Saturday, January 18, 2014

On Killing

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Kindle Edition) by LTC Dave Grossman

863 KB / 400 pages
2 Stars

I'm not sure how to review this book. I bought it because I write novels, and now and then people die, and I was looking for something that would tell me what goes through the mind of the one who causes the death. A firm believer in the "no such thing as a free lunch," I'm pretty sure that for most people, the taking of, or suspected taking of, another human's life is traumatic. I was looking for case studies. I found more useful information, for me, on reruns of M*A*S*H and NCIS.

As a noncombat veteran of the Vietnam era, I had ample opportunity to talk to many GIs who had seen combat. Their stories, and the stories told to LTC Grossman differed, greatly. Perhaps because he was an Officer and I was Enlisted Swine? Perhaps because he spoke testosterone and I spoke estrogen? I don't know. But I do know that the stories I heard about the My Lai incident from men who were there were vastly different than the stories he recounted. Perhaps all the stories are true, and distance from the event shapes the memories into something more easily acceptable by both the witnesses and society.

I truly do not understand how anyone with his advanced combat training never saw combat, but that has nothing to do with the book, other than I think it colors his overall reporting. He mentions, with justifiable pride, the courses he took, and survived, but then hastens to state he never saw combat. The Army spent a great deal of money training him for combat, why didn't they send him? Think how he could have helped those GIs if he could have related to them on a combat experience. Think of the good he could have done "on site."

His research, if that's what it was, seemed to come from casual conversations with no formal questionnaires, and nothing that was peer reviewed or vetted. He talks about PTSD as if it was something the Vietnam Vet invented, when in fact it had been around for hundred, thousands, of years, but had was not formally named until the era of Vietnam.

I certainly do not recommend the Kindle version, if you are a reader of footnotes. I found it very difficult to go from the text to the footnote and then back to the text. I am one who loves footnotes, but gave up. I read some of them when I got to the end, but by then they meant little.

There is a psychological cost in learning to kill, and then in doing the actual killing. And I think distance, both physical and psychologically, plays a role in that cost. For an excellent description of that cost, and a great read, I suggest The Gate to Women's Country –by Sheri S. Tepper.


  1. A thoughtful review on a controversial subject, Lenora! I loved your pithy statement. '...he spoke testosterone while I spoke estogen'!