It was all about
World War II was a unique
war, but in different ways than twenty years earlier during World War I. The
earlier war featured most troops spending months in muddy trenches, then
getting slaughtered in set piece battles featuring headlong advances into
machine-gun and artillery fire. World War II was more mobile, and added tanks
and air attacks to the mix. There were more troops involved in World War II,
and the casualty rate, at least for American troops, was lower than in World
War I. But this brought out another problem; combat fatigue. Research Branch
surveys showed the growing presence, and impact of soldiers who had spent too
much time in combat. This condition was first noted during World War I, and
called "shell shock" (because it was thought to arise from men being
pounded for too long by artillery.) Before World War I was over, many doctors
realized that "combat fatigue" was a more appropriate term than shell
shock; it was the result of the stress of modern combat. Subsequent research
into the historical record showed that some forms of "combat fatigue"
had long existed. But 20th century warfare placed a lot more troops under a lot
more stress, thus producing a lot more combat fatigue casualties Those affected
acted disoriented and uninterested in their surroundings, a condition similar
to a nervous breakdown.
American commanders during
World War II never figured out how to deal with combat fatigue during the war,
but the surveys left a vivid record of its impact. Basically, after a few
months of combat, more and more troops adopted a "don't give a damn"
attitude. Desertions increased, even though the men were sure to get caught.
But the attitude of the combat fatigued soldiers was; "what can you do it
me that's worse than more combat?" After World War II, the Research Branch
work provided a foundation for dealing with combat fatigue.
That work has reached the
point today where most troops will admit they have stress problems, and that
has resulted in a declining suicide rate (from 19.9 per 100,000 in 2005 to 17.3
per 100,000 soldiers in 2006).
Many of those Research
Branch surveys were published after the war in "The American Soldier (ISBN-13: