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

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 review with 4 star rating   See All Ratings
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2008

    The Etiology of PTSD And The Vietnam War

    While this book goes on about how a soldier learns to kill, how it is easier to kill from a distance, how a soldier would rather run than kill, my review will center on the plight of the Vietnam Veteran. According to Grossman, in Vietnam firefights, 50,000 bullets were fired for every enemy killed. Grossman's contention is that the American soldier in Vietnam was the first psychologically enabled to kill to a far greater degree than any other soldier in history, than denied the psychologically essential purification rites that exist in every society. Conditioning was accomplished by literally thousands of hours of repetitive drilling paired with the ever-present incentive of physical violence as the penalty for not performing. Their weapons were suped up for high powered killing:land-the M-16, air-the Phantom F-16, B52 bomber and the infamous 'Puff The Magic Dragon'. Language was changed to increase the killing, i.e. the soldiers weren't killed, they were 'knocked over, wasted, zapped or fired upon'. Weapons of war receivede benign names like 'Bouncing-Betty, TOE, and Walleye'. According to Grossman, the main causes of psychiatric casualties in war are 1. prolonged fatigue 2. lack of food 3. continued coldness 4.extented period of 'fight or flight' mods 5.seeing friends killed 6. when friends get killed, being unable to help them. Put those psychiatric casualty factors with the knowledge that American forces were never once defeated in any major engagement in Vietnam. So why was the incidence of P.T.S.D. so high? Remember, much of this war was conducted against an insurgent force 'the 'Viet Cong'' who were men, women and children who were often defending their own homes and who were dressed in civilian clothing. Children were trained to throw grenades not only for the terror factor, but so American soldiers would have to shoot them 'thus the stigma of 'war criminal' and 'baby killer'-read 'Four Hours in My Lai by Michael Bilton''. In W.W. II soldiers joined for the duration of the war. In Vietnam, most soldiers arrived on the battlefield alone, without friends and afraid he was the 'F.N.G.' His presence and inexperience represented a threat to others in the unit. Vietnam was also the first 'pharmacological war' where soldiers not only empowered themselves with rampant marijuana, opium and especially in the deadliest years of the war '1969-70', a heroin epidemic exploded on the scene where one could buy a vial in Saigon of 98% pure heroin for $2. For a detailed look at the heroin epidemic in Vietnam-which many believe was a communist conspiracy to underscore U.S. morale, read 'Smack' by Frank Browning, editor of Ramparts Magazine, and 'Long Binh Jail' by Cecil B. Currey. In addition, soldiers who became psychiatric casualties were generally placed in psychiatric facilities close proximity to the combat zone where valium and thorazine were administered by psychiatrists 'read 'Wizard 6' by Douglas Bey'. In addition, while most soldiers in past wars were 21 and up in age, American combatants were significantly younger than any other war in American history. You had teenagers leading teenagers in endless, small-unit operations. In W.W. II, soldiers in route home often spent days together on troopships grieving lost comrades, comforting each other about their fears and receiving support from their fellow soldiers. Vietam Vets returned to 'the World' via airplane, sometimes within hours of their last combat experience. They were usually alone, with no one to greet them upon their arrival, embarrassed of their uniform, leary of anti-war protesters spitting on them at the airport hurling accusations of 'baby-killer'. For a good account of a confrontation of an anti-war protester and a returning Vietnam Vet at the airport, read 'And A Hard Rain Fell' by John Ketwig. Finally, the Vietnam Veteran's belief in the justice of his own cause and necessity of his own actions was thwarted by the surrender of the South Vietnamese Government

    6 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2007

    Study of violence and basic assumptions

    This book, along with the accompaning research, talks about violence and killing in certain situations. Mainly on war and in society. The basic assumptions made by Lt. Col. Grossman in his study are the basis for his conclusion. He is correct that this area of violence in human endeavors has been vastly overlooked or ignored in research, other than several studies that have significant flaws and biases, and more research is needed to understand, predict and form policy decisions. However, what is lacking in this study is the challenge of basic assumptions inherent in his. Using data that is very suspect, along with the denial of technological advances, causes some problems for his conclusion. I do applaud his opening this area, yet cannot help but questions his methodology and, thus, his conclusions. This is a good study of proving a point, but not an academic endeavor. From reading, and studying, his text, it is apparant that he has selected his interviewees carefully to make his point. He does have some good suggestions on operant conditioning, from his background he should be familiar with the subject area, yet his basic premise that man is not violent or has a hard problem killing does not carry over to other cultures. If he came from the perspective of American (USA) culture instead of extending it to mankind he would have a more reliable study. Plus, the study by Marshall, on WWII, is greatly suspect from his sample selection. Again very selective and usually away from the front lines, non-combat areas. Grossman does make some good points for the start of conversations in society (again USA vs the rest of the world) and, perhaps, that is the most important part of the book. This is recommended to start an area of study, along with the research needed to discover if his assumptions are true. Perhaps it would help for someone who has actually 'been there' to replicate or conduct studies that contain less assumptions that may prove to have less error. His, and this is not bad at all-in fact good, conclusions are worth discussing.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2009

    Provocative

    This book was suggested to me by my husband who is a veteran of the war in Iraq. He suffers from PTSD and he knows that I struggle to understand what he goes through. He has never read this book, but he was correct that it did help me get a perspective. Although it was very provocative, it is still about learning to kill and there are some very difficult parts to read. It does take some steely resolve to get through the entire book, but, when finished, it is an eye-opener. I agreed with Grossman on his ideas and opinions, but I am not completely on the bandwagon concerning his stance on video games. To each their own, I suppose! Enjoy the book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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