On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman exploring the psychology of the act of killing and the military establishment's attempt to understand and deal with the consequences of killing. According to Grossman and contrary to popular perception, the majority of soldiers in war do not ever fire their weapons and that this is due to an innate resistance to killing. Consequently the military has instituted training measures to break down this resistance and has successfully raised soldier's firing rates.
If accurate this is likely to have long term consequences when men who are so trained return to civilian life. When combined with the reality of traumatic stress syndrome now known to be common in men returning from war zone s such as Iraq the likelihood of violent responses to stressful situations by returned servicemen would seem to be almost inevitable. The need for substantial pyschological, spiritual and community support for Australian servicemen returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be over-emphasised. people are trained to override their basic human instinct - which is - not to kill. The minimum moral duty we owe them is to assist them to become reoriented to the basic human instinct and requirement - you shall not kill.
Giles Fraser in commenting on Grossmans' book and connecting it with the recently released James Bond movie:
What Lt Col Grossman suggests is that a huge percentage of soldiers become conscientious objectors at the point of firing their weapon. Many simply aim over the heads of their enemies. Most soldiers cannot kill. Human beings have an inbuilt psychological resistance to the taking of human life.
Next week, the new Bond film (the fantastically-named 'Quantum of Solace') comes out. Once again, 007 kills with ease. But this is make-believe. Sure, a handful of people — perhaps two per cent, psychologists say — have a diminished resistance to killing, and these are the psychopaths. But the vast majority, when faced with the reality, find it an incredibly difficult thing to do.
This is why training in the army involves repetition, doing the same thing again and again, so that you come not to think about it. The soldier fires just as Pavlov’s dogs drool. This form of conditioning can significantly increase firing rates — as can the enhancement of denial defence mechanisms: soldiers do not shoot people, they shoot targets.
Lt Col Grossman thus asserts that, ... “A new era of psychological warfare has dawned, not upon the enemy, but upon our own troops.”
All this might be vital for the creation of effective soldiers. But what does it do to these people when they are demobilised?