Another from the American Rifleman archives. Part I The Rifleman in the Atomic Age by Lloyd Norman From the March, 1952 issue of American Rifleman In this day of giant tanks, supersonic airplanes, devastating atomic explosions, does the Army value the man with a rifle? The other evening I heard General J. Lawton Collins, Army Chief of Staff, say on the radio that atomic weapons for the U.S. Infantry would be ready ‘in the not too distant future.’ A few days earlier in Texas he had told a reporter that these newfangled weapons for the battlefield would be available ‘very soon.’ If what General Collins has said is true, what is to happen to the doughboy who lugs his M-1 Garand into battle? I had first asked the question several years earlier at the Fort Benning, Georgia, Infantry School, at an orientation conference for reporters held by the Defense Department. All during that day at Fort Benning our ears and eyes had been filled with the thunder and flash of mock battle, of rumbling tanks, of big mortars that made the earth shake, of ear-splitting artillery, of flamethrowers searing ‘enemy’ pill boxes. In that smoke and dust, the rifleman seemed to have shrunk to an insignificant figure walking behind the thunder with his Garand. Where was the foot-soldier with his rifle? Sitting in a big classroom later that day, with the Infantry School’s top brass in front of us, we reporters were supposed to ask questions about the day’s demonstrations of infantry weapons and tactics we had witnessed. I asked officers at the Infantry School the following questions: What good is the rifle in modern warfare? How many of the enemy does the rifle really kill? Would it not be cheaper and just as effective to hand our men a lightweight machine gun that makes lots of noise and gives them a psychological lift? What is the use of wasting money on expensive rifles and ammunition when the stuff is just sprayed around anyway and does not do much harm to the enemy? I did not get satisfactory answers to these questions. It was apparent that little attention was being paid to the role of the rifle; the emphasis was on noisier weapons. Upon my return to Washington, still seeking the answers to those questions, I started on a personal hunt in the Pentagon. No one in Army G-3 (Operations) seemed to care to analyze what the rifleman does in combat, what part he plays and whether he is still needed in the Infantry. I searched through Army publications for articles about the rifle and the rifleman but found little to answer the question: What about the rifleman in the atomic age? I was beginning to realize that I was looking for the forgotten man in the Army. I decided to see the Army’s top infantryman, General Collins himself. General Collins is all soldier—erect in bearing; pressed, polished, and neat; remote and businesslike. He likes to get down to business at hand and get it over with in the time allotted on his daily calendar. he is cautious and restrained in his talk. I started off by telling him of my bewilderment in this talk of fantastic weapons, atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs, guided missiles. I told him that I had read of the clamor for atomic bombs to replace infantrymen, of atomic bombs for the battlefield, of atomic bombs that make wars cheaper. I mentioned the air-power theorists who suggest that future wars can be won without men and their rifles. “Are the rifleman really foredoomed as a military force?” I asked General Collins. Grinning broadly at my gloomy forecast, General Collins leaned back in his leather chair thoughtfully. “I don’t foresee the period where there will be no riflemen,” he said slowly. “It is possible that the need for riflemen may be reduced by new weapons in the dim distant future, but I feel strongly that we will always need men armed with shoulder weapons.” “It was amply demonstrated in Korea that the basic tools of the infantry—the rifle, machine gun, and mortar—will continue to be necessary for warfare in the foreseeable future,” General Collins said. “You have to have rifleman as an integral part of the armed forces. You can’t stop an enemy by air alone. You can’t replace the rifleman by atomic weapons.” General Collins conceded that new weapons like guided missiles or atomic bombs may be needed, particularly at the outset of war, to offset the ‘relative inferiority’ in forces in being. He said the chances are that we would be outnumbered in the beginning and we would use any weapon to overcome the enemy’s advantage in troop strength. But, he emphasized, these new weapons, useful though they may be, cannot do away with the rifle or with the man on the ground. He noted that the history of warfare demonstrates this fact, despite innovations over the centuries. He observed that even an old-fashioned weapon like the bayonet, which appeared headed for a museum, made a dramatic comeback in hand-to-hand fighting in Korea. General Collins stressed the importance of the rifleman in holding ground and taking ground from the enemy. He said Korea presents a graphic illustration of this classical axiom of warfare. He cited the vital role of the rifleman by recalling that more and more men are involved in warfare over the centuries, despite the development of new weapons and the technology of war. He said there may not be more troops at the front lines than in the past, but the complicated weapons have added more men in the rear to supply the men at the front. The General broke in here with a little story. He recalled that when he visited the Korean battlefronts in July 1950, he talked with Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, missing commander of the hard-hit 24th Infantry Division, near Taegu. General Dean’s last words to him were, “I need more rifleman.” About a week later, Dean vanished in the fierce fighting at Taejon and just recently turned up as a prisoner of the Chinese communists. By coincidence, the man who followed General Dean as commander of the 24th Infantry Division in Korea was leathery Maj. Gen. John H. Church, now commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning. As would be expected of a combat veteran of three wars, General Church is not ready to write off the infantryman or the rifle in favor of atomic weapons. I had talked with General Church in the Pentagon and I had written him in my search for answers to the questions that had been troubling me. In his first comprehensive policy statement as the new commandant of the Infantry School, General Church emphasized the point that the rifle is not a ‘has-been’ in warfare.