American Soldiers: Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam / Edition 1

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
The best analysis of the nature of twentieth-century American combat available.
Journal of Military History
Kindsvatter's sweeping study is a tour de force.
H-Net Book Reviews
A masterful work.
Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While fighting under different circumstances, the typical American soldier from World War I to Vietnam experienced many of the same conditions of warfare and had similar reactions to the stresses of combat. Kindsvatter, a military historian, thoughtfully blends formal studies, veterans' memoirs, and war-inspired fiction to create a riveting documentary account of how soldiers respond as they progress from basic training to the battlefield. The author's analysis of how a small, close-knit unit could impose its own structure and norms, proving a more powerful motivator than the overarching "cause" or high-ranking officers, is especially interesting. A unique study recommended for public and academic libraries.-Elizabeth Morris, formerly with Otsego District P.L., Otsego, MI Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Kindsvatter's sweeping study is a tour de force." —-Journal of Military History
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700614165
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 4/28/2003
  • Series: Modern War Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 951,890
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter S. Kindsvatter served in the U.S. Army for twenty-one years and is now the Command Historian at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools, Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Joshua Swanson is a five-time AudioFile Earphones Award winner, including for This Book Is Not Good for You by Pseudonymous Bosch and Testimony by Anita Shreve. He has narrated over one hundred books since 2007 and was named a Best Voice of 2010 for his work in the young adult genre by AudioFile magazine.

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Table of Contents

Foreword, Russell F. Weigley



1. Rallying to the Flag

2. The Environment of War

3. Immersion in the Environment

4. Coping with the Environment of War

5. For Comrades and Country

6. Failing to Cope with the Environment of War

7. The Joys of War

8. Closing with the Enemy

9. Leadership in Combat

10. Dwellers Beyond the Environment of War

11. Equal Opportunity in the Foxhole

Conclusion: Don't Expect Too Much from War




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