retiring from the military, I spent almost a quarter of
a century as an army infantry officer and a psychologist,
learning and studying how to enable people to kill. Believe
me, we are very good at it. But it does not come naturally;
you have to be taught to kill. And just as the army is conditioning
people to kill, we are indiscriminately doing the same thing
to our children, but without the safeguards.
the Jonesboro killings, the head of the American Academy
of Pediatrics Task Force on Juvenile Violence came to town
and said that children don't naturally kill. It is a learned
skill. And they learn it from abuse and violence in the
home and, most pervasively, from violence as entertainment
in television, the movies, and interactive video games.
Killing requires training because there is a built-in aversion
to killing one's own kind. I can best illustrate this from
drawing on my own work in studying killing in the military.
We all know that you can't have an argument or a discussion
with a frightened or angry human being. Vasoconstriction,
the narrowing of the blood vessels, has literally closed
down the forebrain--that great gob of gray matter that makes
you a human being and distinguishes you from a dog. When
those neurons close down, the midbrain takes over and your
thought processes and reflexes are indistinguishable from
your dog's. If you've worked with animals, you have some
understanding in the realm of midbrain responses.
Within the midbrain there is a powerful, God-given resistance
to killing your own kind. Every species, with a few exceptions,
has a hardwired resistance to killing its own kind in territorial
and mating battles. When animals with antlers and horns
fight one another, they head butt in a harmless fashion.
But when they fight any other species, they go to the side
to gut and gore. Piranhas will turn their fangs on anything,
but they fight one another with flicks of the tail. Rattlesnakes
will bite anything, but they wrestle one another. Almost
every species has this hardwired resistance to killing its
we human beings are overwhelmed with anger and fear, we
slam head-on into that midbrain resistance that generally
prevents us from killing. Only sociopaths--who by definition
don't have that resistance--lack this innate violence immune
human history, when humans fight each other, there is a
lot of posturing. Adversaries make loud noises and puff
themselves up, trying to daunt the enemy. There is a lot
of fleeing and submission. Ancient battles were nothing
more than great shoving matches. It was not until one side
turned and ran that most of the killing happened, and most
of that was stabbing people in the back. All of the ancient
military historians report that the vast majority of killing
happened in pursuit when one side was fleeing.
more modern times, the average firing rate was incredibly
low in Civil War battles. Paddy Griffith demonstrates that
the killing potential of the average Civil War regiment
was anywhere from five hundred to a thousand men per minute.
The actual killing rate was only one or two men per minute
per regiment (The Battle Tactics of the American Civil War).
At the Battle of Gettysburg, of the 27,000 muskets picked
up from the dead and dying after the battle, 90 percent
were loaded. This is an anomaly, because it took 95 percent
of their time to load muskets and only 5 percent to fire.
But even more amazing, of the thousands of loaded muskets,
over half had multiple loads in the barrel--one with 23
loads in the barrel. In reality, the average man would load
his musket and bring it to his shoulder, but he could not
bring himself to kill. He would be brave, he would stand
shoulder to shoulder, he would do what he was trained to
do; but at the moment of truth, he could not bring himself
to pull the trigger. So, he lowered the weapon and loaded
it again. Of those who did fire, only a tiny percentage
fired to hit. The vast majority fired over the enemy's head.
World War II, US Army Brig. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall had a
team of researchers study what soldiers did in battle. For
the first time in history, they asked individual soldiers
what they did in battle. They discovered that only 15 to
20 percent of the individual riflemen could bring themselves
to fire at an exposed enemy soldier.
That is the reality of the battlefield. Only a small percentage
of soldiers are able and willing to participate. Men are
willing to die; they are willing to sacrifice themselves
for their nation, but they are not willing to kill. It is
a phenomenal insight into human nature, but when the military
became aware of that, they systematically went about the
process of trying to fix this "problem." From the military
perspective, a 15 percent firing rate among riflemen is
like a 15 percent literacy rate among librarians. And fix
it the military did. By the Korean War, around 55 percent
of the soldiers were willing to fire to kill. And by Vietnam,
the rate rose to over 90 percent.
of Violence, Peace, and Conflict, Volume 3, p.159
1999 by Academic Press. All rights of reproduction in any