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Fear, Horror, Hate & Guilt
On Killing by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman
© 2013 James LaFond
Despite my 2010 mass murder of hundreds of books a handful have survived by rising to the status of honored advisor—the hidebound cronies of my now exclusive library. I have read the following book three times now: first in researching the origins of combat sports and the military function of boxing in 2000. Then, last year, I had to reread it in order to develop a psychological matrix for the character generation portion of my upcoming role playing game, Triumph. I have recently reread this book again to help put into context a number of claims in right wing articles and left wing documentaries.
Briefly, the tree-hugging left claims that man is naturally a complete pacifist and that we only kill under extreme social pressure to fulfill the will of our greedy masters.
Even more concisely, the gun-toting right would have us believe that we are—every hairy man of us—natural-born honorable killers, who are only reluctant to topple our greedy masters because we have fallen under the spell of our later day Eve—feminism.
My impression of Colonel Grossman’s work convinced me that both of these artificial modern ideologies are way off base. I just took his book for another read to check his work against my own, to see if I still agreed; if my evermore critical eye will find the flaw in his thesis that all of the armchair lefties and righties would have us believe is there…
On Killing
The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman
1995, Back Bay Books, NY, 366 pages
The Colonel begins with a lengthy set of introductions that states his overall conclusion that the modern western world is accidentally conditioning certain segments of our population along the same lines as our modern militaries now condition combat soldiers, with the result that we have more killers in the civilian population today per capita, just as the modern American Army has more killers per combat infantryman than it did in World War II. The way this introduction seems to put the cart before the horse is a little off-putting.
So, did the Colonel back up his introduction?
Actually, he did so more thoroughly than I had previously recalled. Not only did the author conduct his own five year study of law enforcement studies, military findings, and interviews of combat veterans from various war, he used the works of the best modern authors in the field, including John Keegan and Richard Holmes; two of my favorites. I will not give away Dave Grossman’s arguments or even cite many of the facts. Because I think that anyone with an interest in culture, war, pacifism, militancy, violent crime, history or human nature will find this book informative, thoroughly documented and well-reasoned, as well as an intriguing read.
I have given away the basics thesis in my title for this review and will itemize the basic points of the first phase of Colonel Grossman’s work.
1. Most soldiers, from the dawn of history through World War II, did not strike to kill their adversaries; that the killing has always been done by a few natural killers [psychopaths] or heavily indoctrinated elite combatants.
2. Crew-served killing machines [primarily artillery and machine guns] have been responsible for most combat death in the modern age.
3. Most combatants do not fail to kill out of personal fear or horror, but due to a natural reluctance to kill other people.
4. Those who do kill usually do so either because they are psychopaths, or are heavily indoctrinated members of a crew of comrades who they fear letting down more than they fear anything else.
5. Combatants suffer psychologically primary due to the effects of the institutional military hatred that is directed against them and, most tellingly, from remorse and guilt over having killed either their opposite or an innocent.
6. After 60 days of continuous combat 98% of infantrymen will have been driven into a state of insanity. The other 2% were already insane—the psychopaths naturally suited to the task of killing their own species.
7. Since 1946 western militaries have used psychological conditioning methods that have increased the number of combat infantrymen willing to take the enemies’ lives at the point of contact from 15-20% to 90-95%.
8. A corollary advance in post combat treatment for psychological injury has not been achieved.
These points are just the tip of the big brutal iceberg that Colonel Grossman examines in this work. I am in complete agreement with his military analysis, but remain skeptical of some of the civil parallels he draws. If you are a left winger who believes our genetic design is a pacifistic vegan one, or a right winger who believes every male is a born killer for justice, expect to be disappointed.
I have two parting thoughts.
I am very interested in primal [prehistoric] violence and warfare, and am not ignorant of the fact that tens of thousands of years passed in which man lived primarily by killing, and that he undoubtedly warred on his fellow man before cities were first built. The modern right winger will say , ‘See, there was war before civilization. Primitive man killed all on his own, without a Paris Island drill Instructor making him sing songs about shooting pregnant women.’
That is only a case against Colonel Grossman’s theory if you believe that there was no culture before civilization, no warrior society before the planting of seeds. Come on man, what the hell does gardening have to do with being a warrior? That just gives us something other than women to fight over. [I’d rather have your woman than that bag of corn chips in your pantry any day of the week! Hell, if you’ve trained her properly she’ll be able to make my corn chips from scratch while I drink you beer!] Isn’t war-fighting more logically an extension of hunting and herding?
On the other side, the estrogen-soaked tree-huggers will say, ‘But primitive peoples who survived into the modern age were universally non-warlike.’
Yes indeed, many were [outside of New Guinea and the Amazon, and they must have learned head-hunting from reading Conan comic books] because they had been pushed into the barely habitable portions of the planet by warrior societies. The peaceful Bushmen of the Southern African desert once lived over all of Africa and into Spain. The blacks and the whites spent 40,000 years wiping them out. The survivors now eke out a living in the driest place on earth.
I have one final chilling thought that the good Colonel saw fit not to dwell on. The U.S. military has been, since the 1980s, attempting to develop a ‘nondepleting neurotrop’ a drug that would enable the military that possessed it to chemically produce an army of psychopaths. I guarantee the day is coming when our best young soldiers will be injected with designer drugs that will enable them to kill without end, beyond sixty consecutive days; to kill even the citizens of their own nation for history’s ultimate Drug Lord. You might think I’m nuts. But I suspect that the penultimate evolution of human society on earth will feature a global police force of chemically enabled mass murderers.
Why don’t we go out for coffee sometime? Don’t worry I’ll leave my aluminum foil hat at home!
The Boxing Book Shelf #3
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Jeremy Bentham     Jun 29, 2013

Having served a total of 30 years in the active and reserve components of the Army I can tell you that the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes. Individuals vary greatly in their proclivities, abilities and motivations. For example, one notices quickly in the service that some people can handle a lot of stress without ill effect and some people can’t handle any stress without acting out. Recently it was revealed that 52% of the servicemen who committed suicide in the last decade never deployed to a war zone. And of course the Pareto Principle of management tells us that “roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes” (or 20% of the workers do 80% of the work). I can’t say whether psychopaths (AKA sociopaths) do a large part of the killing in war, at least in the American Army, but they certainly cause a large portion of the trouble that consumes the time and energies of the chain of command. Probably 80%. In my experience the psychopaths in the military principally devout themselves to spreading hate and discontent throughout the unit. As any psychologist can tell you your garden variety psychopath gets off on manipulating people and making them “jump”; he, or she, simply feels no remorse about the emotional torment inflicted on others . Thus in the American Armed Forces people with psychopathic personality disorder have proven largely to be disruptive nuisance. The Soviet Army by contrast did a much better job of managing their psychopathic killers and using them constructively : amazon.com/wiki/Vasili_Blokhin. Personally then I would settle for a drug that would make young soldiers resistant to the bad advice they frequently get from their peers, psychopaths or not.
James     Jun 29, 2013

Thank you Sir.

That was very informative.
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