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On Killing: The Psychological Cost of…

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995)

by Dave Grossman

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This is an exploration of the societal and psychological influences that can aid or hinder one human being to kill another, especially when one is close enough to see the actual death. Bombing or artillery fire are covered only peripherally but, they are easy to explain once you've read this book. Grossman was a serving soldier in the USA, and this gave him access to real professional soldiers and access to psychological sources for the intellectual part of the work. It certainly was an eye opener, and should be read by those engaged in the creation of adventure fiction. I also understand that Dr. Grossman now crusades against the proliferation of "Point and Shoot!" video games. He believes they are useful in desensitizing humans so as to make them easier to train to fatal violence. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 11, 2013 |
It was interesting until he described video games as murder simulators, maybe about 10 pages into the book. I checked out after that, and really couldn't find the willpower to push myself much further. I skimmed a bit, but wasn't very impressed overall with what I'd read. Some of it felt like he was rehashing what he said in the previous paragraph(s).
It's really odd - I usually LOVE nonfiction. This one, I'm just not a fan. ( )
  audreydc | May 27, 2013 |
I don't agree with some of what Grossman says--he seems for example not to have read the literature on suicide bombers, but his book convincingly describes the psychology of lethal violence: the innate abhorrence almost all humans have for killing one another, the methods used to train soldiers to kill and the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder. Grossman also offers in this context a persuasive critique of violence in film, television and video games. This is an essential book, one that is required reading at West Point and one I would make required reading for anyone who, like me, is working to create nonviolent alternatives. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society is a great subject with books far and few between. Perhaps it is because of the subject's rarity that this particular book falls short. Lacking in much evidence and reference, this seems to be an extremely biased book. Aside from the word "killology", Grossman does not contribute much new thought or experimentation. While the majority of what Grossman says may be true, it is difficult to stand behind without sited evidence or experiment. ( )
  Sovranty | Feb 9, 2013 |
This seems to be the definitive book on why soldiers do and don't kill in battle. My overall impression is that this is a weak book, and perhaps it's been generally accepted due to a lack of competition.

The author has a few points to make, and lays out his stall in the introduction where he asserts a causal link between media violence and violence in society and neatly poisons the well for anyone who claims otherwise:

"There are also people who claim that media violence does not cause violence in society, and we know which side of their bread is buttered"

The author only seems to think of the explanations that fit his own theory. So the fact that most new infantry recruits in WW2 didn't fire their weapon must be because of an inbuilt resistance to killing. Yes, maybe, but why not also consider:

a) They were too scared or confused to shoot;
b) They had been too much emphasis on ammunition conservation "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes";
c) They had only been trained to shoot static bullseye targets at known distances.

A lot of the author's evidence comes from the study done by S.L.A. Marshall. But this study is now controversial, and it's said that Marshall made up a lot of his evidence.

Could do better. ( )
  Pondlife | Dec 3, 2012 |
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It is therefore reasonable to believe that the average and healthy individual - the man who can endure the mental and physical stresses of combat - still has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responibility...
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Drawing on interviews, published personal accounts and academic studies, Grossman investigates the psychology of killing in combat. Stressing that human beings have a powerful, innate resistance to the taking of life, he examines the techniques developed by the military to overcome that aversion.… (more)

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