Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Conditioned to Kill

But for the infantry, the problem of persuading soldiers to kill is now a major one…That an infantry company in World War II could wreak havoc with only about one seventh of the soldiers willing to use their weapons is a testimony to the lethal effects of modern firepower, but once armies realized what was actually going on, they at once set about to raise the average.

Soldiers had to be taught, very specifically, to kill. “We are reluctant to admit that essentially war is the business of killing,” Marshall wrote in 1947, but it is readily enough admitted now.

~ Gwynne Dyer, in “War,” as reprinted by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in “On Killing: The Psychological Consequences of Learning to Kill in War and Society”

We have produced an unusual dilemma. A procedure is rapidly becoming recognized as the procedure of choice in late abortion, but those capable of performing or assisting with the procedure are having strong personal reservations about participating in an operation which they view as destructive and violent…No one who has not performed this procedure can know what it is like or what it means; but having performed it, we are bewildered by the possibilities of interpretation. We have reached a point in this particular technology where there is no possibility of denial of an act of destruction by the operator. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current…The more we seem to solve the problem, the more intractable it becomes.

~ Warren Hern, abortion specialist, as reprinted by Dr. Rachel MacNair in “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing”

As I conducted interviews for this study in a VFW hall in Florida in the summer of 1989, a Vietnam vet named Roger started talking about his experiences over a beer. It was still early in the afternoon, but down the bar an older woman already began to attack him. “You got no right to snivel about your little pish-ant war. World War Two was a real war. Were you even alive then? Huh? I lost a brother in World War Two.”

We tried to ignore her; she was only a local character. But finally Roger had had enough. He looked at her and calmly, coldly, said, “Have you ever had to kill anyone?”

~ Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, “On Killing”

As we’ve been discussing, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman reports on an innate aversion to killing another human being as it has been evidenced throughout the history of warfare. In World War Two, researchers discovered that “…75 to 80 percent of riflemen did not fire their weapons at an exposed enemy, even to save their lives and the lives of their friends,” (Grossman, p. 250). Equating this low firing rate among soldiers to having “a literacy rate of 15 to 20 percent among proofreaders,” (Grossman, p. 251), the military set about correcting the problem. Firing rates improved during the Korean conflict, and by the time we were sending soldiers into Vietnam, the military had achieved a firing rate of 95 percent. They did this by incorporating psychological methodology into training techniques: desensitization, conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms. We see the same techniques used in individuals and in our society to overcome our innate aversion to killing our unborn children.


The Vietnam era was, of course then at its peak, you know, the kill thing. We’d run PT in the morning, and every time your left foot hit the deck you’d have to chant “kill, kill, kill, kill.” It was drilled into your mind so much that it seemed like when it actually came down to it, it didn’t bother you, you know? Of course the first one always does, but it seems to get easier – not easier, because it still bothers you with every one that, you know, that you actually kill and you know you’ve killed.”

~ USMC sergeant and Vietnam veteran, 1982 (Grossman, p. 251)

“There are weary, grim moments when I think I cannot bear another basin of bloody remains, utter another kind phrase of reassurance…I prepare myself for another basin, another brief and chafing loss. “How can you stand it?” Even the clients ask…I watch a woman’s swollen abdomen sink to softness in a few stuttering moments and my own belly flip-flops with sorrow…It is a sweet brutality we practice here, a stark and loving dispassion.”

~ Sallie Tisdale, abortion clinic nurse (MacNair, p. 73)

“We used medications to try to stop the labor of women in premature labor so that the pregnancy could progress to term. Sometimes, the aborted babies were bigger than the premature ones we took to the nursery. It was at this point that I began to have nightmares…”

~ McArthur Hill, former abortion provider (MacNair, p. 75)

Grossman refers to the process of desensitizing soldiers to the act of killing as “thinking the unthinkable,” (Grossman, p. 251). In addition to reinforcing the idea that the enemy is not human, desensitizing measures included more realistic combat training conditions, such as targets shaped like human beings, some of which were loaded with red-paint-filled milk jugs to make the kill shots more realistic. Killing another human being is drilled into soldiers as target practice, so they will not stop to consider the humanity of their victims, or even consider them human in the first place. Note in the above testimony that the nightmares started for Dr. Hill when his denial was shattered.


Desensitizing is thinking the unthinkable; Grossman calls conditioning “doing” the unthinkable. Conditioning is a term used in psychology to denote learning. According to Grossman, in order to overcome the soldier’s resistance to killing, “every aspect of killing on the battlefield is rehearsed, visualized, and conditioned,” (Grossman, p. 254), so that firing in combat becomes a reflexive action, done without thought. In describing the acute and chronic stress responses, we discussed the amygdala, an area of the brain wherein we process sensory input for emotional content and meaning during times of trauma. It is also that area of the brain where we store certain learned skills: riding a bicycle; playing a musical instrument; and in well-conditioned soldiers, firing upon another human being designated as the “enemy.” We recall that during times of acute trauma, we turn to that knowledge in our brains that is most easily accessible, and we often find that which has been well-rehearsed and stored in the amygdala. It is the entire purpose of fire drills and other rehearsals done by emergency responders. In the attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Center, many who survived the bombing nearly a decade earlier were saved that day, and saved others, because they had been through it before.

Here is how one military sniper trainer designed his training methods to make practicing the kill as realistic as possible: “I changed the standard firing targets to full-size, anatomically correct figures because no [enemy soldier] runs around with a big white square on his chest with numbers on it. I put clothes on these targets and polyurethane heads. I cut up a cabbage and poured catsup into it and put back together. I said, ‘When you look through that scope, I want you to see a head blowing up,’” (Grossman, p. 255).

The abortion industry does not, so far as I know, use images of infants to train women and girls to abort. The pro-life movement uses these graphic images in an effort to shatter denial and dissuade women from aborting, but runs the risk of desensitizing us to this violence when it does. However, combining reproductive health services to women in the same clinic where one performs abortions can easily be seen as a kind of rehearsal. Get women used to coming to the clinic for health care, and abortion slides right in, almost unnoticed, as just another aspect of same, even though a.) in most cases, there is no abnormal health problem that needs treatment (pregnancy is normal) and b.) there is certainly very little care.

Pro-abortion and pro-choice groups, do, however, use language to disguise the humanity of the aborted child: “pregnancy tissue,” “fetal tissue,” and other similar euphemisms are used to describe the human remains that are chemically expelled or surgically removed. Some women have reported seeing, and abortion clinic workers testify to the practice, particularly in surgical abortions, of making sure the unborn infant is reconstructed. This is done to ensure the child has been entirely removed from the woman’s body. When this fails, we don’t hear the words that describe the true nature of the infection – it is simply referred to as such, and we don’t hear the biological reality that the woman’s uterus is infected with decomposing human remains. That would give us pause; so we don’t think of it; but it is true. This leads us to the defense mechanism of denial, without which no one would abort.

Denial Defense Mechanisms

Denial defense mechanisms are “unconscious methods for dealing with traumatic experiences,” (Grossman, p. 255).

“Basically, the soldier has rehearsed the process so many times that when he does kill in combat he is able to, at one level, deny to himself that he is actually killing another human being,” (Grossman, p. 255). He describes the process of “manufactured contempt,” which is :…a combination of the denial of, and contempt for, the victim’s role in society (desensitization), along with the psychological denial of, and contempt for, the victim’s humanity (developing a denial defense mechanism)…”, (Grossman, p. 256).

“[I]f you really dwell on it, and talk about it all the time, then it gets more personal. It gets more real to you. You just don’t talk about it, try not to think about it…If Dr. Tucker ever caught you discussing something like that – is this right what we’re doing? – he’d fire you. When I was active in the abortion clinics, I don’t know that any of us had any feelings about anything. We didn’t really have a lot of feelings about the women, about the moral issues,”

~ Joy Davis, abortion clinic worker (MacNair, p. 77).

“The one thing that sticks out in my mind the most, that really upset me the most, was that he had done an abortion, he had a fetus wrapped inside of a blue paper. He stuck it inside of a surgical glove and put another glove over it. He was standing in the hall, speaking with myself and two of his assistants. He was tossing the fetus up in the air, and catching it. Like it was a rubber ball. I just looked at him, and it’s like, doctor, please. And he laughed. He says, “No one knows what this is.”

~ Louisiana abortion clinic worker (MacNair, p. 77)

Each and every abortion is in and of itself an act of psychological and maladaptive denial. We are saying, “I am not a mother,” or “I am not a father,” when that is not a biological reality. But denial speaks for itself:

“It took time for it to sink in for me that although I wanted to have kids with Austin, having them at that point would be dooming us all--both the two of us and whatever children came out of it. We weren't stable in any sense of the word, and to have a child would pretty much guarantee that we never would be. I wanted to be a mom, but I wanted to be a better mother than that.

It had been a few weeks since my last change of heart, and Austin had been trying hard to be supportive even though he didn't want us to have kids. When I told him I wanted the abortion, he broke down crying. He was terrified that I'd change my mind again. I called Planned Parenthood the next morning and scheduled an appointment for the following week.

I suppose the details of the actual procedure are pretty much the same for everybody--a lot of "Ow, ow, ow, SERIOUSLY OW," and that's what it was for me. Austin held my hand throughout and looked ready to cry. Afterwards in the recovery room, he held me tight (and ate my crackers) and told me he would make sure I never had to go through anything like that again.

So, what to say about afterwards, other than "I'm not sorry"? I had some rotten mood swings during the next few weeks, but I evened out. I got a job that February, which I still have. Austin and I are still together, and much closer for all that happened--if either of us were at all interested in marriage, we'd probably be engaged by now.

I've encountered a few morons who call me a slut and a baby killer--but they were safely on the other side of a computer connection, where they don't have to look you in the eye to say that kind of thing to you. It used to piss me off, but eventually you get used to it and it just seems laughable and pathetic. Of course, if you don't get upset by being called a baby murderer, then they think you must be REALLY evil ... so I would say that you can't win no matter what you do, but I'm four days away from what was supposed to be my due date. Considering that I am nowhere near giving birth, I would definitely say that I won.”

~ Melissa, http://www.imnotsorry.net/melissaC.htm

I included Melissa’s last paragraph purposefully: in case someone thinks we are not at war against our children with abortion, read Melissa’s last line.

Dissociation, as we discussed, creates an unhealthy schism within the psyche. As I mentioned, abortion is intrinsically an act of denial requiring us to dissociate from parental or nurturing emotions: saying, “I will not be a parent,” when in biological fact, one already is the parent of an unborn child. In mother’s case, her body has already changed by the time she discovers she is pregnant. No one submits to or refers another to abortion without this singular and requisite act of denial.

Denying our emotions, or dissociating from them, can lead to somatic expression of these emotions through chronic pain and illness. All emotions have an adaptive and natural purpose. Guilt is one such emotion – it occurs naturally, so there must be an adaptive purpose to it. It can be a social emotion that helps us conform to what our fellow humans expect of us, but it must also be an individual one, since we are wired to feel guilt when we take a human life – this is the innnate and aversive quality of killing that Grossman identifies. It is not imposed by society, or soldiers, police officers, and abortionists would feel none, since they are sanctioned to kill. Yet we recognize that they do feel guilt, and that this is one complicating factor in PTSD, since it is unrealized guilt that haunts their nightmares.

“I have fetus dreams, we all do here: dreams of abortions one after the other; of buckets of blood splashed on the walls; trees full of crawling fetuses,” (MacNair, p. 76).

Dr. MacNair finds that “negative emotions” as a whole occur more frequently in abortion clinic workers than in other medical fields; and that “…those who have contact with the fetal remains have more negative feelings than those who do not, as would be expected if abortion practice leads to PTSD symptomatology,” (MacNair, p. 79). We would expect this; the fetal face takes on recognizably human characteristics very early in development, and we know that proximity to one’s victim shatters our ability to deny his or her humanity. Scientists have noted that fetal development prioritizes: the lungs, which are needed last, do not fully develop until the third trimester. Of what purpose are facial features in an eight-week old fetus, if not to tell whoever may have the opportunity to view them that what they are seeing is human, and therefore, one of us?

Guilt is a charged emotion: it spurs us to act, usually to confession and atonement. When one denies or represses a naturally-occurring emotion that is urging a response, like anger, fear, or guilt, neuropsychological energy builds up. This energy must dissipate; in post-traumatic stress disorder, it does so in a pathological way known as kindling. The only way to actively dissipate these charged emotions in a controlled manner is to acknowledge and act on them. This requires us to shatter denial, and in the case of abortion, it requires us to admit to atrocity.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Half a World Away

This could be the saddest dusk
I’ve ever seen.
Turn to a miracle,
High alive.

My mind is racing,
As it always will.
My hands tired,
My heart aches.

I’m half a world away, here.

~ REM, “Half A World Away”

Well, last night I was in a weird mood. Well it wasn't weird it just... I felt like something was crushing my chest (emotionally not physically).

I just, I wanted to hold on to [my boyfriend] for dear life. It didn't matter how close we were, it wasn't close enough. It wasn't tight enough. I fell asleep in his arms. After, I fought for nearly 2 hours to not cry. I did it though. I didn't cry.

I'm becoming stronger. I just… I'm drowning in a sea of unknown emotions.

Nostalgic. That's what I'm feeling. I love [him]. I'm hanging on to him for dear life because I don't want to lose him. I don't want the same thing to happen to us as it did with everyone else.

I just don't know what it is I'm feeling anymore.

~ Anonymous internet journaler, nearly one year after her first abortion

We will continue with our analysis of Lt. Col. David Grossman’s book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, probably finishing in the next segment in which I hope we will discuss conditioned learning: how it is used in the military to help men and women overcome our innate aversion to killing another member of our own species; and how it is used in society to do the same by abortion. Before we do that, however, we will finally discuss dissociation as it is described in The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook by Glenn R. Schiraldi, Ph.D.

Some housekeeping issues: first, regarding the references I am using, I encourage you to read these books if you find this subject matter interesting. There is so much material that I am unable to cover here, and if I tried, it would be unfair to the authors who worked very hard on their compilations. Please ask for them at your local libraries, or purchase copies at your favorite bookseller. For complete bibliographical information, I’ve included links at the sidebar to aid you, or you can email me at abortionhurts@aol.com.

Secondly, in these chapters in which I am comparing the killing done in combat by soldiers to the killing of aborted children, I want to be clear that I am not comparing women who abort to soldiers doing their duty. We are examining the psychological consequences of killing, and we can find similarities between the two groups because both can and do suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. There can be honor, and even glory, in what a soldier does in war. I only have to think of the liberation of the death camps after World War II to understand that, or of the courage displayed by a group of soldiers described by Lt. Col Grossman who collectively, but without prior planning or discussion, refused to fire directly upon a boat full of civilians in an atrocious act of terrorism. They “conscientiously objected,” as Grossman says, by firing over the top of the watercraft, only realizing they were in accordance with each other’s resistance when no shots could be seen hitting their intended target. Their commander was furious; but the soldiers winked at each other in satisfaction. In Grossman’s research, he found soldiers were particularly eager to discuss the times like these, when they were able to choose not to kill.

In contrast, the soldiers he interviewed were more reluctant to discuss the times they did kill, even when it was justifiable and surrounded with awards and honors. While the psychological consequences of killing can be compared in women who abort to soldiers who kill in combat, since both are sanctioned, there is no honor or glory in aborting an unborn child who is guilty of nothing but existence. This is why we specifically discussed the psychology of atrocity in our last chapter. We can also compare the reluctance of soldiers to discuss specific acts of killing to the documented reluctance of women to disclose information about their abortions: nearly 50% of all women who abort will never tell a single person they have done so, not even their physicians (HT: After Abortion).


“A psychological defense mechanism in which specific, anxiety-provoking thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations are separated from the rest of the psyche.”

Like all psychological tools, dissociation has a proper function in normal life. Daydreaming, for example, is a form of dissociation. Daydreams that do not interfere with our ability to function are not bad; in fact, they can often result in creative ideas and pass the time during boring business meetings. It is when dissociation is used dysfunctionally, as when we try to escape or deny the pain of trauma that it becomes a problem. Post-traumatic stress disorder is generally considered an anxiety disorder; however, it also has dissociative properties.

The definition given above is nice and technical, but what does it mean to us in real life? How do we know if we are dissociating from our own memories and experiences? Dr. Glenn Schiraldi lists the following helpful indications that a person is dissociating, (Schiraldi, p. 24):

Body becomes stiff or still

Miss[es] conversation

Person is slow to respond to others

Derealization (people or world don’t seem real; feel like a stranger in a familiar place; don’t recognize yourself in a mirror; world seems like a dream, veiled, like you’re not really there)

Things seem to move in slow motion or fast forward

Feels like one is watching things from outside his/her body

Emotions become flat, numb; no feelings

Life split before and after (I’m a different person since the trauma)

Not feeling expected pain

Twitching or grimacing

Out of touch with surroundings

Clouding of alertness; foggy feeling…

Drifts off, goes away, spaces out…blanks out, loses track of what’s happening

Unusual, inexplicable behavior…

Downward stare

Attempts to remain grounded in the present (stroking side of chair, tapping, jiggling leg)

Eyes darting anxiously from side to side, or rolling upward

Self-soothing (rocking back and forth)

Eyes blink rapidly or flutter

Things look or sound different; colors are faded or brighter, tunnel vision, “wide-angle view,” sounds are louder or more muffled than expected, things seem far away or unclear/fogged

Far away or dazed look

Tunes out

Not involved in present

Feels like an observer of the present situation, rather than a participant


Memory lapses

Fantasies, excessive daydreaming

Overactivity or withdrawal

Being on autopilot…feeling like a robot

Falling asleep


It is interesting to note that these same symptoms are associated with fibromyalgia; the memory and cognitive impairment is known as fibrofog or brain fatigue. It is found in an estimated twenty percent of fibromyalgia patients, in addition to dizziness, clumsiness and dropping things (which indicates distraction), visual changes and eye pain (Wallace, All About Fibromyalgia, p. 62).

You may remember that Dr. Scaer, in The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease, compares dissociation in humans to the freeze response found in animals. Dr. Schiraldi does the same:

“Have you ever seen an antelope clamped in a lion’s jaws? It seems to stop struggling as its consciousness shifts. Where does its consciousness go? There seems to be an innate mechanism – called dissociation – that allows mammals to temporarily escape distressing experiences. Thus, we can mentally escape a present distressing experience, as the antelope did, by mentally ‘going away.’ Or, we can temporarily escape a traumatic memory by separating and walling off the memory,” (Schiraldi, p. 14).

The problem created in the brain by dissociation is the lack of integration, or the fracturing of the psyche. “Scientists have learned that under normal conditions various parts of the brain are activated to process memories in an organized way,” (Schiraldi, p. 15). The dissociated brain is an unorganized, disordered, brain. The brain runs on electrical signals; disorder in an electrical system can be expressed by surges of electrical activity, aka kindling.

Schiraldi explains why walling off dissociated memories creates disorder:

1. The walled-off material is highly unstable. “The parts of the brain that would normally file traumatic memories in long-term storage were overwhelmed during the trauma. So traumatic memories remain in the forefront of awareness, easily triggered by reminders of the trauma,” (Schiraldi, p. 16).

2. The wall is highly permeable. A lot of energy is expended trying to maintain the wall, but it is like a leaky dam, (ibid).

3. The dissociated memory is highly emotional and mostly non-verbal, (ibid). We discussed why these memories are difficult to verbalize before. They are stored in the amygdala of the brain. Because they have not been integrated, they cannot form part of our narrative, or declarative memory.

4. Traumatic material is not only walled off from associated adaptive material, but the traumatic memory itself might be fragmented into various aspects, (ibid). Schiraldi gives an excellent example of this in a woman who became uneasy and sick to her stomach while at dinner with friends; she didn’t realize at the time that a man at her table was wearing the same cologne as the man who had raped her, (Schiraldi, p. 17).

Our dissociated memories will trigger in response to environmental cues, usually those which would otherwise seem harmless. When we discuss conditioning, we will see this demonstrated in Pavlov’s dogs, who started associating the sound of a bell with food, which elicited the uncontrolled response of salivation to an otherwise neutral stimulus. The circumstances in our environments during a traumatic period are fractured memories, mostly sensory, with no place to go because they have been separated. Like an endless loop in a bad software program, they run over and over again. This requires brain energy; it distracts us from ordinary thinking, which results in confusion and anxiety, much the same way a looped program will use up the resources of a computer’s hard drive.

This resulting anxiety and the chronically stressed response can lead to debilitating, sometimes disabling illnesses that involve chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia; chronic fatigue syndrome; reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD; and mysofascial pain syndrome. Chronic stress has also been linked to potentially disabling and fatal illnesses: autoimmune disorders such as lupus and multiple sclerosis; heart disease and high cholesterol; some cancers; and diabetes.

Outside of these potential illnesses which result from chronic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder alone can be disabling in the extreme. Grossman describes the nature of psychiatric casualties in war, which creates some of these most extreme reactions because it is on the extreme end of the spectrum in creating trauma. These are some of the neuropsychological symptoms that he reports:

1. Fatigue, which includes “…such somatic symptoms as hypersensitivity to sound, increased sweating, and palpitations,” (Grossman, p. 45).

2. Confusional states, whose “…symptoms include delirium, psychotic dissociation, and manic-depressive mood swings. One often noted response is Ganzer syndrome, in which the soldier will begin to make jokes, act silly, and otherwise try to ward off the horror with humor and the ridiculous,” (ibid).

3. Conversion hysteria, which can occur during the trauma, or post-traumatically, years later. It “…can manifest itself as an inability to know where one is or to function at all,” (Grossman, p. 46), and include amnesia and convulsive attacks. “…during both world wars cases of contractive paralysis of the arm were quite common, and usually the arm used to pull the trigger was the one that became paralyzed…Whatever the physical manifestation, it is always the mind that produces the symptoms, in order to escape or avoid the horror of combat,” (Grossman, p. 47).

4. Anxiety states, “…characterized by feelings of weariness and tenseness that cannot be relieved by sleep or rest, degenerating into an inability to concentrate,” (ibid).

5. Obsessional and compulsive states, including “…tremors, palpitations, stammers, tics and so on…,” (ibid).

6. Character disorders, “…paranoid trends accompanied by irascibility, depression, and anxiety, often taking on the tone of threats to his safety; schizoid trends leading to hypersensitivity and isolation; epileptoid character reactions accompanied by periodic rages; the development of extreme dramatic religiosity; and final degeneration into a psychotic personality,” (Grossman, p. 48).

Can we find these neuropsychological symptoms in women who have aborted their children? In Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, by Dr. Theresa Burke, this woman is described as being “chronically dissociated,” from the trauma of abortion (Burke, p. 131):

“After two abortions, I felt very alone, depressed and confused. I never knew what was wrong with me. I would cry and cry. I would cut myself or burn myself on the oven racks. I would punch and bruise myself. I was out of control, and when anyone would ask me, “What’s wrong?” I honestly answered, “I don’t know.” I felt as if I were going insane. Who cries all the time and hurts themselves without knowing why? I was always feeling numb during the times that I would hurt myself. It was like the pain would help wake me up. I hated myself. Years of counseling did not help; anti-depressants did not help; nothing seemed to help. It was all kept pretty much a secret. Only a select few knew of my extreme depression or my abortions.”

With the exception of the number of abortions, I could have written this testimony myself. I chose a cigarette for burning instead of oven racks, but that was probably just a lack of imagination on my part. At that time in my life, I would not have turned away any tool with which I could inflict self-abuse.

Dr. Burke describes the following physiological symptoms of psychological trauma that women who have had abortions report experiencing: nausea, painful abdominal cramps, upset stomachs, pelvic pain, vaginal numbness, heart palpitations, sweating, or shortness of breath (Burke, pp. 131-132). Often these physical symptoms came in response to environmental triggers that, had they not been associated with the trauma of abortion, would have been normal. One woman was given orange juice in the recovery room after her abortion; she can no longer look at it without feeling nausea. In the same way that Pavlov’s dogs learned to associate the sound of a bell with food, she has associated the smell of orange juice with dissociated traumatic memories. Her nervous system responds to this stressor, and her digestive system rebels in response. The body will remember what the mind wants to forget.

“I began to feel nausea and cramping abdominal pressure whenever I would enter the place where I worked. It was so uncomfortable, I often thought I would faint. Each time I returned to this office, I had the same reaction as I passed through the entrance where there was hung a poster on fetal development,” (Burke, p. 132).

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Killing 101 - Part Two - Atrocity


I take a walk outside,
I’m surrounded by some kids at play.
I can’t feel their laughter,
So why do I stare?

Twisted thoughts that spin
Round my head (I’m spinnin’).
How quick the sun can drop away.

~ Pearl Jam, “Black”

“Shoot that old woman, Hall,” I yelled, but Hall [the chopper gunner] who had been busy on his own side of the chopper had not seen her before and looked at me as if I had gone crazy, so we passed her without firing and I zigzagged around the paddies, dodging sniper fire, while I filled Hall in.

“She has a 360 degree view over the trees around the villages, Hall,” I yelled. “The machine gunners are watching her and when she sees Hueys coming, she faces them and they concentrate their fire over the spot. That’s why so many are down around here – she’s a g*damned weathervane for them. Shoot her!”

Hall gave me a thumbs up and I turned to make another pass, but Jerry and Paul [in another helicopter] had caught on to her also and had put her down. For some reason, as I again passed our burning Hueys, I could not feel anything but relief at the old woman’s death.

~ D. Bray, “Prowling for POWs”

At the end of last week, I anticipated we would delve into dissociation in more detail in this next article. But I should know better than to try to plot our course, since I am not in charge of this expedition. We go where we are led. So today we will go straight to the psychology of atrocity as Lt. Col. Grossman explains it in his work, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.

According to Grossman, “in order to kill at close range one must deny the humanity of one’s enemy,” (Grossman, p. 199). Denial, discussed in Killing 101: Part One, is one of several psychological tools used to overcome our innate resistance to killing a member of our own species. Distance, or range to target, is another of these factors. At the furthest end of the spectrum, there is aerial bombing (or abortion referral). According to Grossman, at the other end, the closest and most difficult range at which to kill is sexual range, (Grossman, pp. 134-137). There is an even closer kill, one that also includes sexual overtones, if one is a woman and able to carry another human life within one’s own body.

But women who abort are not soldiers in war, who are not only sanctioned to kill, but whose occupation exists almost solely for that purpose. In most cases, the killing done by soldiers is justifiable. Grossman tells us it is very important to a soldier, personally and psychologically, that his killing be justified: “the basic aim of a nation at war is establishing an image of the enemy in order to distinguish as sharply as possible the act of killing from the act of murder,” (Grossman, p. 193). He defines atrocity in war as the act of killing someone who is a non-combatant. When we abort our children because of conflict in our lives, we are either killing a non-combatant, or we are making enemies of our own offspring. If we are killing a non-combatant, we are committing an atrocity. Whether one believes that abortion takes a sentient or viable human life simply doesn’t matter. We object to violence portrayed in video games and the media, where killing is not real, because we recognize that even killing a human being in psychological concept is damaging. Women conceptualize their children when they learn they are pregnant, or they wouldn’t seek abortions.

This reluctance to kill is high even when we are under direct attack. It is increased manifold when the victim does not seem to be an appropriate target, like non-combatant women and children: “…the higher the resistance bypassed, the higher the trauma that must be overcome in the subsequent rationalization process,” (Grossman, p. 191). As an example, he reports that Vietnamese children were at times armed with hand grenades against U.S. soldiers purposefully, to cause intense psychological damage in those men who would be forced to shoot the children or see their fellow soldiers, and themselves, blown to bits. These occurrences were broadcast by “…beautiful young movie stars [who] led the chant of a nation that echoed through the veteran’s soul: ‘Baby killers… murderers… butchers…,’” (Grossman, p. 288). The baby killer epithet seems to hurt them the most, particularly since the vast majority did not earn it. These same movie stars (not so young anymore, not shining quite so bright) wear the label themselves today and don’t see the irony.

Another of the psychological tools we use to rationalize, or justify the decision to kill is group absolution. To commit an atrocity, which is at the most difficult end of the spectrum of combat killing, if he is psychologically normal, a soldier’s psyche must be shattered. Then the broken pieces must be held together by those in his group who sanctioned the act:

“The process of bonding men by forcing them to commit an atrocity requires a foundation for legitimacy for it to continue for any length of time. The authority of a state … a state religion… a heritage of barbarism and cruelty that diminishes the value of individual human life… are all examples of varying forms of ‘legitimizing’ factors that, singly or combined, can ensure the continuing commission of atrocities,” (Grossman, p. 214).

The absence of this social approval is one factor that Grossman blames for the inordinate number of Vietnam veterans who suffered (and are suffering) from post-traumatic stress disorder – inordinate as it compares to those in other wars. The veterans of prior and subsequent conflicts were not assaulted by the public when they returned home, but were, in most cases, paraded, lauded, and honored. This group absolution did nothing to minimize the horror these veterans experienced in war, since “…killing in combat, by its very nature, causes deep wounds of pain and guilt,” (Grossman, p. 93). But they were supported by societal acceptance and thus better able to resolve their experiences in a way that did not leave them in a continuing state of denial and trauma. “Rejected by the nation that sent them off to war, the veterans [of Vietnam] have been plagued with guilt and resentment which has created an identity crisis unknown to veterans of previous wars,” (Grossman, p. 282).

As this applies to abortion, you might wonder if I’m saying our society should simply approve the act, and all will be well. In the first place, if that were true, there would be no PTSD in veterans of “approved” conflicts, and that is not the case. We have been documenting combat fatigue for centuries. The second answer is even easier: we already did that. Abortion is legal in this nation up to and including the day of birth. I can write here in a public forum that I killed my own child, and I am immune from prosecution. A large segment of our society will tell me I was justified; that it’s perfectly acceptable to deny my child his humanity; and that I had a legal right to have an abortion, nay, a duty not to be an unwed teenage mother. In 1973, our Supreme Court gave us permission to fire at-will, as long as we aim at our unborn children. But we have to remember our innate aversion to killing. Even sanctioned killing wounds us, while killing the innocent with or without justification can break us completely apart. Wounds leave scars. Scar tissue will never have the properties of the healthy tissue it once was; and a shattered psyche will never have the same capabilities, either.