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Thread: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default How soldiers deal with the job of killing

    The BBC has this week been showing some harsh, Afghan combat film, taken by the soldiers themselves in 2007, called Our War and one episode to date. This is available on:http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode..._War_Ambushed/

    A separate programme touches on this issue of killing. The opening paragraph:
    When a soldier kills someone at close quarters, how does it affect them? This most challenging and traumatic part of a soldier's job is often wholly overlooked.

    Soldiers kill. It goes with the job, and they do it on our behalf.

    But it's an aspect of their work which is widely ignored - even by the soldiers themselves - and this can cause them great psychological difficulty, experts say.
    Link to report / summary:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-13687796

    The linked pod-casts are entitled more starkly IMHO 'The Kill Factor' and the sub-title is
    Soldiers who have killed in war at close quarters talk about how it affects them today
    Link to pod-casts:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00gyhg8

    I cannot immediately recall a thread on this theme, apologies if there is one.

    I am sure many here have read combat histories and books such as John Keegan's 'The Face of Battle' so are familiar with the issues raised.

    Apologies for those who cannot access due to copyright reasons some BBC sites.
    davidbfpo

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    Apologies for those who cannot access due to copyright reasons some BBC sites.
    Any idea why that is David?

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    Any idea why that is David?
    I think its that the BBC doesn't stream online content to people outside of the UK, since only UK citizens subsidize the Beeb

    EDIT: Or maybe not, this video streamed just fine. Weird
    Last edited by The Cuyahoga Kid; 06-11-2011 at 03:52 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Cuyahoga Kid View Post
    I think its that the BBC doesn't stream online content to people outside of the UK, since only UK citizens subsidize the Beeb

    EDIT: Or maybe not, this video streamed just fine. Weird
    Losing out on propaganda.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Side-issue: Access to BBC material

    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    Any idea why that is David?
    Team,

    I've no idea. I had expected items on IPOD to be available, it does show BBC World Service and sometimes some programmes can be found, probably on BBC World. Oh and it does work both ways, with the US items not being available.

    There is an explanation by the BBC:http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/questi...ebsite_changes

    Which offers:
    Much of our website is aimed at UK users, so we negotiate rights to include video, audio, images and other types of content for the UK only. World rights are much more expensive, but we are hoping to make more audio and visual content available to our international audiences.
    There is a feedback option, please tell them! I have asked.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 06-11-2011 at 04:44 PM.
    davidbfpo

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    Registered User DTS's Avatar
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    Default in iTunes

    Found it in the iTunes store Canada. Should be there in the US too. Under podcasts, BBC, Documentary Archive. I just searched for 'The Kill Factor'.

    You might also download it directly from the BBC at
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/docarchive

    Moderator adds - thanks!
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 06-11-2011 at 08:13 PM.

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    Davidbfpo

    When a soldier kills someone at close quarters, how does it affect them? This most challenging and traumatic part of a soldier's job is often wholly overlooked.

    Soldiers kill. It goes with the job, and they do it on our behalf.

    But it's an aspect of their work which is widely ignored - even by the soldiers themselves - and this can cause them great psychological difficulty, experts say.
    I could not open the link.

    However, on the quote, in close combat, speaking from experience, I don't think there is time to think.

    It is a question of Kill or be Killed.

    I presume Self Preservation takes over.

    The psychological effect is there and it is dependant on the man and his background. One wonders in retrospect as to 'was it worth it'?! What about his family and how are they coping now, now that he has been killed. It haunts. Quite a few of us, do feel guilty, and at the same time confused, since when returned to sanity, one abhors the act and yet, for self preservation, one had to do what had to be done.

    Catch 22.

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    Default Thank You

    That was very unfortunate to see but I can tell you that I am better for having watched it. If there is anyway that you can make all three videos available to watch either by downloading them or otherwise the rest of us we be in debt to you. Again thank you and if there is any way to get all of those videos please let me know.

    I have downloaded the podcasts and have watched the Our War: Ambushed (found it on You Tube) but cant seem to get the others.

    Thank You for your help.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default If only I could, others can?

    Perpetual Student,

    Glad you enjoyed the podcasts and one part of 'Our War'. My IT skills and being in the UK mean I cannot readily assist in locating the next two parts of 'Our War'. Perhaps others with skill can help? JMA and another often succeed.

    According to a variety of comments 'Our War' will be shown on BBC One in the autumn.
    davidbfpo

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Perpetual Student,

    Glad you enjoyed the podcasts and one part of 'Our War'. My IT skills and being in the UK mean I cannot readily assist in locating the next two parts of 'Our War'. Perhaps others with skill can help? JMA and another often succeed.

    According to a variety of comments 'Our War' will be shown on BBC One in the autumn.
    As Parts 2 & 3 become available and I find them I will post the url here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    The BBC has this week been showing some harsh, Afghan combat film, taken by the soldiers themselves in 2007, called Our War and one episode to date. This is available on:http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode..._War_Ambushed/
    David, powerful stuff. The case study here is one of how a totally raw 19 man platoon handled combat for the first time. Interesting to hear the dialog.

    I would use this as a reason to promote my recommendation of having permanently deployed units where they have R&R out of Afghanistan rather than rotate the battalions through for six months every two years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    A separate programme touches on this issue of killing. The opening paragraph:

    Link to report / summary:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-13687796

    The linked pod-casts are entitled more starkly IMHO 'The Kill Factor' and the sub-title is

    Link to pod-casts:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00gyhg8

    I cannot immediately recall a thread on this theme, apologies if there is one.

    I am sure many here have read combat histories and books such as John Keegan's 'The Face of Battle' so are familiar with the issues raised.
    David, discussed this programme with our mutual friend across town from you and we reached the conclusion that they are trying to create a story here where no real story exists.

    Two people's experiences were used and they referred to a third (a sniper who killed 10 people and now spends all his time surfing off Hawaii) which hardly is a representative sample.

    Most people in my experience adjust to having killed in close combat far better than programmes like this lead us to believe. I wonder what the "disability" pension is for people claiming "issues" relating to having looked into a man's eyes and then killed him.

    The "experts" interviewed in this programme seem to agree that (psychological and emotional) preparation is necessary prior to deployment on ops is vital as is the wind-down between combat and reintroduction back into the "world".

    This article is worth a read: David Livingstone Smith: Psychology Of Violence

    What in my opinion is the most important is to assess recruits and officer cadets as to the emotional and psychological stability prior to acceptance into the service. Again my experience the head-cases were generally already screwed up before they joined and then you can add the chancers who sniff a free pension ride if they ape the symptoms.

    I am glad to see the following:

    Lt Col Kilner who lectures at the West Point Military Academy is quoted as saying:

    "We talk about destroying, engaging, dropping, bagging - you don't hear the word killing."
    I agree, lets tell it like it is. I have said around here a number of times that the role of the infantry is to close with and kill the enemy(that deals with the official words "destroy" and "engage"). Troopie slang for killing varies from army to army, we used words like "pull", "slot" and "rip" meaning to shoot/kill someone. I don't think that is a psychological means to sanitize the act of killing.

    I used to organise to gather the troop for a few drinks (sometimes more) at the first opportunity after combat. This allowed myself and my sergeant to observe the troopies for any observable changes.

    The regular observation from me was listening to the troopies war stories it seemed that the contact they were in they killed more than double than in the contact I was in. Funny thing that.

    Hesitancy to kill was seldom observed in my experience. It happened by very seldom.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ray View Post
    The psychological effect is there and it is dependant on the man and his background.
    How exactly?

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    Thank You JMA, I will be looking forward to the threads to the other videos.

    I currently teach a class on Human Factors at the Infantry Officers Course in Quantico, VA. We base our classes mostly off of the works of Lt Col. Grossman as well as some articles that we have read. We constantly talk about the need for Officers to understand killing. They need to not only understand it but be capable of talking about it to their Marines. We also teach a follow on class called Human Factors II that deals with PTSD and combat stress. This class is based on personal experience and pulling some information from the Marine Corps reference publication.

    I say all this to say that overall as a military community we do not discuss this enough. Like the podcasts talk about and it has been highlighted we often call it something different and fail to spend time understanding "killing."

    I am very interested in learning more about this and developing a continuous dialogue about the topic. Thank You.

    Has anyone every read the book mentioned in the podcast "An Intimate History of Killing"? Just wondering if it is a good read.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    How exactly?
    My comments are based on the Indian context.

    The urban educated and being used to creature comfort are cautious and careful. He is slower (fractionally) to react with an intent to kill when confronted by an enemy soldier who is about to kill him. Just fractionally since Self Preservation is a powerful motivator.

    The rural, rough and tumble types who have faced the real rigours of survival in an unequal society is mentally strong to accept the fact that he has to kill or be killed and hence he has less of a hesitation to shoot in close quarter battle.

    Then there are those who have martial traditions. Though the marital background and 'honour at all costs' phenomenon of certain tribes and communities are fading, yet there are those who still possess an iota of that. They have no hesitation to kill if the need arises for the honour of their community (and hence the Nation) and for their Regiment and unit (being composed of the same tribe/ community).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ray View Post
    My comments are based on the Indian context.
    I ask because I am interested to learn about the Indian context. I look for threads of commonality in this regard across nations/cultures/classes/ethnicities/races. It educates me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    I ask because I am interested to learn about the Indian context. I look for threads of commonality in this regard across nations/cultures/classes/ethnicities/races. It educates me.
    I clarified that my comments were based on the Indian context, since no culture or environment is similar.

    It would hence be contextual to my comments.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Perpetual_Student View Post
    Thank You JMA, I will be looking forward to the threads to the other videos.

    I currently teach a class on Human Factors at the Infantry Officers Course in Quantico, VA. We base our classes mostly off of the works of Lt Col. Grossman as well as some articles that we have read. We constantly talk about the need for Officers to understand killing. They need to not only understand it but be capable of talking about it to their Marines. We also teach a follow on class called Human Factors II that deals with PTSD and combat stress. This class is based on personal experience and pulling some information from the Marine Corps reference publication.

    I say all this to say that overall as a military community we do not discuss this enough. Like the podcasts talk about and it has been highlighted we often call it something different and fail to spend time understanding "killing."

    I am very interested in learning more about this and developing a continuous dialogue about the topic. Thank You.

    Has anyone every read the book mentioned in the podcast "An Intimate History of Killing"? Just wondering if it is a good read.
    While I am happy that close quarter killing is being studied for all the reasons Grossman states (I have his book on Kindle but have not studied it in detail yet) I await eagerly for such a study by someone who has actually killed themselves. He says that he and other writers on this subject Keegan, Holmes, Griffiths and I suspect neither Joanna Bourke (author of "An Intimate History of Killing" which you mentioned) have not killed in close combat. While I agree with training and preparation (with the rationale and emotional elements included) for killing at recruit and officer cadet levels followed by again a post "action" follow-up I tend to believe this issue is somewhat overblown.

    By this I mean that I don't believe that for the majority the act of killing at close quarters (looking him in the eye and then shooting him) is as psychologically damaging as one is led to believe. If I had ten years I would wish to cooperate with combat experienced psychologists to attempt to establish how to test individuals as to who are likely to be affected by having personally killed to the extent that they at some point thereafter develop psychological "problems". This for selection and screening purposes. Those with a predisposition for developing "issues" should not be accepted in the military or at least not in the infantry (and maybe the armour - I don't know much about how their type of killing affects them when they get up close and personal).

    There is a documentary that is fascinating and covers how and why (in their own words) why soldiers went beyond the accepted bounds in killing prisoners and wounded, mutilating bodies and regarding civilians as fair game when keeping the risk to themselves down. Hell in the Pacific is worth watching and probably can be turned into a teaching tool if presented with a prepared script to explain and expand upon the issues as they are raised. The full 4 part series is available on Youtube in about 10 minute segments. It is a mix of US and Brit experiences and includes some POW stuff. This documentary not to be confused with the Lee Marvin movie of the same name.

    Having read only the reviews of "An Intimate History of Killing" I accept that there are those who enjoy killing (who when unchecked can get involved in some pretty bad stuff) but agree with critics that it is a small percentage but probably more than the 2% some suggest (I suggest around 5% from my experience). What do you suggest the % of those who feel nothing is? That is to kill without hesitation but with no enjoyment.

    It is often the behaviour of the enemy that draws you in and tempts you to cross the line. For example the outrages carried out by the Japanese against POWs and civilians. Also take WW2 - Normandy where in the first days of the invasion 187 Canadians are said to have been executed by 12 SS. Little surprise then that certainly the Canadians (and other allies) responded with the "well if that's the way you want to play it" and they too entered the atrocity spiral - (D-Day by Antony Beevor). Beevor's book is a must read as are his Berlin and Stalingrad books.

    In Beevor's book he deals with combat fatigue and makes mention of a neuro-psychiatrist, Major David Weintrob, who pioneered combat stress treatment there and also improved the manner in which "replacements" were introduced into front line units. You may have access to more records on Weintrob's work with Gen Gerhardt's 29th Infantry Division in Normandy.

    Interestingly the comment is made that both Brit and US psychiatrists were struck by the few cases of psychoneurosis' among German POWs. This is an area which needs to be studied I suggest.

    The officers role in preventing atrocities seems important and in both Hell in the Pacific and Beevor's book reference is made of officers stepping in to bring troops "under control" with pistols drawn. (Beevor reports an officer from The Canadian Regiment de la Chaudiere that after they had got to grips with 12 SS at Carpiquet that "no prisoners were taken this day on either side". Fascinating and horrifying stuff. How does one prepare young officers to exert the authority to bring matters back under control when they boil over (which they will and his sergeant is out there slitting throats and cutting ears off with the rest of them)?

    Your subject seems to have more questions than answers. It seems that our job in this regard (30 years ago) was so much easier when we knew what was right and what was wrong (as taught by our mothers and not some military instruction) and did not have the type of politically imposed RoE soldiers have to live with today.
    Last edited by JMA; 06-26-2011 at 08:43 PM.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Fascinating and horrifying stuff. How does one prepare young officers to exert the authority to bring matters back under control when they boil over (which they will and his sergeant is out there slitting throats and cutting ears off with the rest of them)?
    Rank is generally a stabilizer but not always. There are also examples of Officers ordering, suggesting or implying such actions are acceptable. Or recall the notorious example of young LT Calley at My Lai in Viet Nam who participated in the shootings and whose Platoon Sergeant tried unsuccessfully to stop him and the men (personally, I'd have buttstroked the LT but that's just me... )...
    ...It seems that our job in this regard (30 years ago) was so much easier when we knew what was right and what was wrong (as taught by our mothers and not some military instruction) and did not have the type of politically imposed RoE soldiers have to live with today.
    Quite true...

    I agree BTW, with your 5% and think the percentage who can kill without hesitation and no enjoyment is really about 80 and of those at least 50%, probably most, will suffer little to no remorse or psychological damage. I suspect the total of those severely traumatized by actually killing is smaller than the number traumatized by seeing death and destruction but who have not killed or had to do so as I believe that action seems to perform a balancing act of sorts on the old psyche. I also believe both numbers combined will in truth average less than 10% of troops committed (METT-TC dependent, as always, obviously intensity of combat and / or length of time committed will have an effect... ).

    I'd like, BTW, to know how much of that 'psychological damage' is induced by those who think there just must be some there and keep probing or pushing until some erupts...

    (Those guesstimates are applicable to a generation now past, in or approaching their 60s but I suspect that the numbers are valid for the current generations as well.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Perpetual_Student View Post
    Has anyone every read the book mentioned in the podcast "An Intimate History of Killing"? Just wondering if it is a good read.
    I read Joanna Bourke's book (http://www.amazon.com/Intimate-Histo...9151474&sr=8-3) a while back, when I was a rather unimpressive and clueless cadet (in saying that, not much has changed...). I had read Grossman's On Killing immediately prior, and wanted more. My memory might be playing tricks on me, but I wouldn't bother reading it again. It had it some interest value but was very academic in argument and writing - it was very heavy on the old footnotes. If you can get yourself a copy easily a few hours scanning the book would do it justice. Some chapters might jump out, but a cover-to-cover read probably wouldn't be required.

    One alternative I would suggest is J Glenn Gray's The Warrior - Reflections of Men in Battle (http://www.amazon.com/Warriors-Refle...9151855&sr=1-1). It's more an autobiography than a Grossman-like article (which is a good thing, IMHO) and thus is simply one man's perspective. It has some great sections you could use as discussion points or as quotes in lectures.

    Ardent du Picq's work is supposed to be an interesting addition to the subject, too - I've had it on my kindle for a while now but haven't gotten round to reading it. I got my cope as a free e-book download (not linking here as I'm not sure about copyright rules - a google search will get it for you, though).
    '...the gods of war are capricious, and boldness often brings better results than reason would predict.'
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