Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

In the light of Virginia Beach, an interesting passage in a long read on gun ownership

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Gregory Gibson has a long piece in the NY Times that I think is definitely worth reading. Gibson is the father of one of the students shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School and author of Gone Boy: A Father’s Search for the Truth in His Son’s Murder. He has thought at length about guns and gun ownership, and the piece is about his decision to buy a gun and really learn about shooting—and he has a concealed-carry permit.

Read the whole thing, by all means. I quote one passage that struck me. It’s about a remark by Dave Grossman, who is former military who has studied combat and how men react. Long ago, S.L.A. Marshall wrote a book Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in which he discusses how difficult it is to get soldiers in battle to fire to kill the enemy. As he points, civilization has conditioned people so that most finding killing another person repugnant. That includes soldiers, who will fire over the heads of the enemy forces, or fire blindly, and avoid attempting deliberately to taking a life.

He recounted how during the Korean War, a person, possibly dead, was seen floating down the river from the enemy position. One or two soldiers fired at it, just in case the enemy still was alive. Then someone shouted, “It’s a log!” whereupon all the soldiers trained live fire on it. They apparently liked shooting, just not at people.

So Marshall suggested that the Army must change its training methods. Rather than focusing on marksmanship, the Army must deliberately train soldiers to fire directly at the enemy as a reflex, without thought. Pop-up targets on obstacle courses became popular, so that the stimulus (the image of an enemy person) immediately activated a reflex (shoot him).

Grossman continued Marshall’s studies, and Grossman wrote On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Grossman also observed the reluctance to kill, and he pointed out that men were more likely to aim fire to kill the enemy in a crew-operated weapon, where each man is observed by his crewmate (heavy machine gun, for example, or a sniper/spotter team). And I believe it was Grossman who talked about simulations to continue to exercise the kill reflex so that it could be engaged without thought.

Both books are worth reading. Here’s the passage from Gibson’s article:

Eventually, inevitably, I encountered the writings of Dave Grossman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, pioneer researcher and scholar in the field of Killology (his designation, not mine, and a perfect example of his sometimes-tin ear). He is the author of “On Killing” and “On Combat” and is perhaps best known for an idea he discusses in those books that divides everyone into three distinct groups.

“If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep,” he has written. “If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath — a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.”

It seemed corny and unscientific to me. But if, as an actual sheepdog might, you see the world in black and white, its humorless piety, self-righteous rectitude and complete absence of subtlety would seem appealing.

In fairness, Colonel Grossman has done groundbreaking work delving into the psychology and physiology of killing. One of the starting points of his study is the observation that although we have little difficulty bombing whole nations into the Stone Age, we are hard-wired against killing one another face to face. Was that the source of my yips? I was, after all, training to shoot people at close range.

There was another aspect, laid out in exquisite detail by Colonel Grossman, to this business of up-close-and-personal killing. When one is under the extreme stress of having to do so, the forebrain stops giving orders and yields to the hypothalamus, the stress control center. Bladder and colon involuntarily empty, and the autonomic nervous system kicks in. The adrenal glands release potentially damaging levels of cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones. Blood pressure and respiration spike. Time seems to slow; nausea, auditory exclusion, tunnel vision and even temporary physical paralysis may ensue. Jerry never told us about any of that!

Post-Grossman I have a very different scenario of what takes place in my fantasy library in 1992. Professional trainers are largely in agreement that there’s really no predicting how a person will react in a combat situation. No matter how diligently Betsy DeVos and I might have prepared, we’d be in the midst of a giant mess.

That was it for me. I airlifted myself out of there.

HAPPILY, I DIDN’T DIE OF PERITONITIS in a hospital in southern Chile. I wound up in a house of worship in northern New England. In the preface to “On Combat,” Colonel Grossman wrote that he spends nearly 300 days a year traveling the country evangelizing the sheepdog mind-set. According to the Sheepdog Seminar website, he was coming soon to a church near Bangor, Me. I decided to go up there and hear what they had to say about the idea of people with guns keeping people safe from people with guns. One foot in front of the other. . .

Colonel Grossman joined us on the second day of the seminar. He was fit and wiry, constantly in motion, delivering his pitch, very much the military man, punctuating his utterances with “Do you understand?” — as much a command as a question. He had a growly way of speaking and a rhythmic vocal tic, a sort of grunt or “umph” that reminded me of a sheepdog’s affirmative “Ruff!” It pleased me to imagine that after decades of researching, formulating and evangelizing the sheepdog mind-set, Dave Grossman had become one.

He gave a brief pitch for his many books that pertained to the matter at hand. “Why Mommy Carries a Gun” is one title that stuck in my mind. Then he told us what he had learned from training soldiers, from desensitizing them to their natural aversion to killing up close. The terrible news he brought us on this day was that our national video game addiction was creating a generation of killers.

Guns had always been present in our society, he said, but there had been no multiple homicides by a juvenile in schools until the 1970s. Guns didn’t change; we changed. He talked the pioneering work of Dr. James McGee, a co-author of the groundbreaking “Classroom Avenger” study on school shooters. According to Dr. McGee, the one thing these young killers had in common was that they were loners, and, in Colonel Grossman’s telling, immersed themselves in “sicko movies and video games.” He described video games as a form of “pathological play” that rewarded the player for causing death. Colonel Grossman’s take on the research got more dire: Violent visual imagery actually changed the brains of players. Video games were digital crack. The media were taking no responsibility for the content they put out there. The mental health of an entire generation was a stake.

It was a chilling performance. I thought of my 7-year-old grandson, hunched over his tablet, keeping the world safe from zombies.

It struck me, in reading this, that the hours and hours children and young adolescents spend in playing first-person shooter games such as “Grand Theft Auto” is, in effect, training them to shoot by reflex, to kill automatically and without thought. It seems similar to the way the military was able to remove from new recruits their reluctance to kill. And it seems to have worked.

Written by Leisureguy

2 June 2019 at 4:13 pm

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