I recently stumbled on an interesting book. On Killing - The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. I wouldn't normally buy a book of this sort but I thought it would provide valuable insight into a character in a novel I'm writing. Joe is a Vietnam vet with issues and I needed to understand those issues to get inside his head.
The Pulitzer prize nominated book by Dave Grossman was full of the insight I needed but it was also so much more. As the mother of five children, I became engrossed in his analysis of the techniques the military uses to train new soldiers for combat - this triad of conditioning includes these concepts: desensitisation, demoralization, and denial.
He points out that after WWII commanders noted that only a small percentage of the soldiers actually fired their close range weapons during combat. So during the years between WWII and Vietnam a training was devised to overcome a soldier's reluctance to kill. This included closely simulated combat and targets that look like and in some cases bleed and explode like human bodies. After the implementation of this type of conditioning the individual soldier's fire rate increased from around 10% in WWII to 95% in Vietnam. According to Grossman this is called "the quick kill response" or "operating with the safety off".
In his book he lays out sound reasoning to demonstrate that "we" as a society are teaching our children to operate with the safety off.
Lt. Colonel Grossman believes that these games are a factor in the rise in non-discriminant violence among young people. They desensitize the child to acts of violence against other humans (and animals). They demoralize the simulated victims of the violence (an example is the picture at the left taken from Grand Theft Auto) and they teach kids to deny the consequences of their acts. After all they're not real people so it's okay...until the day they transfer this conditioning to life. An example of this would be the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999.
All of this sounds doom and gloom but it's not. Thanks to Lt. Colonel Grossman's research we can be armed with the knowledge of how people learn. We can identify the "smoking guns" in our homes. And we have the awareness that we can do it differently.
Say no to violent video games - specifically games that involve the killing and demoralization of other human characters in real life or combat settings.
Say no to violent movies - movie violence is only useful if it shows the fullness of the situation. This would be a movie like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan which are horrific but actually are deterrents to violence because they show the emotional and societal consequences of the acts. Gratuitous torture movies, like the ones that have recently flooded our theaters have no redeeming value and teach us to gain entertainment value from the painful death of another.
Pay attention to the ratings on games - know what you are buying and giving permission to your children to play. Educate yourself first.
There are many factors upon which the web of a violent society depends. This is only one but think about how much would change if we eliminated just this one type of violent stimulus from our children's daily routine. As John Lennon said, "Imagine."
On Killing is valuable reading for anyone with influence over a child and a fitting gift for any parent. Lt. Colonel Grossman uses his experience as a West Point psychologist, as a solider and a scholar to write a compelling book. He should be commended for presenting this provocative thesis. He has his critics and some do not agree but as a mother his work resonated with me. Read it and decide for yourself.