Friday, October 28, 2005

Killing 101


Part One

They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster,
So the monster will not break you.

But it’s already gone too far.
Who said that if you go in hard
You won’t get hurt?
~ U-2, “Peace on Earth”

“Never underestimate the power to obey.”
~ Sigmund Freud

In his book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman presents us with “…the specific nature of the act of killing: the intimacy and psychological impact of the act, the stages of the act, the social and psychological implications and repercussions of the act, and the resultant disorders…,” (Grossman, p. xiv). This is a scholarly work of research based on historical evidence gathered from wars across the centuries: from the conflicts of ancient Greece to the first Gulf War. One of the conclusions Grossman reaches based on his extensive research is that human beings have an innate aversion to killing each other.

Of course this doesn’t mean we can’t; we do. It means we have to use some psychological tools in order to overcome an inborn obstacle that prevents us from wanting to take another life, even when our own lives are threatened. As I have been discussing post-abortion trauma so far, I have been making comparisons to trauma that results from environmental threats like tigers in the jungle and motor vehicle accidents. But there was something missing. Something about the fear and trauma that surrounds abortion is quite different from the fear generated by an environmental threat. I found what was missing in Grossman’s book. I found it in the testimony of soldiers who killed not because they wanted to, but because they had to, in spite of the profound and lifelong harm it did to them personally.

So how do we overcome this aversion to killing when killing is the desirable outcome? Lt. Col. Grossman discusses some of the psychological and social factors that come into play. Our military is fully aware of them, and they have designed their training techniques accordingly, because war demands that the individuals on one side successfully kill the individuals on the other side. Later, we will discover the same tactics used in the war against the unborn child.


“What the soldier knows as a result of war is that ‘the dead remain dead, the maimed are forever maimed, and there is no way to deny one’s responsibility or culpability, for those mistakes are written, forever and as if in fire, in others’ flesh,’” (Grossman, p. 91).

But deny we do, or at least, we try: “The burden of killing is so great that most men try not to admit that they have killed…Even the language of men at war is full of denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most soldiers do not ‘kill,’ instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up,” (Grossman, p. 92). We do not "kill" unborn children. We terminate pregnancies. We exercise reproductive freedom. We make a choice. We plan parenthood. Soldiers use epithets to describe the enemy; we call the unborn child anything but that, to keep from thinking about his or her humanity.

Physical Distance

“Later I walked over to take another look at the VC I had shot. He was still alive and looking at me with those eyes. The flies were beginning to get all over him. I put a blanket over him and rubbed water from my canteen onto his lips. That hard stare started to leave his eyes. He wanted to talk but was too far gone. I lit a cigarette, took a few puffs, then put it to his lips. He could barely puff. We each had had a few drags and that hard look had left his eyes before he died,” (Grossman, p. 117).

“In my curiosity, I went over to the sink to see what they were looking at. There were all the reassembled parts of my baby: arms, legs, torso and what must have been the head. They were tiny and perfect. In that instant I felt an incredible horror. This was my baby! Torn apart, in bloody pieces. The terror and agony of that moment is etched deeply into my soul,” (Burke, p. 112).

Physical proximity to human death, especially death that we cause, increases the severity of trauma because it shatters denial. The closer the combatant to his victim, according to Grossman, the more reluctant he is to kill his enemy. Grossman describes several instances in which lone soldiers from each side of a conflict have passed each other by in unspoken truce, precisely because both were reluctant to engage in a hand-to-hand battle to the death. Outside of the influences of authority and their peers, individual men acted in accordance with their individual natures.


“The second terrorist began to wave his arms frantically up and down, like a featherless black bird attempting to take flight. His eyes kept flitting back and forth between the muzzle of the Sterling and his own weapon, which was leaning against the wall a good ten feet away….”

‘Don’t do it, don’t do it,’ I ordered. But he emitted a loud ‘Yaa…,’ and scrambled for the rifle. I warned him again but he grabbed his weapon, worked the action to place a round in the chamber, and began to swing the muzzle toward me.’

‘KILL HIM, G*DDAMMIT,’ screamed Cpl Edgerton, who had now entered the church behind us, ‘KILL HIM, NOW!’ (Grossman, p. 219).

“The night I told him I was pregnant, he destroyed our apartment. He was screaming at me, telling me I was a whore, slut, pig, you name it. He told me that the kid would be retarded, abnormal, and to get rid of it. NOW!” (Burke, p. 227).

Soldiers must obey orders, and training assures that they will. One reason for the drill sergeant in boot camp to scream into the faces of young recruits is to hardwire them into obeying orders screamed in the heat of combat, without hesitation.

Feminism paints a picture of the strong, independent and liberated woman exercising civil rights over her own body. Perhaps this is why it seems hard to accept that we can so easily submit to the authority of others; that these others are often men; and that this is why we kill our children. So we disguise the language surrounding abortion to give ourselves the illusion of self-determination.

But actual statistics paint a different picture, and this woman is not strong or acting independently. She is victimized: “…research indicates that being pregnant places women at higher risk of being physically attacked….According to one study of battered women, the target of battery during their pregnancies shifted from their faces and breasts to their pregnant abdomens…,” (Burke, pp. 227-228). As noted in this blog before, homicide is the leading cause of death in pregnant women. Threatened with physical violence and/or death by an authority figure in our lives, we easily submit to their commands in a form of self-defense. But aggressive coercion is not at all necessary to elicit perfect obedience to the command to kill.

Grossman reviews the well-documented results of a study done by Dr. Stanley Milgram at Yale University on obedience and aggression: “…in a controlled laboratory environment more than 65 percent of his subjects could be readily manipulated into inflicting a (seemingly) lethal electrical charge on a total stranger,” (Grossman, p. 141). Listen to the response elicited in one subject:

“I observed a mature and initially poised businessman enter the laboratory smiling and confident. Within 20 minutes he was reduced to a twitching, stuttering wreck, who was rapidly approaching a point of nervous collapse…At one point he pushed his fist into his forehead and muttered: ‘Oh God, let’s stop it.’ And yet he continued to respond to every word of the experimenter and obeyed to the end,” (Grossman, p. 142).

Parents, boyfriends, husbands, teachers, doctors, nurses, abortion clinic counselors: all of these are examples of authority figures in the life of a pregnant girl or woman. Any one, all, or portion thereof has the power of persuasion to command her to kill her child as easily as Milgram’s experimenters persuaded otherwise civilized people to “kill” complete strangers. They can have the characteristics Grossman describes as necessary for an authority figure to elicit obedience: proximity to the subject; the subject’s respect; an intensity in their demand for the killing behavior; and legitimacy to make such demands (Grossman, pp. 144-145).

Group Absolution and Anonymity

“Among men who are bonded so together so intensely [in combat], there is a powerful process of peer pressure in which the individual cares so deeply about his comrades and what they think about him that he would rather die than let them down,” (Grossman, p. 150).

“In his article, McGee also admits to using teenagers (called 'peer educators') to advance Planned Parenthood's pro-abortion agenda, saying they're more effective in convincing other teens than adults at the abortion business.Peer educators 'are an ideal constituency to engage in our social marketing effort,' McGee declared. 'Activist teens can create a buzz about the campaign by a variety of means--regardless of whether the activities are branded or identified as Planned Parenthood.'” HT: The S.I.C.L.E. Cell

The diffusion of responsibility in a group helps us to overcome our innate resistance to killing. We have all seen mob behavior. The group will do what the individuals who compose it will not do alone. There is also anonymity in the crowd, and at the abortion clinic. In fact, privacy and anonymity are what abortion is all about. But secrecy becomes a shroud for atrocity. As an example, Grossman describes the evolution of the private bedroom in society’s housing and the concurrent increase in child sexual abuse as a crime of opportunity (Grossman, p. xxv).

Emotional Distance

“I had my forty-five in my hand,” he said, “and the point of his bayonet was no further than you are from me when I shot him. After everything had settled down I helped search his body, you know, for intelligence purposes, and I found a photograph.”

Then there was this long pause, and he continued. “It was a picture of his wife, and these two beautiful children. Ever since” – and here tears began to roll down his cheeks, although his voice remained firm and steady – “I’ve been haunted by the thought of these two beautiful children growing up without their father, because I murdered their daddy. I’m not a young man anymore, and soon I’ll have to answer to my Maker for what I have done.” (Grossman, p. 157).

“I remember taking my dog to the veterinarian. I got her when she was a puppy and I was really attached to her…the vet recommended I have her put to sleep because she was suffering so much…I told the vet that I had a hard time allowing something to be killed. As I spoke these words, the memory of my abortion came back like an overpowering nausea…When she was gone, I missed [my dog], but even more I missed my baby,” (Burke, 93).

Grossman reports that victims of kidnapping are most likely to be killed by their captors if they are kept hooded. There is a good reason for this, and it has to do with emotional distance. It seems that the more we identify with our victims, the more psychologically damaging it is to kill them. Hiding the captive’s face allows the kidnappers to keep their distance from the victim emotionally, as a fellow human being. This is also why those condemned to die by execution are often hooded; we understand that it is much harder to kill someone when we must look him in the eye as he dies.

Very often women who have not previously experienced any grief or guilt over the abortion(s) in their pasts will be overwhelmed with these emotions when they become pregnant with a child who will be allowed to live. We find it difficult to create emotional bonds with our “wanted” children without identifying them with the children we have aborted, and this will create “cracks in the veil of denial,” (Grossman, p. 156). We will suffer from grief and remorse when we can no longer keep our emotional distance.

Calling the unborn by any other name than human is used to create distance between us and the unborn. Identifying the pre-born child as “potential” or otherwise inferior to the living enables us to dehumanize him/her, and overcomes what should be a powerfully innate aversion to destroying our own young.


In Part Two, we will look at the techniques adapted by the military to train soldiers to overcome the innate resistance to killing another human being, even in the face of death. We may find that we women are being trained to abort just as surely as Pavlov's dogs were trained to slobber hungrily at the sound of a bell. We will examine the psychology of atrocity because we have to. We are discussing abortion here, and the victim in this kind of killing is an innocent bystander - collateral damage. The threat of unwanted pregnancy always stems from some outside, and usually human, influence, but it is the most vulnerable life, the target who is most easily overcome, who pays the price for our submission.


At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Susan G said...

This is excellent Julie. Thank you so much for this research. You truly are an Indiana Jones -- wading through all sorts of obsticles, pains and trials -- in search of the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail being the illumination of the minds of those in this culture of death -- restoring it to a culture of life. May God continue to bless you on this mission He has given you. I look forward to part two.

At 5:50 AM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

Susan, thank you! And thank God, we are all exploring this cave together, or I'd be lost.


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