A Book Review Example: On Killing

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Book review
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The idea of war implies that killings will take place whereby one party will struggle to weaken its opponent by reducing its number through blood shed. War presents a situation where men kill each other with the full justification that they are doing the right thing. The book under analysis is On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. The book consists of eight sections whereby the sections are divided into several chapters. Each section has its theme but all fall under the idea of killing. On killing presents an analysis of the types of killings that take place during war. The first section talks about killing and the presence of resistance concerning a world of virgins and the issue of sex. The second section focuses on Killing and trauma associated with combat. It puts into view the significance of killing when it comes to psychiatric casualties. The third section entails killing concerning physical distance. It puts into view that when an individual is at a distance, he or she does not appear as a friend. The fourth section entails the anatomy associated with killing by which the author puts into view factors such as the command from authority, emotional distance, group absolution and the nature of the victim. The fifth section puts into view killing and the associated atrocities such as entrapment and dark power. The sixth section entails the response stages associated with killing while the seventh section analyzes the killings that took place in Vietnam. Last but not least, the eighth section puts into view the killings taking place in America with the focus being on the next generation. It can be perceived that the objective of the book is to illustrate the concept of scientific analysis of the killing process. The book looks into the horrifying nature of war and the fact that man does not think twice when killing his fellow man in some situations. Grossman presents the view that human beings are not psychological or physically capable of killing each other. However, the psychological conditioning done to soldiers influences them to take part in direct combat with enemies and hence resulting in bloodshed (Grossman, 1996). Therefore, what I have learned from the book is that the nature of man is not violent. However, when certain aspects are introduced to manipulate his nature, then man subjects himself to inhuman actions that may affect his nature either socially, mentally or physically or all.

Grossman expounds on the work of Gen. S. L. A. Marshall and makes references to the ancient wars, the Napoleonic wars, the civil wars and other forms of war. From his view, human nature limits man from killing another man whereby the aspect has been exhibited throughout history. He states, Throughout history, the majority of men on the battlefield would not attempt to kill the enemy, even to save their own lives, (Grossman, 1996). According to Grossman, the view illustrates the nature of our humanity (Grossman, 1996). From his view, despite soldiers being trained to kill, there is the need for them to gain back the aspects needed for them to operate normally and peacefully in the community. Grossman presents an analysis of operant conditioning, desensitization and the utilization of psychotropic drugs that increased the percentage of American soldiers who focused on killing other soldiers in the Vietnam War. It can be perceived the high prevalence rate of PTSD among the veterans after they returned home from war is attributed to the killings that took place during war. Grossman also highlights the view that the veterans did not obtain adequate support after returning home (Grossman, 1996).

Grossman associates the analysis of killing to be similar with sex. He views killing to be private and intimate such that the destructive actions becomes similar to the procreative actions from a psychological viewpoint. He presents the view that for a long time, killing and engaging in sex were acceptable behaviors but the war fields and bedroom conduct was a part of myth and obliviousness. Grossman views humanity to contain nonviolent behavior. He includes the view that shooting a person from behind is easier when compared to shooting face-to-face with the explanation that fatalities tend to be higher among troops who are fleeing than those shooting at each other. He explains that killing from a distance also tends to be easier than at close range. He highlights the Vietnam War whereby he states that a large percentage of its veterans suffered from PTSD (Grossman, 1996).

What I like about the book is that the Grossman uses facts to support his viewpoints. Furthermore, he uses several studies rather than limiting himself to only a few. He includes several quotes from the scholars to associate their views and his views and hence making it easier to comprehend his view point. He also takes a reader back in time such that one gets an idea of the difference between the types of wars that occurred in the past and the recent war experiences. An interesting section that I believe illustrates the whole idea of killing during wartime is section six. The section entails the response stages associated with killing. The stages are five with the outcomes being an individual suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The stages include; the concern for having the capacity to kill such that one becomes fixated, the killing situation that puts into view the incapability to kill and being fixated on being unable to kill, exhilaration associated with killing which includes the fixation of the exhilaration, the penitence and nauseated feeling due to killing such that one becomes fixated with guilt and regret and lastly, rationalizing and accepting the act by which one eventually suffers from PTSD when he or she is unable to rationalize (Grossman, 1996). The ability and the inability to rationalize a killing is associated with the emotional aspect whereby people respond differently to the process due to varying emotions. The fixation is associated with fear by which a soldier exhibits plenty of concern which results in fixation and then later becomes obsessed with the act. The action plays repetitively such that an individual becomes traumatized. The view is that the humanity in man is nonviolent and hence when exposed to situations that trigger aggression and violence, it becomes difficult for an individual to regain the normal mental state (Grossman, 1996).

However, I think that the author uses exaggerations to emphasize his ideas particularly when it comes to aspects that bring about harm. Lieberman (2009) explains that Grossman exaggerates the view that there is a correlation between high levels of incarceration and high levels of domestic aggression. According to Lieberman (2009), the increase in the incarceration rate is affiliated with non-aggressive drug criminals as per the discriminatory regulations. Grossman also highlights unproven content regarding the aggression subjected to veterans after returning home from the Vietnam War by peace activists by which he associates the aggression with the occurrence of PTSD among the veterans. The view is that the opposition by the peace activists did not contribute to the PTSD (Lieberman, 2009). Nonetheless, Grossman presents a comprehensive analysis of human nature and how man is good unless when certain factors intervene. A good example is the use of the psychotropic drugs during the Vietnam War whereby a large percentage of the soldiers under the influence shot others without depicting any remorse.

The aspects of the book that I would have changed are the graphics. From a personal perspective, the book would be more influential if it used images of real people when explaining its ideas. Real images make it easier to comprehend and create an idea of what the author is talking about in mind and possibly think about factors that connect with the authors viewpoints. Nonetheless, the author uses simple language and includes real examples and hence a book worth reading.

I would recommend the book to others especially those who want to understand the killings that take place during the war and what goes on in the minds of soldiers when they embark on a mission. According to a review of the book by Robert Engen, On Killing presents a comprehensive analysis of human elements during periods of war. Also, several articles that include the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, and Christianity Today and even on the internet have expanded the themes highlighted by Grossman. The book is also part of the curriculum at the FBI Academy and WestPoint and hence implying that its ideas are important and worthy of consideration (Engen, 2017). Engen (2017) states, Simply put, Grossmans On Killing and its succeeding killology literature represents a potential revolution for military history if his claims can stand up to scrutiny especially the claim that throughout human history, most soldiers and people have been unable to kill one another. In other words, Engen presents an interesting analogy on the participation of soldiers in war and their mental state that makes them kill other humans. It makes one question on the mental state that a soldier experiences when lifting a firearm to kill another soldier and hence an interesting book for anyone interested in learning about human nature during times of war. Another interesting review that proves that Grossmans books are worth reading is by Eliot A. Cohen. Eliot explains that Grossman presents a comprehensive psychological theory that includes killing response stages that assist in understanding the killings that take place during war. In other words, the comprehensive analysis presented by Grossman is worth to consider when it comes to evaluating human nature. Lieberman (2009) views the book as essential for young people who are interested in joining the army in addition to teachers and parents. He states, This book might prove to be a touchstone document for informed consent for military service. When recruits sign up, they should have the vivid understanding of benefits and risks presented here. Parents, teachers and politicians should know these things too (Lieberman, 2009). In synopsis, the book is highly recommendable as per the views presented by various analysts and the fact that it touches on one of the sensitive issues that impact the world; war.



Cohen, E. A. (2017). On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 5 August 2017, from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/1996-03-01/killing-psychological-cost-learning-kill-war-and-society

Engen, R. (2016). Killing For Their Country: A New Look At Killology. Journal Forces, 9(2). http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vo9/no2/16-engen-eng.asp.

Grossman, D. (1996). On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York: Back Bay Books.

Lieberman, J.E. (2009). Review- The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

by Dave Grossman. Metapsychology Online Reviews, 13(47). http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=5243

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