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View Full Version : S.L.A. Marshall fact or fraud?


TROUFION
04-20-2007, 03:47 PM
SLAM was first presented to me when I was in ROTC back in the early 90's as a fully factual sage on military matters, I like my peers read it all and absorbed it, taking it on board as truth. Yet as I've read and researched since then his 'facts' have been challenged. Challenged to the point that his 'facts' are actually fictions. SLAM's writings have been the bedrock of many military concepts and ideas. For instance his writing on marksmanship and shooting (or who shoots) under fire have been/are taught in many military schools. YET his research or lack there of has been entirely discredited. YET the books remain on the Marine Corps Commandants reading list.

Has anyone researched a definitive answer here? Was SLAM a charlatan? If so how have his teachings affected our (US) way of warfighting? Positive or negative? If he fabricated his facts was he still correct?

http://www.theppsc.org/Grossman/SLA_Marshall/Main.htm
-T

Note: Only The Soldiers Load and The Armed Forces Officer remain on the reading list. Men Against Fire does not.

Jimbo
04-20-2007, 04:27 PM
The issue isn't necessarily about is he a charlatan. The issue is trying to figure out what is historic precedent and what is his opinion. Nobody has been able to dig up any notes from interviews. The concern tends to revolve around assertions he makes without any back-up evidence. I would take AMrshall with a grain of salt. Anybody that has few years of military experience is usually able to form their own opinions on what Marshall has written.

Steve Blair
04-20-2007, 07:08 PM
I think the majority of SLAM's "research" has been discredited by others looking into the same areas (this relates to his propositions about the number of men who fire their weapons in combat). Does that mean he has NO value? Of course not. But it does mean that you should approach some of his ideas with suitable caution.

Mondor
04-20-2007, 07:29 PM
I stopped reading his stuff and have discounted any work that lists his work as a reference since the early '90s. I think he had strong opinions and truly believed in the conclusions he presented. His methodology was flawed and his claims on the number of interviews conducted are unsupportable.

Bowman
04-21-2007, 07:49 AM
I still read S L A M . The River and the Gauntlet ( Eighth Army 1950)
and Battles of the Monsoon has graced the book shelves for thirty years.

Menning
04-21-2007, 06:30 PM
TRADOC produced a work as part of its historical monograph series on SLAM. It is called SLAM: The Influence of S.L.A. Marshall on the United States Army. It was written by F.D.G. Williams in 1994. Maybe it can answer your questions.

120mm
04-22-2007, 02:18 PM
I recently thought about SLAM, yesterday, when a Brigade failed to show at our EST 2000 trainer. The operator and I are friends, so we spent the afternoon wearing out our trigger fingers shooting the scenarios.

It seems to me that SLAM may have been both right and wrong about the shooting thing. I don't doubt that lots of soldiers don't shoot their weapons, especially since lots of soldiers never see the enemy. Combat shooting is an entirely separate skill from target shooting. I coach 3P rifle, yet I felt completely humbled by the EST combat scenario shooting.

ericmwalters
04-25-2007, 06:11 PM
In my recollection, SLAM's biggest critic was none other than Colonel David Hackworth, who described Marshall's research methods and skewing of data to fit preconceived notions in his book ABOUT FACE. Hackworth accompanied Marshall during his field data collection trips in Vietnam and grew very critical of his methods and work. I think a definitive examination of Marshall's conclusions across the entire body of his work in light of what we now know to be true has yet to be made widely available. One cannot discount everything he has written simply because we know he was wrong in certain quarters--it merely means we must treat his analysis all the more carefully.

Eric

Steve Blair
04-25-2007, 06:22 PM
There have been others (researching WW II, Vietnam, and even the Civil War) who have discredited some of his theories (especially those dealing with the behavior of men under fire). A more recent critique (although not as direct as some) came from Peter Kindsvatter in "American Soldiers." Doubler's "Closing with the Enemy" is also critical. Both are from the University of Kansas Press' Modern War Studies series.

wm
04-25-2007, 08:05 PM
There have been others (researching WW II, Vietnam, and even the Civil War) who have discredited some of his theories (especially those dealing with the behavior of men under fire). A more recent critique (although not as direct as some) came from Peter Kindsvatter in "American Soldiers." Doubler's "Closing with the Enemy" is also critical. Both are from the University of Kansas Press' Modern War Studies series.

A little grist for the mill about the applicability of SLA Marshall's work today.

Usually, when one extrapolates from the known past to the present or future, this is called arguing from analogy. That is, one draws inferences about how things will be in the future based on relelvant similarities to things in the past. However, a major piece of the portrayal must also show that the present case and the past case do not have too many relelvant dissimilarities.

Regardless of what we may make of the accuracy and veracity of Marshall's research, I submit that a very relevant dissimilarity exists. This relevant dissimilarity is such as to suggest that we ought not argue by analogy from Marshall's work at all. Today we have an all volunteer force. I suspect that what motivates the current all volunteer force is very different from what was at work in America's largely draft-fueled armies of WWI, WWII, Korean and Viet Nam. I suspect that a number of other values-related dissimilarities exist between the American fighting men and women of the 21st Century and those of the mid-20th Century. Each of these may be further reason not to draw analogous conclusions from Marshall's studies.

I am, as always, willing to be convinced otherwise.

Steve Blair
04-25-2007, 08:48 PM
Obviously there is a dissimilarity between today's military and that of the draft era. But that wasn't the question at hand. The question centered on the accuracy of SLAM's research. Sources studying the same eras as SLAM have brought his findings into serious question.

The reason for this discussion relates to historical examinations of past combats, not necessarily the current application of his theories.

marct
04-25-2007, 09:43 PM
Hi WM,

A little grist for the mill about the applicability of SLA Marshall's work today.

Usually, when one extrapolates from the known past to the present or future, this is called arguing from analogy. That is, one draws inferences about how things will be in the future based on relelvant similarities to things in the past. However, a major piece of the portrayal must also show that the present case and the past case do not have too many relelvant dissimilarities.

This is something that Anthropologists do all the time - reason by analogy. Personally, I think that Carlo Ginzburg's position on this is probably best: (paraphrasing) The interpretation that requires the fewest number of additional hypotheses is the most plausible (aka Ginzburg's Razor; note that this considers plausibility, not "truth"). I like the concept of "relevant dissimilarities" but, I have to ask, who decides relevance?

Marc

120mm
04-26-2007, 05:41 AM
There have been others (researching WW II, Vietnam, and even the Civil War) who have discredited some of his theories (especially those dealing with the behavior of men under fire). A more recent critique (although not as direct as some) came from Peter Kindsvatter in "American Soldiers." Doubler's "Closing with the Enemy" is also critical. Both are from the University of Kansas Press' Modern War Studies series.

I recently read Doubler's work. And I recommend it, highly. There is also a good work by a Russian author whose name completely escapes me that does a lot to debunk the myth that the Russians won in WWII due to mass manpower. In fact, the battles that the Russians won were often fought from a standpoint of INFERIOR material numbers and INFERIOR manpower to the Germans. In battles the Russians attempted to drown the Germans in materiel and manpower, the Germans generally won.

wm
04-26-2007, 02:01 PM
I like the concept of "relevant dissimilarities" but, I have to ask, who decides relevance?

Marc,
I post this at the risk of being chastised again for being outside the scope of this thread's original point.:eek:

I suspect that relevance is decided by "them":D . I further suspect that you know how "them" is. "Them" is that otherwise faceless, nameless group of authorities to whom we appeal whenever we don't really want to put our own necks, reputations, etc. on the line. Our parents invoked "them" all the time, and we probably do as well when we try to impart the hard lessons to our children. For example:
Child: "Why can't I drink that entire 2 liter bottle of Coke in one sitting?"
Parent: "You know, they say that Coke cleans rust off a car's chrome. Do you want that stuff swirling around in your stomach?"
"Them" is City Hall, as in "You can't fight City Hall."
"Them" includes the folks who create all those urban legends that we find discounted on the internet at Snopes or discredited on TV by the Myth Busters.
"Them" are all the otherwise unnamed popular sages who maintain the status quo of our collective "wisdom" (AKA lore, myhtology, popular science, etc.)

More seriously, your point about determining relevance applies to the similarities as well as the dissimilarities. I think that most arguments from analogy suffer from a form of circular reasoning--that is the arguers have already presupposed the conclusion to some degree and are therefore looking for similar cases to lend support to their positions. Arguing by analogy adds little new knowledge to our stock pile of truth. Instead, the technique entrenches what has passed for truth in the past.

Sorry for the rehashing of Humean skepticism. (I throw this last in as an attempt to bring my post back into the realm of History. David did write a compendious history of England, didn't he?)

marct
04-26-2007, 02:30 PM
More seriously, your point about determining relevance applies to the similarities as well as the dissimilarities. I think that most arguments from analogy suffer from a form of circular reasoning--that is the arguers have already presupposed the conclusion to some degree and are therefore looking for similar cases to lend support to their positions. Arguing by analogy adds little new knowledge to our stock pile of truth. Instead, the technique entrenches what has passed for truth in the past.

I suspect that you are correct in this <sigh>. It's one of the reasons why I like Ginzburg's work so much, especially his methodological work. He has a great article in History Workshop (Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method, History Workshop 9 (1980):5-36), and his methodology is nicely summarized in Muir and Ruggiero's Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe (http://www.amazon.com/Microhistory-Lost-Peoples-Europe-Selections/dp/0801841836):

Ginzburg wants to employ the primal method of the Paleolithic hunter, that first philologist, who recognized from paw prints that a lion he had never actually seen, heard, touched, or smelled had come this way. The characteristic feature of the hunter's knowledge "was that it permitted the leap from aparently insignificant facts, which could be observed, to a complex reality which - directly at least - could not. And these facts would be ordered by the observer in such a way as to provide a narrative sequence - at its simplest, 'something passed this way.'"

Then again, Ginzburg is not after "truth", which he believes that w cannot know, but, rather, plausibility.

Marc

dusty
04-26-2007, 02:39 PM
I disregarded Marshall's work after reading COL Hackworth's account in 'About Face'. I had read very little of his work before then, but even then it seemed like dramatized history.

PhilR
04-26-2007, 04:34 PM
I believe that there was an article in the Journal of Military History in the last few years that actually validated Marshall's conclusions.
While not a validation, I remember LtGen P.K. Van Riper USMC (ret) discussing the personal impact of reading Marshall's Men Against Fire. The book became Van Riper's touchstone. He read it before and after every tour in a combat zone, making notes and developing his own thoughts along the way.

Sigaba
07-09-2009, 06:50 PM
Marshall's grandson, John Douglas Marshall, was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Later, the younger Marshall embarked on a journey to confront the many questions about the authenticity and reliability of his grandfather's works. This journey is the basis for J.D. Marshall's memoir, Reconciliation Road: A Family Odyssey (ISBN-13: 978-0295979496).

In that work, the younger Marshall establishes that SLAM offered as facts events from his own life that were demonstrably false. SLAM also comes across as haphazard with his use of facts in his research and writing on military affairs. (The younger Marshall's anguish over these discoveries is evident.)

In my own research on the elder Marshall, I concluded that the man's slapdash approach to history renders his works problematic as reliable contributions to American military historiography.

In my opinion, S.L.A. Marshall, like Stephen Ambrose, J.F.C. Fuller, B. H. Liddell Hart, and, to a much smaller degree, John Jessup, are cautionary tales of what happens when students of warfare seek renown and celebrity.

William F. Owen
07-09-2009, 06:57 PM
In my opinion, S.L.A. Marshall, like Stephen Ambrose, J.F.C. Fuller, B. H. Liddell Hart, and, to a much smaller degree, John Jessup, are cautionary tales of what happens when students of warfare seek renown and celebrity.

Wow! I can only agree. Liddell-Hart was especially prone to plagiarism, fraud, and the altering of facts to fit his thesis. Regardless of this he still has a strong following amongst US military thinkers.

Fuller at least had some genuinely original ideas and useful insights, but they were not as many as commonly supposed.

selil
07-09-2009, 09:28 PM
Has anyone researched a definitive answer here? Was SLAM a charlatan? If so how have his teachings affected our (US) way of warfighting? Positive or negative? If he fabricated his facts was he still correct?

Though ancillary to my research I did quite a bit of research into this a while back. The paper is on my blog On criticism of “Violence: A micro-sociological theory by Randall Collins” http://selil.com/?p=193

People like Collins continue to use his research extensively. I couldn't get anybody to publish the paper (it isn't written that great) so it became a blog post.

Bob's World
07-10-2009, 04:02 AM
Wow! I can only agree. Liddell-Hart was especially prone to plagiarism, fraud, and the altering of facts to fit his thesis. Regardless of this he still has a strong following amongst US military thinkers.

Fuller at least had some genuinely original ideas and useful insights, but they were not as many as commonly supposed.

...for the current crop of "spotlight theorists" at CNAS?

Ken White
07-10-2009, 04:24 AM
Yes, I can. Spot on, Mon Colonel.. :D

William F. Owen
07-10-2009, 06:34 AM
...for the current crop of "spotlight theorists" at CNAS?

Amen brother Bob.

Sigaba
07-10-2009, 09:11 AM
...for the current crop of "spotlight theorists" at CNAS?
Amen brother Bob.
It is reassuring that I am not alone in my misgivings.

Ski
07-10-2009, 12:40 PM
COL Jones,

May I have permission to use that catchphrase? I am currently at SAMS and would like to tuck that brilliant insight into my intellectual kit bag for further use.

Regards
Ski

Steve Blair
07-10-2009, 02:58 PM
I always thought Marshall's stuff was far too sweeping, and that it flew in the face of many oral history accounts of actions (not just from World War II or Korea, either). It's good to see that his 'findings' are being questioned again.

William F. Owen
07-10-2009, 03:54 PM
I always thought Marshall's stuff was far too sweeping, and that it flew in the face of many oral history accounts of actions (not just from World War II or Korea, either). It's good to see that his 'findings' are being questioned again.

Well, I for one thing Marshall actually did substantial harm. He offered data free opinions and expected not to be questioned or held to rigour. Ignoring 99% of what Marshall ever wrote does not impede anyone's understanding.

Steve Blair
07-10-2009, 03:55 PM
Well, I for one thing Marshall actually did substantial harm. He offered data free opinions and expected not to be questioned or held to rigour. Ignoring 99% of what Marshall ever wrote does not impede anyone's understanding.

I agree.

Ken White
07-10-2009, 04:50 PM
In a two hour plus meeting, he reeked of phoniness to the extent of being annoying -- how the Army and his Newspaper missed that over many years, I have no idea...

Jayhawker
07-11-2009, 07:35 AM
My recollection of the Journal of Military History article mentioned above on SLAM was that SLAM happened to be helpful due to what the Army changed about its small unit tactics in Vietnam based on his WWII book and "interviews". Basically, he happened to be right, but for the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, Roger Spiller, former CGSC prof wrote the RUSI article that I believe first outed SLAM's phoniness and the lack of evidence. To quote Roger, a historian I greatly respect and admire, "I have no use for the man."

William F. Owen
07-11-2009, 08:09 AM
My recollection of the Journal of Military History article mentioned above on SLAM was that SLAM happened to be helpful due to what the Army changed about its small unit tactics in Vietnam based on his WWII book and "interviews". Basically, he happened to be right, but for the wrong reasons.
I have a copy of Marshall's "Ambush and Bird" written in 1969. It's a basically a "Vietnam battle narrative" written for entertainment.

Now, if someone actually applied Marshall's alleged methods of research, there might be something gained.
Nevertheless, Roger Spiller, former CGSC prof wrote the RUSI article that I believe first outed SLAM's phoniness and the lack of evidence. To quote Roger, a historian I greatly respect and admire, "I have no use for the man."
Could not say it better. If you see Roger Spiller anytime in the near future, tell him I am a fan.

Bob's World
07-11-2009, 12:45 PM
Hack's assessment rang fairly true in "About Face," but it was also clear that Hack didn't like/respect the guy and that rang through as well. So I always took it with a grain of salt. Never learned any great insights from those books I read. He tried to mix Ernie Pyle's "man of the soldiers" approach with one of also being a sage on military operations, and it never really worked IMO. I do have an original copy of Ernie's first book that I always enjoy breezing through.

As to my "Spotlight Theorists" phrase, feel free to use, so long as you can do so in the manner it was intended. Good people at CNAS, but when enough people keep telling you your s*%t doesn't stink, you can start to believe it. I think it is time to hold people to a stricter scrutiny.

I just flash to a conversation I had with the State-CT rep at the Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The best I could tell his entire knowledge of COIN was contained in the two Kilcullen articles he kept waving in my face, quoting them like the holy scripture. They have a level of influence that is as dangerous as it is important, and need to be sure to remember that no one has a corner on "right" in this business.