Kids To Kill"
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Phi Kappa Phi National Forum, Fall 2000, 2500
note: This was published in Phi Kappa Phi “National Forum,”
in their Fall 2000 issue. "National Forum is one of the
most prestigious, interdisciplinary, academic journals.
An earlier version was published in “Christianity Today,”
“Saturday Evening Post,” “US Catholic,” “Hinduism Today,”
and many other US publications, and it was translated and
published in periodicals in nine different languages. I
am the copyright holder, and I authorize reproduction and
distribution of this article by the readers of this web
Case Study: Paducah, Kentucky
Michael Carneal, the 14-year-old killer in the Paducah,
Kentucky school shootings, had never fired a real pistol
in his life. He stole a .22 pistol, fired a few practice
shots, and took it to school. He fired eight shots at a
high school prayer group, hitting eight kids, five of them
head shots and the other three upper torso (Grossman &
train numerous elite military and law enforcement organizations
around the world. When I tell them of this achievement they
are stunned. Nowhere in the annals of military or law enforcement
history can we find an equivalent "achievement."
does a 14-year-old boy who never fired a gun before get
the skill and the will to kill? Video games and media violence.
Virus of Violence
we must understand the magnitude of the problem. The murder
rate does not accurately represent our situation. Murder
has been held down by the development of ever more sophisticated
life saving skills and techniques. A better indicator of
the problem is the aggravated assault rate -- the rate at
which human beings are attempting to kill one another. And
that has gone up from around 60 per 100,000 in 1957, to
over 440 per 100,000 by the mid-1990’s (Statistical Abstracts
of the United States, 1957-1997).
with small downturns recently, the violent crime rate is
still at a phenomenally high level, and this is true not
just in America but worldwide. In Canada, per capita assaults
increased almost fivefold between 1964 and 1993. According
to Interpol, between 1977 and 1993 the per capita assault
rate increased nearly fivefold in Norway and Greece, and
in Australia and New Zealand it increased approximately
fourfold. During the same period it tripled in Sweden, and
approximately doubled in: Belgium, Denmark, England-Wales,
France, Hungary, Netherlands, and Scotland. In India during
this period the per capita murder rate doubled. In Mexico
and Brazil violent crime is also skyrocketing, and in Japan
juvenile violent crime went up 30 percent in 1997 alone.
virus of violence is occurring worldwide, and the explanation
for it has to be some new factor that is occurring
in all of these countries (Grossman, 1999b). Like
heart disease, there are many factors involved in the causation
of violent crime, and we must never downplay any of them.
But there is only one new variable that is present
in each of these nations, bearing the same fruit in every
case, and that is media violence being presented as “entertainment”
I spent almost a quarter of a century as an Army infantry
officer, a paratrooper, a Ranger, and a West Point Psychology
Professor, learning and studying how we enable people to
kill. Most soldiers have to be trained to kill.
members of most species have a powerful, natural resistance
to killing their own kind. Animals with antlers and horns
fight one another by butting heads. Against other species
they go to the side to gut and gore. Piranha turn their
fangs on everything, but they fight one another with flicks
of the tail. Rattlesnakes bite anything, but they wrestle
When we human beings are overwhelmed with anger and fear
our thought processes become very primitive, and we slam
head on into that hardwired resistance against killing.
During World War II, we discovered that only 15-20 percent
of the individual riflemen would fire at an exposed enemy
soldier (Marshall, 1998). You can observe this in killing
throughout history, as I have outlined in much greater detail
in my book, On Killing, (Grossman, 1996), in my three
peer-reviewed encyclopedia entries, (Grossman, 1999a, 1999b,
and Murray, 1999) and in my entry in the Oxford Companion
to American Military History (1999).
the reality of the battlefield. Only a small percentage
of soldiers are willing and able to kill. When the military
became aware of this, they systematically went about the
process of “fixing” this “problem.” And fix it they did.
By Vietnam the firing rate rose to over 90 percent (Grossman,
Methods in this Madness: Brutalization
The training methods the military uses are brutalization,
classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and role modeling.
Let us explain these and then observe how the media does
the same thing to our children, but without the safeguards.
or “values inculcation,” is what happens at boot camp. Your
head is shaved, you are herded together naked, and dressed
alike, losing all vestiges of individuality. You are trained
relentlessly in a total immersion environment. In the end
you embrace violence and discipline and accept it as a normal
and essential survival skill in your brutal new world.
Something very similar is happening to our children through
violence in the media. It begins at the age of 18 months,
when a child can begin to understand and mimic what is on
television. But up until they're six or seven years old
they are developmentally, psychologically, physically unable
to discern the difference between fantasy and reality. Thus,
when a young child sees somebody on TV being shot, stabbed,
raped, brutalized, degraded, or murdered, to them it is
real, and some of them embrace violence and accept it as
a normal and essential survival skill in a brutal new world.
(Grossman & DeGaetano, 1999).
June 10th, 1992, the Journal of the American Medical
Association (JAMA) published a definitive study
on the impact of TV violence. In nations, regions, or cities
where television appears there is an immediate explosion
of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there
is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That's how
long it takes for a brutalized toddler to reach the “prime
crime” years. That's how long it takes before you begin
to reap what you sow when you traumatize and desensitize
children. (Centerwall, 1992).
The JAMA concluded that, “the introduction of television
in the 1950’s caused a subsequent doubling of the homicide
rate, i.e., long-term childhood exposure to television is
a causal factor behind approximately one half of the homicides
committed in the United States, or approximately 10,000
homicides annually.” The study went on to state that “...if,
hypothetically, television technology had never been developed,
there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in
the United states, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer
injurious assaults” (Centerwall, 1992).
the data linking violence in the media to violence in society
is superior to that linking cancer and tobacco. The American
Psychological Association (APA), the American Medical Association
(AMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Surgeon
General, and the Attorney General have all made definitive
statements about this. When I presented a paper to the American
Psychiatric Association’s (APA) annual convention in May,
2000 (Grossman, 2000), the statement was made that: “The
data is irrefutable. We have reached the point where we
need to treat those who try to deny it, like we would treat
conditioning is like Pavlov's dog in Psych 101. Remember
the ringing bell, the food, and the dog could not hear the
bell without salivating?
World War II, the Japanese would make some of their young,
unblooded soldiers bayonet innocent prisoners to death.
Their friends would cheer them on. Afterwards, all these
soldiers were treated to the best meal they've had in months,
sake, and to so-called "comfort girls." The result? They
learned to associate violence with pleasure.
This technique is so morally reprehensible that there are
very few examples of it in modern U.S. military training,
but the media is doing it to our children. Kids watch vivid
images of human death and suffering and they learn to associate
it with: laughter, cheers, popcorn, soda, and their girlfriend's
perfume (Grossman & DeGaetano, 1999).
After the Jonesboro shootings, one of the high school teachers
told me about her students' reaction when she told them
that someone had shot a bunch of their little brothers,
sisters, and cousins in the middle school. "They laughed,"
she told me with dismay, "they laughed." We have raised
a generation of barbarians who have learned to associate
human death and suffering with pleasure (Grossman &
third method the military uses is operant conditioning,
a powerful procedure of stimulus-response training. We see
this with pilots in flight simulators, or children in fire
drills. When the fire alarm is set off, the children learn
to file out in orderly fashion. One day there's a real fire
and they're frightened out of their little wits, but they
do exactly what they've been conditioned to do (Grossman
& DeGaetano, 1999).
In World War II we taught our soldiers to fire at bullseye
targets, but that training failed miserably because we have
no known instances of any soldiers being attacked by bullseyes.
Now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes
that pop up in their field of view. That's the stimulus.
The conditioned response is to shoot the target and then
it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, repeated
hundreds of times. Later, when they are in combat and somebody
pops up with a gun, reflexively they will shoot and shoot
to kill, 75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern
battlefield is the result of this kind of training (Grossman
& Siddle, 1999).
In his national Presidential radio address on April 24,
1999, shortly after the Littleton high school massacre,
President Clinton stated that: “A former Lieutenant Colonel
and Professor, David Grossman, has said that these games
teach young people to kill with all the precision of a military
training program, but none of the character training that
goes along with it.”
result is ever more homemade pseudo-sociopaths who kill
reflexively and show no remorse. Our kids are learning to
kill and learning to like it. The most remarkable example
is in Paducah, Kentucky the school killer fired eight shots,
getting eight hits, on eight different milling, scrambling,
screaming kids. Five of them were head shots (Grossman &
Where did he get this phenomenal skill? Well, there is a
$130-million law suit against the video game manufacturers
in that case, working itself through the appeals system,
claiming that the violent video games, the murder simulators,
gave that mass murderer the skill and the will to kill.
In July, 2000, at a bipartisan, bicameral Capital Hill conference
in Washington, DC, the AMA, the APA, the AAP and the American
Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) issued
a joint statement saying that "viewing entertainment violence
can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and
behavior, particularly in children. Its effects are measurable
and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence
can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in
real life ...Although less research has been done on the
impact of violent interactive entertainment [such as video
games] on young people, preliminary studies indicate that
the negative impact may be significantly more severe than
that wrought by television, movies or music."
the military your role model is your drill sergeant. He
personifies violence, aggression, and discipline. (The discipline,
and doing it to adults, are the safeguard)(Grossman, 1996).
The drill sergeant, and heroes such as John Wayne, Audey
Murphy, Sergeant York and Chesty Puller, have always been
used as role models to influence young, impressionable teenagers.
Today the media are providing our children with role models,
not just in the lawless sociopaths in movies and in TV shows,
but in the transformation of these schoolyard killers into
In the 1970's we learned about "cluster suicides," in which
TV reporting of teen suicides was directly responsible for
numerous copycat suicides of other teenagers. Because of
this, television stations today generally do not cover teen
suicides. But when the pictures of teenage killers appear
on TV, the effect is tragically similar. If there are children
willing to kill themselves to get on TV, are there
children willing to kill your child to get on TV?
Thus we get the effect of copycat, cluster murders that
work their way across America like a virus spread by the
six o'clock local news. No matter what someone has done,
if you put their picture on TV, you have made them a celebrity
and someone, somewhere, may emulate them. This effect is
magnified when the role model is a teenager, and the effect
on other teens can be profound.
In Japan, Canada, and other democracies around the world
it is a punishable, criminal act to place the names and
images of juvenile criminals in the media, because they
know that it will result in other tragic deaths.
The media has every right and responsibility to tell the
story, but do they have a “right” to turn the killers into
the night of the Jonesboro shootings, clergy and counselors
were working in small groups in the hospital waiting room,
comforting the groups of relatives and friends of the 15
shooting victims. Then they noticed one woman who had been
A counselor went up to the woman and discovered that she
was the mother of one of the girls who had been killed.
She had no friends, no husband, no family with her as she
sat in the hospital, alone. "I just came to find out how
to get my little girl's body back," she said. But the body
had been taken to the state capital, for an autopsy. Told
this, she said, "I just don't know how we're going to pay
for the funeral. I don't know how we can afford it."
little girl was all she had in all the world, and all she
wanted to do was wrap her little girl’s body in a blanket
and take her home. Some people’s solution to the problem
of media violence is, “If you don’t like it, just turn it
off.” If that is your only solution to this problem,
then come to Jonesboro, and tell her how this would have
kept her little girl safe.
All of us can keep our kids safe from this toxic, addictive
substance, and it won’t be enough if the neighbors are not
doing the same. Perhaps the time has come to consider regulating
what the violence industry is selling to kids, controlling
the sale of visual violent imagery to children, while still
permitting free access to adults, just as we do with
guns, pornography, alcohol, tobacco, sex and cars.
Back: Education, Legislation, Litigation
must work against child abuse, racism, poverty and children’s
access to guns, and in rebuilding our families, but we must
also take on the producers of media violence. The solution
strategy that I submit for consideration is, “education,
Simply put, we need to work toward “legislation” which outlaws
violent video games for children. In July, 2000, the city
of Indianapolis passed just such an ordinance, and every
other city, country or state in America has the right to
do the same. There is no Constitutional “right” to teach
children to blow people’s heads off at the local video arcade.
And we are very close to being able to do to the media,
through “litigation,” what is being done to the tobacco
industry, hotting them in the only place they understand--their
of all, the American people need to be informed. Every parent
must be warned of the impact of violent visual media on
children, as we would warn them of some rampant carcinogen.
Violence is not a game, it is not fun, it is not something
that we let children do for entertainment. Violence kills.
President Leslie Moonves was asked if he thought the school
massacre in Littleton, Colorado, had anything to do with
the media. His answer was: "Anyone who thinks the media
has nothing to do with it, is an idiot." (Reuters.
2000, March 19). That is what the networks are selling,
and we do not have to buy it. An educated and informed society
can and must find its way home from the dark and lonely
place to which it has traveled.
* * * * * * * * * *
Col. Dave Grossman, is a retired Army Ranger, West Point
psychology professor, and an expert on the psychology of
killing. He has testified before the U.S. House and Senate,
and his research was cited by the President of the United
States in the wake of the Littleton school shootings. He
is director of the Warrior Science Group in Jonesboro,
Arkansas, and has written Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill:
A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence,
(Crown/Random, 1999) and On Killing: The Psychological
Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Little,
Brown and Co., 1996).
- Centerwall, B. (1992). Television and violence: The
scale of the problem and where to go from here. Journal
of the American Medical Association, 267: 3059-3061.
D. (1996). On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning
to Kill in War and Society. New York: Little, Brown,
D. (1999). Aggression and Violence. In J. Chambers (Ed.)
Oxford Companion to American Military History.
New York: Oxford University Press (p. 10).
D. (1999a). Weaponry, Evolution of. In L. Curtis &
J. Turpin (Eds.) Academic Press Encyclopedia Academic
Press (p. 797).
D. & Siddle, B. (1999b). Psychological Effects of
Combat. In L. Curtis & J. Turpin (Eds.). Academic
Press Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, and Conflict.
San Diego, CA: Academic Press. (pp. 144-145).
D. (2000, May). "Teaching Kids to Kill, A Case Study:
Paducah, Kentucky." Paper presented at the American
Psychiatric Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.
International Crime Statistics, Interpol, Lyons, France,
vols. 1977 to 1994.
S.L.A. (1978). Men Against Fire. Gloucester, Mass.:
K. (1999). Behavioral Psychology. In L. Curtis & J.
Turpin (Eds.) Academic Press Encyclopedia of Violence,
Peace and Conflict. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Wire Service (2000, March 29). CBS airing mob drama deemed
too violent a year ago. The Washington Post.
Abstracts of the United States, 1957-1997