Friday, February 10, 2006


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

I read this book a few years ago. The author is a former officer and the son of a career officer. He researched the effects of killing on those doing the killing. Three things stand out in my memory.

  • Two percent of the population can kill without remorse or grief. These people have no conscience.

  • Ninety-eight percent of the population suffer and finally reach a breaking point past which they cannot continue.

  • The military has found ways to extend a soldier’s breaking point but ultimately that point will be reached and the soldier will suffer psychologically, perhaps for the rest of his or her life.

War becomes acceptable and tolerable when it is dehumanized.

Air Force personnel do not see the enemy, civilians and children and aren’t affected by killing in the same way as the infantry soldier who sees the person as he dies and sees the broken, bloodied bodies. There is no way to dehumanize war for the infantry soldier.

It’s easy to dehumanize war for the general public. Label the enemy dead as “terrorists”. Portray them as subhuman. Don’t permit the media to show photos or film of the dead, the dying, and the torn bodies.

It’s easy to dehumanize war for the general public. Show photos and memorial services with clean coffins draped in a flag. Show politicians calling the fallen soldiers heroes. Show an old photo of the soldier smiling in a crisp uniform, but never, ever show the mangled body.

It’s impossible to dehumanize war for those in the midst of it – for the dead and injured and their families.

For me, when I see a young soldier I don’t see a hero. I see a victim who may be suffering silently, painfully. I try to imagine the horrors forever trapped in his or her mind.

Regardless of how I feel about a specific war, this war or any war, I feel anger toward the politicans who start them and I feel compassion for the innocent victims, soldiers and civilians, who pay the price – whether American or not.


Blogger Buffalo said...

You speak the truth. The images, the smell, the sounds - they all stay with you forever.

You fight because you want to survive and there are no choices, you fight because you are bonded to your buddies, you fight because you have learned to hate.

2/10/2006 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Dale said...

Great post. You've captured the essense of my opinion exactly.


2/10/2006 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Beautifully writ.

Why can some not see that those of us who are opposed to war ARE supporting our soldiers. One cannot go thru the hell of war and come out unscathed.

Thanks for the heads up on the book.

2/10/2006 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I remember (vaguely) reading a poem long ago. The idea was that with increasing technology we get further and further away from the people who we are killing. I guess it makes it easier to drop a bomb than to strangle or knife someone.

2/10/2006 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

Take away all the guns and replace them with swords. Prohibit any warfare between nations that do not border each other. Make people get directly in each other's face when they war, and have their home turf encroached upon. Bring war home to the people, the politicians, the families, and let them bleed like their warriors. Then notice how desperately and how patiently people might be willing to negotiate their differences.

2/10/2006 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

Don't think so, Michael. Warfare is deeply implanted in our DNA

2/11/2006 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

I hate it when you are right, Bro, but in retrospect, you're right.

2/11/2006 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger Angela said...


2/11/2006 06:42:00 PM  

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