Misfire: The Tragic Failure of the M16 in Vietnam by Orkland and Duryea is a detailed explanation of the problems with the M16 in Vietnam. American soldiers in Vietnam were outgunned by the Viet Cong who were being supplied with AK47s by the Soviet and Chinese governments. The Department of Defence in the US tried to fix this by giving soldiers M16s. The M16s were tested with a particular kind of ammunition and powder and they passed those tests. The US military had materials lying around that could be used to make a different kind of powder and ammunition and decided to use that instead. As a result of this decision, bullets sometimes got stuck in the rifles and had to be removed using a cleaning rod. This led to many soldiers being killed and to a shortage of cleaning rods. As far as I can tell the authors give an accurate account of what happened with the M16 and the government’s incompetence in dealing with the problem.

Unfortunately the book contains at least one major error. There is a section of the book about the role of the press in the Vietnam war. They then discuss what might have happened if WW2 had been covered the same way and they write (p. 201):

But the public’s parents and grandparents never had the opportunity in the 1940s to watch on not-yet-widely-available RCA, DuMont, Farnsworth, and Belmont television sets the February 1945 firebombing of the German city of Dresden. On that occasion, a combined force of U.S. and British heavy bombers incinerated and killed an estimated 25,000 old men, women, and children who lived in the historic German state capital on the Elbe River. Four waves of more than 1,300 allied heavy bombers dropped almost 4,000 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on Dresden, a city with no strategic importance whatsoever; its principal attribute was the manufacture of some of the world’s finest porcelain and chinaware. With the war all but won, it constituted a criminal act by the Allies (revenge of a sort for the Luftwaffe’s November 1940 firebombing of the British city of Coventry in an attack demonically code-named “Moonlight Sonata” by Reichsmarschall Herman Goering’s minions) that approaches every definition of a massive war crime.

The authors give no references for these claims about Dresden. In his book Dresden: Tuesday 13 February 1945 Frederick Taylor explains that Dresden had a lot of factories before the war and that most of their productive capacity was converted to war production, including production of ammunition (see especially chapter 13). Dresden also had a rail junction used to ship material to and from Dresden’s arms factories and to send Jews to extermination camps. Taylor’s book was published in 2004 and has been available on Kindle since 2011. “Misfire” was published in 2019, so the authors could easily have checked their claim that Dresden has “no strategic importance whatsoever”, but they didn’t bother.

The authors don’t discuss Dresden further. They threw away their scholarly integrity for the sake of a single paragraph about a matter that wasn’t directly related to the point of the book. This is a common problem. Lots of books make claims that can be refuted by doing a little research so you should be careful and sceptical about the contents of books.

UPDATE A better way to understand the problems with the M16 is to directly read the Report of the Special Subcommittee on the M-16 Rifle Program of the Committee on Armed Services House of Representatives. Then you don’t have to worry about mistakes from the authors of “Misfire”.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

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