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

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  3,644 ratings  ·  376 reviews
The good news is that most soldiers are loath to kill. But armies have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming this instinctive aversion. And contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army's conditioning techniques, and, according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's thesis, is responsible for our rising rate of murder among the young.

Upon its initial
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Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 22nd 2009 by Back Bay Books (first published 1995)
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Quinnp1
As a combat vet myself, I can't say I learned anything new from this book as I have lived it all myself,. Yet I strongly suggest you all read it carefully.It will enlighten you to a very important aspect of humanity and the survival instinct that few understand. There is a price for killing and there is a very effective "military machine" to teach the acceptance and support of killing that is a thousand years or more old.That mind altering thousand year plus mind forming machine is set against a ...more
Brooke
Ok I loved and hated this book. I guess you could say I hated it because the truth hurts.. but I loved it because It REALLY opened my eyes to how(my hubby) feels everyday. It really helped me understand him and the thoughts that he has more clearly.

I was let down though, the reason... I was really hoping that it would tell me how to handle all of this and it doesn't it only explains the effects, not how to deal. So in some ways fantastic others a let down. I do recommend others read it though i
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Kelly B
People don't like to kill each other. But they might start changing their minds....

No but seriously, this is a great read. I mean, if you're interested in how people are conditioned to kill, and how they actually behave after they are conditioned to kill. Honestely, I have a hard time believing some of the stuff he asserts, but I think there's a lot of valuable information in there that you wouldn't find anywhere else.

The part I love is when he examines the history of using bayonets in warfare,
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Dino
The book should not be taken as absolute, peer reviewed fact. While it starts out in an academic fashion and explains the basis for its theories, it later derails into chapter-long rants and moans about how American society is to blame for its treatment of returning veterans of the Vietnam war. Exaggerating and making very emotional, biased arguments.

And if that was not enough Grossman, decides to squander his credentials by attempting to perpetuate the disproved myth that violent video-games an
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Jake
I first became aware of On Killing when Tony Blauer referenced it at one of his PDR seminars, and have heard a fair amount of good press since then. It’s one of those books that martial artists/self-defense junkies seem to like to talk about, or at least, claim to have read, and I figured it was time I finally saw what all of the fuss is about.

On Killing is the first of Col. Grossman’s works on “killology”, which he defines as “the scholarly study of the destructive act, just as sexology is the
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Marcus
Funny how a little more than 10 years can change one's perspective. When I read Grossman's "On Killing" for first time, I found it deep and profound. Upon second reading a decade later, I find his conclusions sometimes unfounded, sometimes rather badly argued, while constant repetitions were increasingly annoying the further I got into the book. Most importantly however, several of Grossman's points just don't ring true to me anymore.

Let's start with the fact that Grossman bases his thesis almos
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Nick Marsh
By turns fascinating and overly moralising; amazing insights into how normal people can be made to commit atrocites, the average soldier's (reassuring) reluctance to kill (at least, up close and personally) are mixed with poor research and referencing, repetition and generally uninspiring writing.

Throughout the book we are repeatedly told of the massive increase in violent crime throughout America - but this isn't referenced. When I finally tracked down one reference to crime studies in the 'fur
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Adam
Grossman, a former Army Ranger (who, ironically, has never actually killed anyone) collects myriad stories from those who have killed, and comments on society's collective aversion to the action. In wwii, only 15% of men were willing to fire their weapons, in korea it rose to 50%, in vietnam, the american military was able to persuade 90% of combat troops to fire on the enemy. Grossman comments on how the military was able to accomplish this, and discusses impacts of the operant condition, and o ...more
David
A wonderful treatise on combat and the cost of killing another person. I have never read anything that has broken down the psychology of justified murder/killing. From the conditioning of soldiers to the linguistic associations that allow people to view others as "less than" and thus acceptable casualties.

I would recommend it solely for the chapters on weaponry and how innovation and technology have progressed to move our proximity away from the kill, which in turn increases psychological accept
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Suzanne Stroh
One of the most profound books I've ever read. Recommended by an ex-military friend of mine who is a female combat veteran, a former U2 pilot, and a graduate of both the Air Force Academy and the prep school that feeds it. Some of the deepest ethical discussions in my life have been related to the philosophical questions raised by, and in, this book.

Until I read On Killing, my favorite work of military history was The Face of Battle by John Keegan. Army Ranger Dave Grossman (not a combat veteran
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Ethan
On Killing has a great book hidden away some where inside, but it is a marred by a lack of rigor, inaccuracies, constant repetition, and chapters that have no relevance to the book but are instead a chance for the author to rant.

The book is full of things that Grossman made up to support his beliefs and which Grossman refers to as if they are historical fact. for instance Centurions were known for leading their men by example, fighting in the front lines. Yet, Grossman claims that Centurions, l
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Tamora Pierce
This is an interesting book, written by a man who is not only a Vietnam combat veteran, but also a retired teacher of psychology at West Point, and a teacher and trainer of military and law enforcement organizations regarding the reality of combat. He bases his book on studies and on the research of other scientists regarding combat, mental stress in combat, and psychiatric casualties of combat; on observations made by combat professionals, and on anecdotes from those who have undergone combat.

I
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Tom
An important, fascinating, sometimes disturbing book on the psychology behind killing, specifically in wartime.

A fact that restores your faith in the human race: most people, when ordered to kill their fellow human beings on the front lines of war, will simply choose not to do so. 80-85% become "non-shooters". Even when forced to shoot, they will intentionally miss rather than shoot at a fellow human.

The military since Vietnam has used psychological conditioning to overcome this innate resistan
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Xio
Lt.Col. Grossman is developing a field of study he has termed 'killology'. As you can probably guess, this is the study of killing. His book here is concerned with the psychological and subsequent social effects of learning to kill. It is well researched and written in a careful and sensitive tone, he maintains a respect for his subjects--mostly military personnel.

He begins with a detailed analysis of the inhibition against killing humans and its effects on battlefields. This leads to a discuss
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Priscilla
This is a wonderful, eye-opening book. I read it and couldn't stop thinking about it. I wanted to share my learning with everyone, but I was worried people would find me a bit imbalanced and inappropriate for being so excited about death.

Which is oddly enough, the author's main point. Death is a taboo topic is our modern society. It used to be that people killed the animals they ate, family members and friends died at young ages, and old people died at home, surrounded by their loved ones. Nowad
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Peregrine 12
Four stars - I didn't 'like' this book, but I think it's an important read. The first part, about human psychology and warfare, was fascinating. I couldn't finish the latter part of the book about human atrocities, however. Just didn't have the stomach for it.

My only complaint: I wish the author would have included citations for his many statements about human nature. Specifically, on page 6-7 he describes the 'Soldier's Options' to fight, flight, posture, or submit. I had never heard of these
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Larry Bassett
http://libertary.com/books/reconcilia...

This is a fascinating story written by SLA Marshall's grandson about his exploration of whether his grandfather -- who said 85% of soldiers didn't fire -- had fabricated his research. John Marshall was a CO in Vietnam!

The alleged increase in the number of soldier who fired their weapons from 15% in WWII to 95% in Vietnam is at the core of this book. As the book concludes (on the final page) "The essence of this book has been that there is a force within ma
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Nathaniel
This was one of the most engrossing and provocative books I've ever read in my life, fiction or non-fiction. I liked it so much that I immediately wrote a review for the Mormon blog Times And Seasons. In that review I talked about just one of the implications from the book's main thesis for Mormon theology, but in this review I'll just stick to what is generally applicable. And there's a lot of that.

First of all, the thesis is really, really interesting. According to Grossman and the research he
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Caity
Jan 31, 2013 Caity rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Recommended to Caity by: Randy
I think it is absolutely imperative that every member of American society read, digest, and discuss such a telling piece of literature. This book was released in the 90's and even I recall the discussion it created regarding the role of violent media in the creation of a violent society. However, that discussion is just one of the many that we need to have.

This book is not simply a reflection of the role that violence in television, movies and video games serves in the desensitization of our soc
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Spencer
Main takeaway is that the majority of soldiers (80%) have to learn how to kill. If the author has a first rate mind this book does nothing to indicate that fact. He seems to essentially have an educated but average mind that lacks deftness and nuance in presenting theories, many of which require constant adjustment to account for too many counter-examples.

Some of his basic assertions are credibly discredited by Steven Pinker. One of the most irritating sections was when he asserted that the maj
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Bernie Gourley
Grossman's work reports on a line of research started by Army historian and author of "Men Against Fire" S.L.A. Marshall. Grossman not only brings us up-to-date on this thesis, he shows us its ramifications for modern society-at-large.

A two-part thesis was advanced by Marshall and continued by Grossman and others.

First, humans, like other species, are reluctant to kill within their species. (Marshall noted that in World War II about 75% of soldiers would not fire on the enemy when they had the
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Christopher Rex
Fascinating subject and analysis. A friend of mine was in the USMC and told me a lot about the ways in which the military de-sensitizes soldiers to the act of killing. One would likely never realize how "difficult" it is to actually get people to kill, let alone WANT to kill. It seems the USMC and military in general have found the combination to the lock on this Pandora's Box. The problem becomes, like all Pandora's Boxes, you don't simply get to close the lid once it is open.

The author does a
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Seth
"On Killing" is a fascinating book that details through heavily documented research the effects of killing during war on the individual. It's a dense read, but engrossing, and worth reading for anybody who is curious about the affect of war on the average soldier, or curious about why the Vietnam War stands out as such a stark and glaring watermark on combat.

Unfortunately, the last chapter of the book has three notable flaws. One, it blames violence on media, and not on parental control. Two, it
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Royce
I do not have the vocab or writing skills to do this book justice. There is numerous "impacts" of the events that soldiers endure that I never would have imagined.

The author is a psychologist who is also an Army Lt. Col. and he takes us into why we are hesitant to kill our fellow man face to face, showing that studies of World War 2 and earlier wars had soldier fire rates of 15-20%. He discovers how the armed forces began conditioning that increased the troop fire rates to 90-95% by the Vietnam
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Todd
The last section of the book has issues. the most obvious for me was the notion that higher imprisonment rates reflect more violent offenders in prison. I think that most of us recognize that most offenders in the US prison systems are there because of drug convictions, so I take umbrage with the data. In the authors defense, I'm not sure that was the case when he did his research. The book was published in 1995, so the data may have been correct then. The last section is only 32 pages of the bo ...more
Tee Minn
Well I pushed myself to finish this book because I know we have to hear /read/talk about what really is going on. I think it could have been edited or condensed, but the author is building strong arguments. First I was intrigued with the war history, then the depths of emotional conflicts soldiers endure, then how military, and in particular the US, excels at teaching the necessary ingredients to create a killer. Lastly I want to voice our need to take this research and minimally work towards re ...more
Nick
I don't agree with some of what Grossman says--he seems for example not to have read the literature on suicide bombers, but his book convincingly describes the psychology of lethal violence: the innate abhorrence almost all humans have for killing one another, the methods used to train soldiers to kill and the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder. Grossman also offers in this context a persuasive critique of violence in film, television and video games. This is an essential book, one that is ...more
Jamie
Feb 17, 2015 Jamie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of military history and psychology.
Recommended to Jamie by: Dan Carlin
TL;DR version: Offers insight, but is not science and becomes a preachy old geezer at the end.

Referenced many times by military historians I enjoy reading, On Killing starts on an academic footing and caught my attention with statistics that tell a story about the historical willingness to kill in combat. And I still recommend it for offering at least some insight into a soldier's mind leading up to and following the order to kill. Yet there is an asterisk to my recommendation, as it becomes inc
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Samantha
I would have given this book more stars but Grossman's own blind patriotism and anti communism got in the way of his scientific theory. I thought the first half of this book was great. I learned so much on the act of killing and how extraordinarily hard it is for people to kill one another.

The problems I had with this book:

-Grossman only goes into detail about gruesome atrocities that are committed by communists or non white people. He never gives examples of US soldiers committing atrocities.

-G
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Morgan Blackledge
I gave On Killing a 5 because its strengths and originality overpower its flaws. But that being said. It has some pretty major flaws and I want to talk about them up front before a start gushing about how good this book is.

The first problem I had with the book is that it's more theoretical and anecdotal than empirical. This has more to do with the era in which it was written than anything else. Although the author is clearly eclectic in his orientation, he's obviously very influenced by Freud. T
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Marine Corps L.E....: Grossman illustrates a trends with appropriate war story. Choose three stories and analyze them. What trend in warfare do they illustrate? How do they subvert the tradition of war stories? 1 1 Jan 25, 2015 04:49AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: In military emulation of a role model, who is the standard soldier's role model? What does this role model represent to the soldier, and how does he wish to emulate him? What aspects of aggression and manhood does this affect? 1 1 Jan 25, 2015 04:47AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: What is operant conditioning, and how is it connected to Skinner's work with rats? To what extent is military operant training more subtly employed than traditional conditioning? How does this conditioning alter soldier behavior in chaotic combat? 1 1 Jan 25, 2015 04:46AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: What is standard conditioning, and how is it connected to Pavlov's work with dogs? How does this type of conditioning manifest itself in military training? What specific defenses is it trying to overcome? What is its goal? 1 1 Jan 25, 2015 04:46AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: Grossman discusses the gap in psychiatric casualties between combatants and noncombatants. Discuss this gap. What did the military predict regarding psychiatric casualties among the civilian population affected by bombing in World War II? 1 1 Jan 25, 2015 04:45AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: The likelihood of a soldier to kill in combat is markedly improved if he feels he is not the only culpable party to the killing. Discuss this diluting of guilt. What is group absolution? Why is a soldier comforted by others around him also killing? 1 1 Jan 25, 2015 04:44AM  
Marine Corps L.E....: Discuss about the root causes of post-traumatic stress disorder in the American military. What step of the killing process is interrupted, and what factors are involved in this stunting of emotional processing? How does PTSD manifest itself? 1 1 Jan 25, 2015 04:41AM  
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Lt. Col Dave Grossman is the author of On Killing and On Combat as well as several science fiction books.

In 1998 Lt. Colonel Grossman retired from the military as Professor of Military Science at Arkansas State University. His career includes service in the United States Army as a sergeant in the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, a platoon leader in the 9th Infantry Division (United States), a general
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More about Dave Grossman...
On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill, Revised and Updated Edition: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence The Two-Space War The Guns of Two-Space (Two-Space War, #2) Sheepdogs: Meet our Nations Warriors

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“The Israelis have consistently refused to put women in combat since their experiences in 1948. I have been told by several Israeli officers that this is because in 1948 they experienced recurring incidences of uncontrolled violence among male Israeli soldiers who had had their female combatants killed or injured in combat, and because the Arabs were extremely reluctant to surrender to women.” 1 likes
“Peter Marin condemns the “inadequacy” of our psychological terminology in describing the magnitude and reality of the “pain of human conscience.” As a society, he says, we seem unable to deal with moral pain or guilt.” 1 likes
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