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Military leaders know a secret - The vast majority of people are reluctant to take a human life.

Military leaders know a secret - The vast majority of people are reluctant to take a human life.

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Published by TheHiddenSoldiers

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: TheHiddenSoldiers on May 11, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Greater Good
 Summer 2007
during world war ii, u.s. army
 Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall asked averagesoldiers how they conducted themselves in battle.Before that, it had always been assumed thatthe average soldier would kill in combat simplybecause his country and his leaders had told himto do so, and because it might be essential todefend his own life and the lives of his friends.Marshall’s singularly unexpected discoverywas that, of every hundred men along the lineof fire during the combat period, an average of only 15 to 20 “would take any part with theirweapons.” This was consistently true, “whetherthe action was spread over a day, or two days, orthree.”
Military leaders knowa secret: The vastmajority of people areoverwhelmingly reluctantto take a human life.
Summer 2007 
Greater Good
Marshall was a U.S. Army historian in thePacific theater during World War II and laterbecame the official U.S. historian of the Europeantheater of operations. He had a team of historiansworking for him, and they based their findings onindividual and mass interviews with thousandsof soldiers in more than 400 infantry companiesimmediately after they had been in close combatwith German or Japanese troops. The results wereconsistently the same: Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during WorldWar II would fire at the enemy. Those who wouldnot fire did not run or hide
in many cases theywere willing to risk greater danger to rescuecomrades, get ammunition, or run messages. Theysimply would not fire their weapons at the enemy,even when faced with repeated waves of banzaicharges.Why did these men fail to fire? As a historian,psychologist, and soldier, I examined this questionand studied the process of killing in combat. Ihave realized that there was one major factormissing from the common understanding of thisprocess, a factor that answers this question andmore: the simple and demonstrable fact thatthere is, within most men and women, an intenseresistance to killing other people. A resistance sostrong that, in many circumstances, soldiers onthe battlefield will die before they can overcome it.Indeed, the study of killing by militaryscientists, historians, and psychologists givesus good reason to feel optimistic about humannature, for it reveals that almost all of us areoverwhelmingly reluctant to kill a member of ourown species, under just about any circumstance.Yet this understanding has also propelled armiesto develop sophisticated methods for overcoming our innate aversion to killing, and, as a result,we have seen a sharp increase in the magnitudeand frequency of post-traumatic response among combat veterans. Because human beings areastonishingly resilient, most soldiers who returnfrom war will be fine. But some will need helpcoping with memories of violence. When thosesoldiers return from war
especially an unpopularone like Iraq
society faces formidable moraland mental health challenges in caring for andre-integrating its veterans.
Resistance to killing
S.L.A. Marshall’s methodology has been criti-cized, but his findings have been corroboratedby many other studies. Indeed, data indicate thatsoldiers throughout military history have demon-strated a strong resistance to killing other people.When 19th-century French officer and militarytheorist Ardant du Picq distributed a question-naire to French officers in the 1860s, he becameone of the first people to document the commontendency of soldiers to fire harmlessly into the airsimply for the sake of firing. One officer’s responsestated quite frankly that “a good many soldiersfired into the air at long distances,” while anotherobserved that “a certain number of our soldiersfired almost in the air, without aiming, seeming towant to stun themselves.”Missing the target does not necessarily involvefiring high, and two decades on army rifle rangeshave taught me that a soldier must fire unusuallyhigh for it to be obvious to an observer. In otherwords, the intentional miss can be a very subtleform of disobedience. When faced with living,breathing opponents instead of a target, a signifi-cant majority of the soldiers revert to a posturing mode in which they fire over the enemy’s heads.A 1986 study by the British Defense Opera-tional Analysis Establishment’s field studies divi-sion examined the killing effectiveness of militaryunits in more than 100 19th- and 20th-centurybattles. They compared the data from these unitswith hit rates from simulated battles using pulsedlaser weapons. The analysis was designed (among otherthings) to determine if Marshall’s non-firer figureswere consistent with other, earlier wars. Whenresearchers compared historical combat perfor-mances against the performance of these testsubjects (who were using simulated weapons andcould neither inflict nor receive actual harm fromthe “enemy”), they discovered that the killing potential in these circumstances was much greaterthan the actual historical casualty rates.Battlefield fear alone cannot explain such a con-sistent discrepancy. The researchers’ conclusionsopenly supported Marshall’s findings, pointing to “unwillingness to take part [in combat] as themain factor” that kept the actual historical killing rates significantly below the laser trial levels. Thus the evidence shows that the vast majorityof combatants throughout history, at the momentof truth when they could and should kill the ene-my, have found themselves to be “conscientiousobjectors”
yet there seems to be a conspiracyof silence on this subject. In his book 
War on the  Mind 
, Peter Watson observes that Marshall’s find-ings have been largely ignored by academia andthe fields of psychiatry and psychology.But they were very much taken to heart by theU.S. Army, and a number of training measureswere instituted as a result of Marshall’s sugges-tions. According to studies by the U.S. military,these changes resulted in a firing rate of 55percent in Korea and 90 to 95 percent in Vietnam.Some modern soldiers use the disparity betweenthe firing rates of World War II and Vietnamto claim that S.L.A. Marshall had to be wrong,for the average military leader has a hard timebelieving that any significant body of his soldierswill not do its job in combat. But these doubtersdon’t give sufficient credit to the revolutionarycorrective measures and training methodsintroduced over the past half century.
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Greater Good
 Summer 2007
Manufactured contempt
Since World War II, a new era has quietly dawnedin modern warfare: an era of psychological war-fare, conducted not upon the enemy, but uponone’s own troops. The triad of methods used toenable men to overcome their innate resistanceto killing includes desensitization, classical andoperant conditioning, and denial defense mecha-nisms.Authors such as Gwynne Dyer and RichardHolmes have traced the development of boot-camp glorification of killing. They’ve found itwas almost unheard of in World War I, rare inWorld War II, increasingly present in Korea, andthoroughly institutionalized in Vietnam. “Thelanguage used in [marine training camp] ParrisIsland to describe the joys of killing people,”writes Dyer, helps “desensitize [marines] to thesuffering of an ‘enemy,’ and at the same timethey are being indoctrinated in the most explicitfashion (as previous generations were not) withthe notion that their purpose is not just to bebrave or to fight well; it is to kill people.”But desensitization by itself is probably notsufficient to overcome the average individual’sdeep-seated resistance to killing. Indeed, thisdesensitization process is almost a smoke screenfor conditioning, which is the most importantaspect of modern training. Instead of lying proneon a grassy field calmly shooting at a bull’s-eyetarget, for example, the modern soldier spendsmany hours standing in a foxhole, with fullcombat equipment draped about his body. Atperiodic intervals one or two man-shaped targetswill pop up in front of him, and the soldier mustshoot the target.In addition to traditional marksmanship,soldiers are learning to shoot reflexively andinstantly, while mimicking the act of killing. Inbehavioral terms, the man shape popping up inthe soldier’s field of fire is the “conditioned stimu-lus.” On special occasions, even more realisticand complex targets are used, many of them filledwith red paint or catsup, which provide instantand positive reinforcement when the target ishit. In this and other training exercises, everyaspect of killing on the battlefield is rehearsed, visualized, and conditioned.By the time a soldier does kill in combat, hehas rehearsed the process so many times thathe is able to, at one level, deny to himself thathe is actually killing another human being. OneBritish veteran of the Falklands, trained in themodern method, told Holmes that he “thought of the enemy as nothing more or less than Figure II[man-shaped] targets.” There is “a natural disinclination to pull thetrigger… when your weapon is pointed at human,” says Bill Jordan, a career U.S. BorderPatrol officer and veteran of many gunfights. “Toaid in overcoming this resistance it is helpful iyou can will yourself to think of your opponentas a mere target and not as a human being. In thisconnection you should go further and pick a spoton your target. This will allow better concentra-tion and further remove the human element fromyour thinking. Jordan calls this process “manufacturedcontempt.”
The hidden cost of killing
 The success of this conditioning anddesensitization is obvious and undeniable. Inmany circumstances highly trained modernsoldiers have fought poorly trained guerilla forces, and the tendency of poorly preparedforces to instinctively engage in posturing mechanisms (such as firing high) has givensignificant advantage to the more highly trainedforce. We can see the discrepancy in dozens of modern conflicts, including in Somalia, where
If society prepares a soldier toovercome his resistance to killing andplaces him in an environment in whichhe will kill, then that society has anobligation to deal with the psychologicalrepercussions.
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