Campus Only Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
© 2014 Rebecca F. Ciszewski
At war’s most basic form, it is a very bizarre concept: soldiers who have never interacted and may have even got along with each other under different circumstances are ordered to take the other’s life. If you were in a similar situation, would you be able to kill him? Would you see the enemy as a human or a lowly creature? Would you kill him because you wanted to (weather it be out of fear or patriotism) or because you felt there was social pressure on you to do so? Would you be able/willing to pull your trigger at all?
Years ago, someone came up with the idea that armies fight in order to preserve peace. Frankly, that is inaccurate. Armies fight to win wars: intermittent political confrontations between countries that manifest as physical, deathly battles between citizens that do not know each other, and the price of which is billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. These are the reasons why training is so important, but even more than that, why putting soldiers through the best training available is so important. If a country is going to throw all this money and life at war with no guarantee of getting any of it back, they want to make sure the outcome is worth it. In order to do that, however, their side needs to win, and in order to win that side must be more prepared and better trained then the opposing force; and not only better trained on how to survive because that can be irrelevant, but better trained on how to defeat/kill the enemy. That is, how to tactically overpower them and either force them to retreat or surrender (Woods and Baltzly, 1915).
Training soldiers for battle however, proved to be a more psychologically complex task than originally thought to be. In WWII, Brigadier General Marshall (1968) conducted “after action interviews” where he surveyed thousands of combat soldiers immediately after they participated in combat engagements where shots were fired and soldiers were killed, asking them whether or not they had participated in the actual killing of the enemy (the physical pointing and shooting of a weapon). Marshall reveals his findings, stating that he found about 75-80 percent of the soldiers either refused or could not convince themselves to participate in the actual killing of the enemy, even when their lives and/or the lives of their buddies were in danger. Marshall’s findings suggested that the training of the time did not translate to effective fire during battle. Training programs thought discipline, procedural knowledge and loss of individuality would lead to the shaping of soldiers who would follow orders and provide effective fire. They were wrong. Perhaps without realizing it, training programs were relying on two human tendencies in their attempt to create the best soldiers possible:
When in a group, people often get pulled into a group mentality and allow their beliefs and perceptions to succumb to the crowd’s sentiment. (Asch, 1955; Myers, 2013; Zimbardo, 1970)
When one is made to feel like a subordinate to someone, they are likely to follow that person’s direction even if it conflicts with their morals. (Milgram, 1963, 1974; Myers, 2013)
They had not anticipated the existence nor the strength of a third human tendency:
Most humans have a very strong drive to avoid killing their fellow man. (Grossman, 2009; Griffith, 1989; Keegan and Holmes, 1985; Lorenz, 1963)
After witnessing the struggle that leaders faced with getting their men to fire during combat, Marshall declares in his book that all combat arms had been unsuccessful in coming up with a well-founded and authoritative intent. Without intent, training institutions and instructors had no endstate or goal to try to accomplish through training. Therefore, they could not generate productive training schedules or exercises. Marshall then goes on to stress the need for more effective fire and challenges training programs and instructors to come up with innovative and practical training methods that will actually be applicable to wartime activities and thus increase the amount of effective fire.
In response, the Navy generated its Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) in 1969 that included lectures followed by practical applications in which recruits would compete against Top Gun instructors in flight (Grossman, 2009). Upon seeing the success and benefits for the training, (Chatham & Braddock, 2001; Fletcher & Chatham, 2010) the Army integrated and diversified this style of training in the early 1980’s with the development and refinement of numerous tactical simulators: Squad and Platoon Tactical Exercise Lanes, DARWARS, EST, America’s Army, Cultural trainers, which have been used to train thousands of soldiers (Chatham, 2011).
Ciszewski, Rebecca F., "Conditioning Soldiers to Kill" (2014). CMC Senior Theses. 868.
This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.