Misfire: The History of How America's Small Arms Have Failed Our Military

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Misfire: The History of How America's Small Arms Have Failed Our Military

By William H. Hallahan
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994
578 pp. $30.00
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The expos‚ genre of military technology studies took a beating in the aftermath of the Gulf War -- all that gold-plated hardware seemed not only to work, but to work amazingly well. No matter. In this book Hallahan revives some well-worn tropes. His thesis -- highlighted with words like "scandalous" for the benefit of his more obtuse readers -- is that the U.S. Army's ordnance department has always favored weapons designed for slow, accurate fire, and that this approach to small arms has brought tragedy in more than one war and will do so again. This book is well-written but shows almost no evidence of primary research, as opposed to mining of secondary sources that confirm the author's thesis. In the tangled story of the M-16 rifle, for example, Hallahan barely mentions Thomas McNaugher's sober and authoritative review of the evidence, in which the ordnance experts appear no great villains. In areas on the margins of his work (for example, German military inventions in the latter part of World War II) the author is wildly inaccurate. Unfortunately, this kind of sensationalist and superficial history will probably do well. We take an odd comfort in the belief that governments make mistakes only because public servants (soldiers, above all) are implacably and dangerously stupid.

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