John McManus: In praise of ‘grunts’

John McManus's new book.jpg

John McManus, Missouri S&T historian. Photo by B.A. Rupert

Today’s military relies on a lot of technology to fight battles. But troops – not technology – win the wars.

So says Missouri S&T historian John C. McManus in his new book about America’s ground forces, Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II Through Iraq.

The foot soldier has been the most indispensable – and most overlooked – factor in wartime victory, says McManus, an associate professor of U.S. military history.

“The true difference makers in wars will be the soldiers on the ground,” McManus says. “Now, they need a lot of support, and the technology makes a difference. But in the end, who tips the balance? The guy on the ground.”
Grunts examines 10 pivotal battles over the past six decades – from the 1944 fight on the island of Guam to counterinsurgency combat in Iraq – and concludes that the skills and courage of American troops were the deciding factor in each.

Policymakers “tend to shrink from the realities of war,” says McManus. “It’s brutal, it’s vulgar, it’s violent, it’s wasteful, and it tends to be fought on the ground.”

Despite the increasing reliance on technology in modern military action – from aerial drones to global positioning systems – ground troops continue to play an important role, McManus says. “It’s only natural that Americans would look toward our strengths, and technology is a strength. But at exactly the time the ground soldiers were supposed to become obsolete, the exact opposite has happened.

“Based on what’s happened in very recent history, I don’t believe this will change,” McManus adds. “I believe we need to shape our national policy” to emphasize the importance of infantry. For instance, McManus suggests that the Marine Corps and Army receive a larger share of the defense budget.

“Infantry units always seem to be under strength, overwrought and overworked,” McManus says. “They do most of the fighting and dying, and yet they get the minority of appropriation in the budget. I just don’t see how that can be.”

Grunts is the result of nearly a decade of archival research, battlefield visits, personal interviews with veterans and intensive study. “I had enough materials for 10 books instead of 10 chapters,” McManus says. The new book is McManus’ ninth.

By Andrew Careaga

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  1. Don Wunsch says

    Congratulations, John; you’ve done it again!