In The Army Harry K and Youth Section look at how to leave the army; how soldiers shoot to miss and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's book On Killing:The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill
Buying Yourself Out of the Army
Ever heard that song Nineteen (it goes N-N-N-Nineteen), about the average age of soldiers in Vietnam? It's still pretty close - most of the people I know, who joined up, did so straight after school. Not particularly for any macho reason, but because it seemed like a good job – learn a trade and all that. Most left, either because it pissed them off or, later, because they got sick of being subject to stupid decisions by the same type of public school wonders who balls up the country.
One of the things often talked about is buying yourself out. (If you don’t know, it’s a way of paying to be released from the contract you signed up to, once you realise you’ve made a big mistake) If you join up straight out of school this isn’t that easy. So, if you’re under 18 and you’re thinking about joining up, read on first:
You can’t leave in the first month.
You then have until month six to leave.
If you don’t leave then you must stay in the army until you’re 22.
You can not buy yourself out.
If you leave at 22 you must stay in the reserves for another six years.
You can’t even leave at 22 if you’ve gone on a training course for more than two weeks (quite likely).
If you go AWOL, and loads do, many ending up homeless, you’ll get punishment detention. Your AWOL time will then be added to your release date.
So, think carefully, if you make a mistake it could be a bloody long one.
(refs:Queens regs- 9.073, 9.416, 9478, 9.086b, Manual of Military Law- 304s.38 )
For more information and help if you are in the army and need support visitAt Ease
Shoot to Miss - the Non-Violent Soldier
Imagine you are a soldier fighting in a terrible war. The enemy is attacking from all sides. Gunfire roars through the air. You’re clutching your weapon in your trembling hands. Your finger is poised on the trigger. This is real and it’s right in front of your very own eyes. It would seem that your only hope of survival is to aim your gun at the enemy and shoot him down. It shouldn’t be too hard, you knew you’d have to take human life away when you enlisted. After all, the enemy is only a foreigner, he’s not as important as the lives of your own countrymen, right? This is only nature. Humans, you have been told, are monstrous, merciless murderers who would have slaughtered each other long ago, were our enlightened government leaders not here to keep our animalistic impulses under strict control. You’d pull the trigger, right? The resulting death won’t really be your fault. You’re only doing what any right-minded human being would do in your situation. Any other man in the exact same circumstances would have done the same thing, wouldn’t he? Well, in many cases, no.
In 1947, U.S Armed Forces historian, Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, published the controversial book, Men Against Fire, releasing his startling discoveries into the world for the first time. Using data obtained via interviews with thousands of soldiers in World War Two, Marshall came to realise that only a minority of soldiers would fire their weapon at an enemy combatant. Only 15-20% of the soldiers interviewed claimed to have consciously fired at the enemy. Many soldiers simply wouldn’t discharge their rifles. Others would purposefully aim above their opponents heads. It didn’t seem to matter where they were stationed, nor whether they were battling against German or Japanese troops, the 15-20% figure remained consistent.
There were times, of course, when the number would fluctuate. The number of enlisted men firing at the enemy would unsurprisingly increase when they were under the close observation of an officer, confirming what anarchists have been saying all along, that authority is one of the main causes of man’s inhumanity towards his brothers and sisters. People are not monsters when left to manage their own affairs, but become monsters when given an order by some self-appointed ruler.
Marshall’s body of work is not without its detractors. According to contemporary evidence, Marshall was not what you’d expect in an army general. One soldier described him as an untidy gentlemen, who did not bother to tuck in his shirt or button his jacket. His boots were dirty and unpolished and he was unshaven. This may not seem like a very extraordinary look for a normal man, but Marshall was a high-ranking officer in the United States Army, an organisation notorious for its strict enforcement of uniform tidiness. Apparently, he took a similar approach to his work as he did to grooming his appearance. While his informal interviewing technique was described as being very effective, his note taking was sporadic and minimal and he has been accused of making baseless assumptions and passing them off as fact. There are some who believe that the 15-20% figure was more of a guess than anything else. Nevertheless, while Marshall may have been heavily criticised, he was not alone in his discoveries. Studies of warfare throughout history have shown that a high proportion of soldiers apparently don’t want to kill. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former paratrooper and psychology professor, argues against Marshall’s critics, by pointing to a similar study conducted in the mid 19th century by the French military theorist, Ardant du Picq, who discovered that it was common for soldiers to simply fire aimlessly into the air.
However, since the publication of Men Against Fire, armies all around the world have introduced special training exercises, designed to mentally condition soldiers to overcome the urge not to kill (some have suggested that Marshall exaggerated his findings in order to scare the U.S. Military into introducing such measures). Subsequent studies have shown that the number of soldiers who fire at the enemy has risen since the introduction of these methods. Modern day soldiers, Grossman explains, are put through such intensive training that combat becomes second-nature to them and when they are finally thrown into the real thing, most of them act so instinctively that they don’t even think about what they are doing. It is only through such rigorous training that normal human beings can be transformed into people who will kill because they have been ordered to. This training has been very effective. A study conducted during the Vietnam War showed the number of soldiers shooting at the enemy had risen to around 90%. But the training can only go so far and the part of the brain that wants to resist state enforced killing can not be completely erased. There are still many soldiers who, when standing face to face with the enemy, would rather fire their weapons into the air than at another human being. Once again, Grossman defends Marshall by giving the example of a 1986 study, which showed that soldiers are more efficient ‘killers’ during simulations than they are on the battlefield. The study concluded that while the fear of actually being in a life or death situation does partially account for the less frequent hit rate, it is not the only factor at work and a natural unwillingness to kill does play large part.
The reluctance to fire was not born out of cowardice. The majority of non-violent soldiers were not deserters. In fact, Marshall notes how the soldiers who refused to fire would often undertake missions of great danger. The unwillingness to kill was simply a manifestation in the remarkable force of solidarity that exists in human society. Whether our opposition to killing is an inbuilt, evolutionary trait, or an idea that society drills into us at an early age, it is undeniable that most humans don’t want to kill. If humanity really was the selfish, violent and individualistic species that many right-wingers and authoritarians seem to think it is, then it is doubtful we would have gotten this far without wiping each other out centuries ago. Solidarity and human decency are necessary for any society to function and it is these natural and universal human impulses that might one day make it possible for us to build a society based on equality and cooperation, rather than the soulless capitalist society we find ourselves trapped in today. Let’s follow the example of the real heroes of war and refuse to fire on our comrades. The only war worth fighting is a war against the few who hold political and economic power and force us into working for their benefit, instead of mutually cooperating for the good of everyone. We need to stop shooting at each other and save the bullets for the revolution.
On Killing - Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
The world we inhabit is ruled by misanthropists. If they are not are literal rulers, then we can at least be sure that their ideology is the dominant set of ideas. The general opinion on the street seems to be that humans are bad; we can’t be trusted. If you pester a misanthropist enough you might get him to admit that there are maybe 100 or so ‘good’ people, although the rest of humanity is just a mass of six billion degenerate, idiotic, sociopathic lunatics. Deep down, humans just want to kill each other, the misanthropist tells you. It might seem a fairly reasonable assumption at first. Look at wars; why would they exist if man isn’t inherently programmed to kill?
Except that isn’t quite accurate. Humans are social animals; we thrive on cooperation. Regular readers of Now or Never! might remember an article I wrote a couple of issues back entitled The Non-Violent Soldier (see above), referring to studies done in the Second World War, showing that only 15-20% of soldiers would actually fire their rifles at an enemy soldier. Of course, the powers that be couldn’t have young working class men marching off to war and not killing those pesky foreigners, so new psychological training methods, based on Pavlovian conditioning, were introduced to help turn the young soldier into a more efficient killer. By the time of the Vietnam War, the figure had risen to over 90%. The article mainly drew from two sources: the first being the work of Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, the second being the work of a lesser known figure, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is a military psychologist and former paratrooper; On Killing is his extensive study of what it means to take another human life. Drawing on the work of psychologists who have gone before him and conducting first hand interviews with military veterans who have killed during combat, Grossman effectively presents us with an in-depth portrait of the mind of a soldier and the way the ability to kill has to be hammered into them during training. And the killer ‘instinct’ does need to be hammered in. Only a small number of human beings are prepared to willingly kill another without intense conditioning and training, unless they are under severe emotional distress.
But despite the book’s somewhat positive outlook, it does not fall into the trap of being overly sentimental about human nature. It clearly acknowledges that there are some individuals who are willing to readily kill without any special training. Grossman also does not claim that it is not in human nature to fight; combat is something that is built into us, something that goes back to our primitive days. But in primitive human societies, the winner is not necessarily the side that has killed the most enemies, but the side that is better at posturing, intimidating their enemies into submission. Grossman also notes that pilots during the Second World War felt almost no guilt at all for bombing innocent civilians; apparently, if you can’t see the faces of the people you’re killing, the mind doesn’t register it in the same way. These same pilots would do whatever they could to avoid shooting at enemy planes, because when you flew at straight towards another aircraft, you could explicitly see the person sitting inside.
As an officer in the US military, Grossman is quite obviously no anarchist. His politics are never made explicit, although I did feel the book gives an impression of a sort of small town, naïve conservatism. For example, the first line of the introduction is: ‘If you are a virgin preparing for your wedding night’ . . . Your wedding night! It’s as if the author lives in a quaint little 1950s style, conservative theme-park world that only exists in the minds of conservative, Christian reactionaries. With this in mind, there were one or two things I couldn’t help disagreeing with. For instance, his insistence that teenage gun crime is enabled because violent computers games fill the same function as the military training programmes that desensitise the brain to the act of killing seems a little naïve and simplistic to me. But then he’s an expert on military psychology and I’m not, so what do I know about it?
This book contains a lot of genuinely interesting information. Let me just say that I am usually not in the least bit interested in war. This is to say that I find nothing more tedious than the decrees of generals and the movement of platoons and so forth, but I found this book fascinating. It takes you down to the micro level of warfare, focusing on what’s going through the mind of the individual soldier. Grossman highlights the truth and dispels the myths of modern warfare. If you are at all interested in what drives a human being to take the life of another, then you should read this book. It is very clearly written; Grossman is obviously a writer of immense talent and the book never seems too heavy or unreadable. Often I would sit down to read a chapter and find myself cruising through an entire section. This is not the kind of unintelligible, academic gibberish you would expect to find in the pages of a psychology textbook.
I will make one short negative comment and say that it would have been nice if Grossman had taken us further back in history than the American Civil War, but I suppose this can be forgiven, seeing as psychology is a relatively recent school of thought and I doubt many people thought to take notes on the mental state of the individual soldier during many medieval battles.
On Killing is unquestionably a must-read for anybody with an interest in military matters, anybody with an interest in psychology, or even anybody who just wants to better understand the human race. This is a book that challenges our most basic assumptions about combat and forces us to rethink the way we look at our species.
Buy issue 21 of Now or Never!
These articles came from issues 3, 12 and 14 of Now or Never!, available to buy here