Whenever the highly mutilated bodies of our soldiers are handed over periodically by our neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh, the nation gasps in astonished agony. Who could inflict these cruelties on a uniformed man even if he is an enemy, one wonders. The stories of tortures of Iraqi prisoners by the predominantly American troops are unbelievable but true.
Is killing in war an act of glory? Are soldiers who pick up arms trigger happy? Do we romanticize killing, by honouring men who kill the most, of their enemies? And in these modern gadget controlled era, are our children responding to violence and bloodshed with a detached glee?
These are some of the questions we probably never ask while calculating the cost of war. Or pause to check while presenting a violent video game to the child. This book ‘On Killing, the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill In War and Society’ by a war veteran Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman discusses the individuals who are the men of the moment. In its third revised edition, it includes more real life experiences of soldiers and more analysis on the human cost of war. And the cult of violence that’s now becoming a household problem.
According to the book, “well over 1000 studies point overwhelmingly to a casual connection between media violence and aggressive behaviour in some children. The conclusion of the public health community based on over 30 years of research is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increase in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children. Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization towards violence in real life. Preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact of interactive electronic media (violent video games) may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies or music.”
In a world increasingly turning crime prone, fear creeps into the mind, unsolicited. “The ultimate fear and horror in most modern lives is to be raped or beaten, to be physically degraded in front of our loved ones, to have our family harmed and the sanctity of our homes invaded by aggressive and hateful intruders.” says the book. Though statistics shows that deaths are more likely to occur from accidents or diseases, these irrational fears are the ones that trouble us the most. And hence the trauma of say a bomb blast is more than that of a car accident.
It is this fear of personal and societal harm that lowers the barrier of human resistance to kill in a confrontational situation. The human mind is conditioned to react with aggression in a situation of attack. And in moments like these, where anger and fear rule, the fore brain, the part that controls reason deserts and the mid brain takes over. Our conditioning and training take over the functioning of the brain and we react as we had been ‘conditioned to think.’
Soldiers get this conditioning during their training, to kill their enemy. In children, this conditioning is being given by the society and the game makers in the form of virtual war zones and aliens-about-to- finish-the-earth encounters.
Lt Col Grossman says that a soldier in combat is trapped in a Catch-22 situation. “If he overcomes his resistance to killing and kills an enemy soldier in close combat, he will be forever burdened with blood guilt, and if he elects not to kill, then the blood guilt of his fallen comrades and the shame of his profession, nation and cause lie upon him. He is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.” But this trauma is reduced in a scenario of grenade or bomb attack where the victim is not visible in eye contact. Just as in a video game, the player does not see identify the opponent eye to eye. Feeling responsible for the act of killing in a distant combat and actual killing in personal confrontation are different experiences altogether.
So what is the answer to the growing cult of violence, not just in distant war zones and borders but in the homes, within societies? The book, though largely contextualised in America, searches for general answers that should be applicable to all the societies world over. ‘Resensitising’ is one of the answers. To sensitise and resensitise the minds about the facets of violence. The very nature of violence to turn inward and destroy the perpetrator. For after all, all wars are fought in the mind as well as body. It is in the mind that resensitisation is necessary.
A wonderful book that takes one through the trauma of war and violence in a soldier’s life. The cost it demands not just from him but from the society of which he is a part. The civil society is largely immune from the war scene, except when the laurels are showered. But its time to think of the costs of it.
(Hachette Book Publishing India Pvt Ltd, 612/614(6th floor) Time Tower, MG Road, Sector-28, Gurgaon-122 001)