Lt Colonel Dave Grossman talks with Alan Gregg about the act of killing another human being.
“On Killing”- the real deal from Lt. Col Dave Grossman
In this fascinating interview Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman talks about the reality of killing another human being. Through years of research in the armed forces, Grossman has developed a big picture of the actual process and cost of using lethal force. Here are the highlights.
First, killing doesn’t come easily—even to trained soldiers. There is an enormous social taboo, reinforced all our lives, that combat requires them to overcome. In fact, prior to Vietnam, most battles had a high percentage of soldiers shooting above the enemies’ heads or only pretending to shoot.
What changed? The military refined its training methods, successfully increasing the shoot to kill rate from 15% to 90%. This change occurred because they did a better job of desensitizing soldiers to violence and shooting at other human beings before combat. He calls it “operant conditioning” and basically it is to train a reflex of violence and killing that is activated in a combat situation—using human-like targets and training.
Grossman says there are two filters in the brain that have to be crossed before a person will kill someone else. The first is the forebrain—the conscious rational mind that enters combat knowing what is necessary. The second is the midbrain, which is activated under stress. It is an animal brain, driven by the body’s stress response signals, and it’s anything but rational. Prior to the change in military training, this second filter was what was preventing soldiers from deliberate killing.
Alarmingly, Grossman claims that we are currently desensitising our society to acts of violence in the same way the military did. By associating images of human suffering and death with entertainment, through movies and first person shooter video games, we are removing that second filter in the brain and conditioning an indifference that makes it easier to take aim at other human beings. This, according to Grossman, explains the spiralling rates of school shootings, homicide and assault in America.
So what does all this have to do with self defence? Lots.
First, it is important to recognise that despite identifying a dangerous situation with your logical brain, you may still have trouble using the necessary force to defend yourself. How easy is it for you to deliberately cause injury to another human being?
Second, the chances that you may find yourself in a situation where it is necessary to defend yourself are on the rise. Pretending that bad things only happen to other people is not a useful response. How ready are you to deal with a physical threat to yourself or a loved one?
Third, your best response is conscious and deliberate preparation. This does not mean playing lots of first person shooter games. That’s not likely to be relevant unless you pack a gun everywhere. It means practicing physical self defense scenarios regularly and conditioning a response that allows you to take violent action in the right circumstances. Spar with someone who is actually trying to hit you. Roll with someone who is actually trying to choke you out. Get used to being in situations where you have to move and think quickly to protect yourself. It may just save your life.