A controversial psychological examination of how soldiers’ willingness to kill has been encouraged and exploited to the detriment of contemporary civilian society.
Psychologist and US Army Ranger Dave Grossman writes that the vast majority of soldiers are loath to pull the trigger in battle. Unfortunately, modern armies, using Pavlovian and operant conditioning, have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion.
The mental cost for members of the military, as witnessed by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating. The sociological cost for the rest of us is even worse: Contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army’s conditioning techniques and, Grossman argues, is responsible for the rising rate of murder and violence, especially among the young.
Drawing from interviews, personal accounts, and academic studies, On Killing is an important look at the techniques the military uses to overcome the powerful reluctance to kill, of how killing affects the soldier, and of the societal implications of escalating violence.
“While some of the evidence to support his theories have been previously presented by military historians (most notably, John Keegan), this systematic examination of the individual soldier's behavior, like all good scientific theory making, leads to a series of useful explanations for a variety of phenomena, such as the high rate of post traumatic stress disorders among Vietnam veterans, why the rate of aggravated assault continues to climb, and why civilian populations that have endured heavy bombing in warfare do not have high incidents of mental illness. This important book deserves a wide readership. Essential for all libraries serving military personnel or veterans, including most public libraries.” —Library Journal
“Very much in the genre of the work of British authors John Keegan, Richard Holmes, and others that explores the grim essence of warfare. The author, an army infantry officer who has taught psychology at West Point, writes well and persuasively. Historians, however, will stir uneasily as they examine his footnotes, which cite sources from Soldier of Fortune magazine to the surveys of S. L. A. Marshall to various popular works of history. Grossman acknowledges this limitation and presses on, marshaling an impressive range of anecdotes, which he then turns into a psychological theory illustrating killing-response stages with flow charts and diagrams.” —Foreign Affairs
A former army Ranger and paratrooper, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman taught psychology at West Point and is currently the Professor of Military Science at Arkansas State University.
The author's website, Killology Reasearch Group, amplifies and extends the material covered in the book and is regularly updated with new, topical information on the subject.