virus: All bark but no bite, unless trained: the human condition

Reed Konsler (konsler@ascat.harvard.edu)
Sat, 27 Mar 1999 16:09:41 -0500

My recommendation to anyone who erroneously believes that human beings, including "demonic males" are naturally violent: A book by a military officer studying exactly what it takes to train a human being to kill another, instead of simply making a chest beating threat display. Conclusion: humans, like every other animal, are quick to posture and bark, but loath to actually enter into a conflict which could be damaging or lethal to either party. We are, in short, all talk. Great book.

_On Killing :
The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society_ by Dave Grossman
(November 1996)
Little Brown & Co
ISBN: 0316330116 ;

>From Booklist , October 15, 1995

What makes soldiers kill--or not--animates this intriguing survey by a psychologist and
former U.S. Army officer. Grossman reveals that only a fraction of soldiers kill during
warfare (and feel revulsion when they do); the rest (about 85 percent in World War II)
resist by missing the target or refusing to fire. With an eye to the military command's
imperative of overcoming that innate resistance, Grossman quotes numerous anecdotes
that exemplify the phenomenon and studies that examine it. With such knowledge, the
military has implemented training that gets firing rates up to 90 percent of soldiers, but
the psychic cost of blazing away for real is heavy. Individually, a killer goes through
thrill-remorse-rationalization stages; socially, the killer needs reassurance and if it is
not received, will suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome, characteristic of Vietnam
veterans. Grossman concludes his findings of "enabling factors" in killing by identifying them at work in the rampant violence afflicting American society. A book
that requires some steely fortitude to finish, but once done, On Killing delivers
insights on human nature that are both gratifying and repelling. Gilbert Taylor Copyrightę 1995, American Library Association. All rights reserved.


  Reed Konsler                        konsler@ascat.harvard.edu
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