On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
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The good news is that most soldiers are loath to kill. But armies have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion. And contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army's conditioning techniques, and, according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's thesis, is responsible for our rising rate of murder among the young.
Upon its initial publication, ON KILLING was hailed as a landmark study of the techniques the military uses to overcome the powerful reluctance to kill, of how killing affects soldiers, and of the societal implications of escalating violence. Now, Grossman has updated this classic work to include information on 21st-century military conflicts, recent trends in crime, suicide bombings, school shootings, and more. The result is a work certain to be relevant and important for decades to come.
them. Their letters were an umbilical cord to the sanity and decency that they believed they were fighting for. And a significant increase in such letters as well as many other forms of psychological and social isolation probably account for much of the tremendous increase in psychiat- ric casualties suffered late in that war. According to Gabriel, early in the war evacuations for psychiatric conditions reached only 6 percent of total medical evacuations, but by 1971, the percentage 278
greater than that of a smoothbore musket. But a frightened man, thinking with his midbrain and going "ploink, ploink, ploink" with a bow, doesn't stand a chance against an equally frightened man going " B A N G ! B A N G ! " with a musket. Firing a musket or rifle clearly fills the deep-seated need to posture, and it even meets the requirement of being relatively harmless when we consider the consistent historical occurrences of firing over the enemy's head, and the remarkable
area full of myths and misunderstanding. If someone was impotent or frigid, would he or she let that be common knowledge? If the majority of the marriages of two centuries ago suffered problems with impotence or frigidity, would we have known? An educated man of two hundred years ago would have probably said, "They manage to make plenty of babies, don't they? They must be doing something right!" And if one hundred years ago a researcher discovered that sexual abuse of children was
finite resource. I have termed this the Well of Forti- tude. Faced with the soldier's encounters with horror, guilt, fear, exhaustion, and hate, each man draws steadily from his own private reservoir of inner strength and fortitude until finally the well runs dry. And then he becomes just another statistic. I believe that this metaphor of the well is an excellent one for understanding why at least 98 percent of all soldiers in close combat will ultimately become psychiatric casualties.
seemed always to melt back into the civilian population. The day before the massacre, the popular Sergeant Cox was killed by a booby trap. (Increasing the "relevance" of their civilian victims and adding the recent experience of losing friends to the enemy, while also increasing the intensity of group support for killing.) According to one witness, Calley's company commander, Captain Medina, stated in a briefing to his men that '"our job is to go in rapidly, and to neutralize everything.