How many of us ever think about the psychological cost of learning to kill another human being?
Even among the veterans of our armed forces who have actually experienced combat, how many are apt to talk honestly about what it takes to kill and how it feels?
According to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, many feel an initial elation bordering on euphoria, followed by nausea and regret that can last a lifetime.
Even the name of Grossman’s book, “On Killing,” seems to offend normal sensibilities. With all the organized killing by the United States and other nations, it is surprising to learn that most men and women are resistant to close quarters killing — even while being attacked by an opponent intent on dealing out death.
Up until the Vietnam War, a fact that was barely discussed outside military circles was that only a small percentage of soldiers even fired at an advancing enemy. Many soldiers who pulled the trigger purposely aimed high.
So what changed for American soldiers by the time they got to Vietnam?
The U.S. government began to apply scientific principles developed within the ranks of behavioral psychologists. Instead of training with stationary bull’s-eye targets, soldiers were trained to shoot at human-shaped targets that popped up into view.
Our troops were conditioned to kill rapidly and on command. It sounds sinister, but it probably prevented many from coming home in boxes.
By rewarding rapid, accurate shots and providing disincentives for those who hesitate, the military achieved the same operant conditioning that caused Pavlov’s dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Firing rates improved.
This is similar to what happens to your 12-year-old kid every time he plays electronic games like “Call of Duty.”
While working his way through realistic architectures and landscapes with incoming attackers, the electronic gaming warrior must make split-second decisions about when and where to shoot. Arms and heads are exploding, flesh is ripped — the graphics are bloody enough to desensitize the most compassionate child or adult.
Many of the movies and television shows our kids watch are graphically brutal, and portray characters that are so dehumanized as to literally beg for killing.
Let’s compare the process that occurs in a modern action shooting competition, or during military firearms training, with the operant conditioning that occurs while playing “Call of Duty.”
The competition shooter and the soldier barely touch their weapons during a course of fire without first receiving a command.
Even civilian competition shooters operate under a command structure that is almost as regimented as a course of fire in the military.
In fact, the number of active or former military shooters officiating and participating in non-military competition is significant. The same goes for law enforcement.
Electronic game players are initiated into roles that are unlikely to bring them into contact with praiseworthy role models. A drill sergeant is an example of a positive role model who normally exemplifies the values of courage, discipline, obedience and sacrifice that keep soldiers alive on the battlefield.
The responsibility and discipline of handling a gun creates a confidence and respect for authority that counteracts many of the influences leading to violence in our streets.
How can we minimize some of the senseless gun violence that has been erupting all over the United States on a regular basis?
Get out to the range with the kids yourself. You are the hero that your kids want to imitate the most.