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

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

  • Title: On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
  • Author: Dave Grossman
  • ISBN: 9780316330114
  • Page: 120
  • Format: Paperback
  • 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 GrosThe 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.

    One thought on “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society”

    1. As a combat vet myself, I can't say I learned anything new from this book as I have lived it all myself,. Yet I strongly suggest you all read it carefully.It will enlighten you to a very important aspect of humanity and the survival instinct that few understand. There is a price for killing and there is a very effective "military machine" to teach the acceptance and support of killing that is a thousand years or more old.That mind altering thousand year plus mind forming machine is set against a [...]

    2. Funny how a little more than 10 years can change one's perspective. When I read Grossman's "On Killing" for first time, I found it deep and profound. Upon second reading a decade later, I find his conclusions sometimes unfounded, sometimes rather badly argued, while constant repetitions were increasingly annoying the further I've got into the book. Most importantly however, several of Grossman's points just don't ring true to me anymore.Let's start with the fact that Grossman bases his thesis al [...]

    3. Ok I loved and hated this book. I guess you could say I hated it because the truth hurts but I loved it because It REALLY opened my eyes to how(my hubby) feels everyday. It really helped me understand him and the thoughts that he has more clearly. I was let down though, the reason I was really hoping that it would tell me how to handle all of this and it doesn't it only explains the effects, not how to deal. So in some ways fantastic others a let down. I do recommend others read it though it wil [...]

    4. People don't like to kill each other. But they might start changing their minds.No but seriously, this is a great read. I mean, if you're interested in how people are conditioned to kill, and how they actually behave after they are conditioned to kill. Honestely, I have a hard time believing some of the stuff he asserts, but I think there's a lot of valuable information in there that you wouldn't find anywhere else. The part I love is when he examines the history of using bayonets in warfare, an [...]

    5. By turns fascinating and overly moralising; amazing insights into how normal people can be made to commit atrocites, the average soldier's (reassuring) reluctance to kill (at least, up close and personally) are mixed with poor research and referencing, repetition and generally uninspiring writing.Throughout the book we are repeatedly told of the massive increase in violent crime throughout America - but this isn't referenced. When I finally tracked down one reference to crime studies in the 'fur [...]

    6. The book should not be taken as absolute, peer reviewed fact. While it starts out in an academic fashion and explains the basis for its theories, it later derails into chapter-long rants and moans about how American society is to blame for its treatment of returning veterans of the Vietnam war. Exaggerating and making very emotional, biased arguments.And if that was not enough Grossman, decides to squander his credentials by attempting to perpetuate the disproved myth that violent video-games an [...]

    7. I first became aware of On Killing when Tony Blauer referenced it at one of his PDR seminars, and have heard a fair amount of good press since then. It’s one of those books that martial artists/self-defense junkies seem to like to talk about, or at least, claim to have read, and I figured it was time I finally saw what all of the fuss is about.On Killing is the first of Col. Grossman’s works on “killology”, which he defines as “the scholarly study of the destructive act, just as sexolo [...]

    8. On Killing has a great book hidden away some where inside, but it is a marred by a lack of rigor, inaccuracies, constant repetition, and chapters that have no relevance to the book but are instead a chance for the author to rant. The book is full of things that Grossman made up to support his beliefs and which Grossman refers to as if they are historical fact. for instance Centurions were known for leading their men by example, fighting in the front lines. Yet, Grossman claims that Centurions, l [...]

    9. Grossman, a former Army Ranger (who, ironically, has never actually killed anyone) collects myriad stories from those who have killed, and comments on society's collective aversion to the action. In wwii, only 15% of men were willing to fire their weapons, in korea it rose to 50%, in vietnam, the american military was able to persuade 90% of combat troops to fire on the enemy. Grossman comments on how the military was able to accomplish this, and discusses impacts of the operant condition, and o [...]

    10. I have seen this book recommended more than once as a resource for writers to understand the true costs of war upon the human psyche. I well understand why. It is a book that is intense, frank, and fascinating as it breaks down the psychology and physiology of what warriors endure during and after war. Where it strayed for me was at the end, when he looked to the future, and among other points, presented an argument on video games as murder-training simulators. The book is incredibly strong (and [...]

    11. One of the most profound books I've ever read. Recommended by an ex-military friend of mine who is a female combat veteran, a former U2 pilot, and a graduate of both the Air Force Academy and the prep school that feeds it. Some of the deepest ethical discussions in my life have been related to the philosophical questions raised by, and in, this book.Until I read On Killing, my favorite work of military history was The Face of Battle by John Keegan. Army Ranger Dave Grossman (not a combat veteran [...]

    12. Great book, disturbing in most senses – but gives us hope.Why is it hopeful? Because it argues that for the vast majority of humanity, killing another human is a vastly unnatural act. Societies may find a way to battle at every opportunity, but individual humans have a hard time killing another human being.One of Dave Grossman's arguments is that – to paraphrase – ‘the recruit doesn’t want to kill, but only has 20 years of total life experience, while the army has the breadth of histor [...]

    13. Verdict: Definitely recommended. This book was picked out from one of the lists and I’m so glad I spent those 30 odd minutes going through all the options and choosing this book. On Killing is insightful and impactful, informative and emotional, gripping and painful. I’m not sure if I’m doing justice by saying that it has managed to bring out the human element (at least a glimpse) to all the war documentaries and stories I have read as a history buff. What works: It’s clear outline of t [...]

    14. This is an interesting book, written by a man who is not only a Vietnam combat veteran, but also a retired teacher of psychology at West Point, and a teacher and trainer of military and law enforcement organizations regarding the reality of combat. He bases his book on studies and on the research of other scientists regarding combat, mental stress in combat, and psychiatric casualties of combat; on observations made by combat professionals, and on anecdotes from those who have undergone combat.I [...]

    15. An important, fascinating, sometimes disturbing book on the psychology behind killing, specifically in wartime. A fact that restores your faith in the human race: most people, when ordered to kill their fellow human beings on the front lines of war, will simply choose not to do so. 80-85% become "non-shooters". Even when forced to shoot, they will intentionally miss rather than shoot at a fellow human.The military since Vietnam has used psychological conditioning to overcome this innate resistan [...]

    16. Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing, is not a light read. Nor is it a particularly enjoyable one. I knew all that going in. So why did I read it? Because although I knew it would not be an enjoyable read, I felt that it was a necessary one. I write thrillers. I write about elite warriors, despite the fact that I have never fired a shot in anger, despite the fact that I have never taken a human life. I don’t see this as a deterrent, for I know with certainty that I would not be able to write abo [...]

    17. Interesting idea, horrific execution. The Good: the thesis that most people have an innate desire not to kill other human beings, and that this power is so strong that soldiers will often intentionally not kill the enemy even in battle. Things that can be done to overcome this predisposition include psychological training, group pressure, diffusion of responsibility, praise by society, and distance (both physical and cultural). Some interesting thoughts on why casualty rates have been so low in [...]

    18. Lt.Col. Grossman is developing a field of study he has termed 'killology'. As you can probably guess, this is the study of killing. His book here is concerned with the psychological and subsequent social effects of learning to kill. It is well researched and written in a careful and sensitive tone, he maintains a respect for his subjects--mostly military personnel. He begins with a detailed analysis of the inhibition against killing humans and its effects on battlefields. This leads to a discuss [...]

    19. I would have given this book more stars but Grossman's own blind patriotism and anti communism got in the way of his scientific theory. I thought the first half of this book was great. I learned so much on the act of killing and how extraordinarily hard it is for people to kill one another.The problems I had with this book:-Grossman only goes into detail about gruesome atrocities that are committed by communists or non white people. He never gives examples of US soldiers committing atrocities.-G [...]

    20. A wonderful treatise on combat and the cost of killing another person. I have never read anything that has broken down the psychology of justified murder/killing. From the conditioning of soldiers to the linguistic associations that allow people to view others as "less than" and thus acceptable casualties.I would recommend it solely for the chapters on weaponry and how innovation and technology have progressed to move our proximity away from the kill, which in turn increases psychological accept [...]

    21. A book unique in its premise, and it's ability to confront hard truths.It helped me wrap my mind around events that I have always struggled with.And for me with this furthered understanding comes a kind of healing.

    22. As happened with Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, every once in a while you pick up a book of non-fiction so engrossing, so revelatory, you not only can't put it down, you don't know if you'll ever pick up anything else as good. I love that feeling. And On Killing is one of those books.Despite the pretty grim title, the book is really about living. Its subtitle is more apt, though less sexy than its titular superior: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Ki [...]

    23. I honestly don’t remember where I first heard about On Killing, but it sure intrigued me at the time. Grossman’s book is about the conditioning employed by modern militaries in order to persuade reluctant soldiers into effectively killing, the emotional and psychiatric toll killing has on soldiers, and – I didn’t realize this, then – how we’re effectively conditioning members of society to become murderers through violent media. To be perfectly frank, I likely would not have searched [...]

    24. Excellent book and affirming in an odd way. Based upon what Grossman documents, I got much of the psychological cost of killing right in Gypsy Spy. At least 12 dog-eared pages and multiple underlinings give evidence to my engagement with the book. The author has a fascination with Freud, but that can be forgiven. He doesn't make any faith claims, but he is Biblically literate. He knows the difference between killing and murder and this book is on killing.The history, psychology, and current soci [...]

    25. The main thesis of this book is fascinating: historically, the vast majority of soldiers in battle chose not to kill, and the psychological cost of killing is a primary but under-acknowledged factor in PTSD among soldiers. The author presents what I found to be quite convincing evidence of the resistance to killing among soldiers, drawing on studies of historical data to show how the overwhelming majority of infantrymen in the Napoleonic era, American Civil War, and World Wars did not fire their [...]

    26. First and foremost, I think this is an extremely important book which should be required reading of political and military leaders. The book is not easy for me to review. First, I'm no expert on this subject and second, its a tough subject and a somewhat difficult read. My gut feeling is author Dave Grossman gets close to the truth in some areas and not so close in a few others. Like a number of other books I've read, he seems to cherry-pick resources that conform to his ideas. A number of knowl [...]

    27. The author presented his central idea that most of the people would not kill other human beings unless environmental factors enabled and conditioned them. The way we live now is way much different than in the past regarding the familiarity and perception of killing of living things. There are many ethical issues related to the way we treat other humans who did the killing whether they are soldiers or psychopathic killers, the way we educate younger generation about violence. Dehumanization helps [...]

    28. The majority of this book I would rate as 5-star. His research and thoughts on combat, on the causality of PTSD and other psychological casualties, and his military history are all thought-provoking and brilliantly worded. The last section seems to be an opinion driven piece that doesn't fit entirely with the rest of the book. His use of factual evidence throughout the entire book waters down in this section and the section is generally shit. Completely disagree with *almost everything Grossman [...]

    29. I listened to this book on Audible.This book takes the reader from the Civil War to Vietnam as a soldier. It’s counter intuitive when you watch the latest news but most people are hesitant to kill other people. That’s good unless you are a soldier in battle.The book also reveals details about the tremendous emotional cost incurred by killing.If anything I found this book interesting simply because it gave a lot of information and history that I had never heard before. Part of the reason I re [...]

    30. What is interesting about this book is the personal accounts of veterans and its in-depth look into what the veterans experienced and how they experienced it. I wished that there is more science in it (more than anecdotes).

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