Posted: Jun 11, 2011 10:45 am
by Weaver
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.