James's Reviews > A Rifleman Went to War

A Rifleman Went to War by Herbert W. McBride
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Oct 06, 08

bookshelves: culture-and-politics, history, memoirs, military, death-dying-killing-bereavement
Recommended for: World War I trivia fans
Read in September, 2008

A mixed bag. It's a personal narrative of the author's experience in World War I, but it's pretty impersonally told until the very end, with all the verve and intensity of describing a trip to the grocery store. And it's not much as a detailed account of the methods and tactics he and his unit used, either, because he relates things in such general terms, except for a couple of short chapters near the end on tactics.

Also, McBride went off on some tangents with predictions and prescriptions for the organization, training, and equipping the army for the next war - he was writing in the 1930s, so his strongly expressed views were put to the test less than a decade later in World War II, and his batting average was dismal. If it had been up to McBride, our troops would never have seen the M1 Garand rifle, because he was sure that soldiers couldn't exercise the self-discipline to refrain from firing off all their ammo right away if they were allowed to carry semiautomatic rifles. Wrong... And he felt that it was impossible to meld soldiers from different regions or ethnicities into cohesive units - wrong again. And so on. His crystal ball had some serious cracks in it.

Finally, at the end, McBride wrote reluctantly about the impact combat had on him as a person, discussing what sounds like a deep depression he went through, in the depths of which he had lost hope of survival and actually looked forward to getting it over with. A relief to find that he wasn't quite the robot or psychopath he'd professed to be at the beginning, but disappointing because if he'd woven that into his narrative throughout, it would have been much easier to relate to his experience.

I won't be reading his second book, because I'm not interested enough in the subject (a machine gun unit) if he's going to stay clear of the psychology and interpersonal part of his experiences.
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