Just finished reading the book On Killing by Lt. Col Dave Grossman, Overall I will say it was a great book, but not without its flaws.
OK to start Lt. Col Grossman is a soldier with an impressive record, he also has obviously spent a LOT of time interviewing war veterans and reading historical accounts, as well as military records of battles, and he does an excellent job of citing them, from Afganistan vets down to accounts from the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution.
His findings are VERY interesting, the most shocking being is the reluctance of soldiers to take a human life, even in the heat of battle or under orders.
He notes that only about 2% of soldiers in the armed forces are really effective and efficient killers. Other factors also add to a soldier’s killing ability, such as distance from their target, what he calls “Mechanical distance” (ie: Looking at a target through a rifle scope or bomb sight…even more so if the sight is electronically enhanced, making the targets look less like living humans), and working in teams, such as tank crews, naval crews, or operating a fixed machine gun.
Interesting accounts of things like rifles found with multiple complete loads in the barrel on a civil war battlefield. It was concluded this wasn’t operator error, but soldiers willing to load up their guns, but couldn’t bring themselves to shoot at the enemy troops on the other side of the battlefield. Meanwhile at the same time there were soldiers who were noted to have fired in excess of 400 rounds, which is physically impossible to do with a caplock rifle musket without cleaning the powder fouling, meaning that a few troops were actually sending shots downrange, while many others were simply loading guns and passing them forward.
Also he notes in battles with artillery, the artillery crews did the majority of the killing, thanks to distance and working as a team rather than individuals.
He discusses how modern military training (mostly doing their best to make training more like a real battlefield, and the targets more like living people) to break down these psychological barriers.
He also goes to great length to talk about how war atrocities happen, and the effects they have on soldiers on both sides.
Another section was about PTSD, causes, and ways to mitigate it. (One of the big factors is weather the soldier gets support from veterans and family when they get home)
All very interesting stuff. As a man who carries deadly weapons, but has never served in battle, there isn’t a ton, besides interesting psychology I could get from this…except for maybe the fact that more Americans are going armed today than ever before, yet murder rates are at an all-time low, and the antis prediction of “Blood in the Streets” is unfounded. Also it gives me some things to think about for if I ever need to draw my gun to defend an innocent life.
One big problem with the book when he attempted to translate his study to civilian life. Suddenly he goes from a logical man citing meticulous evidence to support his case to a bleeding heart talking about nebulous problems with “today’s youth”. Now he makes a good case that violent video games and movies might indeed help break down some of the barriers held by people against homicide, he seems to be alluding to a youth violence problem that he has no factual basis for. Also he makes some serious contradictions by citing gang violence (which invokes many of the factors of military killing with its hierarchy and peer pressure, and doesn’t take into account the sheer number of repeat offenders in the criminal system, which would support his 2% citation) or his many references to the Columbine Massacre, which was done by a pair of obvious sociopaths, not sane people.
I really wish I had skipped the last part, as it was all garbage, on what was really an amazing book. I recommend it to everybody….but when you get to the section “Killing in America”, just put the book up.