Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Restores My Faith in Mankind.

U.S. Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, an Army historian in the Pacific during WW II found that the majority of soldiers in combat demonstrate a strong resistance to killing other people. Sometimes this resistance was so strong that soldiers on the battlefield die before they can overcome it.

At first, I found this hard to believe. Turn on the TV any time of day or night and it appears as if killing is as basic to human nature as breathing, but than I thought that's why we see so much of it on TV, and in the movies, because it is so rare. If the media reported on human conduct and activity we see every day, no one would tune in.

The military relies heavily on desensitizing its soldiers to prepare them to kill. The media, video games and other kinds of virtual violence available today gives the Armed Forces a head start, which makes me wonder if the results would be the same today as they were in WWII, when TV did not exist, and far less desensitizing took place during the developmental years of these soldiers.

Whatever the case may be, this study strongly suggests extinguishing another life is not intrinsic to human nature.

Marshall was a U.S. Army historian in the Pacific theater during World War II and later became the official U.S. historian of the European theater of operations. He had a team of historians working for him, and they based their findings on individual and mass interviews with thousands of soldiers in more than 400 infantry companies immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops. The results were consistently the same: Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy. Those who would not fire did not run or hide—in many cases they were willing to risk greater danger to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or run messages. They simply would not fire their weapons at the enemy, even when faced with repeated waves of banzai charges.

Why did these men fail to fire? As a historian, psychologist, and soldier, I examined this question and studied the process of killing in combat. I have realized that there was one major factor missing from the common understanding of this process, a factor that answers this question and more: the simple and demonstrable fact that there is, within most men and women, an intense resistance to killing other people. A resistance so strong that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die before they can overcome it.


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