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Thread: On Killing

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2004

    Default On Killing

    On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. By Lt.Colonel David Grossman.
    This was recommended reading when I was in training. I personally found it very interesting. Col. Grossman is also a very good speaker. Doesn't deal directly with firearms, but is good info on the pyschological factors involved, how the military trains men to kill, causes of a violent society, etc. I recommend it highly.
    Be quick, be strong, be good, or be gone

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Beyond the Sea
    Grossman bases a lot of stuff on SLA Marshall, who claimed that only 20% of soldiers (or some ridiculously low number) fired their rifles in combat. Marshall was posthumously proven to have cooked his figures, and I imagine when it came time to resupply ammunition someone would have noticed that only 20% of the soldiers needed more ammo. Further, Marshall's book now comes with a disclaimer stating that the figures he cites were fabricated.

    Grossman theorizes that by playing violent video arcade games involving plastic firearms children are learning real shooting skills that can be transferred to real firearms. He was on 60 minutes pointing at some kids shooting with a plastic sawed off shotguns in a video arcade and remarked that they were learning to shoot sawed off shotguns.


    Sawed off shotguns are much heavier, have a different balance, and a horrendous recoil and muzzle jump.

    To give a further example of my case I cite the firearm training of the California Hwy Patrol (among many agencies who experienced the same phenomenon) in the early 1980s. They were armed with .357 magnum revolvers but practiced with the lighter recoiling .38 specials, which have less muzzle blast. They did fine with the .38s, but things went to shit when they had to use their .357 magnums. So from then on they trained with .357 magnum loads.

    Now imagine what it would be like if they tried practicing with guns that had no recoil and muzzle blast at all and then tried to trasition to the real thing.

    Grossman gives the example of a shooter in Jonesbourgh, Arkansas. He killed several kids, five with head shots witha .22 pistol from what grossman claims was more than 15 yards. And according to Grossman, the only exposure this kid had to guns was video arcades.

    I've seen the crime reports and it was not 15 yards, but much closer, more like 6-7 feet.

    And what type of a marksman does it take to whip out a gun and shoot several unsuspecting people at close range? This is a lot easier than trying to hit someone who is shooting at you and evading you and maybe ducking behind cover and may be at a distance, which is the type of targets the police have to contend with.

    The kid used a well balanced .22 semiautomatic Target pistol that has very little muzzle jump or recoil at close range to shoot a few people. The kid could not have had a better gun for this.

    Grossman looked at this case and concluded that this kid achieved a better hit average than police officers.

    This shows you how little Grossman knows about firearms or the dynamics of violent confrontations.

    There are a number of factors. He was using an easy to shoot gun at close range, but more importantly he was probably in a zen-like detached mindstate, while officers who use their guns are often in terror: afraid for their lives, afraid of the legal consequences, afraid they might hit innocent bystanders with a stray bullet, afraid it will be reviewed and cost them their job, pension, and benefits, afraid of not being able to support their families. And all in all not, necessarily anxious to kill someone.

    They are afraid because they *care* about a lot of things.
    Do you think the kid cared about anything?

    Grossman also advances a lot of theories that ignore common sense and make me question his military acumen.

    He cites the fact that soldiers would rather shoot someone than have to use a bayonet as proof that people find violence repugnant. First, he should look at the Japanese in WWII, who trained heavily with the bayonet and considered it an extension of Bushido and preferred the bayonet to shooting (as well as practicing it on civilians and prisoners).

    Yes, a bayonet is more up close and personal and gorey, but the author completely ignores the fact that closing with an adversary to kill them with a bayonet is much more dangerous than shooting them. You have to rush forward and expose yourself and might get shot in the process or get bayonetted. Much safer to fire from behind cover than expose yourself on the battlefield. Or better yet call in an air strike or artillery strike.

    He then tries to show that this was true in other wars going back to antiquity with soldiers slashing with swords rather than thrusting as proof of finding close combat, like thrusting a sword deeply into someone, as repugnant: more proof, the author claims, that most soldiers will not kill their enemies due to a deeply conditioned response not to harm another human.

    More proof that he has no tactical knowledge regarding close combat. Slashing is safer than thrusting, be it with a knife, or sword, because when you thrust you must move closer to your enemy, making it easier for him to stab you. Also, if you miss your thrust you are vulnerable to a counterthrust or being stabbed by your enemies buddy. Slashes are good for keeping someone away from you or dealling with multiple attackers. There is a tactical rational that seems to be over this guy's head. This is what pisses me off.

    I mean most Viking Berserkers slashed rather than thrusted.
    I guess they really were reluctant to hurt anyone.

    Take a look at a streetfight or a riot on CNN. You will see many people punching and kicking from too far a distance to be able to strike the person they are trying to hit. This is not necessarily do to any reluctance to hurt another human being, but because they are afraid of getting hurt themselves, not because they are afraid of hurting others. This is a fundimental flaw in Grossman's reasoning.

    Oh, yeah, and Grossman is antigun and would probaly take a look at this messageboard and conclude that the people who posted on it and read it were a bunch of sociopaths because of what he would describe as a fascination with violence.

    I'm not saying that there might not be *some* validity to *some* of what he is saying about most people being confitioned not to hurt others and not wanting to, but it is his "Ah-Ha, this proves it" attitude to the things he is pointing out, while completely ignoring the tactical reality and the dynamics of close combat that makes me question his competancy. But the thing is he is a West Point instructor with a doctorate in Sociology saying something people want to hear, so the Oprahs of the world are fawning all over him.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Not of this world
    Good observations and points. Is he the same Grossman that is at Calibre Press?

    Never mind, I answered my own question. The guy at Calibre Press is David Grossi, not Grossman.
    Last edited by michael; 03-17-2004 at 09:33 AM.
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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    V42 nailed it. Grossman has a few credentials and says what the power elite want to hear - Instant Expert.

    I read his book and I've read Marshall's. I think they are both snake oil salesman. They know enough lingo and facts to snow the ignorant and put together a psuedo argument. Both were selling audiences what they wanted to hear.

    Both writers ignore a very basic fact. Most soldiers want to survive. They modify their behavior to achieve that goal. In certain situations survivial means shooting your weapon at the enemy. In others in means lying low and letting others do the shooting whether it be another rifleman, a crew served weapon or naval gunfire support.

    Both claim that modern soldiers are more likely to fire their weapons in combat than WW2 era soldiers. Marshall credits the advent of universal full auto weapons and training the soldier to spray and pray. Grossman blames conditioning and desensitation to killing.

    Accepting their explanations at face value, I can only conclude that the troops facing each other in the Napoleonic era played a lot of video games and had full auto muskets.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    I read his book and I've read Marshall's. I think they are both snake oil salesman. They know enough lingo and facts to snow the ignorant and put together a psuedo argument. Both were selling audiences what they wanted to hear

    I don't consider myself ignorant in matters of physical force or its proper use. In fact, I probably have an above average amount of experience with it, due to being in police work. That being said, it's been a little over three years since I read his book, so it's not fresh to me, but I don't remember him advocating gun control. I interpreted his book as more of how children are desensitized to violence through tv and games, not that they were actually learning tactics or the actual dynamics of how a particular weapon shoots. I have heard the name SLA Marshall, but I'm not familiar with his work. What you all have said makes sense, but do you have any suggestions for books that counter Grossman's claims? I am not as familiar with him as you all, having only read the one book and heard one speech. I wasn't aware that he was en vogue with all the libs and tv personalities--that's definitely a negative to me. I guess having preconceived notions about the follies of gun control made me blind to his underlying arguments. Thanks for the heads up.
    Last edited by Stickman; 03-17-2004 at 11:03 PM.
    Be quick, be strong, be good, or be gone

  6. #6

    Default On Killing

    My good friend, David, can address the issue of Grossman's credibility (or lack thereof) far better than, for, save for an excursion into the belly of a series of embedded thunderstorms while flying a Piper Arrow many years ago, I have never stared into the maw of the "elephant." David has. I don't know whether or not Grossman has, so I'll defer judgment on that. What I can say is that he and Siddle are utterly full of the smelly dark stuff when it comes to heart rate and loss of bodily function.

    I have acquired HRV (heart rate variability: a much more sensitive measure of cardiovascular activity than heart rate) on officers who were proceeding through decision-making courses of fire; while on "routine" patrol; while making "routine" traffic stops; while negotiating Simunitions courses; and these officers were showing HRV values above 175 bpm, and, in one instance, 200bpm. At no time did these officers show the degradation in their shooting abilities or in their decision making abilities that should have happened were Siddle and Grossman correct.

    And I'm not the only one who has found that so-called "body alarm reactions," at least as conceptualized by Siddle and Grossman, to be vast oversimplifications and a helluva thing to teach to recruits: "your gonna lose it when your HR exceeds 145bpm. Kathy Vonk, a really very creative copd and an FTO w/ a PD in Michigan has gotten HRV data on officers in high speed pursuits, both actual and simulated: same thing - high levels of HR and no degradation in performance. Here think of Formula One drivers, NASCAR drivers, aerobatic pilots, etc.

    As to the issues about who shot how much, go to and read what my dear friend and colleague, Tom Aveni has to say about it in the "Grossman Debate."

    I've never met Mr. Grossman. I've heard his presentations are "slicker than snot rolling down a pane of hot, smooth glass." I can tell you I'd go first to listen to somebody who's been there and done that before I'd pay any of my money to listen to this guy or buy his tapes. Just my two cents.

    Oh, David, a psychologist, not a psychiatrist. Difference? I charge more and don't prescribe drugs LOL. Thanks for giving me the chance to respond to this thread, my friend. Hope all is well with you.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Anthony Semone,

    Welcome to WT. Please feel free to stop by any time.

    I know Kathy Vonk from IALEFI courses in Dayton.

    If you can contact her see if you can get her to start posting here.
    Last edited by MTS; 03-19-2004 at 07:35 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Doc, welcome aboard, nice responce!
    All animals except man know that the ultimate of life is to enjoy it.

    Samuel Butler


  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2000
    Beyond The Wall
    Dr. Semone,

    Welcome. I'm humbled by the caliber of personnel posting here.



    I read Grossman's work (and even listened to him speak once). All I can say to him is the same thing that Capt. Ramius (played by Sean Connery) said to Jack Ryan (played by Alec Baldwin). "Your conclusions are all wrong".

    I had walked the walk that Grossman writes so eloquently about and experienced nothing of what he writes about. Nor, for that matter have any of the men I associate with. David D is quite right is suggesting that experience in the subject quickly clarifies any misconceptions on the issue.

    BTW, Grossman is widely accepted by the some in the gun community regardless of the fact that he has come out against the civilian ownership of firearms, and other similarly idiotic notions.
    Not for me.
    Last edited by Gabriel Suarez; 03-19-2004 at 09:09 PM.
    Gabriel Suarez

    Turning Lambs into Lions Since 1995

    Suarez International USA Headquarters

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    BTW, Grossman is widely accepted by the some in the gun community regardless of the fact that he has come out against the civilian ownership of firearms, and other similarly idiotic notions.
    Not for me.

    Wow this has been an educational thread. I was not aware of any of this when I recommended the book. I'm going to have to dig it out and re-read it with a more critical eye. There's alot I don't remember about the book, as it got kind of dry in parts. I was not aware of Lt.Col. Grossman's political viewpoints as far as gun control. That's a big disappointment. I'm at the point where I'm going to write him off, simply from what I've read here.

    If I understand Dr. Semone correctly, he is stating that our fine motor skills do not degenerate as much as we are told, correct? That is another startling revelation, considering I was being told as little as 3 years ago that you could roughly corroborate the loss of certain motorskills with the increase in heartrate. Anyone know of some good reading on this subject? Let me add that I have been in police work for less than 10 years, and while I have been in stressful situations, I have not been in any deadly force encounters, so I can't refer to first hand experience in the area of loss of fine motor skill functions.
    One final question: When Dr. Semone refers to Siddle, is he talking about Bruce Siddle of PPCT? I don't recall him being referenced in the On Killing book.
    Edit: Nevermind about Bruce Siddle, a little research reveals that it is the same. Didn't realize he had coauthored a book with Grossman. If he is as guilty of inaccurate work as Grossman, this makes me wonder about the stuff he teaches in the PPCT system, which has been practically gospel at both agencies I've worked for. I have more questions than answers after starting this thread...
    Last edited by Stickman; 03-19-2004 at 11:15 PM.
    Be quick, be strong, be good, or be gone

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