From the Archives: Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman
Our “From the Archives” series offers a detailed look at selected previous podcasts in order to give you a fresh take on the episode as well as some actionable notes.
Order of Man Podcast #82: Dave Grossman. Originally broadcast in October 2016.
Why is this a man you should pay attention to?
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman is a leading authority worldwide on the issues of human aggression and the roots of violence and crime. Not only has he trained and served in the US military himself, but has spent thousands of hours interviewing military and law enforcement personnel who have experienced war and killing. His first book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, was first published in 1996 and came out in a second edition in 2009 after going through millions of copies in worldwide sales, with translations into numerous languages. Rather than sit up an in ivory tower with his findings, the colonel is passionate about sharing an urgent message to our society that fits well within one our three pillars here at OoM: Protect.
The USMC Commandant’s Required Reading List
It’s not enough that Lt. Col. Grossman has one book on the Commandant’s List. His second book, and the one he considers to be his most important, is also on that list: On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace. These two books encapsulate his life’s work, and reflect the unique perspective of an academic with a military background.
Indeed, veterans are normally not very talkative about their combat experience – even to a fellow member of the military, but when he said he was writing a thesis, suddenly they all wanted to talk. Perhaps that’s because, as he says, “interpersonal human violence is a taboo that hasn’t even had its surface scratched at yet.”
“Violent visual entertainment is child abuse,” the colonel insists, “it’s like alcohol or tobacco or sex: those things are for adults in moderation and with proper understanding, but they are not for kids at all.” He went on to cite studies and surveys that indicate the harm done to neural pathways and the psyche of children. “We need to protect our children.” It really gives you a different perspective on that random violent video game or film that we witness when you hear him discuss it. You could tell Ryan was captivated as well, as he spent most of the episode just taking in the colonel’s message.
He pointed out that the Normandy veterans were barely adults, and those that died did so to stop violence from being inflicted upon our society – and now we volunteer to inflict it on ourselves.
The colonel mused on the days in which television shows and movies assumed that the good guys were good and the bad guys were bad. Now we are awash in ambiguity, in which the criminals and cops have had their roles reversed. His own personal policy is to restrict TV/movies/video games from his grandchildren until they are old enough to read.
The Military and Law Enforcement’s Role
Lt. Col. Grossman doesn’t let the military off the hook either. He discusses the development of video simulations, pop-up targets, and human silhouetted-targets as a part of conditioning and reactive response training, acclimatizing our men to kill. This is because killing is not a natural act. Because it is unnatural, and something that we have to do in certain situations, it has to be, in a way, safeguarded. He adds,
“Discipline is the safeguard of the warrior, and also of society, all animated by a submission to authority.”
“The goal is not to sacrifice your life, but to live a life of sacrifice.”
In such a system all things are properly oriented and we see reflected that ancient maxim: “A true warrior prays for peace but trains for war.”
Sheepdogs, Paladins, and Protectors
The colonel has ended many of his public talks by talking about a particular police officer, Christopher Amoroso, who was a first responder who died on 9/11. He notes that in the picture, which the colonel has permission to use, Chris’ face is white. The blood has drained because his body knows it is going back into danger (he had gone into the Towers three times already) and when there is a lack of blood in the face that means your brain is mostly running on instinct/survival mode. There’s no rationality for us when we are in this mode, and indeed, running into a burning building to save people who are not blood relatives is the opposite of a rational act. The only time we see this in nature is in sheepdogs.
More than ever, we need these sheepdogs in our society, people who understand that the opposite of fear is love.
Remember, this article is meant to simply highlight a few of the things covered in this episode and there’s much more of value to catch, including some discussion of the colonel’s latest book Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing, which came out just a month after this episode aired, as well as a poignant reflection on the power of the Pledge of Allegiance, which many school children in America recite from an early age, so take a full listen to it here.
This From the Archive episode was handpicked by our founder, Ryan Michler, from nearly 100 episodes, all of which you can find here. If this article or episode helped you, please consider writing a review for us on iTunes, as that will allow more men to find out about our work. Now stop reading and start doing!