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

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The good news is that the vast majority of soldiers are loath to kill in battle. Unfortunately, modern armies, using Pavlovian and operant conditioning have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion. The psychological cost for soldiers, as witnessed by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating. The psychological cost for the rest of us is even more so: contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army's conditioning techniques and, according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's thesis, is responsible for our rising rate of murder among the young.

Upon its first publication, ON KILLING was hailed as a landmark study of 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. Now, Grossman has updated this classic work to include information on 21st-century military conflicts, recent crime rates, suicide bombings, school shootings, and much more. The result is a work that is sure to be relevant and important for decades to come.

Customer Reviews:

  • If you are or know a service member...
    Buy this book, and read it, or give it too them. While I may not agree with some of the Col's conclusions, the overall book has been a very good read for this veteran.

    Stop reading review, buy book now. Your uncle/grandfather/self will thank you for it....more info

  • Interesting statistics
    I liked the book, although very far out from what I usually read, I found it to be thought provoking. There is a lot of interesting info that I had previously not given much consideration to. I don't usually think about the psychology of killing and military history , but found it to be fascinating. As always...Amazon was amazing....more info
  • For veterans of all wars
    As a therapist I highly recommend On Killing. It opens up a discussion that many veterans can not bring up on their own. ...more info
  • Must read for the military or police.
    This book, as many have stated, is great for understanding the psychology of someone returning from the battlefield. But for those who have yet to enter the battlefield, or will shortly find themselves returning, I suggest they read On Combat. That book deals much more with the subject of the physiology and psychology of the act of combat itself and how to prepare for it, rather than how to recognize and deal with it after the fact....more info
  • On killing review
    It is interesting book for those who have illusions concerning any war. The book confirmed the basic thought that the fright to kill a person is more important than the fright to be killed. The nature programmed us to avoid killing a human being! Every war does not cost every life! Certainly, there is CONSCIENCE! The conscience torment to kill innocent children and women, fathers of mothers of somebody! ...more info
  • Not So Quick.
    I have a different thesis.

    Soldiers waste tons of ammunition because theyre incompetent marksmen. The weapon is dirty, un-calibrated, and the shooter is excited, inexperienced in combat, undisciplined, and poorly led.

    SLA Marshall stumbled upon a standard that is true for any organization: 15%-20% of the members do all the heavy lifting. Every organization is filled with slackers and morons and malingeroids.

    The US military should do what other nations do: Put the dweebs on point to absorb bullets, flush the game, and clear the path of mines. There is no reason a real warrior should ever be on point....more info
  • Tells it like it is...
    I spotted this book in a book store while I was TDY, and couldn't put it down. It pulled me in and wouldn't let me go.

    I am a combat veteran of OIF, and found myself comparing my situation to the phases of combat Lt Col Grossman describes in his book. He is dead-on, at least in my aerial combat experiences.

    It's comforting to know that I wasn't the only one who had these feelings.

    I would definitely recommend it for vets and the great people that work with vets....more info
  • Makes a good case
    The hypothesis put forward that conditioning is required to overcome a human beings natural reluctance to kill a fellow human being is made very well by this book. One factor the book does not cover is the impact of pre-training views on race, relegion or ideology on the ability to kill. If the enemey is not similar, killing is easier. In particular if there is pre-existing prejudice. (Wonder if non firing rates were similar on the eastern front between the soviets and Germans).

    The suggestion that television and video games provide children with conditioning to kill probably has validity (I agree with this opinion). However, this book provides no proof.

    It is interesting to note that the US Army has an on-line video game on it's recruiting web site. I have edited this review since seeing it - I don't think the author makes his case on video games - the web site certainly does!

    ...more info
  • Book Usful in Training
    I am an Army Veteran and a Police Training Officer. I read "On Killling" in 1999. I cannot begin to tell you impact this book has had on my life, my carreer, and my training. This book explores aspects of human psychology and physiology with an insighfulness that can only come from someone who has been "Baptized by Fire". The understandings that this book revealed to me about my own combat experience and confrontations, has helped me to develop a whole new meothod of teaching police officers and soldiers. I encourage every student I teach to read this book, it is a beacon of light in the understanding of how you can better prepare for mortal combat. If you are in Law Enforcement, if you are a warrior/ solider, or if you practice or teach self defense at ANY level, you have to read this book. ...more info
  • How would you do as a soldier ordered to kill?
    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.

    What is Grossman's point is that standing there, firing a (albeit plastic) handgun at human targets is very similar to what the military and police forces are doing for their soldiers to become conditioned to fire without question. This indeed is a worrisome concept.

    Great points:
    1. Grossman's findings about the amount of muskets in the Civil War at Gettysburg that were double/triple/... loaded because men pretended to fire and then look busy reloading.
    2. The crunching of numbers and kill percentages across the major US and other conflicts. Fascinating in terms of the psychological conditioning that takes place between them to increase kill rates.
    3. Grossman's analysis of what went wrong with vets returning from the Vietnam War. Their support structure here in America was almost nonexistent for all the trauma they had to endure in battle. I hope the government works hard in terms of soldiers returning from the Middle East to give them a great support system. We owe this brave souls so much for their sacrifice. Grossman's book makes me want to thank every vet from every war that I see from now on. From Grossman's writing, it's apparent that civilians cannot grasp what soldiers go through and the toll it takes on their psyche.

    I now have a better idea how hard it is to do what soldiers have to do and live with. Thanks to Grossman, in the very least, my screenplays and stories will be more sensitive to the violence they describe....more info

  • On Killing

    Must read for any military, or for anyone who's taxes or votes effect our military.

    I thought the most amazing figures were the firing rates from old wars. The concept that when it came time to pull the trigger, the vast majority of untrained people couldn't kill someone else. Very much goes against the male ego.

    The psychological price of creating the human weapon is very high, and we have created very effective human weapons....more info
  • on combat
    I liked the book. I aspired to be come a marine back in the early 80's after finishing college. I talked with some former viet-nam vets who convinced me that graduate school was a better option. I followed their advice based on the stories they told me...this book is a very good testimony of some of their experiences. now at 49 I wish I had become a marine anyway when I had the chance. I personally was'nt aware of the fact that many soldiers on both sides never used their weapons and I side with the author's view point on peace before war but we must always be prepared to defend the constitution of the United States if necessary. never the less the book is a very good study of the human psyche and of the limits of human endurance.......more info
  • Groundbreaking/astonishing
    This book blew me away for being well written, entertaining, and covering a subject we just don't think about very often. The studies cited were eye-opening, such as the one stating how few soldiers actually shot their weapons in WWII. This is a must read if you or someone you know, is going in harm's way....more info
  • Excellent, MUST READ book
    Out of all the training manuals and books that we have to read as Marines, this book has more facts and "what to expect" in a combat environment than any of them I have read. Just this past Feb/March, I returned home from Fallujah, Iraq where I was with RCT-1. We killed 2500 terrorists and lost 115 Marines in the 7 months I was there. Knowing everything I learned from that experience, I could not give even half the information he has provided in this book. I have read all of Mr. Grossman's book and watched all of his tapes, I CANNOT say enough great things about them. They are packed with information and knowledge that ALL law enforcement, military, security personnel, and parents should read!!! Great Book!!!!!
    ...more info
  • Outstanding
    Buy it without hesitation. This is a seminal work. It should be mandatory reading for every law enforcement person if they're serious about truly beginning to understand their work environment....more info
  • Superior
    A fascinating study into the psycology of humanity dealing with conflict and death. My interpretation of Dr. Grossman's writings is that as a species, we do not inherently want to kill and that our environmental conditioning has much to do with violence in society. If we can only get violence off T.V. and off video games we may survive. I recommend it highly....more info
  • Insightful Read
    While I have never been in a situation, nor do I hope to ever be, that resulted in the death of someone else; I nevertheless feel that this book paints an accurate picture of the psychological process involved with killing, ands its aftermath.
    The material seems well researched, and the book itself is very well written, drawing in the reader.
    A great book for anyone interested in human nature....more info
  • A Quality Look At A Grisly Topic
    This is a good look at what it takes to kill another human, and what it means, psychologically, to the one doing the killing. This is worth reading. Some of the content will surprise you.
    ...more info
  • Chicken Soup for Warriors
    If you live or work in an environment that presents life and death scenarios to you on a regular basis, you should read this book. If you have loved ones who are military combatants or police officers, you should read this book. A very helpful guide to understanding why one reacts to critical situations and what consequences to expect afterwards. The media does an excellent job of making our heros out to be sadistic insane killers when faced with no other options. The media simply does not know what we as warriors go through or how we are faced with dealing with these circumstances once its over. "On Combat" is another great book written by Grossman. ...more info
  • one of the best books I've ever read
    This book covers the psychology of the human tendancy to kill and our lack there of. It explains, amung other things, just what it takes to take an average human being and get them to kill and the psychological consiquences. For those that have veterans in their family this book gives the average layperson insight into the mind of someone who has had to take life, whether for a benevolent purpose or not. It covers the effect of the media and fear on the civilian population and just what effect that has on the population. This is really a great book wiht a no nonsence approch to a very touchy subject. Even if you have no interest in the subject this book is very informative and gives you a deep understanding of yourself and those that have to do the dirty work in war. ...more info
  • Quite interesting...
    The scholarship of the book is not what was expected and it is often not clear what is opinion, or from memory of other readings, versus derived from more scientific study. It is also technically imperfect from the perspective of writing and editing. However, these pimples should not stop someone from reading this quite interesting and useful work. The value in this book lies in the perspective and thought provocation it provides.
    This book should me on, and likely already is, all PME reading lists. ...more info
  • Incredibly Interesting
    Another martial arts instructor recommended this to me with the question we often times ask, "if you had to, could you?"

    Personally, I wanted to read this to think about this question and also have a better understanding of my father's experiences in Vietnam, of my friends in Iraq and Afghanistan and my law-enforcement clients who are subsequently sued after they are forced into killing. Lt. Col. has met all of these goals squarely with a thorough, objective and thought-provoking analysis of a taboo subject.

    The best part of the book, by far, was it's tone. Throughout the book, it was clear that the author did not judge anyone for any actions they took or failed to take. His objective was to understand what caused people to kill or not kill, and his neutral approach accomplished this nicely.

    At times, I thought the author repeated himself more than necessary, but this cannot underscore the value of this book and subject. I doubt there are other books that analyze killing as thoughtfully or professionally, and anyone who has ever been called upon to act, counsel, train or consider policy will benefit from this book. ...more info
  • A fascinating study
    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.

    The book continues on then, detailing what steps the US Army took to increase the percentage that they could get to actually fire upon their enemy. By studying precisely what the soldier's ordinary reactions were, the officers were able to change the scenario of war in order to avoid the most stressful of situations. The soldier found up-close killing to be abhorrent, so the emphasis was countered by inserting machinery (preferably one manned by multiple soldiers) between the killer and the enemy to increase the physical and emotional distance. Every effort is made to dehumanize the act of killing.

    Grossman spends a great deal of time discussing the trauma that the solder who kills faces when he returns to civilian life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in those veterans who returned from Vietnam. Those soldiers had been psychologically trained to kill in a way that no previous army had gone through, and there was no counteragent working to heal their psychological wounds. Grossman takes great pains to discuss how horrifying the act of killing is, and points out how detrimental it is to one's mental health. When the Vietnam veterans returned home to no counseling and the spit and bile of anti-war protestors, the emotional effect was astounding. Most of Grossman's thesis is supported by in-depth interviews and psychological profiles, but it is the story of the Vietnam veterans that comes across as the most disturbing.

    Much of the chatter about this book seems to revolve around the final section, the discussion about our own civilian society. While this is understandable, I actually preferred reading the earlier portions, simply because they opened my eyes to a lot about the military that I had been previously ignorant of. I think it would be a mistake to concentrate solely on the argument's conclusion as it rests heavily on the case that has been building. In any event, the book eventually develops its final conclusion: the methods that the military uses to desensitize its soldiers to killing are also being used in our media, but without the proper command structure that keeps people from killing indiscriminately. In a military situation, firing a weapon without proper authorization or instruction is a very serious offense, and this is drilled into the mind at the same time as the desensitization. Without this safety, there is nothing to hold back the killing instinct, and this is one of the main reasons why the homicide rate has increased so dramatically.

    Now, I'll say right off the bat that I was partial to this line of argument before I read the book; I think that children repeatedly exposed to such images would almost certainly become blas®¶ towards extreme violence. But Grossman's book gave me so much more to think about. It isn't just a Pavlovian force at work here; Grossman points out many reasons (both stemming from society and the changing family structure) for why young people of today seem much more able to kill than their parents and grandparents were.

    I was honestly surprised at how strong of a writer Grossman is. He manages to put forth his argument without boring the reader. By its very nature, a lot of what he discusses is repetitive and disturbing, but the subject matter is so compelling that I didn't mind. Grossman is very logical in his approach and his argument is a powerful one. I highly recommend this book, especially for people like myself who have never experienced war at close quarters. The summary I (and others here) have given is simply not nearly adequate to capture all of Grossman's thorough contentions. ON KILLING made me think harder about a subject that I hadn't given a lot of thought too before. The information and research here is invaluable....more info

  • On Killing
    Book was in better condition than described -- Seller sent in an expedient manner. Satisfaction of this buyer is 100% with seller deserving a 5-star on this transaction!! ...more info
  • Essential for anyone who cares about our troops
    A close friend of mine in the Army recommended this book to me after a buddy of mine asked him facetiously if he'd ever killed anyone. After reading it I can see why. The subject matter is depressing and the book in some ways resembles a textbook with its charts and diagrams--but potential readers should not be put off by such gravity. In a society where we ask some of our best young citizens to kill in our names, we should all be informed about the psychological burdens they may have to bear.

    The prose style is clear and the main points carefully delineated. Grossman switches between soldiers' anecdotes and broad psychological and statistical analyses. The latter are interesting, but it's really the storytelling that keeps you reading. The one thread that seems a bit tacked-on is his jeremiad against violent video games.

    Even (or perhaps especially) if you don't know anyone in the military, this book offers a great insight into what our soldiers go through. Perhaps not too surprisingly, I finished it quickly and then leant it to a friend---yep, the same one who'd been so glib to my Army boy....more info
  • Excellent Book
    This book was an excellent study on the psychology of killing. I recommend this book to any law enforcement, military, or others whose occupation requires them to face death on a daily basis. While the book is chock full of data, it was a surprisingly easy read. Further, the history outlined in the book was quite fascinating. The specific details and methodologies outlined in the book make it a must for any tactical trainers. I have given this book two thumbs up. ...more info
  • Excellent - Required Reading
    This book should be required reading for all Company Commanders, and a copy should be given to every soldier who serves in combat, whether or not they kill another.

    This book, if widely distributed in our armed forces, would be instrumental to reducing the social stigma associated with PTSD and provide the soldiers in the field and their officers and NCO's a critical tool for assessing and triage for combat related mental illness.

    ...more info
  • On Killing Review
    Has some good points to think about when in theatre but can be edited to only a couple dozen pages....more info
  • Professional Quality
    This book was recommended to me by an active member of a Special Forces unit. He felt that as a civilian chaplain to the military the insight the book gives to the reader would be helpful. It was.
    The findings of the author are backed up by the experiences of many combat veterans who have shared their stories with me.
    ...more info
  • A Soldier's evaluation
    I found this to be a useful book and the only one I have come across that captures the "Ranger experience" properly. My background is similar to his but I believe he may be overestimating the hunman response to killing. In any event,it is a valuable contribution that everyone interested in Military Science should read and discuss....more info
  • Absolutely Necessary.
    This book is not just a good read, it is vital for any truly serious police officer, military personel, (of any class or job description,) or martial artist. My martial arts instructor has made this book manditory reading for all black belt canidates.

    jon...more info
  • Groundbreaking book on battlefield psychology
    This groundbreaking book masterfully examines battlefield psychology and the individual soldier's emotional struggle through violence. The author, Lt. Col Dave Grossman, is both a psychiatrist and a lieutenant colonel in the US army. Using decades of interviews with veterans (especially those from Vietnam), he unravels an extremely complex mix of conflicting emotional states and responses.

    Grossman starts with the basic psychology of fight vs. flight and adds in a couple more options of posture or submit (straight from the animal kingdom and surprisingly applicable even in combat situations). He then references SLA Marshall's low firing statistics for WWII (15-20%) and Korean War(40%), comparing them to Vietnam (90%), and explains how vastly improved conditioning prepared Vietnam soldiers to pull the trigger. Then he goes on to explain the very numerous reasons why soldiers are reluctant to kill their fellow man. With this foundation, Grossman then discusses post-combat killing trauma, the dramatic effect of physical distance between killer and victim, peer pressure, authoritarian demands, how committing atrocities really does force soldiers to become ever more ruthless, the killing response stages, and the uniquely dreadful experience Vietnam vets had to deal with upon their return to the US.

    The last section of the book then argues how increasingly graphic violence and gore in movies and videogames is desensitizing children and young people to violence. I must admit that I was VERY SKEPTICAL of this last claim, but the author makes some truly compelling arguments. The best one is on p. 328, "...television executives have for years claimed that they are not capable of influencing our actions or changing behavior, but for decades America's major corporations have paid them billions of dollars for a paltry few seconds or a minute to do just that." Then take a lot at the graph displaying an exponential increase in aggravated assaults since the late 1950's to the present (coincidental with the rise of TV?).

    Battlefield psychology is perhaps one of the least documented but most important aspects of combat. Grossman's book makes an outstanding contribution to this field. I am sure this will become a classic in military leadership circles....more info
  • Homo lupus? Not necessarily
    I regularly teach a college-level course called "Introduction to Peace & Justice Studies." On the very first day of class, I typically ask students if they think that humans are innately aggressive--that is, as the classic tag has it, "man is wolf to man." Each semester, the vast majority of students respond affirmatively. Violence is so much a part of our culture that they just take it for granted that humans are natural born killers.

    That's why Dave Grossman's book is such an eye-opener for them (and why I use it as a text over and over). Here's a career military guy--a Ranger, no less--who argues empirically that in fact humans seen to have so strong a natural aversion to killing fellow humans that the military has to struggle mightily to overcome that aversion in its recruits. Since WWII, with the help of operant conditioning techniques, basic training has improved the readiness of recruits to kill. But the aversion nonetheless remains, and exacts a heavy psychological cost: PDST, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, etc. Moreover, continues Grossman, our entire media-driven culture is increasingly conditioned to accept killing as one of life's inevitabilities, and so the psychological fallout from this attitude permeates civilian as well as military life.

    This is an extraordinarily powerful thesis, and it's been affirmed by dozens of other psychologists. What's astounding is that neither the military or civilian sectors seem to have taken it seriously. Counseling for soldiers is minimal, and PDST is a growing problem for Iraq War veterans. Middle and high school students continue to be desensitized by escalating levels of media-driven displays of violence, with little concern on the part of regulatory commissions for the psychological consequences.

    Grossman's book argues that none of this has to be. Highly recommended.

    ...more info
  • A different view of the Vietnam war.
    Grossman, D. (1996). On killing. NY: Back Bay Books.

    To read Grossman's gripping study of killing in a military environment requires a degree of courage from the readers. In fact, those Vietnam colleagues who are not travelling well may be better off not reading this book for it peels back the psychological layers of training to kill, and then the guilt that has been generated from being part of the harvesting of the body count. Importantly, the author recognises that Vietnam was different, for a variety of reasons, to any other war that we have fought.

    Grossman has impeccable credentials. He rose from the rank of private to lieutenant colonel and served in the 82nd Airborne, 7th Infantry Division and the U.S. Rangers and as a psychology professor at West Point.

    After the Second World War, the British and Americans studied the phenomenon of non-firers. American studies confirmed that in battles only 15-20% of the troops shot to kill. In some situations where several riflemen were together firing at the enemy, others in the group would take on supporting roles (getting ammunition, tending the wounded etc.). There was a conspiracy of silence over the non-firers and those involved in a conspiracy to miss, even when their lives were endangered. The British confirmed that among the Argentinean troops in the Falklands, there was a similar rate of non-firers.

    However, by the time of the Vietnam War, training techniques had been changed and the firing rates were around 95%. Herein lies the root of the problems faced by Vietnam veterans. As a result of the non-firing data, training methods were re-designed to remove the moral dilemma of taking human lives. Recruits were trained to shoot body shaped targets, not bullseyes and recruits were rewarded for "kills". At Puckapunyal (Recruit Training), recruits for Vietnam were instructed to aim for the chest, so if the enemy doesn't die they become a burden for their medical support teams. Bayonet training, which had probably remained unchanged for over 100 years, was designed to massively damage the enemy soldier's abdominal-thoracic region with a steel instrument possessing two specifically designed blood grooves. And, as the RDI said, "If you are unlucky enough to bayonet the enemy in the head and can't get your bayonet out, discharge a round and it should split the head open."
    In, out, on guard! Kill, kill!
    The NCOs' and officers' jobs in combat remain to get the troops to kill. I cannot agree with Grossman's observation that British officers do their jobs better because of the class distinction between themselves and their men, which allowed them to make more objective decisions (p. 168). The "fragging" phenomenon in Vietnam occurred because of this perceived officer indifference to the suffering of the troops.

    Killing another human being is not a natural act, contrary to what the movies would have us believe. Grossman argued that only 2% of the troops are natural killers (psychopaths/sociopaths), the others need a variety of support strategies to overcome the feeling of guilt that eventually emerge. Perhaps a strongpoint of this book is the excellent diagrams, which capture the essence of key points in this treatise. The diagram showing the predisposition to kill (p.188) is a good example of Grossman's clarity of thought. He shows that the demands of authority, training and conditioning, experience, target attractiveness and group support all come into play before the trigger is pulled.

    So, what made Vietnam different to previous and subsequent wars? Firstly, the training was different and the re-socialisation of recruits, particularly those conscripted into the military, was designed to make certain that the troops would kill. The troop rotations generally had new members of units arriving and leaving as individuals, thus denying them the support and absolutions for what they had taken part in. Thirdly, there was no safe rear area and troops had to be battle ready, always. The Swank and Marchand research of 1946 showed that after 25 days in combat troops suffered combat exhaustion, with a reduction in their effectiveness and ending after 50 days in a vegetative phase. Fourthly, the lack of support from the home communities turned many Vietnam veterans into pariahs and it took over a decade to begin to remedy this dreadful, politically driven alienation. As a result, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) manifested itself in many returning troops, who often left Vietnam and were expected to be civilians again within 12 hours. It was interesting that the British sent troops home from the Falklands by boat to overcome this specific problem of the lack of group absolution.

    For me, this book was an interesting read, but importantly it made me understand myself and my veteran colleagues a little better.


    Neil MacNeill, 31 Charlie.
    ...more info
  • An eye opening experience
    When I read the overview for this book I was doubtful about many of it's ideas, but the idea did not seem that unplausable. This book turned out to be one of the most revolutionary, yet common sense books that I have ever read. I use the word revolutionary deliberately because it has literally destroyed my previous naive understanding of killing in war.

    Sometimes an argument makes no sense, but this one just clicks into place. Now when I read other narratives on war I can see the writing between the lines. War is not an orgy of killing as action movies suggest.

    I felt let down by last part of the book dealing with children playing killing games. Grossman was moving out of his area of expertise as his logic and understanding of the matter seemed to break down.

    This book is an excellent insight into the effect that killing has on the human mind. This is an important issue, one on which people should have understanding. This book is a must read.
    ...more info
  • On Killing
    Outstanding book by a very informed author. Lots of anecdotal descriptions. Should be read by everyone who has a friend or relative in law enforcement, the military, firemen, vetrans, familys of vetrans or any citizen with the lawful right to carry a gun. A must read for anyone that might have to defend thereself or others from deadly assult or threat of great bodily injury. Explores PTSD in detail. ak...more info
  • Soldiers and leaders can't leave home without this book!
    I initially read this fine book in 1998 while working as an anti-terrorist security officer in the Middle East. When my National Guard company mobilized and deployed to the Middle East during 2004, I bought three more copies and took them overseas with me so that I could train the company's leadership--and through them, the rest of the company. My unit had zero firefights, but I felt better prepared because of Dave Grossman.

    I do think that he overstates the link between violent video games, rap music, and television violence and school yard murders--but I just picked up a copy of his latest book, "On Combat." The school child mass murderers had this in common--they were all products of the public school system. I don't hear much shouting about closing down public schools! On the other hand, I can change my mind, given enough time and information. Overstating a case doesn't mean that Grossman was wrong about violent entertainment.

    I will argue that today's society is not the most wicked and violent ever. Teenage mass murders are a constant throughout history. Ever hear of Alexander the Great? How about those Romans? Anybody for a Children's Crusade? Look at the carnage before, during, and after the American Civil War. Many of the participants were "minors." Besides, conditions have changed so much that it isn't the same old Planet Earth anymore. For one thing, more actions are considered murder today than a century ago. Two examples: alcohol and lynch mobs. In the old days, claiming that you were drunk when you killed someone was sometimes enough to derail a murder charge--alcohol was an acceptable excuse for murder. Today, having too much alcohol in your bloodstream is considered attempted murder. As for lynch mobs, a century ago in America black men were murdered and the people doing the hanging would brag about it--and not be prosecuted. There are other things that indicate the changes in laws and public attitudes. We have more laws to break. How could crime rates drop?

    But "On Killing" addresses important issues. Who kills? How? Why? What is the aftermath for the killer?

    Grossman references S. L. A. Marshall at length. In "Men Against Fire," Marshall stated that a major factor in failure to fire was that society conditioned men to refrain from killing. Grossman gave me the impression that this was a genetic restraint. No matter--"on Killing" blueprints effective training programs to enable killing. Note that the diagrams and text give multiple enablers--it isn't a simple one-factor process. Humans are complex beings living in a complex society. No one cause will enable or disable killing.

    How one feels after killing is another subject. The connection is that one must have killed in order to suffer from the ill effects of killing, but the aftermath of killing another human being is not the same thing as preparing for the killing. "Decent people" are supposed to feel guilt and shame after having killed--Grossman examines these society-induced factors and comments that some people do kill without apparent disabling emotional consequences. Most do not. Grossman doesn't mention that we are a death-worshiping culture, trying to stave off death by various ineffective magical means. "On Killing" does cover the emotional costs paid by many of our military and police protectors for doing what is necessary to protect America, American lives, and our way of life--killing other human beings.

    This book should be read by everyone who can vote, by all those in the force professions, and most especially by all pacifists. Understanding violence is not condoning violence. Understanding violence is the key to minimizing violence....more info
  • Good but the second book is much better
    This is a very good book but pales in comparison to Col. Grossman's second book on combat. This book has a lot of data a is a little dry reading. However, the data is excellent and this book contains great information....more info
  • A most thought-provoking book
    Lt. Col. Grossman has written a book that is obviously well-researched and well-thought. His descriptions of the process of what happens in combat are detailed and descriptive without being unduly graphic. The same observation applies to his descriptions of the measures the military takes to deal with the process and results of combat, and the safeguards that the military takes around these measures. Further, his conclusions as to the problem of violence in society in which some of the same processes are evident, but without the same safeguards, are extremely thought-provoking. As I am not a miltary man, this book gave me a great deal to think about. I actually found it a very disturbing book to read, but I am certainly glad to have read it. I would highly recommend it to any thoughtful person, whether he or she has been in the military or not, but especially to civilians as a small glimpse into the world of those whom we ask to fight our wars. Those who will read this book will gain a much better understanding of what they are asking....more info
  • On Kiling
    A bit of slow read but does get interesting every few pages. It is very easy to take the factors in this book and apply them to the business world - why do people get stressed out and burned out at work....more info
  • Utterly and without a doubt brilliant
    Simply stunning. I read it four times, no kidding. My copy is dog eared and falling apart. This book is a study of the soldier. The only book I learned more about myself with was the Bible.

    Don't miss a chance to hear him lecture. Seriously. This is mandatory reading. Hell, I need to read it a fith time....more info
  • Read it for your own peace of mind and for all veterans.
    Lt. Col. Grossman has contributed to the mental health of innumerable peace officers and soldiers by writing this book. As both a decorated veteran and peace officer, I can attest to many of the topics presented inside its pages. I have used much of the material in my training courses and most recently to assist one of my fellow Vietnam Veterans. I cannot recommend it too highly. It is truly a pioneering work in the field....more info
  • Humans in Combat exposed
    Grossman does an absolutely phenomenal job investigating what it takes for the normally peaceful man to kill.

    Examining round to kill ratios of wars back to The War of Northern Aggression, to examining studies of firing ratios, Grossman posits what the psychological cost is from different ranges of combat.

    Mind you, although you may wonder at the start, this is no dope smoking, hippy, anti-war filled tripe. Grossman is a soldier and fully recognizes the necessity of killing under the right circumstances.
    ...more info
  • If You Want to Understand: A Review of "On Killing"
    Because most of the individuals who know me are aware that I love to read, they often recommend books that they think I would enjoy reading. Many of the books that I have reviewed in The White Rhino Report came to my attention through personal recommendations. "On Killing - The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is no different, except for the fact that at least a half dozen of my friends told me that I needed to read this book. The curious thing about their recommendations was that each individual expressed his feelings about this book in almost identical terms. Each of these warriors, knowing that they were speaking to someone who has not served in the military, used a phrase like: "If you want to understand . . . you need to read `On Killing'!"

    They did not say, "If you want to understand me," or "If you want to understand war," or even "If you want to understand the heart of a warrior." They left the statement hanging: "If you want to understand . . ." That truncated expression served as an all-encompassing statement that includes all of the above - and so much more.

    Having read, and been captivated by, this singular book, I feel that I have begun to understand in a new way. Grossman, a decorated former Army Ranger, paratrooper and member of the faculty at West Point, has placed on the table for discussion what I would call "The Warrior's Secret." The overarching impression that Grossman left me with is that each warrior who has faced combat secretly struggles for the rest of his life with one of three powerful sets of emotions:

    1) If he has been called upon to kill in battle, he wrestles with a haunting guilt over having overcome the basic human instinct not to kill our own kind. That wrestling can often lead to severe PTSD.

    2) If he was faced with an opportunity to kill an enemy combatant, but chose not to kill, or found himself incapable of killing, he suffers from the secret shame and humiliation of having failed to carry out that which he was trained to do - that which defines a true warrior.

    3) If he served in the military in a role that was not combat arms, or if he never had an opportunity to engage an enemy, he wonders how he would have responded if faced with that life-or-death decision. And he secretly feels like he never truly became a warrior.

    For much of history, the warrior code made if difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to speak honestly about these struggles. Our military has come a long way in the past several generations in terms of understanding these psychological and emotional dynamics of warfare, and in terms of giving permission for veterans and active duty military personnel to speak openly and honestly about these formerly taboo topics. Grossman has carved out a second career in publicly and privately offering this explicit permission to those who have served in combat and who wrestle with these persistent struggles.

    As soon as I finished reading the book, I placed a call to my friend, Kevin. He was one of those who had told me to read the book. He is a veteran of two deployments to Iraq. I wanted to test out on Kevin the validity of what I describe above as "The Warrior's Secret." Kevin not only confirmed that I was on the right track and was beginning to "Get it," but he also added the following comments:

    "Now you need to read Grossman's next book - `On Combat.' It is more comprehensive in scope than `On Killing.' In each unit I have served in, we made sure that there was a copy of each of these books available to us to help us survive. They function as a sort of a psychological survival manual."

    (Based on Kevin's recommendation, I immediately ordered "On Combat." I plan to review that book within the next few days. Stay tuned!)

    To give you a direct sense of how insightful and revolutionary Grossman's writing is, I will share with you several excerpts. Grossman lays on the table the idea that historically in combat, many warriors have shied away from making a kill when they were given an opportunity to do so.

    "The simple fact appears to be that, like S.L.A. Marshall's riflemen of World War II, the vast majority of rifle- and musket-armed soldiers of previous wars were consistent and persistent in their psychological inability to kill their fellow human beings. Their weapons were technologically capable , and they were physically quite able to kill, but at the decisive moment each man became, in his heart, a conscientious objector who could not bring himself to kill the man standing before him" (Page 27)

    "There is ample indication of the existence of the resistance to killing and that it appears to have existed at least since the black powder era. This lack of enthusiasm for killing the enemy causes many soldiers to posture, submit, or flee, rather than fight; it represents a powerful psychological force on the battlefield; and it is a force that is discernible throughout the history of man. The application and understanding of this force can lend new insight to military history, the nature of war, and the nature of man." (Page 28)

    "That the average man will not kill even at the risk of all he holds dear has been largely ignored by those who attempt to understand the psychological and sociological pressures of the battlefield. Looking another human being in the eye, making an independent decision to kill him, and watching as he dies due to your action combine to form the single most basic, important, primal and potentially traumatic occurrence of war. If we understand this, then we understand the magnitude of the horror of killing in combat. . . Why is this not often discussed? If Johnny can't kill, if the average soldier will not kill unless coerced and conditioned and provided with mechanical and mental leverage, then why has it not been understood before?" (Pages 30-31)

    Grossman makes a compelling case that the poor rate at which soldiers in World Wars I and II fired their weapons when called upon to do so led to a revolution in the way in which subsequent generations of soldiers were trained - using operant conditioning techniques introduced by Skinner. As a consequence, firing rates in Korea climbed, and soared even higher in Vietnam. The result was an alarming increase in the incidence of PTSD among returning soldiers and Marines. Grossman argues that we learned to do a better job of turning men into killing machines, but we did not learn how to help them cope with the aftermath of what we had trained them to do.

    "In both the Berkun and Shalit studies we see indications that fear of death and injury is not the primary cause of psychiatric casualties on the battlefield. Indeed, Shalit found that even in the face of a society and culture that tells soldiers that selfish fear of death and injury should be their primary concern, it is instead the fear of not being able to meet the terrible obligations of combat that weighs most heavily on the minds of combat soldiers. . . Research in this field has been that of blind men groping at the elephant - one grasps what he thinks is a tree, another finds a wall, and still another discovers a snake. All have a piece of the puzzle, but none is completely correct." (Page 53)

    Grossman offers a fascinating look into the theory and practice of inoculating recruits and military cadets against hatred and other psychological factors.

    "Combining an understanding of (a) those factors that cause combat trauma with (b) an understanding of the inoculation process permits us to understand that in most of these military schools the inoculation is specifically oriented toward hate.

    The drill sergeant who screams into the face of a recruit is manifesting overt interpersonal hostility. Another effective means of inoculating a trainee against the Wind of Hate can be seen in U.S. Army and USMC pugil-stick training during boot camp or at the U.S. Military Academy and the British Airborne Brigade, where boxing matches are a traditional part of the training and initiation process. When in the face of all of this manufactured contempt and overt physical hostility the recruit overcomes the situation to graduate with honor and pride, he realizes at both a conscious and unconscious levels that he can overcome such overt interpersonal hostility. He has become partially inoculated against hate." (Page 82)

    In the chapter entitled "The Burden of Killing," Grossman articulates what I see as his primary premise - and thereby offers his primary gift to the warrior community: opening up for discussion - both public and private - the secret burden that each warrior carries within his heart.

    "The soldier in combat is trapped within this tragic Catch-22. If he overcomes his resistance to killing and kills an enemy soldier in close combat, he will forever be burdened with blood guilt, and if he elects not to kill, then the blood guilt of his fallen comrades and the shame of his profession, nation, and cause lie upon him. He is damned if he does, and damned it he doesn't." (Page 87)

    The feedback I received from my friend, Kevin, reinforced my sense that Grossman's pioneering work has been enormously helpful to those called to serve in fields of fire in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere where our troops are deployed. The book provided me with a glimpse into the mind and heart of those who have been faced with the decision to kill or not to kill - a level of understanding I may not have been able to attain in any other way. Kevin's comment about the book's effectiveness in combat speaks loudly as a recommendation for all warriors to add this book to their arsenal of tools and weapons.

    Speaking as one who has not been in combat, but who numbers among my friends many warriors, I recommend this book to anyone who desires to understand and to engage in meaningful conversation those friends and family members who have been called upon to make the awful choice to take a human life. One of the ways that we can show our gratitude to the warriors who bear these burdens that are almost unthinkable is to take a step towards them and make the effort to understand.

    "If you want to understand" . . . read this book!

    Al...more info
  • Off Target
    Amidst the smoke and karaoke crooning of New Year's Eve, a friend and I got to talking about trauma. I'm a US Navy veteran; I never killed, but I served in war zones and as a police officer. She recommended a book--*On Killing*.

    Written by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, US Army retired, the book describes itself as the founding study on killing. To my surprise, I found it to be a pseudo-scientific screed against media.

    --On Insults--

    Right off the bat, the paperback takes a swing at skeptics.

    It compares us morally and scientifically to tobacco lobbyists. It also plays the race card, accusing people who oppose censorship of being racist. The book dismisses personal freedom itself, declaring:

    "I think most individuals would agree that the `just turn it off' solution probably rates right up there with `let them eat cake' and `I was just following orders' as all-time offensive statements."

    --On Media--

    I'm offended by populist statements accusing critics of racist tyranny! Yet I read the whole book.

    Far from a study of killing, the central thesis states: "Finally, *and perhaps most important*, I believe that this study will provide insight into the way that rifts in our society combine with violence in media and in interactive video games to indiscriminately condition our nation's children to kill." (emphasis Grossman's).

    To this conclusion, the book follows a chain of hypotheses:

    1) People are naturally disinclined to kill.
    2) Atrocities and social conditions push people to kill.
    3) The military exploits these to conditioned people to kill at high rates.
    4) Media adopts military conditioning to program civilian children to kill.
    5) First Amendment and market control are required.

    --On Veneer--

    Unbefitting these controversial claims, the content is superficial.

    *On Killing* only examines western infantry during modern, major wars. Yet it generalizes that humans naturally oppose homicide. The text doesn't try to consider nurture instead of nature, failing to explore killing across different cultures, demographics, or periods. Nor does Grossman offers a mechanism for any aversion, preferring to prattle poetically about people.

    Repeatedly, the author claims original research, but provides just enough to wow the audience before tucking it beneath his sleeve. His study is mostly quotes from other people's work, strung together with personal opinions, poems, and movie references. Credible citation is also absent; I would expect APA format at least. The book finally admits to reliance on *Soldier of Fortune* magazine for most of its testimonials.

    *On Killing* also digresses. Whole chapters prattle with poetic commentary and without science. Vietnam studies stray into denial that we lost the war, egotistical assertions of American prowess, and diatribes on the treatment of veterans. I sometimes felt like I was reading a talk-show.

    --On Histrionics--

    Frequent hysterics reinforce this tabloid quality. It announces, "After nuclear holocaust, the next major threat to our existence is the violent decay of our civilization due to violence-enabling in the electronic media." Pardon me while my eyes roll right out of their sockets!

    The tone also raised my eyebrows. The prose lies sticky with sexual and slaughterhouse metaphors. Yet it bleeps out obscenities, notably "f---" and "s---". I suspect any book that compares itself to a sex manual, but strikes out the language. I also mistrust loaded phrasing: specifically the repetitious use of "the egalitarian United States", "violence-enabling media", "brainwashing", and "conspiracies".

    The author uses that last term a lot, as *On Killing* dives into conspiracy theories. From the start, it declares media violence to be a genocidal plot against black people. The Vietnam chapters suggest an illuminati-like anti-war movement. The final sections build off fantastic *Clockwork Orange* or CIA scenarios.

    These creepy assertions bubble out of otherwise sedate passages, and a less discerning reader might float atop without any idea that his or her feet have left the ground.

    --On Manipulation--

    *On Killing* really sails into space when it applies fallacy to American society. The central thesis states that humans are inherently adverse to killing, but post-1960's electronic media reproduces combat conditioning without safeguards.

    Now I don't doubt media influences human behavior. I do doubt *On Killing* for drawing far-fetched conclusions from dubious methodology:

    >Reliance on Arguments from Authority,
    >Argument from Repetition,
    >Band Wagon Appeals,
    >and Inappropriate Analogies.

    The book also suffers pervasive cognitive bias:

    >Fallacy of correlation versus causation.
    >Omitting reasonable alternatives.
    >Reinforcing bias through false dilemma.

    Example: The book claims graphic media is the only increasing factor in violent crime. This ignores the history of both hard drugs and firearms, as well as the influence of new laws and criminal immigration. The book further fails to account for pitfalls of statistical reporting. It reinforces bias by denying the potency of firearms and drugs. Grossman's false dilemma claims that science cannot safely prove a link between media and violence, so we should assume it anyways.

    --On Conclusion--

    After 300-pages of war stories, *On Killing* asserts that Dirty Harry turned our children into murderers. It coyly advocates government censorship and public censure to control our expression.

    This has nothing to do with a study of killing. This *is* another fallacy, related to the "irrelevant conclusion": the author presents an attractive set of arguments--those sympathetic soldiers-- then switches to a disconnected thesis. Overall, the book calls itself into question with what amounts to a 30-page non-sequitur.

    To paraphrase the text itself, *On Killing* stakes out the same moral and scientific ground as the tobacco industry. It insults readers and their beliefs. Arguments are trite and sag with fallacy. And the histrionics--the melodramatic declarations, the conspiracy theories, and the twisted morality--makes this sham of psychology as crazy as the patient.
    ...more info
  • Interesting, but somewhat repetitive
    Very informative but I feel that the author was repetitive in some topics. Overall a good and informative book. Chapter 7 Killing and Sexual Range: The Primal Aggression and Release, and Orgasmic Discharge was a surprise to me and is in my opinion pure 100% Bull.... ...more info
  • Amazing book.
    This book delves deeply into the psychology of combat and killing and shows the relevency of this information in our everyday lives. The most exhaustive source on this topic that I have found. Very interesting read. Loads of excellent facts and information. Anyone can benefit from reading this book! Excellent overall message. If you have children, this book is a must read! Highly recommended. ...more info
  • Helps Gain Better Understanding of the Physiology of War on Loved Ones
    This book was a recommended read by a family member to help understand the impact of war on the brave men and women that serve our country. I really enjoyed reading it and could not help to think of my Grandfather during many of the chronicles. If you want to understand your loved one better after returning from war or simply want to better understand leadership in the battlefield, read this book. I am thankful I did....more info
  • Groundbreaking discussion of killing
    Grossman presents a thorough discussion of how military and law enforcement professionals are trained to overcome societal and moral inhibitors against killing - and the burden of this training as these men and women attempt to build lives within the society they protect. No apologist for the need for such "protectors," Grossman steadfastly refuses to pass judgement. He focuses on the reality of killing in certain professions and examines the benefits and costs to society and to the individuals who have felt the dull throbbing horror of taking another life. The interviews will ring true to anyone who has chosen such a profession and the book offers valuable insights to those who love them. David R. Bannon, Ph.D.; author "Race Against Evil."...more info
  • Required reading for anyone protecting the public
    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....more info
  • Good try on important topic but his conclusions are off
    Well written book, unfortunately based on poor data and not consistent with may facts for rates of people firing in combat. Additionally, psychopathology (PTSD) dose not necessarily result from killing the enemy if you are not a psychopath. Again not consistent with the facts. He does try to address this failure in his next book. He does do a good job on the proximity and ease of killing part of his book. I'm glad that he has approached this important subject but am concerned that readers will not be as critical as they need to be and accept his conclusions, many of which are wrong....more info
  • A Compelling Study of Violence-enabling
    Grossman's book is a straight-forward yet fascinating study of violence and the ways in which our military has been able to groom soldiers for combat. While the application of the information to modern American culture is somewhat less represented than the book cover would imply, the value of the lessons he imparts which relate to the military alone are worth the purchase price. Grossman has a scholar's approach to research, but presents the information in a relatively simple and cohesive way, making the material extremely accessible to the layperson. The format of the book, which is subdivided into numerous chapters, makes the information very digestible....more info
  • A Magnificant Study on the Mind of Man
    Grossman has done extensive research for "On Killing" using both the work of other students of warfare and his own detailed interviewing. He has put together a highly readable text. His examples and quotes are profound, but the work's greatest aspect is the order in which he lays out his argument that man - at least 98% of us - won't easily kill another man, even when threatened.

    Since reading this book, I have talked with military men and police officers who all agree with Grossman's premise. One former Marine sniper had read all of Grossman's books in an attempt to deal with his own issues of the work he had done. He found them to be of great value.

    I find "On Killing" to be thoroughly fascinating....more info
  • On Killing
    Col Grossman has amazing insight into these topics. I enjoyed his book immensely and have enjoyed his speaking engagements in the past....more info
  • A Highly Flawed Work on an Important Topic
    LTC Grossman's book is highly overrated by far too many readers. His book does offer some valuable information on the combat efficiency of people over time on the modern battlefield. There is also some excellent insight into post-traumatic stress disorder. He suggests that in the past soldiers had more time to reflect and examine their experiences before returning to peaceful lives back home. Either armies had to march home, which could take days if not weeks, or they had to take a ship, which could take a similar amount of time. Our current policy of rapid reintroduction of soldiers just out of a combat zone as a cause of problems today is an important one.

    The rest of his book, however, is flawed and should be taken with a grain of salt. To begin with, he takes modern assumptions and assigns them to all eras and epochs of the past, as if people of the past all have the same outlooks and reactions that we do today - they just wore different clothes. His assumption that people are somehow inherently predisposed not to kill each other and only do so with great mental conditioning leading to psychological harm flies in the face of the obvious lessons of history. A reading of history suggests our ancestors often waged aggressive and enthusiastic war with little trouble. Even more importantly, they did not need video games or death metal to encourage them to do it. The society and its views of war, I think, has more to do with reactions of soldiers than any innate mental disposition.
    Some items he mentions show a poor understanding of practical matters. He suggests that centurions simply stood around encouraging their soldiers to fight, while a student of Roman warfare would recognize that the centurions were often in the thick of the fighting and doing so by fighting. They often led just as much by example as by shouting orders. The author also asserts that the reason thrusts with a sword are not used much is related to some psycho-sexual mental block. This only proves he has little concept of weapons through the ages, not to say the fact that he has never seriously used one. He also fails to comment on the development of specialized thrusting weapons in the late middle ages or the development of rapiers. That these weapons were used for several hundred years and thrusting the accepted technique for inflicting damage shows a poor understanding of swords, not to say weapons of the past in general. I wonder how he addresses the spear, the most common weapon for thousands of years?

    Even more troubling is his use of SLA Marshall's work Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command to justify many of his positions. He quotes Marshall's famous firing rate: less than twenty-five percent of a unit would engage in combat with the enemy. The first problem is: He ignores Marshall's reason for this occurring. Marshall felt a lot of this had to do with the way soldiers were trained - only to fire their weapon if they could see a target. In modern war, a target is not always visible, hence the soldiers did not shoot when shot at. The soldiers who did shoot often were armed with BARS, machine guns, flame-throwers, etc. That is weapons that are meant to be used against an area as much as against individual targets. The second problem is that recent research has suggested that it is very likely Marshall simply made up this figure. His methodology was more focused on recreating the battle experience, not obtaining specific pieces of information for statistical purposes. With doubt cast on Marshall's firing rate, doubt has to be cast on LTC Grossman's conclusions and arguments which stem from it.

    Another problem with LTC Grossman's book is that despite saying he conducted over four hundred interviews, he quotes from these very little. In fact, he tends to quote from the same couple of works, Soldiers: A history of men in battle by John Keegan and Richard Holmes and Acts of War: Behavior of Men in Battle by Richard Holmes, over and over again. Because of the repetition and limited sources, many of his assertions seem poorly supported and to rely entirely on the works of other people. If he conducted all these interviews, why does he not reference them more? Also to consider, just because modern people have certain reactions in battle, it does not mean that this is how it has been through time immemorial. This reviewer highly recommends the works of Richard Holmes and John Keegan as an alternative to this poor work.

    Finally, when he is given information that runs contrary to his views, he glosses over it or attempts to make it fit his conclusions. The most prominent example regards the guilt officers feel when men under their command die following that officer's orders. Essentially, he says none of the officers he interviewed expressed any guilt. Rather than concluding that maybe they really do not feel guilt, he concludes they must all be suppressing it. This is just absurd - a blatant attempt to make the facts fit a preconceived notion that the author has.

    It is unfortunate that this book is accepted so uncritically. His work has affected the work of others in a detrimental manner. The subject is an interesting one, but unfortunately poorly researched. Grossman did do a service in pointing out the importance of the topic. His arguments and conclusion, however, are flawed and poorly thought out. Despite his claim to a history degree, he seems to have a poor grasp of the subject and its study. And in the end his book becomes a screed against violent video games, movies, and music, as if this is to blame for all our problems. My advice is to avoid this book if at all possible. ...more info
  • On Killing
    This book was suggested to me by a former MP in the Army. I have passed it along to both career military and pastors alike. This gives great insight to how the mind works regarding taking the lives of others. For those who need to get soldiers to do their duty to kill the enemy, this is the theory behind the practice. For those who are responsible for raising children, or caring for young people, this is a study in the aspects of our society that break down the walls in the mind that tell a person that killing is wrong. This will make the reader more aware of the environment around them with regard to the moral degrading we see today. This book may have been written a decade ago, but the information is timeless....more info
  • A Book for Warriors
    I believe LtCol Grossman was right on the mark and the book was very well thought out and the content was accurately researched.
    This book should be read by all military and police. It gives a great insight into the repercussions of having to take someones life.
    It also should be read by all of our elected officials so they can see what our society is turning into and why this is happening....more info
  • An eye opening read
    Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's On Killing is a phenominal work. It serves to blatantly scrutinize one of our society's biggest blind spots and social taboos: killing. Everything our society thinks it knows about wartime combat is fundamentally flawed; our conception of the righteous (or less so) soldier wading through battle without thought of the lives he takes is a lie. One of the most interesting points is the exploration of firing rates in historical wars and man's natural reluctance to kill, which apparently supercedes the urge of self-preservation or societal pressures. Those that enjoyed the book Ishmael may find a similar vein in this work (in the way that it explores facets of civilization that we turn a blind eye to conciously or unconciously), which strives to explain information vital to the survival of our society as well as the psychological well-being of our soldiers, however uncomfortable that subject may be. An all around fascinating book that "blew my mind". I reccomend this book for anyone with even a passing interest in psychology or combat, and it is definately a MUST READ for anyone working in the field of Veteran's Affairs....more info
  • Great read
    This is a very incite-full read and should be read before on combat. Very deep subject content and makes very good points about how our society is changing and not in a good way....more info
  • Disappointed
    I was recommended this book and hoped it would provide revelatory analysis on those who kill and the psychological consequences of this aberrant human behaviour. On the contrary, the author normalises the act of killing to the point of mundanity and does little delving into the psyches of killers. The writing is not particularly scholarly and the author peppers the text with some pretty banal assumptions. For the most part this text is a regurgitation of other more famous war historians, Sir John Keegan in particular. Don't waste your time with this book, it is a mish mash of other primary sources about warfare and you are better off reading them....more info