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

onkillingPossibly one of the most important books of our time. Obviously, it will be of absolute necessity to all students of any aspect of violence, but also to all students of history, as it will radically change your understanding of the dynamics by which violent events shape history and the people living it.

The book chronicles the discovery and growing understanding of the resistance normal humans have to harming other humans. During World War II, a U.S. military historian, S.L.A. Marshall did a landmark study of troops returning from firefights in Europe. To these soldiers, he asked 2 questions, did you see the enemy? And did you fire your weapon? The amazing result was that over 80% of those who had seen the enemy did not fire. Published in the book “Men Against Fire”, this study revolutionized military training, dramatically raising the proportion of soldiers who fire during combat. The downside has been severe rates of psychological injury.

The book has a very wide scope, with a study of the methods used by the military to overcome human resistance to harming others, the factors that vary the intensity of that resistance and the effects of overcoming this resistance on the human psyche. While I believe his argument that videogames are causing an epidemic of social violence is unsubstantiated by fact over multiple dimensions, the rest of the book is solidly based on a large body of evidence collected over multiple sources, and it should be a turning point in your thinking about all violence related subjects, from self protection to military policy.

Reviewed by Stéphane Beaudin, Owner and Combat/Mobility Instructor, Club Nagaika (Montreal, CA)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *