Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy.

Is this statistic accurate?

  • 2
    I could have sworn we've already had this question, but I can't find a duplicate.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 21:03
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    I'm not even sure "avoid" is the right word to be using here, you can be credited as being part of a battle without ever actually engaging the enemy.
    – rjzii
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 12:34
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    It looks like this quote is largely attributed to "Men Against Fire" by S.L. A. Marshall although the actual figure cited is 75% of riflemen never fired their weapon at the enemy. Newer research does seem to throw doubt on those figures though.
    – rjzii
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 12:43
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    I admittedly have never been in a gun battle using real bullets but I can believe the numbers based on my "extreme" paintball experience. LOL. We used to play in a relatively small sized area and just sticking your head up to look around was usually all it took to get shot. This was with relatively inaccurate paintball guns. I can only imagine being under fire and having to worry about sticking my head up with expert marksmen all around. It would not surprise me in the least to hear that most soldiers simply kept their heads down during combat, unless ordered to do otherwise.
    – Dunk
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 16:21
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    @vartec : My one line excerpt of the article doesn't suggest intentionality. If you however read the article it speaks about groups in close combat. If you find a way to better articulate the complete claim as it's made in the linked article, feel free to edit.
    – Christian
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 21:22

1 Answer 1


Yes, the evidence is credible.

According to David Grossman, a retired U.S. military psychologist who specializes in the psychology of killing, the source of this claim is S. L. A. Marshall, in his 1947 book Men Against Fire.

Grossman says of the further evidence he gathered to support the claim:

Ardant du Picq's surveys of French officers in the 1860s and his observations about ancient battles (Battle Studies, 1946), John Keegan and Richard Holmes' numerous accounts of ineffectual firing throughout history (Soldiers, 1985), Holmes' assessment of Argentine firing rates in the Falklands War (Acts of War, 1985), Paddy Griffith's data on the extraordinarily low firing rate among Napoleonic and American *Civil War regiments (Battle Tactics of the American Civil War, 1989), the British army's laser reenactments of historical battles, the FBI's studies of nonfiring rates among law enforcement officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and countless other individual and anecdotal observations, all confirm Marshall's fundamental conclusion that human beings are not, by nature, killers. Indeed, from a psychological perspective, the history of warfare can be viewed as a series of successively more effective tactical and mechanical mechanisms to enable or force combatants to overcome their resistance to killing other human beings, even when defined as the enemy.

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    This is a good answer, but I think it could be expanded on It confirms that ineffectual firing likely occurred, but the claim is that it counts for more then 3/4 of all shots fired. It would be nice to address the specific percentages. Your answer doesn't clarify if non-firing was something that happened 20%, 40% or 80% of the time.
    – dsollen
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 22:28

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