Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossmanis an author who has specialized in the study of the psychology of killing.
Col. Grossman retired from the military as Professor of Military Science at Arkansas State University. His career includes service in the US Army as a sergeant in the US 82nd Airborne Division, a platoon leader in the 9th (High Tech Test Bed) Division, a general staff officer, a company commander in the 7th (Light) Infantry Division as well as a parachute infantryman, a US Army Ranger and a teacher of psychology at West Point.
Col. Grossman's first book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society is an analysis of the physiological processes involved with killing another human being. In it, he reveals evidence that most people have a phobic-level response to violence, and that soldiers need to be specifically trained to kill. In addition, he details the physical effects that violent stresses produce on humans, ranging from tunnel vision, changes in sonic perception, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Controversially, Col. Grossman argues that that the techniques used by armies to train soldiers to kill are mirrored in certain types of video game. The conclusion he draws is that playing violent video games, particularly first-person shooters, train children in the use of weapons and, more importantly, harden them emotionally to the task of murder by simulating the killing of hundreds or thousands of opponents in a single typical video game. This section of the book is much weaker, having none of the exhaustive supporting evidence that the earlier chapters do.
His second book, On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace, is an extension of the first, intended to provide coping strategies for dealing with the physiological and psychological effects of violence for people forced to kill in their line of work (soldiers and police officers).
While his work on violence and killing has been very well received, the extension of his work into the potential negative side-effects of video games has proven much more controversial. Col. Grossman uses blunt language that draws the ire of gamers - during the heights of video game controversy, he was interviewed on the content of his books, and repeatedly used the term "murder simulator" to describe first-person shooter games.
Since his retirement from the Army, Col. Grossman has founded the Killology Research Group and continues to educate law enforcement officers and soldiers in the techniques he has studied for improving outcomes in lethal encounters. He also speaks at civilian events on ways to reduce violence in society and deal with the aftermath of violent events such as school shootings
On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace was written by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman with Loren Christensen and published by PPCT Research Publications in 2004.
This book explores in detail what physically and mentally happens to most people when confronted with a deadly threat. Both authors have written previous books dealing with this subject. This collaboration brings together the best both have to offer.
Col. Grossman has an extensive military background as a member of the Army Rangers. His book, On Killing, was written over a decade ago and is still one of the definitive words on the subject. Through research and interviews, Col. Grossman was able to open a window into the soul of a "warrior" and explain why even when directly threatened, it is not a simple thing to take another human being's life.
Loren Christensen is a former police officer and co-author of another use of force book, Deadly Force Encounters. That book focused on law enforcement experiences with lethal force. Again through interviews and research, Christensen, and his co-author Dr. Alexis Artwohl, gave a human face to the peace officer forced to kill.
On Combat combines the world of the military combat veteran with that of the police officer. The authors contention is that both are worthy of the term "warrior". The "warrior" is the 1% who protects the 98% from the remaining 1% who would do them harm.
The book is divided into four sections. Each section deals with a different aspect of combat but always from the perspective of how a human deals with combat.
The first section is titled, "The Physiology of Combat: The Anatomy of the Human Body in Battle". The authors describe a basic element of combat as the "Universal Human Phobia". That phobia is the innate human aversion to killing one of their own. With only a small percentage of the population as an exception, human beings will find it difficult to take another human's life in a face to face confrontation.
Equally as important to understand is the body's reactions to being attacked. Interpersonal human aggression creates a "toxic and corrosive" atmosphere in the daily work of warriors everywhere. Our bodies will respond in ways that we may not be able to control but must understand nonetheless if we are to competently handle a lethal threat. Automatic systems designed for thoughtless survival kick into gear. Adrenaline is released, digestive processes cease and even bladder and sphincter control is lost. These are things to prepare for and not be surprised should they happen.
The automatic systems in place are the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous systems. The SNS arouses you to action when necessary and the PNS works to regain control and establish a balance in your body. The snapping back of your body from the arousal to an attempt at normalcy can be a dangerous condition. Napoleon said, "The moment of greatest vulnerability is the instant immediately after victory." It may not only be a physical collapse but also a dangerous mental collapse as well.
Maintaining good sleep habits, which would include a minimum of 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, is very important to aid in the bodies' maintenance. Less than that places unneeded stress on the body. There is an amount of stress is actually beneficial, however, that is caused by increasing your heart rate. The increase must be caused by SNS arousal. Heart rate increases caused by exercise will not have the same effect. The authors emphasize that the numbers are not precise and different people will have different experiences depending on factors such as training and physical fitness levels. Of particular interest is the fact that it appears that an hormonal induced heart rate of 115-145 bpm produces an optimal level of performance in those skills most necessary for combat and survival. Complex motor skills, visual reaction time and cognitive reaction time are all at their peak.
The reason for bringing this information to the reader's attention is to emphasize the importance of realistic and stressful training which can create almost an "autopilot" response to a deadly threat. It is also important not to allow your heart rate to climb too much higher than 145 bpm. Generally, your skill level and reaction times begin to deteriorate when heart rates go beyond 145 bpm.
One major way to combat stress and its negative effects is through tactical breathing. The authors describe that there are only two autonomic nervous system actions you can consciously control; breathing and blinking. Of the two, controlling your breathing will be of great benefit during a stressful situation. You can decrease your heart rate by practicing tactical breathing. The breaths should be deep `belly breaths', that is, during inhaling, your stomach expands like a balloon. Each step is done while mentally counting to four. The four simple steps to this breathing are:
This tactical breathing sequence is most effective when repeated at least four times.
Section two of the book discusses the possible perceptual distortions that may occur during a lethal force encounter. The authors use information collected by Dr. Alexis Artwohl and Loren Christensen in preparation for the writing of their book, Deadly Force Encounters. The findings were based on a survey of 141 officers. These findings described the most common distortions that occurred.
Perceptual Distortions in Combat
It is important to note that some people may have experienced more than one type of distortion while others experience none at all. Again, having knowledge of a possible experiential distortion will prepare an officer for its occurrence, thereby providing an `inoculation' against its effects.
Section three describes the mental attitude necessary to be a warrior. The book goes into greater detail about stress inoculation and its importance to effective, realistic training. There are also some important training principles outlined.
Principle 1: Never "Kill" a Warrior in Training. Learners are expected to complete a scenario even if hit, stabbed or shot. As a trainer, tell them, "You're not dead until I tell you you're dead!" Don't give up, always win.
Principle 2: Try to Never Send a Loser off Your Training Site. Have your participants go through a scenario as many times as necessary in order to have them succeed. Scenarios designed to make the trainee look foolish or fail just prove that the training designers are jerks.
Principle 3: As a Trainer, Never Talk Trash about Your Students. Don't ridicule or try to tell funny stories about the last trainee who tried to complete your scenario. Your role as a trainer/leader is not only to pass along knowledge but also to inspire. You cannot do this when you are not respected. If criticism is to be given, give it in private. If praise is warranted, do so publicly.
Encourage your learners not to worry over a `bad' day of training. Fix the problem, correct the deficiency, strive to improve and move on.
The will to do the job (kill if necessary) is sometimes enough to change a situation from one of having to use lethal force to something less. The determination to perform the ultimate act may be perceived by the intended recipient of your force and in itself be enough to deter their actions. If you've got that steel-eyed certainty in your eyes, the bad guy may not wish to actually test your resolve. You are the weapon; everything else is just a tool.
Your resolve to succeed must include the possibility of losing some blood. You can loose a half-gallon of blood and your body will continue to mechanically function. Ceasing to fight before that much blood is lost is due to a lack of will, not lack of hydraulics.
You need three very simple things in order to survive a lethal encounter; the right weapon, the skill to use that weapon, and the mental decision to use that weapon, even if it means that someone may die. This decision must be made well in advance of a time during the confrontation with the deadly threat. At the time you are confronted with violence is not the time to wonder whether or not you can respond with deadly force if necessary.
The remaining chapters in this section discuss the history of weaponry (and its effect on combat), and some superior reasoning for the increase in school violence. Although both subjects were interesting, I chose not to include them in this review since my emphasis was on the mental and emotional preparation for deadly force use.
The fourth and last section of the book deals with the aftermath; what does a person feel like after they have taken a life. One of the most common reactions expressed is relief, "Better him than me". This feeling can often lead to guilt of sorts, "Why did he make me kill him." Although the feeling of relief is perfectly natural, allowing that to progress into guilt is not. After all, winning a deadly force encounter is certainly cause to feel happy about being alive.
The authors contend that there are ways of handling an emotional upheaval such as having to kill someone. First, you cannot act like it did not happen. You should talk about it, preferably with a mental health professional. Second, after a year or so has passed, you should not be unduly affected emotionally by remembering the event. As the authors put it, "The memory must be separated from the emotion." If the fear of the repeat of such an event has a significant negative impact on your day to day life you should seek the help of a mental health professional. Examples of this could include: not being able to go near the area an event occurred without feeling anxiety or having nightmares about the event.
The critical incident debrief is also an excellent way to assist personnel in getting through what can be an emotionally tough time. By debriefing we can reconstruct the event in hopes of finding out what worked and what didn't. We can also fill in the holes (if any exist) by bringing all involved parties together and thereby get a much better overall view of the incident. A positive emotional side-effect of this is that pain shared with others is divided amongst the group and not the sole burden of any one person. Additionally, joy shared is multiplied and everyone can feel better at another person's accomplishment and success.
Another important way to assist is simply by letting your friend or loved one know that you are glad they are O.K. It is not necessary to try and approve or justify their actions but just let them know that you are happy that they're O.K. An offer of your personal time to listen or help with anything else they might need would go far in letting them know how important that they are.
One of the last points to be made in this book is the idea of justice not vengeance. Although not considered to be a major problem in law enforcement, it is nonetheless important to emphasize that killing, when justified and necessary, is not something to be glorified or celebrated. It is just something that is. Being forced to kill another human being is not something we do with a hatred of the crook or glee at their demise. We just do it. We must strive to dispassionately but effectively protect others as well as ourselves.
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