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

NCJ Number
Dave Grossman
Date Published
400 pages
This book examines the nature of the act of killing in war and in society, including its psychological and environmental implications.
There has been a noticeable absence of scholarly literature on the nature of killing. The author seeks to rectify this absence by exploring the psychological impact of killing, the stages of killing, and the social implications of killing. Throughout the book the argument is put forth that soldiers in war are conditioned to kill, very successfully as evidenced by the exceedingly high firing rates in Vietnam, and that children in current day America are conditioned to kill in much the same way through the media and interactive video games. The author explains how and why violence depicted in the media and in interactive video games causes violence in the streets of our Nation. The psychological explanation offered shows how humans stop thinking with their forebrains when they are angry or frightened and begin thinking with midbrains. The midbrains are indistinguishable from animals' brains and are taught only through classical and operant conditioning, like Pavlov's dogs. Conditioning a human involves exposing an individual to a replication of the stimulus they will face and then shaping the desired response to that stimulus. The author illustrates how the military has been overcoming soldier's reluctance to killing by using these techniques and then extends this argument to show how children are being conditioned to kill by violence depicted in the media and in interactive video games. The book also explores the response to killing, as well as the anatomy of the act of killing. The book concludes with a discussion of how to "resensitize" America to killing in an effort to hold down spiraling violent crime rates. While some advocate formal censorship through new laws and legal constraints, this author argues that as a society we should censure (not censor) those who exploit violence for profit. Figure, notes, bibliography, index


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