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On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 228 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0316330114
ISBN-10: 0316330116
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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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1 edition (November 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316330116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316330114
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Andrew McCaffrey VINE VOICE on January 23, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a police officer we spend many hours in various forms of training. Some of this training is dedicated to the rules surrounding the use of our department issued firearms. Some of this training is dedicated to the physical skill of firing this weapon. None of the training is dedicated to what you go through after having actualy used this weapon against another human being in self defense. The extent of my departments response was...absolutely no critical incident debriefing and my appointment with the department phycologist occured 9 days after the shooting. The evaluation by the physcologist last 23 minutes total. At that point I knew that my well being was up to me to provide for. After some research I located this series of books by Dave Grossman. Purchasing these books was the best thing I could have done for myself. The information within these pages helped me understand all the stages of emotion that I was, and still am, going through. I would recommend these books to anyone in the military or in lawenforcement (or any family memeber there-of). They may very well have saved my sanity.
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Format: Hardcover
I just wanted to write a quick note and review about LTC Grossman's book and his character. I read a review which stated that, "His only vaguely denounced and hidden desire to change the US Constitution make me want to examine Mr. Grossman's education and military record in depth."

Let me say, I served briefly under LTC Grossman, then Major Grossman as a new Second Lieutenant in the US Army. He was, in my opinion, one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and studied officers I ever had the privilege of serving with. It was LTC Grossman, that first instilled in me how a professional soldier acts, thinks, commands, and motivates. LTC Grossman used to give a speech to ROTC Cadets during summer training at Ft. Lewis, WA that was so motivational, by the end the cadets would literally stand up and scream for more. The Army videotaped the presentation and often tried (unsuccessfully) to duplicate it. LTC Grossman used to lead philosophical discussions about the "warrior spirit" that would engage even the least interested. He first enlightened me to think about the mind of our enemy ("One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter") and has helped me understand the minds and motivation of those that attacked the U.S. on 9/11 (I served under LTC Grossman in 1996). You will not defeat an enemy until you understand and address the root cause of their grievances.

For those interested in LTC Grossman's thoughts, I can recommend taking a look at several of Robert Heinlein's books, which LTC Grossman recommended to me. Specifically, "Starship Troopers", the book bastardised by Hollywood in the movie under the same name.

Many of LTC Grossman's teachings remain with me today, and he is one person that will impart knowledge that stays with you for a lifetime.
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Format: Paperback
Those who have never had the privilege of serving in America's armed forces invariably believe the Hollywood depiction of the modern soldier as a soulless killing machine. As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman shows in his groundbreaking study of killing in war, nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember the steely-eyed warriors who descended on Normandy, Anzio, Guadalcanal, and a host of other blood-soaked battlegrounds during World War II? Only one in five of these combat infantrymen were willing to fire their rifles.
Shocking? Surely, given the popular depiction of our fighting men. But military training has never been able to fully eradicate the innate resistance of killing one's fellow man amongst the common soldiery.
Yet we're getting better at it, with disturbing implications for our society. Grossman's data shows that the current crop of soldiers, raised on graphic violence in movies and video games, is much more willing to slay the enemy. This is undoubtedly a good thing from a purely military point of view. However, the cost is a consequent desensitization to the suffering of friend and foe alike, and psychological trauma which lasts long after the firing stops.
The introduction of women into combat situations has not slowed the inexorable trend toward a more savage soldier. During training to endure potential captivity as prisoners of war, male soldiers are taught to conquer their natural tendencies to protect females through an active desensitization process (a soldier is a soldier, whether male or female; we all signed up for this, etc.) What impact this has once these brave men return to society is uncertain, but you can bet that one cannot turn their humanity on and off like a light switch.
A profound and disturbing study which belongs in every library.
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