The claim is that a surprising percentage of soldiers do not shoot to kill in battle or do not shoot in the general direction of the enemy at all, unless specifically conditioned to do so with special training.


"In a squad of 10 men, on average fewer than three ever fired their weapons in combat"

Another relevant link, althoug it is itself a question: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=77710

I have seen this claim on different occasions. Here is a video I recently watched on the topic:


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    The article is a complex one studying many factors. It's also specific to Vietnam. Can you quote the part which has the claim you are interested in? Sep 21, 2016 at 20:08
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    The quote you've given doesn't have any relevance to the claim you're asking about. If 70%+ of soldiers haven't fired weapons in combat, that doesn't say anything about how the weapons were used by the rest.
    – Nij
    Sep 21, 2016 at 23:15
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    The youtube video does make some very specific claims that go well beyond the Vietnam war (and include the 20th century's major wars) plus some more modern claims. And there is some hint that the situation may have changed in 21st century wars. These might be worth including in the question.
    – matt_black
    Sep 22, 2016 at 11:30
  • I remember reading somewhere that they found many rifles which were loaded up to 10 times after some battles. This was as far as I remember in the American civil war. The soldiers must have just kept on loading their rifles and pretening to fire.
    – WalyKu
    Sep 23, 2016 at 10:43
  • The average guy doesn't want to die nor to kill. Armies were created by forcing average guys into war, hence those behaviours are perfectly consistent with this. When people volunteer as a soldier and receive specific training in order to fight and kill the enemy they obviously act differently.
    – Bakuriu
    Sep 23, 2016 at 11:17

2 Answers 2


Referring to analysis by Robert Engen present here, this claim was based on the numbers in the books "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by David Grossman; and "Men against Fire", by SLA Marshall. However, there is no research/statistical evidence to support the claimed numbers.

Here, Marshall becomes extremely problematic as a source. Historians and researchers since the 1980s have been consistently demonstrating that Marshall did not have the evidence to back up his claims. Roger Spiller, among the first historians to publicly criticize Marshall, claimed that his ratio of fire numbers were “...an invention,” and that “Marshall had no use for polite equivocations of scholarly discourse. His way of proving doubtful propositions was to state them forcefully. Righteousness was always more important for Marshall than evidence.” Other historians discovered that none of Marshall’s aides and assistants could ever remember Marshall asking the troops questions during the group interviews that had anything to do with whether they had fired their weapons.

In the surviving field notebooks used by Marshall during his interviews, historians have found no signs of the statistical compilations that would have been necessary to deduce a ratio as precise as that found in Men Against Fire. Such a precise, surprising number as the 15 to 25 percent ratio should have required a great amount of hard work and data-gathering to arrive at, but there is no evidence that Marshall carried out the statistical legwork his claims imply. The only interview notes actually located were found in an archive of a Maryland National Guard division, wherein soldiers testified to having used their weapons in action. There was no mention of the ratio of fire. Source: KILLING FOR THEIR COUNTRY: A NEW LOOK AT “KILLOLOGY”

Also the actual numbers based on Canadian armed forces showed them firing too much, wasting ammunition, and giving away their positions as detailed here.

The phenomenon of “too much fire” is really a corollary to the effectiveness of the weapons being used, because as we have seen, Canadian soldiers relied heavily upon infantry firepower in battle.

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    Couldn't "too much fire" also be explained by deliberate missing. Essentially there's no evidence either way?
    – OrangeDog
    Sep 26, 2016 at 17:56

Probably not in present times.

As your primary link explains, this figure arises from various articles and a book, Men against Fire, written by Brigadier S.L.A. Marshall. As the link states, the claim was taken as gospel at the time he published it but has since been brought into question.

Armies changed their training methods to reduce the chance of this happening, well explained on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killology

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