Monday, July 23, 2012

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Wikipedia Page dedicated to "On Killing"

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society 

Dave Grossman (Author)

Book Description

June 22, 2009
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.

Frequently Bought Together

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society+On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace+Warrior Mindset

Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on interviews, published personal accounts and academic studies, Grossman investigates the psychology of killing in combat. Stressing that human beings have a powerful, innate resistance to the taking of life, he examines the techniques developed by the military to overcome that aversion. His provocative study focuses in particular on the Vietnam war, revealing how the American soldier was "enabled to kill to a far greater degree than any other soldier in history." Grossman argues that the breakdown of American society, combined with the pervasive violence in the media and interactive video games, is conditioning our children to kill in a manner siimilar to the army's conditioning of soldiers: "We are reaching that stage of desensitization at which the infliction of pain and suffering has become a source of entertainment: vicarious pleasure rather than revulsion. We are learning to kill, and we are learning to like it." Grossman, a professor of military science at Arkansas State University, has written a study of relevance to a society of escalating violence.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Grossman (psychology, West Point) presents three important hypotheses: 1) That humans possess the reluctance to kill their own kind; 2) that this reluctance can be systematically broken down by use of standard conditioning techniques; and 3) that the reaction of "normal" (e.g., non-psychopathic) soliders to having killed in close combat can be best understood as a series of "stages" similar to the ubiquitous Kubler-Ross stages of reaction to life-threatening disease. While some of the evidence to support his theories have been previously presented by military historians (most notably, John Keegan), this systematic examination of the individual soldier's behavior, like all good scientific theory making, leads to a series of useful explanations for a variety of phenomena, such as the high rate of post traumatic stress disorders among Vietnam veterans, why the rate of aggravated assault continues to climb, and why civilian populations that have endured heavy bombing in warfare do not have high incidents of mental illness. This important book deserves a wide readership. Essential for all libraries serving military personnel or veterans, including most public libraries.
Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, Wash.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

    More About the Author


    A former army Ranger and paratrooper, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman taught psychology at West Point and was the professor of Military Science at Arkansas State University.

    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews
    366 of 396 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating study January 23, 2004
    ON KILLING is the study of what author Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has termed "killology". This odd term describes, not killing between nations, but the exact circumstances involved when one individual ends the life of another individual, with the primary focus being on combat situations. I've sometimes wondered how I (someone who has never been anywhere near armed conflict) would fare on the frontlines, as killing another human being seems like an almost impossible psychological task. As Grossman casts an eye over historical reports of combat, he found that, apparently, I wasn't alone in thinking that. During the First and Second World Wars, officers estimated that only 15-20 percent of their frontline soldiers actually fired their weapons, and there is evidence to suggest that most of those who did fire aimed their rifles harmless above the heads of their enemy.
    Grossman's argument is carefully researched and methodically laid out. He begins by filling in some historical details, discussing the statistics for shots fired per soldier killed for the World Wars and the American Civil War. It's a refreshing and enlightening look at war that dispels a lot of misconceptions. An average solder in those wars was extremely reluctant to take arms against fellow humans, even in cases where his own life (or the lives of his companions) was threatened. Not to say that any of these people are cowards; in fact, many would engage in brave acts such as rescuing their comrades from behind enemy lines or standing in harm's way while helping a fellow to reload. But the ability to stare down the length of a gun barrel and make a conscious effort to end a life is a quality that is happily rare.
    The book continues on then, detailing what steps the US Army took to increase the percentage that they could get to actually fire upon their enemy. By studying precisely what the soldier's ordinary reactions were, the officers were able to change the scenario of war in order to avoid the most stressful of situations. The soldier found up-close killing to be abhorrent, so the emphasis was countered by inserting machinery (preferably one manned by multiple soldiers) between the killer and the enemy to increase the physical and emotional distance. Every effort is made to dehumanize the act of killing.
    Grossman spends a great deal of time discussing the trauma that the solder who kills faces when he returns to civilian life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in those veterans who returned from Vietnam. Those soldiers had been psychologically trained to kill in a way that no previous army had gone through, and there was no counteragent working to heal their psychological wounds. Grossman takes great pains to discuss how horrifying the act of killing is, and points out how detrimental it is to one's mental health. When the Vietnam veterans returned home to no counseling and the spit and bile of anti-war protestors, the emotional effect was astounding. Most of Grossman's thesis is supported by in-depth interviews and psychological profiles, but it is the story of the Vietnam veterans that comes across as the most disturbing.
    Much of the chatter about this book seems to revolve around the final section, the discussion about our own civilian society. While this is understandable, I actually preferred reading the earlier portions, simply because they opened my eyes to a lot about the military that I had been previously ignorant of. I think it would be a mistake to concentrate solely on the argument's conclusion as it rests heavily on the case that has been building. In any event, the book eventually develops its final conclusion: the methods that the military uses to desensitize its soldiers to killing are also being used in our media, but without the proper command structure that keeps people from killing indiscriminately. In a military situation, firing a weapon without proper authorization or instruction is a very serious offense, and this is drilled into the mind at the same time as the desensitization. Without this safety, there is nothing to hold back the killing instinct, and this is one of the main reasons why the homicide rate has increased so dramatically.
    Now, I'll say right off the bat that I was partial to this line of argument before I read the book; I think that children repeatedly exposed to such images would almost certainly become blasé towards extreme violence. But Grossman's book gave me so much more to think about. It isn't just a Pavlovian force at work here; Grossman points out many reasons (both stemming from society and the changing family structure) for why young people of today seem much more able to kill than their parents and grandparents were.
    I was honestly surprised at how strong of a writer Grossman is. He manages to put forth his argument without boring the reader. By its very nature, a lot of what he discusses is repetitive and disturbing, but the subject matter is so compelling that I didn't mind. Grossman is very logical in his approach and his argument is a powerful one. I highly recommend this book, especially for people like myself who have never experienced war at close quarters. The summary I (and others here) have given is simply not nearly adequate to capture all of Grossman's thorough contentions. ON KILLING made me think harder about a subject that I hadn't given a lot of thought too before. The information and research here is invaluable.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment