Fix bayonets--A command to strike terror into both sides of the fight

Christian Science Monitor:

When a US Army general made the decision recently to remove bayonet assaults from the array of skills soldiers must learn during basic training, it seemed like a no-brainer.

US troops hadn’t launched a bayonet charge since 1951 during the Korean War. And new soldiers preparing for an increasingly violent war in Afghanistan already need to learn far more skills than the 10 weeks of basic training allows, says Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, head of initial entry training and the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

So he made a change, substituting skills drill sergeants reported that they wanted to teach new recruits in favor of dropping the time-honored practice of the bayonet charge.

But in the weeks since that decision, Hertling has heard about it. “Bayonet training is pretty fascinating,” he says. “I’ve been slammed by retirees.”

The objections to ending the training are occasionally practical.

In 2004, with ammunition running low, a British unit launched a bayonet charge toward a trench outside of Basra, Iraq, where some 100 members of the Mahdi Army militia were staging an attack. The British soldiers later said that though some of the insurgents were wounded in the bayonet charge itself, others were simply terrified into surrender.

Instilling such terror is at the heart of the philosophical argument for keeping bayonet training, historians say.

“Traditionally in the 20th century – certainly after World War I – bayonet training was basically designed to develop in soldiers aggressiveness, courage, and preparation for close combat,” says Richard Kohn, professor of military history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bayonet training is, in short, used to undo socialization – to “basically to try to mitigate or eradicate the reluctance of human beings to kill each other,” Mr. Kohn says. It is one of the challenges in US or Western society “where we have such reverence for the individual, where we socialize our people to believe in the rule of law, and all of that,” he adds. “What you’re doing with young people is trying to get them used to the highly emotional and irrational and adrenaline-filled situations in which they are liable to find themselves whether they are within sight of the enemy or not – and the reluctance to take a life.”

There is a more practical reason for bayonet training. Sometimes you need it. The example of the Brit unit is a good one. There are other times where US forces in defensive positions running low on ammo use bayonets to thwart enemy attacks into their positions. I recall stories of Marines reduced to using their entrenching tool to attack enemy fighters in the lines. I think they can also be useful for crowd control.

This form of fighting predates the rifle or the bayonet. The Greeks used to fight with a long staff with a spear tip on the end. The thrust and parry techniques are similar.

In the Marines we first trained with padded pugal sticks, then moved up to the real thing. In the pugal stick competition I was matched up with a guy who had been a defensive tackle at Ohio State. He was taller and probably outweighed me by a 100 pounds. With my first parry I swung the lower end of the pugal stick and struck him on his left knee. He crumple to the ground and the match was over. The lesson there is that it is not just the bayonet end of the rifle that is used in the attack.


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