News & Politics » Letters

Shooting Studs

by

comment

To the editors:

Don Graham's No Name on the Bullet: A Biography of Audie Murphy, excellently reviewed by Mike McGrath in the October 20 Reader, certainly seems like a fascinating study in the evolving mores of post-World War II America. However, I feel it necessary to point out a glaring mistake in Graham's choice of documentation that was noticeable merely by reading the review. Graham, apparently, attributes much of Murphy's astounding battlefield prowess to his unhesitant willingness to pull the trigger in the heat of battle, whereas he claims most soldiers were not nearly as readily prepared to do so. With this assertion I am in no position to argue. However, he draws his conclusions about just how exceptional Audie Murphy was from the work of a famous military historian, S.L.A. Marshall. Marshall claimed to have statistically corroborated the post-battle interviews he conducted with infantrymen to reach the empirical conclusion that on the average, only 25% of all front-line soldiers ever fired their weapons even once. This is a fascinating statistic, pregnant with implications on the myth of heroism and man's propensity towards warfare in general. Unfortunately, as reported in the magazine American Heritage (Winter, 1988), Marshall's research techniques were defective and perhaps even intentionally deceptive. Were his 25% "ratio-of-fire" statistic true, one must conclude that it is so merely by chance. Most likely we can never know how often American soldiers fired on the enemy. Marshall, consequently, has little if any credibility among historians.

S.L.A. Marshall and Audie Murphy, ironically, were then both victims of a profound post-war decimation of stature, Marshall as the discredited but once highly innovative and respected historian, Murphy as the hard-fighting "everyman." Hopefully, Graham's granting Marshall undeserved rhetorical deference, though, belies the integrity of the rest of his assessment of the "everyman" Murphy. A potentially profoundly telling appraisal of American popular culture would be subverted by more such gaffes. We'll just have to read the book with especially careful eyes.

I appreciated the Reader providing me with this forum for bringing this trivial matter to public attention.

Rick Perlstein

South Shore Drive

Add a comment