How soldiers deal with the job of killing

BBC piece by Stephen Evans

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How soldiers deal with the job of killing

#1  Postby trubble76 » Jun 11, 2011 9:57 am

Posting in this sub-forum feels a little like wandering into the wrong bar ... :lol:
I thought someone might enjoy this nicely written piece.

When a soldier kills someone at close quarters, how does it affect them? This most challenging and traumatic part of a soldier's job is often wholly overlooked.

Soldiers kill. It goes with the job, and they do it on our behalf.

But it's an aspect of their work which is widely ignored - even by the soldiers themselves - and this can cause them great psychological difficulty, experts say.


"We talk about destroying, engaging, dropping, bagging - you don't hear the word killing”
"A central part of what we do with our careers is we kill the enemies of our country," said Lt Col Pete Kilner, a serving officer in the US Army who has done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"So it's very important that we understand why, and under what conditions it's the morally right thing to do to kill another human being."


continues here.
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Re: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

#2  Postby mrjonno » Jun 11, 2011 10:26 am

Well I guess its good that humans have such a reluctance to kill (assuming this is really true)
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Re: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

#3  Postby Weaver » Jun 11, 2011 10:45 am

Training Soldiers to kill has always been a somewhat difficult task, with varied results over the years.

LTC (RET) Grossman wiki has an important body of work on this subject (although somewhat flawed due to over-reliance on the partially-fabricated studies conducted by BG(RET) S.L.A. Marshall's from WWII and Korea wiki) and somewhat unsupportable claims of biologically- or psychologically-induced restrictions to killing by the vast majority of non-psychopathic humans (Critique of Grossman's work here). Other important work was conducted by noted historian John Keegan wiki, especially his book The Face of Battle, which among other topics examines kill rates and how they rise significantly during a rout - indicating it's a lot easier to kill someone when you aren't face-to-face with them.

I think that Grossman had some good points - the shift in training from bullseye-shooting to engaging pop-up silhouette-shaped targets has made a big difference, and our training has improved even more with the emphasis on CQB in recent years. Of course, weapons and accessories have improved as well, making it much easier to get hits. Finally, there is the overall shift in the combat demographic - no longer can we expect only the Infantry will be involved in close combat, so the entire training focus has improved.

But it can be a difficult task - I remember one episode in Iraq when one of my truck commanders in my patrol told his gunner to engage a target, and the gunner hesitated and wouldn't fire - the commander had to pull him down out of the turret and engage himself. Some people just don't get to the point where they're ready to pull the trigger, especially if you're telling them to shoot first. It's much easier for most people to return fire, I've found.

It can sometimes be hard to turn it all off, too. I know my driving habits after I got back from Iraq were pretty poor for US highways - I was too aggressive, and a lot of that was related to combat training. I've had friends swerve across 4 lanes of traffic to avoid a pothole or a trash bag, and go absolutely nuts hearing another car suffer a tire blowout. Ramping down the combat training can be tough sometimes.

Personally, I've never shot anyone - had my sights on a few at various times, but made the decision to not shoot based on the targets' actions at the time - and glad I did. I did help kill a few guys with airstrikes, including some I watched live on video feeds - frankly, they don't bother me at all, as these guys were trying to kill my friends at the time. Of course, I didn't see their faces or anything - there is a large body of research that shows the difficulty of killing increases with proximity.

Difficult subject, often, especially when so many demonize Soldiers for doing the job their country asks them to do ... and when so many countries leave their veterans without adequate training after combat to make it in the civilian world, or to deal with the stress issues from war.
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Re: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

#4  Postby Tyrannical » Jun 11, 2011 11:57 am

Any studies showing it might just be squeamishness? Moral issues aside, killing someone up close is bound to be pretty gross!
I would be curious if people that had experience hunting or in meat packing were less likely to suffer from this aversion.
I wonder if trips to the slaughter house or viewing that old screen gem Faces of Death might be considered therapy.
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Re: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

#5  Postby Weaver » Jun 11, 2011 12:06 pm

There were attempts to innoculate US Soldiers to the disgusting versions of combat by having them crawl through slaughterhouse junk - guts, etc. They weren't particularly successful - it's not just the outwardly "gross" stuff with killing, it's also the knowledge that you're killing a person. It's things like seeing a person's eyes clearly, smelling them, things that cause to empathize with them as a person.

Certainly exposure to the grosser elements of combat are not effective therapy techniques.
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Re: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

#6  Postby zulumoose » Jun 11, 2011 12:55 pm

I'm sure the perceived urgency of the situation has an effect as well. It must be a natural impulse to want to freeze everything and think to yourself, 'do I really need to do this right now, can't I wait a few seconds/minutes and see how things pan out' ?

When being shot at, I would expect that impulse would be of little import, so not just the self defence instincts kick in, but also the urge to evaluate the situation would be suppressed. Probably many more factors at work as well.

Would I be right do you think, in saying that the more the soldier feels his side is in control of the situation, the more likely he is to allow himself the luxury of evaluation time, and thus the more that aspect of trigger reluctance comes into play?

BTW above is all personal speculation, I have no relevant experience.
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Re: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

#7  Postby seeker7 » Jul 12, 2011 4:56 pm

I spent 22 years in the military. In Vietnam we did not kill a Vietcong named "Kim Nhuyen" but we killed a "gook." In Iraq we killed "rag-heads." I suppose that in the American frontier days, troopers killed "red-skins." The point is: other than for self-defense (survival instinct), humans don't instinctively like to kill other human beings, unless they are mentally ill. We invent "reasons" to kill: defense of country, religious sacrifices (e.g., Aztecs), etc. I've known soldiers who did not do well after returning home after months of battle--there are lots of reasons why this happens, of course. However, I know one vet who hung himself in his garage because "Gook" just didn't work as a reason for the Cong he killed.
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