On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Weight: 14 oz
Method of Disposal: Donate or give away if anyone wants it
It has been a long time since I read this book. I was in high school, and I bought it in hopes that I would better be able to understand what was about to happen in my world. It was after the attacks on the World Trade Center. It was after it dawned on me that my brother would be called to war sooner rather than later—I just did not know when. I did not have the money to buy the book so I got special permission from my “psychology” teacher to write about it and then asked my mom to buy it for me. I have no idea if she did or if I ended up trying some other avenue. I cannot remember, but here it is after all of these years.
I remember being intrigued by the author’s thesis that people, in general, have an innate resistance to killing. He writes about how many soldiers known to shoot accurately have missed their human targets or never even fired their guns throughout history. He says that in WWII we learned that “programming” or “conditioning” our soldiers would take a 15% firing rate and increase it to 90%.
Grossman challenges himself to fit a lot into a 366 page book. He writes about fight or flight, psychological trauma, violence in society, conditioning, individual vs group action, a variety of wars, rape, and so on. I do not remember the writing being particularly intriguing or well-composed. I know it is a basic overview because there is just too much to squeeze in, but I know I thought it had some value. I still think about it from time to time, when I am having certain conversations with people. I do not feel the need to revisit it, though I would read another book on this topic and have.