In the book ‘On Killing: The Physiological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society’ Dave Grossman studies the physiological mechanisms regulating the ability of soldiers to kill the enemy. Published in 1996, this book acquired national attention only in 1999 after the shooting at Littleton’s Columbine High School.
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Dave Grossman is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the United States Army having a 24-years military career, also was a teacher of physiology at West Point. In 1998, Grossman became the Professor of Military Studies at Arkansas State University where he continued to study and teach the physiology of killing.
In his book, Dave Grossman states that people have natural unconscious resistance to killing. After researching the history of war together with individual case studies, he asserts that the majority of people has fear of killing a human being which is often much stronger than the fear of being injured or killed. The author draws the attention of readers to the fact that during World War II only about 20 percent of American soldiers actually shot their enemies. During the war in Vietnam, the rate of firing was about 95 percent. Grossman studies the techniques developed by the military to make American soldiers more effective at war. Now the soldiers in the USA are specially trained to kill, they spend hours standing in the full battle dress and shooting on the target. Special man-shaped targets provide sufficient feedback to fire, there are targets that drop backward and some of them have the head-blowing up in contact with a bullet and special effects with false blood. Grossman suggests several ways to motivate soldiers to shoot a live target: the demand to fire from an authority, physical distance from the enemy, emotional distance (the enemy is dehumanized), and mechanical distance (for instance, provided by night vision scopes or radar screens where enemy looks like an unreal silhouette) (Grossman, 1996).
In the last chapter ‘Killing in America: What Are We Doing to Our Children’ the author points out the impact of the US Army training techniques on children through modern cinema and video games. At the end of the 19th century, a special method of training military assassins was used: soldiers were forced to watch films containing scenes of violence and murders to suppress their natural resistance to killing. Nowadays people have general access to thousands of thrillers and horror films containing episodes of severe violence, killing, dismemberment, or torture. These films depict the lives of heroes who kill ‘with a good purpose’ being a policeman or a soldier, but modern films more frequently describe the stories of bloody maniacs and psychos who kill and abuse their victims without any reason.
In addition, thousands of video games for adolescent members of society are produced all over the world. The most terrifying fact is that the games containing violence and blood bring more profit to the producer. Advertisement posters everywhere encourage children to buy games where the main task is mass killing, assassination, or conquering territory. Due to such games, children associate murder with good reason. The author wants to show that American children are conditioned in a similar way as US Army soldiers.
Dave Grossman wants to warn people about the danger spread by films and videogames producers. The author calls everyone to defend himself against this ‘virus’ and says that if people do not act, this situation may lead the nation to civil conflict or social collapse.
Grossman, D. (1996), On Killing: the Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Boston, USA: Little, Brown and Company.
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