On Killing

“Fulfilment in life is loving a good woman and killing a bad man.” Robert Heinlein

Fulfilment in life involves loving a good woman and killing a bad man.

Loving a good woman and killing a bad man is as essential and necessary as breathing and eating. It didn’t change during these 6 thousand years. (Gen 2, 6, John 4)

"On Killing" by Grossman, Excerpts

Killing is a private, intimate occurrence of tremendous intensity.

There is within most men an intense resistance to killing their fellow man. A resistance so strong that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die before they can overcome it.

With the proper conditioning and the proper circumstances, it appears that almost anyone can and will kill.

Wishful thinking and pie-in-the-sky theories are usually among the first victims of warfare.

The fight-or-flight dichotomy is the appropriate set of choices for any creature faced with danger other than that which comes from its own species.

The first decision point in an intraspecies conflict usually involves deciding between fleeing or posturing.

Posturing actions that, while intimidating, are almost always harmless. These actions are designed to convince an opponent, through both sight and sound, that the posturer is a dangerous and frightening adversary.

When the fight option is utilized, it is almost never to the death.

Submission is a surprisingly common response, usually taking the form of fawning and exposing some vulnerable portion of the anatomy to the victor, in the instinctive knowledge that the opponent will not kill or further harm one of its own kind once it has surrendered.
The posturing, mock battle, and submission process is vital to the survival of the species. It prevents needless deaths and ensures that a young male will live through early confrontations when his opponents are bigger and better prepared.

There is a clear distinction between actual violence and posturing. 
What is created is a "perfect illusion of violence." Aggression, yes. Competitiveness, yes. 
But only a "very tiny, tiny level" of actual violence.

There is the occasional psychopath who really wants to slice people open, but most of the participants are really interested in "status, display, profit, and damage limitation.

When a man is frightened, he literally stops thinking with his forebrain, and begins to think with the midbrain. The one who makes the loudest noise or puffs himself up the largest is who will win.

Rebel yell.

Both the longbow's firing rate and its accuracy were much greater to the gunpowder's superior noise. (1800)
Gunpowder: With a potential hit rate of well over 50% at the average combat ranges of this era, the killing rate should have been hundreds per minute, instead of one or two. 
The weak link between the killing potential and the killing capability of these units was the soldier.
The simple fact is that when faced with a living, breathing opponent instead of a target, a significant majority of the soldiers revert to a posturing mode in which they fire over their enemy's heads.

And the trend can be found in the fire fights of Vietnam, when more than fifty thousand bullets were fired for every enemy soldier killed.

Cannon fire, like machine-gun fire, is an entirely different matter, sometimes accounting for more than 50% of casualties on the black-powder battlefield, and artillery fire has consistently accounted for the majority of combat casualties in the twentieth century. THIS IS LARGELY DUE TO THE GROUP PROCESSES AT WORK IN A CANNON, MACHINE-GUN, OR OTHER CREW-SERVED-WEAPONS FIRING.

Vast majority of combat losses historically occured in the pursuit after one side or the other had won the battle. (Killing and Physical Distance)

The intentional miss can be a very subtle form of disobedience.

Even more remarkable than instances of posturing, and equally indisputable, is the fact that a significant number of soldiers in combat elect not to fire at all.

General Marshall's finding is that 15 to 20 percent of US soldiers fired their weapons during World War II. Dispersion  was probably a major factor in this low firing rate. Yet Marshall noted that even in situations where there were several riflemen together in a position facing an advancing enemy, only one was likely to fire while the others would tend to such "vital" tasks as running messages, providing ammo, tending wounded, and spotting targets. Marshall makes it clear that in most cases the firers were aware of the large body of nonfirers around them. The inaction of these passive individuals did not seem to have demoralizing effect on actual firers. To the contrary, the presence of the nonfirers seemed to enable the firers to keep going.

There is ample supporting evidence to indicate that Marshall's observations are applicable not only to US soldiers or even to the soldiers on all sides in World War II. Indeed, there are compelling data that indicate that this singular lack of enthusiasm for killing one's fellow man has existed throughout military history.

The Civil War soldier was, without a doubt, the best trained and equipped soldier yet seen on the face of the earth. Then came the day of combat, the day for which he had drilled and marched for so long. And with that day came the destruction of all his preconceptions and delusions about what would happen.
Terrible, frightingly wrong. An average engagement would take place a thirty yards. But instead of mowing down hundreds of enemy soldiers in the first minute, regiments killed only one or two men per minute. And instead of the enemy formations disintegrating in a hail of lead, they stood and exchanged fire for hours on end.
Sooner or later (and usually sooner), the long lines firing volleys in unison would begin to break down. And in the midst of the confusion, the smoke, the thunder of the firing, and the screams of the wounded, soldiers would revert from cogs in a machine to individuals doing what comes naturally to them. Some load, some pass weapons, some tend the wounded, some shout orders, a few run, a few wander off in the smoke or find a convenient low spot to sink into, and a few, a very few, shoot.

Fake, or mock firing.

The Dilemma of the Discarded Weapons
Why was firing the only step that was skipped?
The available data indicates that 80-85% of the soldiers did not fire their weapons, and only a minute percentage of those who did fire aimed to kill the enemy with their fire.

When presented with this data, some respond that this information is specific to a civil war in which "brother fought brother". Jerome Frank answers such claims clearly in his book Sanity An Survival in the Nuclear Age, in which he points out that civil wars are usually more bloody, prolonged, and unrestrained than other types of war. And Peter Watson points out that "deviant behaviour by members of our own group is perceived as more disturbing and produces stronger retaliation than that of others with whom we are less involved."

The most amazing thing of all in this fantastic battle is the fact that all along the front the beaten did not pull back to the rear. Instead they did exactly what they had done over and over again: They stayed where they were, anywhere from 40 to 200 yards from the line, and kept on firing. And the enemy kept on firing at them, often with cannons firing from the flanks and rear at horrendously short range.
It took over eight hours.

Only when artillery (with its close supervision and mutual surveillance processes among the crew) is brought into play can any significant change in this killing rate be observed. The greater distance that artillery usually is from its targets also increases its effectiveness.

This all indicates that there is a force in play here. A previously undiscovered psychological force. A force stronger than drill, stronger than peer pressure, even stronger than the self-preservation instinct.

The average and healthy individual has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will no of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility.

An intense, traumatic, guilt-laden situation will inevitably result in a web of forgetfulness, deception, and lies.
Such situations that continue for thousands of years become institutions based on a tangled web of individual and cultural forgetfulness, deception and lies lightly woven over thousands of years.
For the most part there have been two such institutions about which the male ego has always justified selective memory, self-deception, and lying. This two institutions are sex and combat. love and war.

Until someone with authority and credibility asked individuals in privacy and with dignity, we had no hope of ever realizing what was occurring sexually in our culture. And even under such circumstances, society as a whole has to be sufficiently prepared and enlightened in order to throw off the blinders that limit its ability to perceive itself.

In the same way that we did not understand what was occurring in the bedroom, we have not understood what was occurring on the battlefield. 
Philosophers and psychologists have long been aware of man's basic inability to perceive that which is closest to him. 
It is quite in keeping with man's curious intellectual history, that the simplest and most important questions are those he asks least often.

Part of the reason for our lack of knowledge in this area is that combat is, like sex, laden with a baggage of expectations and myth. A belief that most soldiers will not kill the enemy in close combat is contrary to what we want to believe about ourselves, and it is contrary to what thousands of years of military history and culture have told us. Gorlopanstvo. But are the perceptions handed down to us by our culture and our historians accurate, unbiased, and reliable?

There is as much disinformation and as little insight concerning the nature of killing coming from the media as from any aspect of our society.

There does indeed seem to be a conspiracy of silence on this subject.

The unpleasantness of this subject, combined with the remarkable success of the army's training programs, and the lack of official recognition might imply that it is classified. But there is no secret master plan responsible for the lack of attention given to this subject. There is instead a massive unconscious cover-up in which society hides itself from the true nature of combat.

Repugnance toward killing and the refusal to kill are referred to as "acute combat reaction". And psychological trauma resulting from slaughter and atrocity are called 'stress', as if clinicians are talking about an executive's overwork. Nowhere is one allowed to say what is actually occurring: the real horror of the war and its effect on those who fought it.

It is a cultural conspiracy of forgetfulness, distortion, and lies that has been going on for thousands of years. 

In every war the chances of becoming a psychiatric casualty are greater than the chances of being killed by enemy fire.

After sixty days of continuous combat, 98% of all surviving soldiers will have become psychiatric casualties. A common trait among the 2% who are able to endure sustained combat is a predisposition toward "aggressive psychopathic personalities".

The Manifestations of Psychiatric Casualties:

Fatigue Cases
This state of physical and mental exhaustion is one of the earliest symptoms. Increasingly unsociable and overly irritable, the soldier loses interest in all activities with comrades and seeks to avoid any responsibility or activity involving physical or mental effort. There will also be such somatic symptoms as hypersensitivity to sound, increased sweating, and palpitations. Such fatigue cases set the stage for further and more complete collapse. If the soldier is forced to remain in combat, such collapse becomes inevitable; the only real cure is evacuation and rest.

Confusional States
Fatigue can quickly shift into the psychotic dissociation from reality that marks confusional states. Usually, the soldier no longer knows who he is or where he is. Unable to deal with his environment, he has mentally removed himself from it. Symptoms include delirium, psychotic dissociation, and manic-depressive mood swings. Ganzer syndrom, in which the soldier will begin to make jokes, act silly, and otherwise try to ward off the horror with humour and ridiculous.

The degree of affliction in confusional states can range from the merely neurotic to the overtly psychotic. 

Conversion Psychosis
Conversion psychosis can occur traumatically during combat or post-traumatically, years later. Conversion psychosis can manifest itself as an inability to know where one is or to function at all, often accompanied by aimless wandering around the battlefield with complete disregard for evident dangers. The soldier becomes amnesiatic, blocking out large parts of his memory. 

A soldier may become psychotic after being knocked out by a concussion, after receiving a minor nondebilitating wound, or after experiencing a near miss. Psychosis can also show up after a wounded soldier has been evacuated to a hospital or rear area. Once in there, psychosis can begin to emerge, most often as a defence against returning to fight. 

Escape and avoid the horror of combat.

Anxiety States
These states are characterized by feelings of total weariness and tenseness that cannot be relieved by sleep or rest, degenerating into an inability to concentrate. When he can sleep, the soldier is often awakened by terrible nightmares. Anxiety can easily slip into complete psychosis. Frequently anxiety is accompanied by shortness of breath, weakness, pain, blurred vision, giddiness, motor abnormalities, fainting.
Emotional hypertension, in which the soldier's blood pressure rises dramatically with all the accompanying symptoms of sweating and nervousness.

Obsessional and Compulsive states

Personality Disorders
Personality disorders include absessional traits in which the soldier becomes fixated on certain actions or things; paranoid accompanied by irascibility, depression, anxiety, often taking on the tone of threats to his safety; schizophrenial leading to hypersensitivity and isolation; epileptic reactions accompanied by periodic rages: the development of extreme dramatic religiosity. Finally degeneration into psychotic personality. What has happened to the soldier is an altering of his fundamental personality.

I think I should concentrate almost entirely on the "actualities of war" - the effects of tiredness, hunger, fear, lack of sleep, weather… The principles of strategy and tactics, and the logistics of war are really absurdly simple: it is the actualities that make war so complicated and so difficult, and are usually so neglected by historians.


Resistance to overt aggressive confrontation, in addition to the fear of death and injury, is responsible for much of the trauma on the battlefield. Fear, combined with exhaustion, hate, horror, and the irreconcilable task of balancing these with the need to kill, eventually drives the soldier so deeply into a mire of guilt and horror, that he tips over the brink into that region that we call insanity. 

Nonkillers are frequently exposed to the same brutal conditions as killers, conditions that cause fear, but they do not become psychiatric casualties. In most circumstances in which nonkillers are faced with the threat of death and injury in war, the instances of psychiatric casualties are notably absent. 

Investigation seems to show that having one's house demolished is most damaging to moral. People seem to mind it more than having their friends or even relatives killed.

Prisoners of war did not suffer psychiatric reactions when they were subjected to artillery attack or aerial bombardment, but their guards did.

Soldiers who are surrounded and without cover will flee from battle, even when they have nothing to gain by doing so. They leave their defensive positions, even though it offers no protection. Combatants will try to get out of battle (a situation where they are required to kill) even when it puts them at risk.

The first quality of a soldier is constancy in enduring fatigue and hardship. Courage is only the second. Poverty, privation and want are the school of the good soldier.

The impact of true physical exhaustion is impossible to communicate to those who have not experienced it. 

In war there is perhaps no general condition which is more likely to produce a large crop of nervous and mental disorders than a state of prolonged and great fatigue.
Physiological arousal caused by a continual fight-or-flight condition.
Cumulative loss of sleep
Reduction in caloric intake
The toll of the elements - rain, cold, heat, dark of night

During fight-or-flight  sympathetic nervous system mobilizes all available energy for survival.
A soldier must pay a physiological price for an energizing process this intense.
The price that the body pays is an equally powerful backlash when the neglected demands of the parasympathetic system return. This parasympathetic backlash occurs as soon at the danger and the excitement is over, and it takes the form of an incredibly powerful weariness and sleepiness on the part of the soldier.

Napoleon stated that the moment of greatest danger was the instant immediately after victory, and in saying so he demonstrated a remarkable understanding of how soldiers become physiologically and psychologically incapacitated by the parasympathetic backlash that occurs as soon as the momentum of the attack has halted and the soldier briefly believes himself to be safe. During this period of vulnerability a counterattack by fresh troops can have an effect completely out of proportion to the number of troops attacking.

It is basically for this reason that the maintenance of fresh reserves has always been essential in combat.
These reserves should always be maintained out of sight of the battle.

These same basic psychophysiological principles explain why military leaders have historically maintained the momentum of a successful attack. Pursuing and maintaining contact with a defeated enemy are vital in order to completely destroy the enemy, but is also valuable to maintain contact with the enemy as long as possible in order to delay that inevitable pause in the battle that will result in the culmination point during which pursuing forces will slip into parasympathetic backlash and become vulnerable to a counterattack. A reserve ready to complete this pursuit is of great value in ensuring that this most destructive phase of the battle is effectively executed.

In continuous combat the soldier goes through seemingly endless surges of adrenaline and subsequent backlashes, and the body's natural, useful, and appropriate response to danger ultimately becomes extremely counterproductive. Unable to flee, and unable to overcome the danger though a brief burst of fighting, the bodies of modern soldiers quickly exhaust their capacity to energize and they slide into a state of profound physical and emotional exhaustion of such a magnitude and dimension. A soldier in this state will inevitably collapse from nervous exhaustion - the body simply will burn out.

Lack of Sleep
Hallucinations and zombie-like states. In combat it is often far worse. 

Lack of Food
Lack of nourishment resulting from bad, cold food, and a loss of appetite caused by fatigue, can have a singularly devastating impact on combat effectiveness. The lack of food constitutes the single biggest assault upon moral. Apart from its purely chemical effects upon the body, it has tremendous effects upon the mind.

Impact of the Elements
Soldiering, by its very nature, involves facing the forces of nature as well as the forces of the foe. 
Limited to those few amenities that they can carry on their backs after room has been made for the equipment of their profession, most soldiers are more or less at the mercy of the elements. Thus endless cold, rain, heat.

Another potential enemy of the soldier is the sensory deprivation of darkness, which can conspire with the cold and the rain to produce a degree of misery such as the protected shall never know.

Heat, too, can exhaust and kill.

But the most deadly of all these natural enemies that the soldier must face is probably disease.

The Mud of Guilt and Horror
I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation.

The Impact of the Senses
Beyond fear and exhaustion is a sea of horror that surrounds the soldier and assails his every sense.

Hear the pitiful screams of the wounded and dying. Smell the butcher-house smells of feces, blood, burned flesh, and rotting decay, which combine into the awful stench of death. Feel the shudder of the ground as the very earth groans at the abuse of artillery and explosives, and feel the last shiver of life and the flow of warm blood as friends die in your arms. Taste the salt of blood and tears as you hold a dear friend in mutual grieving.

You tripped over strings of viscera fifteen feet long, over bodies which had been cut in half at the waist. Legs and arms, and heads bearing only necks, lay fifty feet from the closest torsos. As night fell the beachhead reeked with the stench of burning flesh.

The Impact of Memory and the Role of Guilt
Strangely, such horrifying memories seem to have a much more profound effect on the combatant - the participant in battle - than the noncombatant, the correspondent, POW, or other passive observer of the battle zone. The combat soldier appears to feel a deep sense of responsibility and accountability for what he sees around him. It is as though every enemy dead is a human being he has killed, and every friendly dead is a comrade for whom he was responsible. With every effort to reconcile these two responsibilities, more guilt is added to the horror that surrounds the soldier.

There is always a danger of a second attempt.

The Wind of Hate

The average citizen resists engaging in aggressive and assertive activities and dreads facing the irrational aggression and hatred of others. The soldier in combat is no different: he resists the powerful obligation and coercion to engage in aggressive and assertive actions on the battlefield, and he dreads facing the irrational aggression and hostility embodied in the enemy.

To face aggression and death on a highly personal, face-to-face basis. 

In the death camps it was starkly, horribly personal.

Not only does the average soldier's psyche resist killing and the obligation to kill, but he is equally horrified when exposed to the aggression of an enemy who hates him and denies his humanity enough to kill him.

The soldier's response to the overtly hostile actions of the enemy is usually on of profound shock, surprise, and outrage. First reaction to the enemy fire: "Why does he want to kill me?" "What did I ever do to him?"

Aerial and artillery bombardments are effective, but only in the front lines when they are combined with the Wind of Hate.

This is why putting unfriendly troop units in the enemy's rear is infinitely more important and effective than even the most comprehensive bombardments in his rear or attrition along his front.

The potential of close-up, inescapable, interpersonal hatred and aggression is more effective and has greater impact on the moral of the soldier than the presence of inescapable, impersonal death and destruction.

When raw recruits are faced with seemingly sadistic abuse and hardship they are - among many other things - being inoculated against the stresses of combat.

In most of the military schools the protection is specifically oriented toward hate.
The drill sergeant who screams into the face of a recruit is manifesting overt interpersonal hostility. 
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 honour and pride, he realizes at both conscious and unconscious levels that he can overcome such overt interpersonal hostility. He has become partially protected against hate.

The Well of Fortitude

Symptoms of men suffering from combat exhaustion:
・A general slow down of mental processes and apathy, absolute hopelessness
・Influence and reassurance of understanding officers failed to arouse these soldiers from hopelesness
・Memory defects became so extreme that he could not be counted on to relay a verbal order
・Remained almost constantly in or near his slit trench, and during acute actions took no part

A brave captain is as a root, out of which, as branches, the courage of his soldiers doth spring.

One key characteristic of a great military leader is an ability to draw from the tremendous depths of fortitude within his own well.

Victory and success in battle replenish individual and collective wells.
Achievement is a sharp tonic to moral… But in the main, time is against the soldier.

In the same way, all of the aspects of combat trauma impact profoundly upon the individual's contribution to the battlefield. 

The Burden of Killing

The resistance to the close-range killing of one's own species is so great that it is often sufficient to overcome the cumulative influences of the instinct for self-protection, the coercive forces of leadership, the expectancy of peers, and the obligation to preserve the lives of comrades.

With very few exceptions, everyone associated with killing in combat reaps a bitter harvest of guilt.

Numerous studies have concluded that men in combat are usually motivated to fight not by ideology or hate or fear, but by group pressures and processes 
1. regard for their comrades
2. respect for their leaders
3. concern for their own reputation with both
4. an urge to contribute to the success of the group

Combat veterans forge the powerful bonds in combat.
This forging is so intense that it is fear of failing these comrades that preoccupies most combatants. The guilt and trauma associated with failing to fully support men who are bonded with friendship and camaraderie on this magnitude is profoundly intense. Every soldier and every leader feels this guilt to one degree or another. For those who know that they have not fired while their friends died around them, the guilt can be traumatic.

The responsibilities of a combat leader represent a remarkable paradox. To be truly good at what he does, he must love his men and be bonded to them with powerful links of mutual responsibility and affection. And then he must ultimately be willing to give the orders that may kill them.

To a significant degree, the social barrier between officer and enlisted man exists to enable the superior to send his men into mortal danger and to shield him from the inevitable guilt associated with their deaths. For even the best leaders make some mistakes that will weigh forever upon their consciences. Just as any good coach can analyze his conduct of even a winning game and see where he could have done better, so does every good combat leader, that had he done something different - these men might not have died.

This is a deadly, dangerous line of thought for leaders, and the honours and decorations that are traditionally heaped upon military leaders at all levels are vitally important for their mental health in the years that follow. These decorations, medals, mentions in dispatches, and other forms of recognition represent a powerful affirmation from the leader's society, telling him that he did well, he did the right thing, and no one blames him for the lives lost in doing his duty.

Killing is what war is all about, and killing in combat, by its very nature, causes deep wounds of pain and guilt. The language of war helps us to deny what war is really about, and in doing so it makes war more palatable.

The whole beast is far more enormous and vastly more terrifying than society as a whole is prepared to believe.

It is a combination of factors that forms the beast, and it is a combination of stressors that is responsible for psychiatric casualties. 

What is too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.

Killing and Physical Distance:
From a Distance, You Don't Look Anything Like a Friend

Unless he is caught up in murderous ecstasy, destroying is easier when done at a little remove. With every foot of distance there is a corresponding decrease in reality. 

The link between distance and ease of aggression is not a new discovery. It has long been understood that there is a direct relationship between the emphatic and physical proximity of the victim, and the resultant difficulty and trauma of the kill.

The soldier-warrior could kill his collective enemy, which now included women and children, without ever seeing them. The cries of the wounded and dying went unheard by those who inflicted the pain. A man might slay hundreds and never see their blood flow.

A single bomb, delivered miles above its target, would take the lives of more than 100,000 people, almost all civilians. The moral distance between this event and the tribal warrior facing a single opponent is far greater than even the thousands of years and transformations of culture that separate them.

Intellectually, they understood the horror of what they were doing. Emotionally, the distance involved permitted them to deny it. From a distance you don't look anything like a friend. From a distance, I can deny your humanity; and from a distance, I cannot hear your screams.

Long distance kill. There was not found one single instance of individuals who have refused to kill the enemy under these circumstances, no there was found a single instance of psychiatric trauma associated with this type of killing.

Long Range: "Not Eyeball to Eyeball with the Sweat and the Emotions of Combat"

Only 1% of US fighter pilots accounted for nearly 40% of all enemy pilots shot down in World War II; the majority apparently did not shoot anyone down or even try to.

Killing at Mid- and Hand-Grenade Range
"You Can Never Be Sure It Was You"
This is a fairly typical response by veterans to those who ask about their personal kills.

Those who would make the identification, the afflicted soldier’s commanders and buddies, are themselves caught up in the stresses and anxiety of the situation and their judgement is not at peak capacity. 

When soldiers do kill the enemy they appear to go through a series of emotional stages. The actual kill is usually described as being reflexive or automatic. Immediately after the kill the soldier  goes through a period of euphoria and elation, which is usually followed by a period of guilt and remorse. The intensity and duration of these periods are closely related to distance. At midrange we see much of the euphoria stage. "I suppose it is brutal, but I had a feeling of the most intense satisfaction as the wretched Turk went spinning down."

After this euphoria stage, even at midrange, the remorse stage can hit hard. "I reproached myself as a destroyer. An indescribable uneasiness came over me, I felt almost like a criminal." 

If a soldier goes up and looks at his kill - a common occurrence when the tactical situation permits - the trauma goes even worse, since some of the psychological buffer created by a midrange kill disappears upon seeing the victim at close range. "I went and looked at the man I knew I had shot. I remember thinking that he looked old enough to have a family and I felt very sorry."

Hand-Grenade Range: "We Heard the Shrieks and Were Nauseated"

Hand-grenade range can be anywhere from a few yards to as many as thirty-five or forty yards. A specific kill in which a hand grenade is used. A hand-grenade kill is distinguished from a close kill in that the killer does not have to see hir victims as they die. In fact, at close range to midrange, if a soldier is in direct line of sight when his grenade explodes, he will become a victim of his own instrument.

Threw a grenade at a group of men, and terrible cries followed its explosion. "Although we had been terribly hardened, my blood froze." 

Killing at Close Range
Close range involves any kill with a projectile weapon from point-blank range, extending to midrange. The key factor in close range is the undeniable certainty of responsibility on the part of the killer. Personal kill: the act of killing a specific individual with a direct-fire weapon and being absolutely sure of having done it oneself. The vast majority of personal kills and the resultant trauma occur at this range.

To kill…
At close range the euphoria stage, although brief, fleeting, and not often mentioned, still appears to be experienced in some form by most soldiers. Usually this euphoria stage is almost instantly overwhelmed by the guilt stage as the soldier is faced with the undeniable evidence of what he has done, and the guilt stage is often so strong as to result in physical revulsion and vomiting.
When the soldier kills at close range, it is by its very nature and intensely vivid and personal matter.

…And Not to Kill
At close range the resistance to killing an opponent is tremendous. When one looks an opponent in the eye, and knows that he is young or old, scared or angry, it is not possible to deny that the individual about to be killed is much like oneself. It is here that many personal narratives of nonkilling situations occur. Nonparticipation is apparently very common in midrange conflict, but in close-range situations it becomes so remarkable - and undeniable - that we can find numerous first person narratives.

As men draw this near it becomes extremely difficult to deny their humanity. Looking in a man's face, seeing his eyes and his fear, eliminate denial. At this range the interpersonal nature of the killing has shifted. Instead of shooting at a uniform and killing a generalized enemy, now the killer must shoot at a person and kill a specific individual. Most simply cannot or will not do it.

Killing at Edged-Weapons Range: An Intimate Brutality

The Romans apparently had a serious problem with their soldiers not wanting to use piercing blows.
Three major psychological factors come into play in bayonet combat:
1. The vast majority of soldiers who do approach bayonet range with the enemy use the butt of the weapon or any other available means to incapacitate or injure the enemy rather than skewer him.
2. When the bayonet is used, the close range at which the work is done results in a situation with enormous potential for psychological trauma.
3. The resistance to killing with the bayonet is equal only to the enemy's horror at having this done to him.

Thus in bayonet charges one side or the other invariably flees before the actual crossing of bayonets occurs.

Actual bayonet combat is extremely rare in military history.

When this uncommon event does occur, and one bayonet-armed man stands face-to-face with another, what happens most commonly is anything but a thrust with the bayonet.

Wound statistics from nearly two centuries of battles indicate:
First, the closer the soldier draws to his enemy the harder it is to kill him, until at bayonet range it can be extremely difficult.
Second, the average human being has a strong resistance to piercing the body of another of his own kind with a handheld edged weapon, preferring to club or slash at the enemy.

We can understand then that the average soldier has an intense resistance toward bayoneting his fellow man, and that this act is surpassed only by the resistance to being bayoneted. The horror of being bayoneted is intense. 

Soldiers who would bravely face a hail of bullets will consistently flee before a determined individual with cold steel in his hands.

The man almost invariably surrenders before the point is stuck into him.
Actual skewering almost never happens; but the powerful human revulsion to the threat of such activity, when a soldier is confronted with superior posturing represented by a willingness or at least a reputation for participation in close-range killing, has a devastating effect upon the enemy's moral.

Combat at close quarters does not exist. At close quarters occurs the ancient carnage when one force strikes the other in the back.

The first factor is the concept of a chase instinct. A lifetime of working with and training dogs has taught me that the worst thing you can ever do is run from an animal. I have never yet met a dog I could not face down or at least incapacitate with a kick as it charged, but I have always known both instinctively and rationally that if I were to turn and run I would be in great danger. There is a chase instinct in most animals that will cause even a well-trained and nonaggressive dog to instinctively chase and pull down anything that runs. As long as your back is turned you are in danger. In the same way, there appears to be a chase instinct in man that permits him to kill a fleeing enemy.

The second factor that enables killing from behind is a process in which close proximity on the physical distance spectrum can be negated when the face cannot be seen. The essence of the whole physical distance spectrum may simply revolve around the degree to which the killer can see the face of the victim.

The risk of death for kidnap victim is much greater if the victim is hooded.

Knife Range
Killing with a knife is significantly more difficult than killing with the bayonet affixed to the end of a rifle. Many knife kills appear to be of the commando nature, in which someone slips up on a victim and kills him from behind.

Narratives of incidents in which individuals used a knife in modern combat are extremely rare, and knife kills other than the silencing of sentries from behind are almost unheard of.

Killing at Hand-to-Hand-Combat Range
At hand-to-hand-combat range the instinctive resistance to killing becomes strongest. Its existence is recognized by almost any high-level karate practitioner.

An obvious method of killing an opponent involves a crushing blow to the throat. Yet it is not a natural act; it is a repellent one.

The single most effective and mechanically easiest way to inflict significant damage on a human being with one's hand is to punch a thumb through his eye and on into the brain, subsequently stirring the intruding digit around inside the skull, cocking it off toward the side, and forcefully pulling the eye and other matter out with the thumb.

One karate instructor trained his high-level students in this killing technique by having them practice punching their thumbs into oranges held or taped over the eye socket of an opponent. This procedure of precisely rehearsing and mimicking a killing action is an excellent way of ensuring that the individual is capable of performing the act in combat.

In the caes of the orange held over the victim's eye, the process is made even more realistic by having the victim scream, twitch, and jerk as the killer punches his thumb to the hilt into the orange and then rips it back out. Few individuals can walk away from their first such rehearsal without being badly shaken and disturbed by the action they have just mimicked.

Man has a tremendous resistance to killing effectively with his bare hands. 

Killing at Sexual Range: "the primal aggression, the release, and the orgasmic discharge"
The linkage between sex and killing becomes unpleasantly apparent when we enter the realm of warfare. Many societies have long recognized the existence of this twisted region in which battle, like sex, is a milestone in adolescent masculinity. 

An Anatomy of Killing: All Factors Considered

The Demands of Authority
Riflemen miss if orders sound unsure; They only are secure who seem secure
65% can be readily manipulated into inflicting a lethal electrical charge on a total stranger. The subjects sincerely believed that they were causing great physical pain, but despite their victim's pitiful pleas for them to stop, 65% continued to obey orders, increase the voltage, and inflict the shocks until long after the screams stopped and there can be little doubt that their victim is dead.


The Demands of Authority
Being told to fire is the most critical factor.

Authority Factors
But it is more complex than the simple influence of orders by a leader. 
Proximity of the authority figure
Respect for the authority figure
Intensity of the authority figure's demands
The authority figure's legitimacy

The Centurion
The success of the Roman military machine can be seen in light of its mastery of leadership processes. The Romans pioneered the concepts of leadership development, and when the professional Roman army went up against the Greek citizen-soldiers, leadership can be seen as a key factor in the Romans' success.

Both sides had the political legitimacy of their nations and city-states behind them, but there was a real difference in the military legitimacy that these leaders probably had in the eyes of their soldiers. The Roman centurion was a professional leader who had the respect of his soldiers because he had come up through the ranks and had previously demonstrated his ability in combat.  This kind of legitimacy is completely different from that associated with leadership in civilian life, and the Greek leader was primarily a civilian whose peacetime legitimacy was not easily transferred to the battlefield and was often tainted by the spoils system and the petty politics associated with the local village he had come from.

In the Greek phalanx the leader at squad and platoon level was a spear-carrying member of the masses. The primary function of these leaders (as defined by their equipment and lack of mobility within the formation) was to participate in the killing. 

The Roman formation, on the other hand, had a series of mobile, highly trained, and carefully selected leaders whose primary job was not to kill but to stand behind their men and demand that they kill.

Many factors led to the military supremacy that permitted the Romans to conquer the world. Their volleys of cleverly designed javelins provided physical distance in the killing process, and their training enabled the individual to use the point and overcame the natural resistance to thrusting. 

But most authorities agree that a key factor was the degree of professionalism in their small-unit leaders, combined with a formation that facilitated the influence of these leaders.

In many killing circumstances it was the demand for killing actions from a leader that was the decisive factor.

"Our Blood and His Guts": the Price the Leader Pays
In many combat situations the ultimate mechanism that leads to defeat is when the leader of a group can no longer bring himself to demand sacrifice by his men. 

This equation becomes particularly apparent in situations in which soldiers are cut off from higher authority. In these kinds of situations the leader is trapped with his men. He sees his soldiers dying, he sees the wounded suffering; there is no buffer of distance to enable any denial of the results of his actions. He has no contact with higher authority, and he knows that at any time he can end the horror by surrendering and that the decision is solely his to make. As each of his men is wounded or killed, their suffering hangs on his conscience, and he knows that it is he and he alone who is making it continue. He and his will to accept the suffering of his men are all that keep the battle going. At some point he can no longer bring himself to muster the will to fight, and with one short sentence the horror is ended.

Some leaders choose to fight to their deaths, taking their men with them in a blaze of glory. In many ways it is easier for the leader if he can die quickly and cleanly with his men and need never live with what he has done. 

But the price for the leader who has lived through such a situation is high. He must answer to the widows and the orphans of his men, and he must live forevermore with what he has done to those who entrusted their lives to his care.

Group Absolution: "The Individual Is Not a Killer, but the Group Is"

Disintegration of a combat unit usually occurs at the 50% casualty point, and is marked by increasing numbers of individuals refusing to kill in combat. Motivation and will to kill the enemy has evaporated along with their peers and comrades.

The primary factor that motivates a soldier to do the things that no sane man wants to do in combat (killing and dying) is not the force of self-preservation but a powerful sense of accountability to his comrades on the battlefield. 

The defeat of even the most elite group is usually achieved when 50% casualties have been inflicted, the group slips into a form of mass depression and apathy. The integration of the individual in the group is so strong sometimes that the group's destruction, e.g. by force or captivity, may lead to depression and subsequent suicide.

Group Absolution:
1. Indentification with Group
2. Proximity of Group

Intensity of Support for Kill
Number in Immediate Group
Legitimacy of Group

There is a powerful process of peer pressure in which the individual cares so deeply about his comrades and what they think about him that he would rather die than let them down.
Mutual surveillance is considered to be the predominant psychological factor on the battlefield.

A single soldier falling back from a broken and retreating unit will be of little value if pressed into service in another unit. But if a pair of soldiers or the remnants of a squad or platoon are put to use, they can generally be counted upon to fight well.

"Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a lion. 
Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely.
Here is the science of the organization of armies in a nutshell."

Anonymity and Group Absolution
Groups also enable killing through developing in their members a sense of anonymity that contributes further to violence.

All crowding has an intensifying effect. if aggression exists, it will become more so as a result of crowding; if joy exists, it will become intensified by the crowd. A mirror in front of the aggressor tends to increase his aggression - if he was disposed to be aggressive. If this individual were not so disposed, the effect of the mirror would be to further enhance his nonaggressive tendencies.

Diffusion of responsibility can be caused by the anonymity created in a crowd. 

In large crowds, horrendous crimes can occur but the likelihood of a bystander interfering is very low. However if the bystander is alone and is faced with a circumstance in which there is no one else to diffuse the responsibility to, then the probability of intervention is very high.

Death in the Crowd: Accountability and Anonymity on the Battlefield
Accountability and Anonimity magnify and amplify each other in order to enable violence.

Police are aware of these accountability and anonymity processes and are trained to unhinge them by calling individuals within a group by name whenever possible. Doing so causes the people so named to reduce their identification with the group and begin think of themselves as individuals with personal accountability. This inhibits violence by limiting the individuals' sense of accountability to the group and negating their sense of anonymity.

Chariot, Phalanx, Cannon, and Machine Gun:
Several factors were at play here - the bow as a distance weapon, the social distance created by the archers' having come form the nobility, and the psychological distance created by using the chariot in pursuit and shooting men in the back - but the key issue is that the chariot crew traditionally consisted of two men: a driver and an archer. And this was all that was needed to provide the same accountability and diffusion of responsibility that permitted nearly 100 percent of crew-served weapons (such as machine guns) to fire while only 15-20% of riflemen fire.

The chariot was defeated by the phalanx, which succeeded by turning the whole formation into a massive crew-served weapon. Each man in the phalanx was under a powerful mutual surveillance system, and in the charge it would be hard to fail to strike home without having others notice that your spear had been raised or dropped at the critical moment. In addition to this accountability system the closely packed phalanx provided a high degree of mob anonymity.

Emotional Distance: "To Me They Were Less than Animals"

Increasing the distance - whether by emphasizing their differences or by increasing the chain of responsibility allows for an increase in the degree of aggression.

Total Distance from Victim
Physical Distance
Emotional Distance


are just as effective as physical distance in permitting the killer to deny that he is killing a human being.

Stockholm syndrome
1. the victim experiences an increase in association with the hostage taker
2. the victim usually experiences a decrease in identification with the authorities who are dealing with the hostage taker
3. the hostage take experiences an increase in identification and bonding with the victim

The destructive aggression occurs, at least to a large degree, in conjunction with a momentary or chronic emotional withdrawal. 

Cultural Distance: "Inferior Forms of Life"
Conditioning and systematic desensitization to get the men to think of the potential enemies they will have to face as inferior forms of life, biased to present the enemy as less than human: the stupidity of local customs is ridiculed, local personalities are presented as evil demigods.

The adolescent soldier against whom such propaganda is directed is desperately trying to rationalize what he is being forced to do, and he is therefore predisposed to believe this nonsense. Once he begins to herd people like cattle and then to slaughter them like cattle, he very quickly begins to think of them as cattle - or, if you will, Untermensch.

It can be easy to unleash this genie of racial and ethnic hatred in order to facilitate killing in time of war. But once the genie is out and the war is over, it is not easily put back in the bottle. Such hatred lingers over the decades, even centuries.

On some future battlefield we may be tempted to once again manipulate this two-edged sword of cultural distance to our advantage. But before we do, we would be well advised to carefully consider the costs. The costs both during the war and in the peace that we hope to have attained when the war is over.

Moral Distance: "Their Cause is Holy"
Moral distance involves legitimizing oneself and one's cause. 
1. The determination and condemnation of the enemy's guilt, which, of course, must be punished and avenged.
2. An affirmation of the legality and legitimacy of one's own cause.

Moral distance establishes that the enemy's cause is clearly wrong, his leaders are criminal, and his soldiers are either simply misguided or are sharing in their leader's guilt.
But the enemy is still a human, and killing him is an act of justice rather than the extermination that is often motivated by the cultural distance.

Enemies are to be deemed criminals in advance, guilty of starting the war; the enemy's methods of conducting the war are to be branded as criminal; and victory is the climax of a police hunt for bloodthirsty wretches who have violated law, order, and everything else esteemed good and holy.

But as with cultural distance, there is a danger associated with moral distance. That danger is, of course, that every nation seems to think that God is on its side.

Social Distance
"Swine Log"

Mechanical Distance: "I Don't See People…"
The development of new weapon systems enables soldier, even on the battlefield, to fire more lethal weapons more accurately to longer ranges: his enemy is, increasingly, an anonymous figure encircled by a gunsight, glowing on a thermal imager, or shrouded in armour plate.

Now we fight primarily at night, an there is a thermal-imagery device or a night-vision device for almost every combat soldier. It works to see through rain, fog, and smoke. It permits you to perceive through camouflage, and it makes it possible to detect enemy soldiers deep in wood lines and vegetation.

The Nature of the Victim: Relevance and Payoff

Means, Motive, and Opportunity
Given an opportunity to kill and time to think about it, a soldier in combat becomes very much like a killer in a classical murder mystery, assessing his "means, motive, and opportunity." 
⋅The relevance and effectiveness of available strategies for killing the victim
⋅The relevance of the victim and the payoff of killing in terms of the killer's gain and the enemy's loss

Relevance of Available Strategies: Means and Opportunity
Man taxes his ingenuity to be able to kill without running the risk of being kill.

Target Attractiveness of Victim:
⋅Relevance of Available Strategies
⋅Relevance of Victim
⋅Payoff (Killer's Gain, Enemy's Loss)

Tactical and technological advantages increase the effectiveness of the combat strategies available to the soldier. Killing while not being killed. This is what has always been achieved by gaining a tactical advantage through ambushes, flank attacks, and rear attacks. In modern warfare this is also achieved by firing through night sights at a technologically inferior enemy who does not have this capability. 

When the enemy is fleeing aor has his back turned, he is far more likely to be killed. One reason for this is that in doing so he has provided both means and opportunity for his opponent to kill without endangering himself. 

Relevance of the Victim and Payoff for the Killer: the Motive

After a soldier is confident that he is able to kill without running the risk of being killed, the next question that comes to mind is, Which enemy soldier should I shoot at? (Motive for the killing.)
The most obvious motive for killing in combat is the kill-or-be-killed circumstances of self-defence or the defence of one's friends.

In choosing from a group of enemy targets to kill, a soldier is more likely to kill the one that represents the greatest gain to him and the greatest loss to the enemy.
One consistent tendency is to elect to shoot leaders and officers. The leaders and the flag bearers were selected as targets for enemy weapons, since these would represent the highest payoff in terms of the enemy's loss.

Don't carry any equipment that would make you stand out in the eyes of the enemy.

Often times the criteria for deciding whom to kill are dictated by deciding who is manning the most dangerous weapon.

Every surrendering soldier instinctively knows that the first thing he should do is drop his weapon, but if he is smart he will also ditch his helmet. Somehow can never bring themselves a bareheaded man.
It is because of this response to helmets that United Nations peace-keeping forces prefer to wear their traditional beret rather than a helmet.

Killing Without Relevance or Payoff
Being able to identify your victim as a combatant is important to the rationalization that occurs after the kill. If a soldier kills a child, a woman, or anyone who does not represent a potential threat, then he has entered the realm of murder (as opposed to a legitimate, sanctioned combat kill), and the rationalization process becomes quite difficult. Even if he kills in self-defence, there is enormous resistance associated with killing an individual who is not normally associated with relevance or payoff.

The shock and horror associated with killing female soldiers.
The presence of women and children can inhibit aggression in combat, but only if the women and children are not threatened. If they are present, if they become threatened, and if the combatant accepts responsibility for them, then the psychology of battle changes from one of carefully constrained ceremonial combat among males to the unconstrained ferocity of an animal who is defending its den.

Thus the presence of women and children can also increase violence on the battlefield. 

The one who asking questions is angling for control.
The one's who receive the most letters are usually the most violent killers.
Dominants don't just exercise authority. They have an uncontrollable urge for it.
He feels powerful when he manipulates.
His power makes him arrogant. Narcissist. He would never allow himself to be controlled.
I'm gonna take that away from him.
Do you know how lonely the prison is when there is nobody to talk to, nobody to write to?

Se we'll alter this dynamic.
He's emboldened. He's overconfident. 
Typically, he's able to control women that are wounded.
He won't be able to handle a strong, opinionated one.
He likes to embarrass in front of an audience, so keep your emotions at bay. Don't kick a chair. Take these. Use these.
"You are a predator. You prey upon young, impressionable girls."

You don't see "psychotic" coming.
Physical limitation could be what attracted the offender to him.
It would have made him seem more vulnerable. She saw him limping.
She knew which car he'd driven because she followed him.
Truth is most offenders do not stand out.

You have to know them. You can't be afraid.

MRSA is especially troublesome in hospitals, prisons and nursing homes, where patients with open wounds, invasive devices, and weakened immune systems are at greater risk of infection than the general public.
That's another reason I hate those places. 

Stay in the present. Not in the past. 

Aggressive Predisposition of the Killer: Avengers, Conditioning, and the 2 Percent Who Like It

Conditioning techniques to develop a firing behaviour in the soldier.
This training comes as close to simulating actual combat conditions as possible.

Predisposition of Killer:
⋅Recent Experiences

Recent Experiences: "That's for My Brother"
The recent loss of friends and beloved leaders in combat can also enable violence on the battlefield. The deaths of friends and comrades can stun, paralyze, and emotionally defeat soldiers. But in many circumstances soldiers react with anger (which is one of the well-known response stages to death and dying), and then the loss of comrades can enable killing.

Temporary insanity and extenuating and mitigating circumstances. Revenge killing during a burst of rage.

The soldier in combat is a product of his environment, and violence can beget violence.

The Temperament
The existence of 2% of combat soldiers who are predisposed to be "aggressive psychopaths" and apparently do not experience the normal resistance to killing and the resultant psychiatric casualties associated with extended periods of combat. This behaviour is generally desirable one for soldiers in combat.

A more accurate conclusion would be that there is 2% percent of the male population that, if pushed or if given a legitimate reason, will kill without regret or remorse.
The vast majority of the killing done by these men were what some would call simple ambushes and back shootings. No provocation, anger, or emotion empowered these killings.

The incidence of "anti-social personality disorder" (sociopaths) among the general population of American males is approximately 3%. These sociopaths are not easily used in armies, since by their very nature they rebel against authority, but over the centuries armies have had considerable success at bending such highly aggressive individuals to their will during wartime. So if 2 out of 3 of this 3% were able to accept military discipline, 2% of soldiers would have no remorse about the effects of their behaviour on others.

There is strong evidence that there exists a genetic predisposition for aggression. In all species the best hunter, the best fighter, the most aggressive male, survives to pass his biological predispositions on to his descendants. There are also environmental processes that can fully develop this predisposition toward aggression; when we combine this genetic predisposition with environmental development we get a killer.

There is another factor: the presence or absence of empathy for others. There is undoubtedly a division in humanity between those who can feel and understand the pain and suffering of others, and those who cannot.

The presence of aggression, combined with absence of empathy, results in sociopathy.

"I learned early on in life that there are people out there who will hurt you if given the chance, and I have devoted my life to being prepared to face them." Be armed and vigilant.

The Mathematics of Death

A soldier who constantly reflected upon the knee-smashing, widow-making characteristics of his weapon, or who always thought of the enemy as a man exactly as himself, doing much the same task and subjected to exactly the same stresses and strains, would find it difficult to operate effectively in battle…. Without the creation of abstract images of the enemy, and without the depersonalization of the enemy during training, battle would become impossible to sustain. But if the abstract image is overdrawn or depersonalization is stretched into hatred, the restraints on human behaviour in war are easily swept aside. If, on the other hand, men reflect too deeply upon the enemy's common humanity, then they risk being unable to proceed with the task whose aims may be eminently just and legitimate.

All of the killing processes examined in this section have the same basic problem. By manipulating variables, modern armies direct the flow of violence, turning killing on and off like a tap. But this is a delicate and dangerous process. Too much, and you end up with a My Lai, which can undermine your efforts. Too little, and your soldiers will be defeated and killed by someone who is more aggressively disposed.

Demands of Authority:
⋅Proximity of the obedience-demanding authority figure to the subject
⋅Subject's subjective respect for the obedience-demanding authority figure
⋅Intensity of the demands of killing behaviour
⋅Legitimacy of the obedience-demanding authority figure's authority and demands

Group Absolution:
⋅Subject's identification with the group
⋅Proximity of the group to the subject
⋅Intensity of the group's support for the kill
⋅Number in the immediate group
⋅Legitimacy of the group

Total Distance from the Victim:
⋅Physical distance between the killer and the victim
⋅Emotional distance between the killer and the victim:
	- Social distance
	- Cultural distance, racial distance and ethnic differences that permit the killer to 		  	   "dehumanize" the victim
	- Moral distance, intense belief in moral superiority and "vengeful" actions
	- Mechanical distance, which includes killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper 	  sight.

Relevance and effectiveness of available strategies for killing the victim

Relevance of the victim as a threat to the killer and his tactical situation

Payoff of the killer's action in terms of Killer's gain, Enemy's loss

The Predisposition of the Killer:
⋅Training/conditioning of the soldier
⋅Recent experiences of the soldier (having a friend or relative killed by the enemy)
⋅The temperament that predisposes a soldier to killing behaviour

An Application: The Road to My Lai
My Lai Massacre
Lieutenant Calley's platoon had received a series of a casualties from enemies who were seldom seen and who seemed always to melt back into the civilian population. The day before the massacre, the popular Sergeant Cox was killed by a booby trap. According to one witness, Calley's company commander, Captain Medina, stated in a briefing to his men that "'our job is to go in rapidly, and to neutralize everything. To kill everything.' ' Captain Medina? Do you mean women and children, too?' ' I mean everything.'" 

An Application: Suicide Bombers (homicidal and are willing to die in order to kill)

Diffusion of Responsibility:
through Authority Absolution
through Group Absolution
through distance

The higher the resistance bypassed, the higher the trauma that must be overcome in the subsequent rationalization process. Killing comes with a price, and societies must learn that their soldiers will have to spend the rest of their lives living with what they have done. 
Diffusion of Responsibility exists in an execution by firing squad.

Killing and Atrocities: "No Honour Here, No Virtue"

The Full Spectrum of Atrocity

Slaying the Noble Enemy
The act of killing an armed enemy who is trying to kill you. 

Men trained to kill in a tense situation

Dark Areas: Slaying the Ignoble Enemy
The close-range murder of prisoners and civilians during war is a demonstrably counterproductive action. Executing enemy prisoners stiffens the will of the enemy and makes him less likely to surrender. 

A surrender in the heat of battle requires a complete, and very difficult, emotional turnaround by both parties. The enemy who opts to posture or fight and then dies in battle becomes a noble enemy. But if at the last minute he tries to surrender he runs a great risk of being killed immediately.

Black Areas: Executions
Close-range killing of a noncombatant who represents no significant or immediate military or personal threat to the killer. The effect of such kills on the killer is intensely traumatic.

The Dark Power of Atrocity

"Righteousness Comes Out of a Gun Barrel [?]"

A Solution: "I'll Shoot You Myself"
If the enemy finds just one massacre, then thousands of enemy soldiers will swear never to surrender, and they'll be very tough to fight. 
On the other hand, if you disarm, tie up, and leave a POW out in a clearing somewhere because you can't take him with you, then the  word will spread that you treat POWs honorably, even when the chips are down, and a whole bunch of scared, tired soldiers will surrender rather than die.

The thing you ought to know is that if I ever catch any of you heroes killing a POW, I'll shoot you right on the spot. Because it's illegal, because it's wrong, because it's dumb, and it's one of the worst things you could do to help us win a war.

The potential repercussion of improper POW handling.

On the next battlefield our soldiers may commit war crimes and thereby cause us to lose one of the basic combat multipliers that we have available to us: the tendency of an oppressed people to become disloyal to their nation.

A logic that we must understand if we are to confront it.

Many Men who are not cowards are simply unprepared for the fact of human savagery. They have not thought about it and they just don't know what to do. When they look right into the face of depravity or violence they are astonished and confounded. Death up close and personal, the manifest intensity of the enemy's Wind of Hate upon its victims, such death can be hideously effective at sapping the will of the enemy and ultimately achieving victory.

Atrocity can be a powerful tool. But it is also a wretched and hateful servant that must be kept on a very short leash, lest it turn on its would-be masters and deny them even short-term benefits

The soldier who does kill must overcome that part of kim that says that he is a murderer of women and children, a foul beast who has done unforgivable. He must deny the guilt within him, and he must assure himself that the world is not mad, that his victims are less than animals, and that what his nation and his leaders have told him to do is right.

He must believe that not only is this atrocity right, but it is proof that he is morally, socially, and culturally superior to those whom he has killed. It is the definitive act of denial of their humanity. It is the ultimate act of affirmation of his superiority. And the killer must violently suppress any dissonant thought that he has done anything wrong. Further, he must violently attack anyone or anything that would threaten his beliefs. His mental health is totally invested in believing that what he has done is good and right.

It is the blood of his victims that binds and empowers him to even greater heights of killing and slaughter. 

Bonding to Leaders and Peers
Those who command atrocities are powerfully bonded by blood and guilt to those who commit atrocities, and only the success of their cause can ensure that they will not have to answer for their actions.
With totalitarian dictators, it is their secret police and other such Praetorian guard-type units who can be counted on to fight for their leader and their cause to the bitter end. Bonded to their leaders by atrocity.

By ensuring that their men participate in atrocities, totalitarian leaders can always ensure that for these minions there is no possibility of reconciliation with the enemy. Trapped in their logic and their guilt, those who commit atrocities see no alternatives other than total victory.

In the absence of a legitimate threat, leaders may designate a scapegoat whose defilement and innocent blood empowers the killers and bonds them to their leaders. Traditionally, high-visibility weak groups and minorities have filled this role.

Women have also been defiled, debased, and dehumanized for the aggrandizement of others. Throughout history women have been probably the greatest single group of victims of this empowerment process. Rape is a very important part of the process of dominating and dehumanizing an enemy; and this process of mutual empowering and bonding at the expense of others is exactly what occurs during gang rapes. In war, empowerment and bonding through such gang rapes often occur on a national level.

The German-Russian conflict during World War 2 is an excellent example of a vicious cycle in which both sides became totally invested in atrocity and rape. Soviet soldiers attacking Germany were told that they were not accountable for civil crimes committed in Germany and that personal property and German women were theirs by right.
The incidence of rape as a result of these encouragements appears to have been in the millions. There were one hundred thousand births resulting from rapes in Berlin alone following World War 2.
Gang rapes and gang or cult killings in times of peace and war are not "senseless violence." They are instead powerful acts of group bonding and criminal enabling that, quite often, have a hidden purpose of promoting the wealth, power, or vanity of a specific leader or cause… at the expense of the innocent.

Atrocity and Denial
The sheer horror of atrocity serves not only to terrify those who must face it, but also to generate disbelief in distant observers. Whether it is ritual cult killings in our society or mass murders by established governments in the world at large, the common response is often one of total disbelief. And the nearer it hits to home, the harder we want to disbelieve it.
"I and my former comrades in the Left dismissed anti-Soviet "lies" about Stalinist repression. In the society we hailed as a new human dawn, 100 million people were put in slave-labour camps, in conditions rivalling Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Between 30 and 40 million people were killed in peacetime in the daily routine of socialist rule. Soviet Marxists killed more peasants, more workers, and even more communists than all the capitalist governments combined since the beginning of the time.
And of the entire duration of these nightmare, the Ronald Reagan and other anti-communists went on telling the world exactly what was happening. 
The left would still be denying the Soviet atrocities if the perpetrators themselves had not finally acknowledged their crime.

Those who were deceived are mainly good, decent, highly educated men and women. It is their very goodness and decency that cause them to be so completely incapable of believing that someone or something they approve of could be so completely evil. 
Just as one hesitates to kill in the face of extreme pressure and despite the threat of violence, one has difficulty imagining - and believing - the existence of atrocity despite the existence of facts.

But we must not deny it. It is a simple tenet of human nature that it is difficult to believe and accept that anyone we like and identify with is capable of these acts against our fellow human beings.
And this simple, naive tendency to disbelieve or look the other way is responsible for the perpetuation of atrocity and horror in our world today.

The Entrapment of Atrocity
Despite its short-term benefits, atrocity as policy is normally (but not always) self-destructive. 

The process of bonding men by forcing them to commit an atrocity requires a foundation of legitimacy for it to continue for any length of time. The authority of a state, a state religion, a heritage of barbarism and cruelty that diminishes the value of individual human life, and economic pressures combined with years of prior experience and group bonding are all examples of varying forms of "legitimizing" factors that can ensure the continuing commission of atrocities. They also, however, contain the seeds of their own destruction.

Once a group undergoes the process bonding and empowerment through atrocity, then its members are entrapped in it, as it turns every other force that is aware of their nature against them. Those who commit atrocities understand that what they are doing will be considered criminal by the rest of the world, and this is why at the level of nation-states they attempt to control their population and press.

Burning Bridges and One-Way Streets
Once they have accepted the empowering process and firmly believe that their enemy is less than human and is deserving of what has happened to him, then they are stuck in a profound psychological trap.

The problem was that the Nazis were entrapped by the very thing that enabled them. Their racist, atrocity-based denial of the humanity of their enemies made their forces powerful in battle, while simultaneously preventing them from treating anyone other than an "Aryan" as a human being. Initially the Ukranian people greeted the Nazis as liberators, and Soviet forces surrendered en masse, but they soon began to realize that there was something that was even worse than Stalinist Russia.

Atrocity has succeeded as policy in China. In Vietnam, the North won by using atrocity, and they remain in power. For decades the Soviets stayed in power in Russia and Eastern Europe by wielding the dark power of atrocity. But in the end there was a reckoning for the Soviets, and in most cases those who attempt to wield atrocity as a systematic national policy have ultimately been struck down by this two-edged sword. Those who choose the path of atrocity have burned their bridges behind them. There is no turning back.

Enabling the Enemy
Those who commit atrocities have burned their bridges behind them and know that they cannot surrender, but even as they haev enabled themselves, they have enabled their enemies.

The worst part is that when you institute and execute a policy of atrocity, you and your society must live with what you have done.

A Case Study in Atrocity
Psychological response

The Price and Process of Atrocity

They psychological trauma of living with what one has done to one's fellow man may represent the most significant toll taken by atrocity. Those who commit atrocity have made a Faustian bargain with evil. They have sold their conscience, their future, and their peace of mind for a brief, fleeting, self-destructive advantage.

Sections of this study have been devoted to examining the remarkable power of man's resistance to kill, to the psychological leverage and manipulation required to get men to kill, and to the trauma resulting from it. Once we have taken all of these things into consideration, then we can see that the psychological burden of committing atrocities must be tremendous.

The Cost of Compliance
The killer can be empowered by his killing, but ultimately, often years later, he may bear the emotional burden of guilt that he has buried with his acts. This guilt becomes virtually unavoidable when the killer's side has lost and must answer for its actions.

The guilt and trauma of an average human being who is forced to murder innocent civilians don't necessarily have to wait years before they well up in revulsion and rebellion. Sometimes, the executioner cannot resist the forces that cause him to kill, but the still, small voice of humanity and guilt wins out shortly thereafter. And if the soldier truly acknowledges the magnitude of his crime, he must rebel violently.

On rare occasions those who are commanded to execute human beings have the remarkable moral fiber necessary to stare directly into the face of the obedience-demanding authority and refuse to kill. These situations represent such a degree of moral courage that they sometimes become legendary.

All of us would like to believe that we would not participate in atrocities. That we could deny our friends and leaders and even turn our weapons on them if need be. But there are profound processes involved that prevent such confrontation of peers and leaders in atrocity circumstances.

The first involves group absolution and peer pressure.
In a way, the obedience-demanding authority, the killer, and his peers are all diffusing the responsibility among themselves. The authority is protected from the trauma of, and responsibility for, killing because others do the dirty work. The killer can rationalize that the responsibility really belongs to the authority and that his guilt is diffused among everyone who stands beside him and pulls the trigger with him. This diffusion of responsibility and group absolution of guilt is the basic psychological leverage that makes all firing squads and most atrocity situations function.

Group absolution can work within a group of strangers, but if an individual is bonded to the group, then peer pressure interacts with group absolution in such a way as to almost force atrocity participation. It is extraordinarily difficult for a man who is bonded by links of mutual affection and interdependence to break away and openly refuse to participate in what the group is doing, even if it is killing innocent women and children.

Another powerful process that ensures compliance in atrocity situations is the impact of terrorism and self-preservation. The shock and horror of seeing unprovoked violent death meted out creates a deep atavistic fear in human beings. Through atrocity the oppressed population can be numbed into a learned helplessness state of submission and compliance. The effect on the atrocity-committing soldiers appears to be very similar. Human life is profoundly cheapened by these acts, and the soldier realizes that one of the lives that has been cheapened is his own.

At some level soldier recognizes with a deep gut-level empathy that one of those screaming, twitching, flopping, bleeding, horror-struck human bodies could very easily be his.

The Cost of Noncompliance
Glorious death. 

The Greatest Challenge of All: To Pay the Price of Freedom

The forces of freedom and humanity must face those whose unrestrained killing is empowered by atrocities.
The "good" that is not willing to overcome its resistance to killing in the face of an undeniable "evil" may be ultimately destined for destruction. Those who cherish liberty, justice, and truth must recognize that there is another force at large in this world. There is a twisted logic and power resident in the forces of oppression, injustice, and deceit, but those who claim this power are trapped in a spiral of destruction and denial that must ultimately destroy them and any victims they can pull with them into the abyss.

Those who value individual human life and dignity must recognize from whence they draw their strength, and if they are forced to make war they must do so with as much concern for innocent lives as humanly possible. They must not be tempted or antagonized into treading the treacherous and counter-productive path of atrocities. Unless a group is prepared to totally dedicate itself to the twisted logic of atrocity, it will not gain even the short-sighted advantages of that logic, but will instead be immediately weakened and confused by its own inconsistency and hypocrisy. There are no half measures when one sells one's soul.

Atrocity - this close-range murder of the innocent and helpless - is the most repulsive aspect of war, and that which resides within man and permits him to perform these acts is the most repulsive aspect of mankind. We must not permit ourselves to be attracted to it. Nor can we, in our revulsion, ignore it. Ultimately the purpose of this section, and of this study, has been to look at this ugliest aspect of war, that we might know it, name it, and confront it.

The Killing Response Stages

What Does It Feel Like to Kill?

When people are dying they often go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 

The basic response stages to killing in combat are concern about killing, the actual kill, exhilaration, remorse, and rationalization and acceptance. Some individuals may skip certain stages, or blend them, or pass through them so fleetingly that they do not even acknowledge their presence.

The Concern Stage: "How Am I Going to Do?"

Am I going to be a coward, or am I going to be able to do my job?
Am I going to survive or get killed or wounded?

Only 15%-20% of US World War 2 riflemen went beyond this first stage.

Too much concern and fear can result in fixation, creating an obsession with killing on the part of the soldier. In soldiers - and in individuals fixated with killing in peacetime - this fixation often comes to a conclusion through step two of the process: killing. If a killing circumstance never arises, individuals may continue to feed their fixation by living in a fantasy world of killing, or they may resolve their fixation through the final stage, rationalization and acceptance.

The Killing Stage: "Without Even Thinking"

Just like I'd been trained. Without even thinking.
Usually killing in combat is completed in the heat of the moment, and for the modern, properly conditioned soldier, killing in such a circumstance is most often completed reflexively, without conscious thought.

Being unable to kill is a very common experience. If on the battlefield the soldier finds himself unable to kill, he can either begin to rationalize what has occurred, or he can become fixated and traumatized by his inability to kill.

Evaluate comprehensive fitness as aggressively as it does physical fitness.

Strong fitness in these latter realms is characterized as high levels of resilience, adaptability, self-confidence and agility. On the other hand, if soldiers exhibit stress, insecurity, immaturity or a lack of discipline, they might receive a poor score.

The Exhilaration Stage: "I Had a Feeling of the Most Intense Satisfaction"

Combat Addiction… is caused when, during a fire-fight, the body releases a large amount of adrenaline into your system and you get what is referred to as a "combat high." This combat high is like getting an injection of morphine - you float around, laughing, joking, having a great time, totally oblivious to the dangers around you. The experience is very intense if you live to tell about it.

Problems arise when you begin to want another fix of combat, and another, and another and, before you know it, you're hooked. As with heroin or cocaine addiction, combat addiction will surely get you killed. And like any addict you get desperate and will do anything to get you fix.

A man of close combat in several wars, warned of the dangers of combat addiction. The adrenaline of combat can be greatly increased by another high: the high of killing. What marksman has not felt a thrill of pleasure and satisfaction upon dropping his target? In combat this thrill can be greatly magnified and can be especially prevalent when the kill is completed at medium to long range.

"Once you've shot down two or three [planes] the effect is terrific and you'll go on till you're killed. It's love of the sport rather than sense of duty that makes you go on."

World War 2 fighter pilot's "wildly excited voice on the radio yelling: 'Christ! He's coming to pieces, there are bits flying off everywhere. Boy! What a sight!"

"The excitement was just fantastic… the exhilaration, after all the years of training, the tremendous feeling of lift, of excitement, of exhilaration."

For some combatants the lure of exhilaration may become more than a passing occurrence. A few may become fixated in this stage and never truly feel remorse. But those who kill completely without remorse at close range can be another situation entirely.

Those who are truly fixated with the exhilaration of killing either are extremely rare or simply don't talk about it much.

R.B. Anderson in "Parting Shot: Vietnam Was Fun(?)":
"The fact is, it was fun. Granted, I was lucky enough to come back in one piece. It was great fun. It was so great I even went back for a second helping.
Where else could you sit on the side of a hill and watch an air strike destroy a regimental base camp?
Vietnam is the benchmark of all my experiences.  The remainder of my life has been spent hanging around the military trying to recapture some of that old-time feeling."

The Remorse Stage: A collage of Pain and Horror
The tremendous and intense remorse and revulsion associated with a close-range kill:
"My experience, was one of revulsion and disgust. I dropped my weapon and cried. There was so much blood. I vomited. And I cried. I felt remorse and shame. I can remember whispering foolishly, 'I'm sorry' and then just throwing up.

This collage of pain and horror speaks for itself. 
Some are psychologically overwhelmed by these emotions and they often become determined never to kill again and thereby become incapable of further combat.

When the killer denies his remorse, deals with it, or is overwhelmed by it, it is nevertheless very often there. The killer's remorse is real, it is common (especially among young warriors or those who have not emotionally and mentally prepared for the act of killing), it is intense, and it is something that he must deal with for the rest of his life.

The Rationalization and Acceptance Stage: "It Took All the Rationalization I could Muster"
The next personal-kill response stage is a lifelong process in which the killer attempts to rationalize and accept what he has done. In some cases this process may never truly be completed. The killer never completely leaves all remorse and guilt  behind, but he can usually come to accept that what he has done was necessary and right.

"It was like a volleyball game, he fired, I fired, he fired, I fired. My serve - I emptied the rest of the magazine into him. The rifle slipped from his hands and he just fell over…
…I rolled the body over. When the body came to rest, my eyes riveted on his face. Part of his cheek was gone, along with his nose and right eye. The rest of his face was a mixture of dirt and blood. His lips were pulled back and his teeth were clinched. Just as I was sorry for him, the Marine showed me the U.S. Government M1 carbine the gook (a Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc.: a hostile and contemptuous term) had used on us. He was wearing a Timex watch and sporting a new pair of U.S.-made tennis shoes. So much for feeling sorry for him."

This rationalization and justification of his kill are absolutely essential to emotional and psychological health, and their progression is unconsciously revealed in this narrative.

Applications of the Model: Murder-Suicides, Lost Elections, and Thoughts of Insanity.

An Application: Murder-Suicides and Aggression Responses
An understanding of the killing response stages permits understanding of individual responses to violence outside of combat. These responses can even occur when aggression intrudes into our day-to-day peacetime lives. They are far more intense when one kills in close combat, but jus a fistfight can bring them up.

"I Thought I Was Insane": Interaction Between Exhilaration and Remorse
One of the things that appears to occur among men in combat is that they feel the high of the exhilaration stage, and then when the remorse stage sets in they believe that there must be something "wrong" or "sick"about them to have enjoyed it so intensely. The common response is something like: "MY God, I just killed a man and I enjoyed it. What is wrong with me?" But there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. Indeed, among mature warriors, among individuals who have mentally and emotionally prepared themselves for combat, this is one of the most common reactions.

It is vital that future soldiers understand that this is a normal and very common response to the abnormal circumstances of combat, and they need to understand that their feelings of satisfaction at killing are a natural and fairly common aspect of combat.

Not all combatants go through all stages at any given instance.
1. When you sympathize with you victim (you see him participate in some act that emphasizes his humanity, e.g. eating) it is much harder to kill him and there is much less satisfaction associated with the kill, even if the victim represents a direct threat to you and your comrades at the time you kill him.
2. Subsequent kills are always easier, and there is much more of a tendency to feel satisfaction or exhilaration after the second killing experience, and less tendency to feel remorse.
"A satisfaction of anger."

Killing in Vietnam:
What Have We Done to Our Soldiers?

Why do 400,000 - 1,500,000 Vietnam soldiers suffer from PTSD as a result of that tragic war?

Desensitization and Conditioning in Vietnam: Overcoming the Resistance to Killing

Nobody Understood: An Incident in a VFW Hall
Roger, when you got pushed just now, you came back with the fact that you had to kill in Vietnam. Was that the worst of it for you?
-Yah, that was the half of it.
-What was the other half?
-The other half was that when we got home, nobody understood.

What Happened over There, and What Happened over Here

There is a profound resistance to killing one's fellow man. In World War 2, 80 - 85% of riflemen did not fire their weapons at an exposed enemy, even to save their lives and the lives of their friends. In previous wars nonfiring rates were similar.

In Vietnam the nonfiring rate was close to 5%.

The ability to increase this firing rate, though, comes with a hidden cost. Severe psychological trauma becomes a distinct possibility when psychological safeguards of such magnitude are overridden. When these soldiers, already inwardly shaken by their inner killing experiences, returned to be condemned and attacked by their own nation, the result was often further psychological trauma and long-term psychic damage.

Overcoming the Resistance to Killing: The Problem
A firing rate of 15-20% among soldiers is like having a literacy rate of 15-20% among proofreaders. Once those in authority realized the existence and magnitude of the problem, it was only a matter of time until they solved it.

The Answer
The triad of methods used to achieve this remarkable increase in killing are:
Desentization, Conditioning, Denial Defence Mechanisms.

Desentization: Thinking the Unthinkable
Men have always used a variety of mechanisms to convince themselves that the enemy was different, that he did not have a family, orthat he was not even human. Automatically defining those outside of the tribe as simply another breed of animal to be hunted and killed. Japs, gooks, slopes, dinks, Commies, and ragheads.

Conditioning: Doing the Unthinkable
But desentization by itself is probably not sufficient to overcome the average individual's deep-rooted resistance to killing. This desentization process is almost a smoke screen for what is the most important aspect of modern training. 
Pavlovian classical conditioning
Skinnerian operant conditioning

Pavlovian classical conditioning
The conditioned stimulus was the bell, the conditioned response was salivation: the dog had been conditioned to salivate upon hearing a bell ring.
This process of associating reward with a particular kind of behaviour is the foundation of most successful animal training.

Skinner further refined this process into what he called behavioural engineering.

The method used to train today's soldiers is an application of conditioning techniques to develop a reflexive "quick shoot" ability. 

The modern soldier spends many hours standing in a foxhole or crouching behind cover, with full combat equipment draped about his body, looking over an area of lightly wooded rolling terrain. Man-shaped targets at varying ranges will pop up in front of him for a brief time, and the soldier must instantly aim and shoot at the target(s). When he hits a target it provides immediate feedback by instantly and very satisfyingly dropping backward - just as a living target would. Soldiers are hightly rewarded and recognized for success in this skill and suffer mild punishment (in the form of retraining, peer pressure, and failure to graduate from boot camp). "Engage" the targets = "kill".

In addition to traditional marksmanship, what is being taught in this environment is the ability to shoot reflexively and instantly and a precise mimicry of the act of killing on the modern battlefield. 
Conditioned stimulus: the man shape popping up in the soldier's field of fire.
Target behaviour: the immediate engaging of the target.
Positive reinforcement: the immediate feedback when the target drops if it is hit. These hits are then exchanged for marksmanship badges that usually have some form of privilege or reward (praise, public recognition, three-day passes, and so on) associated with them.

Every aspect of killing on the battlefield is rehearsed, visualized, and conditioned. On special occasions even more realistic and complex targets are used. Balloon-filled uniforms moving across the kill zone (pop the balloon and the target drops to the ground), red-paint-filled jugs, and many other ingenous devices are used. These make the training more interesting, the conditioned stimuli more realistic, and the conditioned response more assured under a variety of different circumstances.

Snipers use such techniques extensively.
Firing from one hundred yards at a life-sized photograph of a man holding a pistol to a woman's head the command is "Put three rounds inside the inside corner of the right eye of the bad guy."
"I made the targets as human as possible".

Realistic training with immediate feedback is essential for success and survival of the modern battlefield.

Denial Defence Mechanisms: Denying the Unthinkable
Prepackaged denial defence mechanisms are a remarkable contribution from modern training. 
Basically the soldier has rehearsed the process so many times that when he does kill in combat he is able to deny to himself that he is actually killing another human being. This careful rehearsal of the act of killing permit the solder to convince himself that he has only "engaged" another target. Thinking of the enemy nothing more than man-shaped targets.

Think of your opponent as a mere target and not a human being. 
A man who will resist an officer with weapons has no respect for the rules by which decent people are governed. He is an outlaw who has no place in world society. His removal is completely justified, and should be accomplished dispassionately and without regret.

A Side Effect of the Conditioning.
engaging the aggresive: draw an imaginary line on the floor and shoot this unarmed (though very hostile and dangerous) individual if he crossed that line. Know that this line is going to be crossed and muster up all of your conditioning. "He is a dead man. I know I shall kill him. Mentally I had killed him, and the physical part is going to be easy."

Although they had not killed, they had been taught to think unthinkable and had thereby been introduced to a part of themselves that under ordinary circumstances only the killer knows.

A Safeguard in the Conditioning
It is essential to understand that one of the most important aspects of this process is that soldiers are always under authority in combat. No army can tolerate undisciplined or indiscriminate firing, and a vital - and easily overlooked - facet of the soldier's conditioning revolves around having him fire only when and where he is told to. The soldier fires only when told to by a higher authority and then only within his designated firing lane. Firing a weapon at the wrong time or in the wrong direction is so heinous an offense that it is almost unthinkable to the average soldier.

Soldiers are conditioned throughout their training and throughout their time in the military to fire only under authority. A gunshot cannot be easily hidden, and on rifle ranges or during field training any gunshot at inappropriate times (even when firing blank ammunition) must be justified, and if it is not justifiable it will be immediately and firmly punished.

Statistically the returning soldier is less likely to commit a violent crime than a non-soldier of the same age and sex.
What is a potential threat to society is the unrestrained desentization, conditioning, and denial defence mechanisms provided by modern interactive video games and violent television and movies.

What Have We Done to Our Soldiers?
The rationalization of Killing and How It Failed in Vietnam

The Rationalization Process
Processes traditionally used to facilitate the rationalization and acceptance of killing experiences. 
These traditional processes involve:
⋅Constant praise and assurance to the soldier from peers and superiors that he "did the right thing" (One of the most important physical manifestations of this affirmation is the awarding of medals and decorations.)
⋅The constant presence of mature, older comrades (that is, in their late twenties and thirties) who surve as role models and stabilizing personality factors in the combat environment
⋅A careful adherence to codes and conventions of warfare by both sides (such as the Geneva convention) thereby limiling civilian casualties and atrocities
⋅Rear lines or clearly defined safe areas where the soldier can go to relax and depressurize during a combat tour
⋅The presence of close, trusted friends and confidents who have been present during training and are present throughout the combat experience
⋅A cooldown period as the soldier and his comrades sail or march back from the wars
⋅Knowledge of the ultimate victory of their side and of the gain and accomplishments made possible by their sacrifices
⋅Parades and monuments
⋅Reunions and continued communication (via visits, mail, so on) with the individuals whom the soldier bonded with in combat
⋅An unconditionally warm and admiring welcome by friends, family, communities, and society, constantly reassuring the soldier that the war and his personal acts were for a necessary, just, and righteous cause
⋅The proud display of medals

What Made Vietnam Different
In the case of the Vietnam veteran all but the first of these rationalization processes were not only mostly absent, but many of them were inverted and became sources of great pain and trauma to the veteran.

The combatants of all wars are frightfully young, but the American combatants in Vietnam were significantly younger. Most were drafted at eighteen and experienced combat during one of the most malleable and vulnerable stages of their lives. This was America's first "teenage war", with the average combatant having not yet seen his twentieth birthday, and these combatants were without the leavening of mature, older soldiers that had always been there in past wars.
Developmental psychologists have identified this stage in an adolescent's psychological and social development as being a crucial period in which the individual establishes a stable and enduring personality structure and a sense of self.

In past wars the impact of combat on adolescents has been buffered by the presence of older veterans who can serve as role models and mentors throughout the process. But in Vietnam there were precious few such individuals to turn to. By the end of the war  many sergeants were coming out of "Shake 'n Bake" school and had only a few months more training and maturity than their comrades. Even many officers were coming out of OCS (Officer Candidate School) without any college training whatsoever, and they too had little more training and maturity than their soldiers.
They were teenagers leading teenagers in a war of endless, small-unit operations, trapped together and destined to internalize the horrors of combat during one of the most vulnerable and susceptible stages of life.

The "Dirty" War

Simaltaneously everyone leveled his weapon at him and fired. "Jesus Christ!" somebody gasped behind me as we watched his body reverse course back toward the trees; chunks of meat and bone flew through the air and stuck to the huge boulders. One of our rounds detonated a grenade the soldier carried, and his body smashed to the ground beneath a shower of blood.

"They trained me to kill. They sent me to Vietnam. They didn't tell me that I'd be fighting kids." For many, this is the distilled essence of the horror of what happened in Vietnam.

The killing is always traumatic. But when you have to kill women and children, or when you have to kill men in their homes, in front of their wives and children, up close where you can watch them die, the horror appears to transcend description or understanding.

Much of the war in Vietnam was conducted against and insurgent force. Against men, women, and children who were often defending their own homes and who were dressed in civilian clothing. This resulted in deterioration of traditional conventions and an increase in civilian casualties, atrocities, and resultant trauma. Neither the ideological reasons for the war, nor the target population, was the same as that associated with previous wars.

The standard methods of on-the-scene rationalization fail when the enemy's child comes out to mourn over her father's body or when the enemy is a child throwing a hand grenade. Children were trained to throw grenades, so the government or American soldiers would have to shoot them.

And it worked.
When a soldier shoots a child who is throwing a grenade the child's weapon explodes, and there is only the mutilated body left to rationalize. There is no convenient weapon indisputably telling the world of the victim's lethality and the killer's innocence; there is only a dead child, speaking mutely of horror and innocence lost. The innocence of childhood, soldiers, and nations, all lost in a single act reenacted countless times for ten endless years until a weary nation finally retreats in horror and dismay from its long nightmare.

The Inescapable War
There were no real lines of demarkation, and just about any area was subject to attack… It was an endless war with invisible enemies and no ground gains - just a constant flow of troops in and out of the country. The only observable outcome was an interminable production of maimed, crippled bodies and countless corpses.

From a duration of a few hours and a depth of only a few hundred yards in the Middle Ages, battle grew to the point where the depth of the danger zone extended for miles into the rear areas, and the battles could last for months, even blending in one another to create one endless conflict that would last for years.

In Vietnam there were no rear lines to escape to, there was no escape from the stress of combat, and the psychological stress of continuously existing at "the front" took an enormous toll.

Prior to Vietnam the American soldier's first experience with the battlefield was usually as a member of a unit that had been trained and bonded together prior to combat. The soldier usually knew that he was in for the duration or until he had established sufficient points on some type of scale that kept track of his combat exposure; either way the end of combat for him was at some vague point in an uncertain future.

Vietnam was distinctly different in that it was a war of individuals. With very few exceptions, every combatant arrived in Vietnam as an individual replacement on a twelve-month tour - thirteen months for the U.S. Marines.

In this environment it was far more possible, even natural, that many soldiers would remain aloof, and their bondings would never develop into the full, mature, life-long relationships. This policy (combined with the use of drugs, maintenance of proximity to the combat zone, and establishing of an expectancy of returning to combat) resulted in an all-time-record low number of psychiatric casualties in Vietnam.
Military psychiatrists and leaders believed that they had found a solution for the age-old problem of battlefield psychiatric casualties (at one point in World War 2 created casualties faster than the US could replace them). Given a less traumatic war and and an unconditionally positive World War 2-style welcome to the returning veteran, this might have been an acceptable system. But in Vietnam what appears to have happened is that many a combatant simply endured traumatic experiences by refusing to come to terms with his grief and guilt and turned instead to the escapist therapy of a "short timer's calendar" and the promise of "only forty-five days and a wake-up."

This rotation policy (combined with the extensive use of psychiatrically and self-prescribed drugs) did create an environment in which the incidence of psychiatric casualties on the battlefield was much lower than that of past wars in the twentieth century. But a tragic, long-term price, a price that was far too high, was paid for the short-term gains of this policy.

World War 2 soldiers joined for the duration. A soldier may have come into combat as an individual replacement, but he knew that he would be with his unit for the rest of the war. He was very invested in establishing himself with his newfound unit, and those who were already in the unit had equal cause to bond with this individual, who they knew would be their comrade until the war was over. These individuals developed very mature, fulfilling relationships that for most of them have lasted throughout their lives.

In Vietnam most soldiers arrived on the battlefield alone, afraid, and without friends. A soldier joined a unit where he was a "new guy", whose inexperience and incompetence represented a threat to the continued survival of those in the unit. In a few months, for a brieth period, he became an old hand who was bonded to a few friends and able to function well in combat. But then, all too soon, his friends left him via death, injury, or the end of their tours, and he too became a short timer, whose only concern was surviving until the end of his tour of duty. Unit moral, cohesion, and bonding suffered tremendously. All but the best of units became just a collection of men experiencing endless leavings and arrivals. Support structure vanished.

That does not mean that no bonds were forged, for men will always forge strong bonds in the face of death, but they were few and all too fleeting, destined never to last longer than a year and usually much less than that.

The First Pharmacological War
One of the major factors that combined with the rotation policy to suppress or delay dealing with psychological trauma was the use of a powerful new family of drugs. Soldiers in past wars often drank themselves into numbness, and Vietnam was no exception. But Vietnam was also the first war in which the forces of modern pharmacology were directed to empower the battlefield soldier.

In the same way, many soldiers "self-prescribed" marijuana and, to a lesser extent, opium and heroin to help them deal with the stress they were facing. At first it appeared that this widespread use of illegal drugs had no negative psychiatric result, but we soon came to realize that the effect of these drugs was much the same as the effect of the legally prescribed tranquilizers.

Basically these drugs combined with the one-year tour to submerge or delay combat-horror reactions.

Drugs may help make an individual more susceptible to some forms of therapy, if the therapy is available. But if drugs are given while the stressor is still being experienced, then they will arrest or supersede the development of effective coping mechanisms, resulting in an increase in the long-term trauma from the stress. What happened in Vietnam is the moral equivalent of giving a soldier a local anesthetic for a gunshot wound and then sending him back into combat.

At their best these drugs only served to delay the inevitable confrontation with the pain, suffering, grief, and guilt that the Vietnam soldiers repressed and buried deep inside themselves. And at worst they actually increased the impact of the trauma suffered by the soldier.

The Uncleansed Veteran
The traditional cooldown period while marching or sailing home in intact units forms a kind of group therapy that was not available to the Vietnam soldier. This, too, is essential to the mental health of the returning soldier, and this too was denied the American soldier of Vietnam.

All warrior societies, tribes, and nations incorporate some form of purification ritual for their returning soldiers, and this ritual appears to be essential to the health of both the returning warrior and the society as a whole.

The role of the purification ritual, and the price of its absense:
Societies have always recognized that war changes men, that they are not the same after they return. That is why societies often require soldiers to perform purification rites before allowing them to rejoin their communities. These rites often involved washing or other forms of ceremonial cleansing. Psychologically, these rituals provided soldiers with a way of ridding themselves of stress and the terrible guilt by providing a mechanism through which fighting men could decompress and relieve their terror without feeling weak or exposed. Finally, it was a way of telling the soldier that what he did was right and that the community for which he fought was grateful and that his community of sane and normal men welcomed him back.

Modern armies have similar mechanisms of purification. In WW2 soldiers en route home often spent days together on troop-ships. Among themselves, the warriors could relive their feelings, express grief for lost comrades, tell each other about their fears, and receive the support of their fellow soldiers. They were provided with a sounding board for their own sanity. Upon reaching home, soldiers were often honored with parades or other civic tributes. They received the respect of their communities as stories of their experiences were told to children and relatives by proud parents and wives. All this served the same cleansing purpose as the rituals of the past.

When soldiers are denied these rituals they often tend to become emotionally disturbed. Unable to purge their guilt or be reassured that what they did was right, they turned their emotions inward. Soldiers returning from the Vietnam War were victims of this kind of neglect. There were no long troopship voyages where they could confide in their comrades. Instead, soldiers who had finished their tour of duty were flown home to arrive "back in the world" often within days, and sometimes within hours, of their last combat with the enemy. There were no fellow soldiers to meet them and to serve as a sympthetic sounding board for their experiences; no one to convince them of their own sanity.

Since Vietnam, several different returning armies have applied this vital lesson.

The Defeated Soldier
The Vietnam solider's belief in the justice of his cause and the necessity for his acts was constantly challenged and ultimately bankrupt when South Vietnam fell to an invasion from the North in 1975. War ended without the unconditional surrender of the enemy, and many soldiers bitterly understood that it wasn't really over, over there. 

For to many years the Vietnam soldiers knew only the defeat of a nation they fought and suffered for and the and the victory of a regime that many of them believed to be evil and malignant enough to risk dying to fight against.

Unwelcomed Soldiers and Unmourned Dead
Two sources of public recognition and affirmation vital to the soldier are the parades that have traditionally welcomed them home from combat and the memorials and monuments that have commemorated and mourned their dead comrades. But rather than parades and memorials the Vietnam soldier, who had only done what society had trained and ordered him to do, was greeted by a hostile environment in which he was ashamed to even wear the uniform and decorations that became such a vital part of who he was.

The Lonely Soldier
The experience of the Vietnam soldier was distinctly different from that of the veterans of previous American wars. Once he completed his tour of duty, he usually severed all bonds with his unit and comrades. Guilt about leaving one's buddies to an unknown fate in Vietnam apparently proved so strong that many soldiers were often too frightened to find out what happened to those left behind.

The Condemned Soldier
Even more important than parades and monuments are the basic, day-to-day attitudes toward the returning soldier. Public support is a key factor in the returning soldier's psychological health. 

The presence of a Viet Nam soldier in uniform in his home town was often the occasion for glares and slurs. He was not told that he had fought well; nor was he reassured that he had done only what his country and fellow citizens had asked him to do. Instead of reassurance there was often condemnation - baby killer, murderer - until he too began to question what he had done and, ultimately, his sanity.

As a result of this, Vietnam produced more psychiatric casualties than any other war in American history.

The social support system - or lack thereof - upon returning from combat is a critical factor in the soldier's psychological health. Indeed, social support after war has been demonstrated to be more crucial than even the intensity of combat experienced. When the Vietnam War became unpopular the soldiers who were fighting that war began to pay a psychological price for it, even before they returned home.

Psychiatric casualties increase greatly when the soldier feels isolated, and psychological and social isolation from home and society was one of the results of the unpopularity.

As the war became more and more unpopular back home, it became increasingly common for girlfriends, fiancées, and even wives to dump the soldiers who depended on them. Their letters were a cord to the sanity and decency that they believed they were fighting for.

The greatest indignity heaped upon the soldier waited for him when he returned home. Often soldiers were verbally abused and physically attacked or even spit upon.

"I was spat upon in the San Francisco airport…. The man who spat on me ran up to me form my left rear, spat, and turned to face me. The spittle hit me on my left shoulde and on my few military decorations above my left breast pockets. He then shouted at me that I was a "murderer." I was quite shocked and just stared at him…."

That combat veterans returning from months of warfare should accept such acts without violence is an indication of their emotional state. They were euphoric over finally returning home alive; many were exhausted after days of travel, shell-shocked, confused, dehydrated, and emaciated from months in the bush, in culture shock after months in an alien land, under orders not to do anything to "disgrace the uniform," and deeply worried about missing flights. Isolated and alone, the returning veterans in this condition were sought out and humiliated by war protesters who had learned frome experience of the vulnerability of these men.

The accusations of their tormentors always revolved around the act of killing. When those who had in any way participated in killing activities were called baby killers and murderers, the result was often deep traumatization and scarring as a result of the hostile and accusing "homecoming" from the nation for which they had suffered and sacrificed. And this was the only homecoming they were to receive. At worst: open hostility and spittle. Or at best, an indifference that verged on insouciance.

At some level every psychologically healthy human being who has engaged in or supported killing activities believes that his action was "wrong" and "bad" and he must spend years rationalizing and accepting his actions. These returning veterans had shamefully and silently accepted the accusations of their fellow citizens. They had broken the ultimate taboo, they had killed, and at some level they felt that they deserved to be spit upon and punished. When they were publicly insulted and humiliated the trauma was mangified and reinforced by the soldier's own impotent acceptance of these events. And these acts, combined with theri acceptance of them, became the confirmation of their deepest fears and guilt.

The rationalization and acceptance process appears to have failed and is replaced with denial. The defensive repression and denial of emotions appear to have been one of the major causes of post-traumatic stress disorder.

An Agony of Many Blows
Never in American history has the combination of psychological blows inflicted upon a group of returning warriors been so intense. Only the veterans of Vietnam have endured a concerted, organized, psychologica attack by their own people.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Cost of Killing in Vietnam

Nightmares of an endless stream of torn and mangled bodies.
Recurrent and intrusive dreams and recollections of the experience, emotional blunting, social withdrawal, exceptional difficulty or reluctance in initiating or maintaining intimate relationships, and sleep disturbances.

These symptoms can in turn lead to serious difficulties in civilian life, resulting in alcoholism, divorce, and unemployment. The symptoms persist for months or years after the trauma, often emerging after a long delay.

18-54% of the 2.8 million military personnel who served in Vietnam.

Degree of Trauma (low1…high10) ⋅ Social Support(Support1…Condemn10) = Magnitude of Post-Traumatic Response

PTSD: almost solely soldiers who participated  in high-intensity combat situations.
These soldiers suffer far higher incidence of divorce, marital problems, tranquilizer use, alchoholism, joblessness, heart disease, high blood pressure, and ulcers.

During the Vietnam era millions of American adolescents were conditioned to engage in an act against which they had a powerful resistance. This conditioning is a necessary part of allowing a soldier to succeed and survive in the environment where society has placed him. Success in war and national survival may necessitate killing enemy soldiers in battle. 

But if society prepares a soldier to overcome his resistance to killing and places him in an environment in which he will kill, then that society has an obligation to deal forthrightly, intelligently, and morally with the result and its repercussions upon the soldier and the society. 

Largely through an ignorance of the processes and implications involved, this has not happened with the Vietnam soldier.

PTSD and Nonkillers: Accessory to Murder?
Soldiers who participated in high-intensity combat situations. They may not have killed, but they were there in the midst of the killing, and they were confronted daily with the results of their contributions to the war.

The diffusion of responsibility that happens in combat is a two-way street. It absolves a killer of a part of his guilt, diffusing it to the leaders who gave the order and the truck driver who brought the ammo and hauled back the bodies, but it does so by giving a piece of the killer's guilt to others, and those others must then deal with it just as surely as must the killer. If these "accessories" to killing in combat are accused and condemned,  then their slice of the trauma, guilt, and responsibility is amplified, and it will reverberate in their souls as shock and horror.

The Vietnam soldier, the average soldier who did no killing, is suffering an agony of guilt and torment created by society's condemnation. During and immediately after Vietnam our society judged and condemned millions of returning veterans as accessories to murder.

The Limits of Human Endurance and the Lessons of Vietnam

For the Vietnam infatryman in the example in the last chapter, the condemnation upon his return amplified the trauma of his combat experiences to result in a staggering degree of horror. 
By the very nature of its unique historical causation, the existence of any significan number of individuals in such a condition is unprecedented in the history of Western civilization.

Although this model only crudely reflects what has happened, it begins to represent the relevant forces. Something occured during - and after - Vietnam that is significantly, startingly different from World War 2 or any other war our nation has ever encountered. Many Vietnam veterans were truly harmed by this process, arguably more than ever before or since, in human history.

There is a nexus of events and causation linking the death of enemy soldiers and the spittle of war protesters with a pattern of pain and PTSD that will ripple through the United States for generations to come.

It may indeed be necessary to engage in a war, but we must begin to understand the potential long-term price of such endeavors.

The Legacy and the Lesson
We may have enhanced the killing ability of the average soldier through training (conditioning), but at what price? The ultimate cost of our body counts in Vietnam has been, and continues to be, much more than dollars and lives.

We can, and have, conditioned soldiers to kill - they are eager and willing and trust our commands. But in doing so we have not made them capable of handling the moral and social burdens of these acts, and we have a moral responsibility to consider the long-term effects of our commands. Moral direction and philosophical guidance, based on a firm understanding of the processes involved, must come with the combat training and deployment of our soldiers.

At the national strategic level, a recognition of the potential social cost of modern warfare has been obtained at a terrible price, and a form of guidance gained from this experience can be found in the Weinberger doctrine (secretary of defence for President Reagan):
⋅"The United States should not commit forces to combat unless our vital interests are at stake."
⋅"We must commit them in sufficient numbers and with sufficient support to win."
⋅"We must never again commit forces to a war we do not intend to win."
⋅"Before the United States commits forces abroad, the U.S. government should have some reasonable assurance of the support of the American people and their elected representatives in the Congress… U.S. troops cannot be asked to fight a battle with the Congress at home while attempting to win a war overseas. Nor will the American people sit by and watch U.S. troops committed as expendable pawns on some grand diplomatic chessboard."
⋅"Finally, the commitment of U.S. troops should be as a last resort."

A Quest for Further Understanding
The Weinberger doctrine represents, in part, the recognition that a nation that sends men out to kill must understand the price that it may have to ultimately pay for these seemingly isolated deeds in distant lands. If this doctrine and the spirit in which it is intended prevails, it may prevent a recurrence of the Vietnam experience. But this is just the beginning of a basis for understanding the potentially devastating social costs of modern war at other levels.

Commanders, families, and society need to understand the soldier's desperate need for recognition and acceptance, his vulnerability, and his desperate need to be constantly reassured that what he did was right and necessary, and the terrible social costs of failing to provide for these needs with the traditional acts of affirmation and acceptance. It is our national shame that it took us almost twenty years to recognize and fulfill these needs.

The military also must understand the need for unit integrity during and after combat.
We must understand the need for cooldown periods, parades, and unit integrity during the vulnerable period of returning from war.

The psychological, psychiatric, medical, counseling, and social work communities must understand the impact of combat kills on the soldier and must attempt to further understand and reinforce the rationalization and acceptance process outlined in this book.

Last, we must attempt to understand the basic act of killing, not just in war, but throughout our society.

The simple affirmation that they are good human beings.

Killing in America: What Are We Doing to Our Children? 

A Virus of Violence

The Magnitude of the Problem
If we examine the relationship between murder, aggravated assault, and imprisonment in America since 1957, we see something that should astound us.

"Aggravated assault" is defined as "assault with intent to kill or for the purpose of inflicting severe bodily injury by shooting, cutting, stabbing, maiming, poisoning, scalding, or by the use of acids, explosives, or other means." this "excludes simple assaults."

The aggravated assault rate indicates the incidence of Americans trying to kill one another, and it is going up at an astounding rate. Two major factors serve as societal tourniquets that suppress the bleeding that would occur if the number of murders increased at the same rate as aggravated assaults. First is the steady increase in the presumably violent percentage of our population that we imprison. The prison population in America has gone up from less than 100 per hundred thousand in 1970 to almost 500 per hundred thousand in 2010. A fivefold increase in the proportion of our citizens incarcerated. Over two million Americans in jail! Dozens of credible empirical analyses leave no doubt that the increased use of prisons averted millions of serious crimes. If not for our tremendous imprisonment rate (the highest of any major industrialized nation in the world), the aggrravated assault rate and the murder rate would both be far higher.

The other major factor that limits the success of these attempts at killing is the continued progress in medical technology and methodology. Medical technology advances since 1970 have prevented approximately 3 out of 4 murders. That is, if we had 1970s-level medical technology, the murder rate rould be 3 or 4 times higher than it is today.

It has been noted that a hypothetical wound that in 90% would have killed a soldier in World War 2 would have been survived 90% by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.

America's huge imprisonment rate and desperate application of lifesaving medical progress are technological tourniquets to stop us from bleeding to death in an orgy of violence. But they do so by dealing with the symptoms of the problem rather than the root cause.

The Cause of the Problem: Taking the Safety Catch of a Nation
the great body of scholarly research linking media violence with violence in our society.

What makes today's children bring guns to school when their parents did not?

In the last two decades of the twentieth century the homicide rate for males 15-19 increased over than 2.5 times.

Homiced is the number-two cause of death among males ages 15-19. Among black males it is number one.

In Vietnam a systematic process of desentization, conditioning, and training increased the individual firing rate from a World War 2 baseline of 15-20% to an all-time high of up to 95%. Today a similar process of systematic desentization, conditioning, and vicarious learning is unleashing an epidemic, a virus of violence in America.

The same tools that more than quadrupled the firing rate in Vietnam are now in widespread use among our civilian population. Military personnel are just beginning to understand and accept what they have been doing to themselves and their men. If we have reservations about the military's use of these mechanisms to ensure the survival and success of our soldiers in combat, then how much more so should we be concerned about the indiscriminate application of the same processes?

Desentization at the Movies

Classical Conditioning in the Military
Conditioning techniques used by the U.S. government to train assassins. The method used was to expose the subjects to "symbolic modeling" involving "films specially designed to show people being killed or injured in violent ways. By being acclimatized through these films, the men were supposed to eventually become able to disassociate their emotions from such a situation."

Taugt to shoot but also given a special type of training.
Men are shown a series of films which get progressively more horrific.

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