On Killing

On Killing

The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Book - 1995
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The twentieth century, with its bloody world wars, revolutions, and genocides accounting for hundreds of millions dead, would seem to prove that human beings are incredibly vicious predators and that killing is as natural as eating. But Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, a psychologist and U.S. Army Ranger, demonstrates this is not the case. The good news, according to Grossman - drawing on dozens of interviews, first-person reports, and historic studies of combat, ranging from Frederick the Great's battles in the eighteenth century through Vietnam - is that the vast majority of soldiers are loath to kill. In World War II, for instance, only 15 to 25 percent of combat infantry were willing to fire their rifles. The provocative news is that modern armies, using Pavlovian and operant conditioning, have learned how to overcome this reluctance. In Korea about 50 percent of combat infantry were willing to shoot, and in Vietnam the figure rose to over 90 percent. The bad news is that by conditioning soldiers to overcome their instinctive loathing of killing, we have drastically increased post-combat stress - witness the devastated psychological state of our Vietnam vets as compared with those from earlier wars. And the truly terrible news is that contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army's conditioning techniques and - according to Grossman's controversial thesis - is responsible for our rising rates of murder and violence, particularly among the young. In the explosive last section of the book, he argues that high-body-count movies, television violence (both news and entertainment), and interactive point-and-shoot video games are dangerously similar to thetraining programs that dehumanize the enemy, desensitize soldiers to the psychological ramifications of killing, and make pulling the trigger an automatic response.
Publisher: Boston : Little, Brown, c1995.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780316330008
Branch Call Number: 355/.0019/GROS
Characteristics: 367 p. 24 cm.


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Nov 10, 2016

An astonishing, even frightening book. Its extremely well structured (about forty chapters for about 330 pages of text). One eye-popping moment was the marching song that ran "I want to rape, kill, pillage and burn, and eat dead babies" (pg., 311-12, slightly modified) (I wonder what other nation's marching songs are; how would one find out the DPRK's marching songs?) A highly edifying read, aided by the use of many diagrams.

Jun 09, 2015

I read it at 14. It's a great book

unbalancedbutfair Nov 04, 2012

This book has some very valuable ideas in it. It builds off of
groundbreaking research from WWII about the effects of "battle
fatigue" ("shellshock" in the previous war, "post traumatic
stress disorder" now days). Along with that research was information
about the firing rate, namely that for much of the history of
war only a minority of the soldiers in the field tried to kill
the enemy. This was a very well made argument that is very intruiging
He quickly points out that something that common cannot be cowardice
but rather is something important about human psychology in general.
And if there is that much natural resistance to killing there
are important questions such as "how do you get soldiers to
kill?" and the repurcussions "What are the psychological
ramifications?" While he is plodding and repetitive at points
the substance of his arguments are well worth entertaining. I
would like to see more sources and research in this area, which
is part of his argument, that there has been a lack of study
of this important aspect of human civilization. Anyone interested
in war, killing, or society would benefit from reading this.
Don't necessarily swallow it, but entertain it.

Aug 23, 2010

Grossman's thesis is controversial, yet it is useful in exposing the range of stress that combat soldiers can experience


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Jun 09, 2015

cattlekids7 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Mar 23, 2015

red_shark_785 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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