Retired four-star general Paul F. Gorman recalls first learning about the “weakling of the battlefield” from reading S.L.A. Marshall, the U.S. Army combat historian during World War II. After interviewing soldiers who participated in the Normandy beach landings, Marshall had learned that fatigue was responsible for an overwhelming number of casualties.

“I didn’t know my strength was gone until I hit the beach,” Sergeant Bruce Hensley told Marshall. “I was carrying part of a machine gun. Normally I could run with it … but I found I couldn’t even walk with it. … So I crawled across the sand dragging it with me. I felt ashamed of my own weakness, but looking around I saw the others crawling and dragging the weights they normally carried.” Another officer told of the effects of “fear and fatigue.”

“Soldiers get tired and soldiers get fearful,” Gorman told me last year. “Frequently, soldiers just don’t want to fight. Attention must always be paid to the soldier himself.”

For decades after its inception in 1958, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—DARPA, the central research and development organization of the Department of Defense—focused on developing vast weapons systems. Starting in 1990, and owing to individuals like Gorman, a new focus was put on soldiers, airmen, and sailors—on transforming humans for war. The progress of those efforts, to the extent it can be assessed through public information, hints at war’s future, and raises questions about whether military technology can be stopped, or should.

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