April 09, 2008


Continental artillery crew from the American Revolution, by way of wikipedia.

The good news about war and killing, to the extent there is any, is that most people--even professional soldiers--don't like to do it and will go to considerable lengths to avoid it, especially when it's up close and personal. That's one of the key findings of Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.

During World War II, often recalled as "The Good War," US military officials discovered to their dismay that only 15-20 percent of soldiers in the line of battle actually fired their weapons, even in engagements that lasted for 2-3 days--even when opposing troops were firing away at them.

Close investigations of battles in the US Civil War have indicated that many soldiers in close engagements fired over the heads of their opponents. There were even reports of soldiers continually re-loading their muzzle loaders without firing them.

Armies have spent countless hours since the 1600s training soldiers on bayonet combat, but studies of actual hand to hand fighting in warfare have found that these are seldom used in even the closest combat. Instead, most prefer to wield the rifle as a club. Most people don't like to disembowel others even in close combat.

However, experience has shown that this resistance can be overcome either by killing from a distance, which is typical of modern warfare, or by careful training and conditioning.

Conditioning people to overcome resistance to killing typically consists of making training more realistic. In the WWII era, soldiers were trained to shoot at bulls-eye targets. This was changed to make them look more like people, in effect desensitizing trainees to killing. By the Korean War, the firing rate was up to 55 percent and by Vietnam, it was 90-95 percent for American soldiers.

Grossman argues that this desensitization, which also occurs through realistic violent video games, leads to "Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency." Some may argue whether such games contribute to real violence, but a disturbing trend in our post-modern world is not only that video games become more warlike, but hi-tech war has become more video game-like.

These two trends, especially taken together, seem to have the effect of making killing easier.

LINK IMPAIRED. El Cabrero is traveling this week with limited internet access. If anything really bad happened, please accept my condolences. If it was good, congratulations.


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