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On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society Paperback – Nov 1 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1 edition (Nov. 1 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316330116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316330114
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.9 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #396,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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. His provocative study focuses in particular on the Vietnam war, revealing how the American soldier was "enabled to kill to a far greater degree than any other soldier in history." Grossman argues that the breakdown of American society, combined with the pervasive violence in the media and interactive video games, is conditioning our children to kill in a manner siimilar to the army's conditioning of soldiers: "We are reaching that stage of desensitization at which the infliction of pain and suffering has become a source of entertainment: vicarious pleasure rather than revulsion. We are learning to kill, and we are learning to like it." Grossman, a professor of military science at Arkansas State University, has written a study of relevance to a society of escalating violence.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Grossman (psychology, West Point) presents three important hypotheses: 1) That humans possess the reluctance to kill their own kind; 2) that this reluctance can be systematically broken down by use of standard conditioning techniques; and 3) that the reaction of "normal" (e.g., non-psychopathic) soliders to having killed in close combat can be best understood as a series of "stages" similar to the ubiquitous Kubler-Ross stages of reaction to life-threatening disease. 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.
Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, Wash.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 7 1999
Format: Paperback
Unfortunately, I cannot concur with the gushing reviews other readers have posted here. While the idea of understanding why human beings kill one another is a fascinating topic, the book's thesis is undermined by bad writing and poor editing. In terms of the writing, the paperback edition I have is full of incomplete sentences, improper punctuation, confused organization, intolerable redundacy, and a complete lack of subordination of minor to major points. As for the editing, there are several failures to cite sources or references correctly, which I find unacceptable in a book supposedly based upon scholarly research. Although the intended audience here is clearly a popular instead of a scholarly one, it still behooves the author to provide a paper trail of correctly cited sources for his evidence and reasoning. As for the argument presented in the book, it is weakened by these flaws as well as the author's penchant for circular reasoning. He needs to take a college course in practical logic to make his case more cogent. Please note that I believe a book such as this one is necessary now. It is a shame that this one had to come from a source that was not up to challenge of making serious scholarship more persuasively available.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Feb. 6 2000
Format: Paperback
As a wife of a Viet Nam Veteran, I lived with a man that has suffered with the memories of that terrible war. For thirty years I have tried to understand what war was like. Everytime we started to talk about it, I could see how painfull the memories were. There seemed to be no way to break through the barriers that prevented us from being able to "talk about it." Then, I noticed a dramatic change in the man I love. He was more open and willing to discuss his role in Viet Nam. When I asked him what had made the difference, he handed me this book. I couldn't wait to read it. Although a lot of the facts and statistics were hard for me to understand, I continued to read. By the time I had finished reading, I had the answers I needed.
I would like to thank Colonel Grossman for releasing my husband from the memories and feelings of guilt that plagued his life. The book On Killing, it is strange to say this, has brought us closer than we have ever been.
To the other wifes: I very highly recommend this book. It may not answer all of your questions, but it will give you a better understanding of what the act of killing involves and the impact it can have on those that have experienced the worst of all evils, the taking of another life.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Andrew McCaffrey on Jan. 23 2004
Format: Paperback
ON KILLING is the study of what author Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has termed "killology". This odd term describes, not killing between nations, but the exact circumstances involved when one individual ends the life of another individual, with the primary focus being on combat situations. I've sometimes wondered how I (someone who has never been anywhere near armed conflict) would fare on the frontlines, as killing another human being seems like an almost impossible psychological task. As Grossman casts an eye over historical reports of combat, he found that, apparently, I wasn't alone in thinking that. During the First and Second World Wars, officers estimated that only 15-20 percent of their frontline soldiers actually fired their weapons, and there is evidence to suggest that most of those who did fire aimed their rifles harmless above the heads of their enemy.
Grossman's argument is carefully researched and methodically laid out. He begins by filling in some historical details, discussing the statistics for shots fired per soldier killed for the World Wars and the American Civil War. It's a refreshing and enlightening look at war that dispels a lot of misconceptions. An average solder in those wars was extremely reluctant to take arms against fellow humans, even in cases where his own life (or the lives of his companions) was threatened. Not to say that any of these people are cowards; in fact, many would engage in brave acts such as rescuing their comrades from behind enemy lines or standing in harm's way while helping a fellow to reload. But the ability to stare down the length of a gun barrel and make a conscious effort to end a life is a quality that is happily rare.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Picard on April 10 2005
Format: Paperback
Im a professional soldier in Canada and I would like to say that this book was ground breaking. The Lt.Col.'s views and studies show the reader a completely different view of the turmoil of the soldier on the subject of killing. I caught myself seeing past experiences in a new light with a new explanation for what had happened because of what Ive read in this book. This should be required reading for anybody serving in the Armed Forces or Police Force of their country. I dont doubt that you'll be rethinking about the way you view the military and it's soldiers.
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Format: Paperback
As a writer of action/adventure screenplays, the subject of death seems always present in my writing. My first script had the hero shooting truckloads of bad guys with no worries. This unconcerned attitude speaks to the desensitization of youth that Grossman discusses in this terrific book about the human condition.
Raised in an upper-middle class household where toy (and real) guns were not allowed and in the shadow of the movies and TV of the 1970s through the present, I've grown up a little curious as to how I would fare in a situation where it was kill or be killed. How would I do as a soldier ordered to kill?
Grossman's detailed examination is carefully laid out and supported by impressive facts and numbers. But the book does not get bogged down in detail. If you're interested in this topic, you will not be bored or disappointed.
Other reviewers have commented on Grossman's stance on video games. If one reads that small section carefully, Grossman is not talking about console(Xbox, Gamecube, or PS2) games or those on your PC. He is explicitly discussing those few video games found only in arcades where the player stands before a large screen and using a light gun, "fires" at targets in front of them, a situation very similar to that of soldiers and police officers training for "shoot/no-shoot" situations. And actually, some of these games do present negative "conditioning" for harming innocents, which Grossman doesn't mention. Yet I do understand there are games that are too graphic in their depiction of violence, even on the console and PC systems. However, I believe game designers are growing aware these days of the lines to not cross.
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