Archive for October 16th, 2002

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Wednesday, October 16th, 2002

Evolution of Weaponry

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

Humans have proven themselves to be infinitely ingenious at creating and using devices to overcome their limitations. From one perspective human history can be seen as a series of ever-more-efficient devices to help humans communicate, travel, trade, work, and even to think. Similarly, the history of violence, peace, and conflict can be seen as the history, or the evolution, of a series of ever-more-efficient devices to enable humans to kill and dominate their fellow human beings.

The concept of an “evolution” of weaponry is very appropriate, since the battlefield is the ultimate realm of Darwinian natural selection. With few exceptions, any weapon or system that survives for any length of time does so because of its utility. Nothing survives for long on the battlefield simply because of superstition. Anything that is effective is copied and perpetuated, anything ineffective results in death, defeat, and extinction. There are fads and remnants (the military equivalent of the appendix) but, over the long run, everything happens for a reason, and a valid theory of weapons evolution must make these reasons clear, explaining all extinctions and all survivals.

Weapons as Devices to Overcome Physical and Psychological Limitations

Ultimately the nature of humans determines the nature of their weapons. There is the nature of the body and the nature of the mind; let us first examine the nature of humans’ physical limitations and the evolution of weapons to overcome these limitations.

Overcoming Physical Limitations

The physical limitations of humans are a key factor in their search for weapons. The need for force, mobility, distance, and protection have been the key requirements in this realm.

  • The Need for Force: The physical strength limitations of humans led to a need for greater physical force in order to hit an opponent harder and more effectively, resulting in the development of more-effective methods to transfer kinetic energy to an opponent. This process evolved from hitting someone with a handheld rock (providing the momentum energy of a greater mass than just a fist), to sharp rocks (focusing the energy in a smaller impact point), to a sharp rock on a stick (providing mechanical leverage combined with a cutting edge), to spears [using the latest material technology (flint, bronze, iron, steel) to focus energy into smaller and smaller penetration points], to swords (which permit the option of using a thrusting, spear-like penetration point or the mechanical leverage of a hacking, cutting edge), to the long bow (using stored mechanical energy and a refined penetration point), to firearms (transferring chemical energy to a projectile in order to deliver an extremely powerful dose of kinetic energy).
  • The Need for Mobility: Limited by the constraints of a bipedal body that could be outrun by a majority of ground-based creatures and recognizing that a human who has cast off weapons and armor is hard for a human carrying a weapon to catch and kill, humans’ cross-country speed limitations created a need for a mobility advantage. The result, a succession of weapons to provide more-efficient means to go evade or to chase an enemy. These weapons evolved from the chariots of the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Persians (which were without horse collars, an invention of the Romans) and were thus quite inefficient [since the mounting system choked the horse]; to the cavalry of the Greeks and Romans (which, without stirrups, limited but did not completely prevent the ability to strike from horseback); to the cavalry that dominated the battlefield throughout the age of the European knights (since the introduction of stirrups made it possible to deliver a powerful blow from horseback without danger of falling off) and continued to play a key (but ever-decreasing) role up to the beginning of the 20th century; to modern mechanized infantry; tanks; and (the ultimate form of mobility) aircraft. Simultaneously, a similar evolution of ever-more-effective forms of mobility took place with ships at sea until the introduction of aircraft [originally based on ships (aircraft carriers), but increasingly ground-based, long-range aircraft] came to dominate this realm.
  • The Need for Distance: Similarly, human limited reach created a need for a range advantage in an effort to attack more people than just those in immediate reach (i.e., to increase the zone of influence) and to do so without placing oneself in danger. This need resulted in increasingly more efficient means to kill at a distance, moving from the spear, to the long spear of the Greek phalanx, to the throwing spears of the Roman legionary, to the bow, the crossbow, the English long bow, firearms, artillery, missiles, and aircraft.
  • The Need for Protection: Physical vulnerability resulted in a continuous need for armor that would help to limit an enemy’s ability to inflict harm (in the form of kinetic energy) upon one’s own forces. This evolution generally followed the latest development of material technology, incorporating leather, bronze, iron, and steel, until the invention of firearms created a degree of force so great that the human body could not carry sufficient steel to stop penetration. The only remnant of armor was the helmet, to stop fragmentation (grenade and artillery) wounds to the vulnerable and crucial brain area. Today this evolution continues in tank and ship armor. Interestingly, in recent years, human-made fiber technology (such as Kevlar) has again made body armor practical, and for the first time in centuries the average combatant, in both law enforcement and military realms, once again wears body armor.

Psychological Enabling Factors

These physical needs for force, mobility, distance, and protection interact with each other in the evolution of weapons, but man’s psychological limitations arc even more influential in this process. Lord Moran, the great military physician of World War I and World War II, called Napoleon the “greatest psychologist,” and Napoleon said that, “In war the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” Meaning that psychological advantage, or leverage, is three times more important than physical advantage, and modern studies supports Napoleon’s contention.

The Resistance to Killing: At the heart of psychological processes on the battlefield is the resistance to killing one’s own species, a resistance that exists in every healthy member of every species. To truly understand the nature of this resistance to killing we must first recognize that most participants in close combat are literally “frightened out of their wits.” Once the arrows or bullets start flying, combatants stop thinking with the forebrain (which is the part of the brain that makes us human) and thought processes localize in the midbrain, or mammalian brain, which is the primitive part of the brain that is generally indistinguishable from that of an animal.

In conflict situations this primitive midbrain processing can be observed in the general, widespread existence of a powerful resistance to killing one’s own kind and in particular the fellow adult males of one’s own species. During territorial and mating battles, animals with antlers and horns slam together in a relatively harmless head-to-head fashion, rattlesnakes wrestle each other, and piranha fight their own kind with flicks of the tail, but against any other species these creatures unleash their horns, fangs, and teeth without restraint. This is an essential survival mechanism that prevents a species from destroying itself during territorial and mating rituals.

One major modern revelation in the field of military psychology is the observation that this resistance to killing one’s own species is also a key factor in human combat. Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall first observed this during his work as the Chief Historian of the European Theater of Operations in World War II. Based on his innovative new technique of post-combat interviews, Marshall concluded in his landmark book Men Against Fire that only 15 to 20% of the individual riflemen in World War II fired their weapons at an exposed enemy soldier.

Marshall’s findings have been somewhat controversial, but every available, parallel, scholarly study validates his basic findings. Ardant du Picq’s surveys of French officers in the 1860s and his observations on ancient battles, Keegan and Holmes’ numerous accounts of ineffectual firing throughout history, Paddy Griffith’s data on the extraordinarily low killing rate among Napoleonic and American Civil War regiments, Stouffer’s extensive World War II and postwar research, Richard Holmes’ assessment of Argentine firing rates in the Falklands War, the British Army’s laser reenactments of historical battles, the FBI’s studies of nonfiring rates among law enforcement officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and countless other individual and anecdotal observations all confirm Marshall’s fundamental conclusion that man is not, by nature, a close-range interpersonal killer.

The existence of this resistance can be observed in its marked absence in sociopaths who, by definition, feel no empathy or remorse for their fellow human beings. Pit bull dogs have been selectively bred for sociopathy, bred for the absence of the resistance to killing one’s kind in order to ensure that they will perform the unnatural act of killing another dog in battle. Breeding to overcome this limitation in humans is impractical, but humans are very adept at finding mechanical means to overcome natural limitations. Humans were born without the ability to fly, so we found mechanisms to overcome this limitation and enable flight. Humans also were born without the ability to kill our fellow humans, and so, throughout history, we have devoted great effort to finding a way to overcome this resistance. From a weapons evolution perspective, the history of warfare can be viewed as a series of successively more effective tactical and mechanical mechanisms to enable or force combatants to overcome their resistance to killing.

Posturing as a Psychological Weapon: The resistance to killing can be overcome, or at least bypassed, by a variety of techniques. One technique is to cause the enemy to run (often by getting in their flank or rear, which almost always causes a rout), and it is in the subsequent pursuit of a broken or defeated enemy that the vast majority of the killing happens.

It is widely known that most killing happens after the battle, in the pursuit phase (Clausewitz and Ardant du Picq both commented on this), and this is apparently due to two factors. First, the pursuer doesn’t have to look in his victim’s eyes, and it appears to be much easier to deny an opponent’s humanity if you can stab or shoot them in the back and don’t have to look into their eyes when you kill them. Second (and probably much more importantly), in the midbrain, during a pursuit, the opponent has changed from a fellow male engaged in a primitive, simplistic, ritualistic, head-to-head, territorial or mating battle to prey who must to be pursued, pulled down, and killed. Anyone who has ever worked with dogs understands this process: you are generally safe if you face a dog down, and you should always back away from a dog (or almost any animal) in a threatening situation because if you turn around and run you are in great danger of being viciously attacked. The same is true of soldiers in combat.

Thus one key to the battle is simply to get the enemy to run. The battlefield is truly psychological in nature, and in this realm the individual who puffs himself up the biggest, or makes the loudest noise, is most likely to win. The actual battle is, from one perspective, a process of “posturing” until one side or another turns and runs, and then the real killing begins. Thus posturing is critical to warfare and victory can he achieved through superior posturing.

Bagpipes, bugles, drums, shiny armor, tall hats, chariots, elephants, and cavalry have all been factors in successful posturing (convincing oneself of ones’ prowess while daunting one’s enemy), but, ultimately, gunpowder proved to be the ultimate posturing tool. For example, the long bow was significantly more accurate and had a far greater rate of fire and a much greater accurate range than the muzzle-loading muskets used up to the early part of the American Civil War. Furthermore, the long bow did not need the industrial base (iron and gunpowder) required by muskets, and the training of a long bowman was not really all that difficult.

Thus, mechanically speaking there are few reasons why there should not have been regiments of long bowmen at Waterloo and the 1st Bull Run cutting vast swaths through the enemy. [Similarly there were highly efficient, air-pressure-powered weapons available as early as the Napoleonic era (similar to modern paintball guns), which had a far higher firing rate than the muskets of that era, but were never used.] But it must be constantly remembered that, to paraphrase Napoleon, in war, psychological factors are three times more important than mechanical factors. The reality is that, on the battlefield, if you are going “doink, doink,” no matter how effectively, and the enemy is going “BANG!, BANG!,” no matter how ineffectively, ultimately the “doinkers” lose. This phenomenon helps explain the effectiveness of high-noise-producing weapons ranging from Gustavus Adolphus’ small, mobile cannons assigned to infantry units to the U.S. Army’s M-60 machine gun in Vietnam, which fired large, very loud, 7.62-mm ammunition at a slow rate of fire vs the M-16’s smaller (and comparatively much less noisy) 5.56-mm ammunition firing at a rapid rate of fire. (Note that both the machine gun and the cannon are also crew-served weapons, which is a key factor to be addressed shortly.)

Mobility as a Psychological Weapon: Once it is understood that most of the killing (and thereby the true destruction and defeat of an enemy) happens in the pursuit, then the true utility of weapons that provide a mobility advantage becomes clear. First, a mobility advantage often permits a force to get in the enemy’s flank or rear. Combatants seem to have an intuitive understanding of their vulnerability (both psychological and physical) from an opponent in their rear, and this almost always results in a mass panic and rout. Second, it is during the pursuit of a defeated enemy that a mobility advantage is needed if a pursuing force is to kill the enemy. An opponent who has cast aside his weapons and armor can generally outrun an armed pursuer, but a man on foot cannot outrun chariots or cavalry, and it is here, in stabbing and shooting men in the back, that chariots and cavalry had their greatest utility.

Distance as a Psychological Weapon: Another key factor in overcoming the resistance to killing is distance, which has been partially addressed earlier. The utility of weapons that kill from a distance cannot be truly understood without understanding the psychological enabling aspect of distance, which, simply stated, means that the further away you are the easier it is to kill. Thus, dropping bombs from 20,000 feet or firing artillery from 2 miles away is, psychologically speaking, not at all difficult (and there is no indication of any noncompliance in these situations), but hand-to-hand combat-range firing a rifle from 20 feet is very difficult (with high incidence of nonfirers) and from a few feet away it is virtually impossible to stab an opponent. John Keegan’s landmark book The Face of Battle makes a comparative study of Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815), and the Somme (1916). In his analysis of these three battles spanning over 500 years, Keegan repeatedly notes the amazing absence of bayonet wounds incurred during the massed bayonet attacks at Waterloo and the Somme. At Waterloo Keegan notes that “There were numbers of sword and lance wounds to be treated and some bayonet wounds, though these had usually been inflicted after the man had already been disabled, there being no evidence of the armies having crossed bayonets at Waterloo.” By World War I edged-weapon combat had almost disappeared, and Keegan notes that in the Battle of the Somme, “edged-weapon wounds were a fraction of one per cent of all wounds inflicted in the First World War.” Indeed, all evidence indicates that ancient battles were not much more than great shoving matches, until one side or the other fled. This can be observed in the battle record of Alexander the Great, who (according to Ardant du Picq’s studies of ancient records) lost a total of approximately 700 men ‘to the sword” in all his battles put together, and this is simply because Alexander the Great always won, and the actual killing happened only to the losers after the battle (Fig. 1).

The only thing greater than the resistance to killing at close range is the resistance to being killed at close range. Close-range interpersonal aggression is the universal human phobia, which is why the initiation of midbrain processing is so powerful and intense in these situations. Thus, one limitation to killing at long range is that greater distance results in a reduced psychological effect on the enemy. This manifests itself in the constant thwarting of each new generation of air power advocates and other adherents of sterile, long-range, high-tech warfare and a constant need for close combat troops to defeat an enemy.

Leaders as a Psychological Weapon: Milgram’s famous obedience research demonstrated the tremendous influence that can be wielded by an unknown individual in a white lab coat in a laboratory situation, but on the battlefield the influence of a respected leader, with the trappings of true power, wielding authority over life and death, can far transcend Milgram’s results. Marshall is one of many who have noted that soldiers will invariably fire if an officer stands over them and demands that they do so, but this firing will generally decrease as soon as the officer leaves.

The modern concept of a combat leader usually calls up visions of a hardened veteran moving behind a battle line of his men, exhorting, encouraging, punishing, rebuking, correcting, and rewarding them. But combat leadership has not always been like this. Armies have always had leaders, but the Romans were the first to take proven warriors and systematically develop them into professional leaders, starting at the lowest levels. Prior to this time leaders were usually expected to get into the battle and lead from the front, but the Romans were the first to place leaders behind their men in an open order of battle. The influence of this kind of leadership was one of the key factors in the success of the Roman way of war, and this process of having a respected, proven, small-unit leader, who moves behind his men and demands effective killing activity from them (but does not himself necessarily have to kill) continued to be a key factor in effective combat in the centuries that followed. This kind of leadership initially disappeared with the Roman Empire, but it appeared again sporadically in the firing lines of English long bowmen and then as a systematically applied factor in the firing lines of the successful armies of the gunpowder era and continued into the present.

Groups as a Psychological Weapon: Konrad Lorenz observed that “man is not a killer, but the group is.” This fundamental observation of human nature has great utility in helping to understand the effectiveness of what are generally referred to as “crew-served” weapons. These are weapons that require more than one individual to use, which provides a form of mutual accountability and a diffusion of responsibility, which is very effective in enabling killing. Marshall noted in World War II that the firing rates of individual soldiers was very low, but crew served weapons (primarily machine guns) almost always fired.

Such weapons have generally done the majority of the killing throughout the history of warfare, beginning with the chariot, which was the earliest crew-served weapon. The chariot often employed a driver and a “passenger” who generally fired a bow (which added the factor of distance in the violence-enabling equation) and was most effective in the pursuit, when their mobility advantage gave them the ability to shoot large numbers of fleeing enemy in the back. The powerful group dynamics of the chariot (along with its mobility) were to show up again, over 2 millennia later, in the tanks of the 20th century.

The Greek phalanx was a mass of spearmen in tight ranks, carrying spears approximately 4 meters long and protecting themselves with overlapping shields, highly trained to move in a formation organized in depth (i.e., moving and fighting “in column” as opposed to “in line”) and trained to strike the enemy as a coherent mass. As such it was a form of crew-served weapon in which newer members were placed in the front and were thereby under direct observation and accountability by the veteran warriors behind them. The phalanx was of such utility that it has shown up repeatedly throughout history and around the world.

The first systematic military use of gunpowder was in cannons, and these crew-served weapons immediately began to dominate the battlefield. Unlike the early muskets, cannons were effective killers from the beginning. Not only did they provide the best form of posturing (i.e., noise-making) ever to be seen on the battlefield, but they were also a highly effective crew-served weapon (being generally manned by numerous individuals and directly commanded by an officer or a sergeant with sole responsibility for that gun and its crew) whose crew members almost never showed any hesitation or mercy in killing the enemy. At close range the cannon fired “grape shot” into tightly packed enemy formations, thus becoming, in effect, a great shotgun capable of killing hundreds of men with a single shot. Napoleon, that “greatest psychologist,” demonstrated his understanding of the true killing utility of the cannon (and the comparative ineffectiveness of infantry) by ensuring that his armies always had a higher percentage of cannons than his enemies and by massing those cannons at key points in the battle.

In the 20th century the cannon became an “indirect fire” system (i.e., firing over the heads of friendly combatants from a great distance away), and the machine gun (with its “gunner” and “assistant gunner” or “loader”) came to replace the cannon in the crew-served, “direct fire” role on the battlefield. In World War I the machine gun was called the “distilled essence of the infantry,” but it was really just a continuation of the cannon in its old, crew-served, mass-killing role.

The crew-served machine gun is still the key killer on the close-range battlefield, but the evolution of group-enabling processes can continue to be seen in tanks and armored personnel carriers. At sea the dynamics of the crew-served weapon have been in play since the beginning of the gunpowder era, i.e., crew-served weapons, distance, and the influence of leaders.

Conditioning as a Psychological Weapon: By 1946 the US Army had completely accepted Marshall’s World War II findings of a 15-20% firing rate among American riflemen, and the Human Resources Research Office of the US Army subsequently pioneered a revolution in combat training that replaced the old method of firing at bulls-eye targets with that of deeply ingrained “conditioning” using realistic, human-shaped pop-up targets that fall when hit. Psychologists know that this kind of powerful “operant conditioning” is the only technique that reliably influences the primitive, midbrain processing of a frightened human being. Just as fire drills condition terrified school children to respond properly during a fire, and repetitious, “stimulus-response” conditioning in flight simulators enables frightened pilots to respond reflexively to emergency situations.

Throughout history the ingredients of posturing, mobility, distance, leaders, and groups have been manipulated to enable and force combatants to kill, but the introduction of conditioning in modern training was a true revolution. The application and perfection of these basic conditioning techniques appear to have increased the rate of fire from near 20% in World War II to approximately 55% in Korea and around 95% in Vietnam. Similar high rates of fire resulting from modern conditioning techniques can be seen in FBI data on law enforcement firing rates since the nationwide introduction of modern conditioning techniques in the late 1960s.

One of the most dramatic examples of the value and power of this modern, psychological revolution in training can be seen in Richard Holmes’ observations of the 1982 Falklands War. The superbly trained (i.e., “conditioned”) British forces were without air or artillery superiority and consistently outnumbered 3-to-1 while attacking the poorly trained but well-equipped and carefully dug-in Argentine defenders. Superior British firing rates (which Holmes estimates to be well over 90%), resulting from modern training techniques, has been credited as a key factor in the series of British victories in that brief but bloody war. Any future army that attempts to go into battle without similar psychological preparation is likely to meet a fate similar to that of the Argentines.

A Brief Survey of Weapons Evolution

Having established an understanding of the physical factors required for effective weapons (force, mobility, distance, and protection) and the psychological enabling factors required to effectively employ these weapons (posturing, mobility, distance, leaders, groups, and conditioning), an overall survey of weapons evolution becomes possible. Although parallel evolutionary, weaponry processes have occurred around the world, the process is most easily observed in the west, and it is in western civilization that the evolutionary development of weaponry achieved a degree of ascendancy that permitted western domination of the globe starting as early as the 16th century and culminating in total western domination in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Combat throughout ancient history generally involved more and more effective applications of force, moving from rock, to sharp rock, to sharp rock on a stick, to swords and spears using the latest metal technology. This aspect of close-range, hand-to-hand combat remained the same until the late 19th century when reliable, repeating gunpowder weapons replaced swords and bayonets as the weapon of choice to kill repeatedly at close range. Some aspects of distance weapons have been present, in the form of archers and slingers, since ancient Egypt, but until the introduction of the long bow the available armor (generally just a shield) was sufficient to stop these weapons from becoming decisive.

Enabling the Mind to Kill

Thus the basic, close-range killing weapon has not changed fundamentally in nearly a century, but there has been a new, evolutionary leap in the conditioning of the mind that has to use that weapon to kill at close range. The development of a psychological conditioning process to enable an individual to overcome the average, healthy, deep-rooted aversion to close-range killing of one’s own species is a true revolution. By changing from bulls-eye targets to pop-up, human-shaped targets that fall when hit, modern armies and police forces have learned to operantly condition their combatants to respond reflexively even when literally frightened out of their wits. This process has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to raise the firing rate among individual riflemen from a baseline of around 20% in World War 11 to over 90% today. This is a revolution on the battlefield, and it is a revolution that has also had an absolutely unprecedented influence on civilian violence and domestic violent crimes.

The Chariot

The chariot was introduced to ancient Egypt early in the Second Millennium B.C., and subsequently it was to become the first major, evolutionary weapons innovation. As a system it was made possible by the domestication of the horse, the invention of the wheel, and the invention of the bow and arrow–particularly the recurve bow. The chariot was a two-wheeled platform pulled by horses (usually two) generally carrying a driver and a passenger. It was of limited value for commerce due to its small cargo capacity and was primarily an instrument of war. Its mobility gave it a high degree of utility in attacking vulnerable flanks or in the pursuit of a defeated enemy, and the passenger was usually an archer who would fire from the platform while on the move or during brief halts.

The ascendancy of the chariot for well over a millennium has been called “inexplicable” by some historians, but an understanding of the chariot’s powerful psychological contribution makes its role clear. The chariot undoubtedly had many limitations: the horses were very vulnerable to archers and slingers and if just one horse was disabled the whole chariot was out of action, and the absence of a horse collar meant that the mounting system choked the horse, thus making the chariot’s effective range a fraction of that of the cavalry, which would later replace the chariot in its mobility role. And yet, in spite of these limitations, the mobility advantage of the chariot (useful primarily in the pursuit, when most of the killing occurred) combined with some group processes (driver plus archer) and some distance processes (archer firing from a mobile platform) made the chariot the dominant weapon of an era ranging from the Egyptian to the Persian Empires. Ultimately it would be defeated by the phalanx and replaced by cavalry.

The Phalanx

One limitation of the chariot (and later of cavalry) is that horses consistently refuse to hurl themselves into a hedge of sharp, projecting objects such as a phalanx, with its deep ranks of tightly packed men carrying 4-meter spears and protecting themselves with overlapping shields. The Greek phalanx required a high degree of training and organization, but starting around the 4th Century BC, the Greek city-states were able to use it to negate the impact of the chariot in battle. The tightly packed ranks of the phalanx created a group process that apparently permitted it to act as a vast, crew-served weapon. This factor, along with some distance (through the long spears) and the simplicity and economic viability of the phalanx, made it the dominant weapon system of its era. These aspects of the phalanx combined with the later Greek mastery of horseback riding (albeit absent stirrups) in order to approach an enemy from vulnerable flanks and to exploit pursuits permitted the Greek to conquer a vast portion of the world.

The Greeks were defeated by the Romans, but the inherent simplicity of the phalanx combined with its psychological fundamentals were so powerful that after the fall of the Roman Empire the phalanx again became ascendant, with the Swiss achieving the epitome of perfection of the phalanx in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The armies of the early gunpowder era continued to use phalanx formations of pikemen combined with formations of primitive, early muskets. The pikemen were replaced with the advent of the bayonet, which made every man a potential pikeman, and a remnant of the psychological dynamics of the phalanx could be seen in the great, column-based bayonet charges of Napoleon’s armies.

The Roman System

It must be remembered that the Roman Empire lasted for approximately half a millennium (and longer if we count the Eastern Roman Empire) and that to say “the Romans did this” or “the Romans did that” would generally be inaccurate when referring to a military system that evolved and changed constantly across the centuries. But certain things did stay somewhat constant over the centuries in the Roman legions, and it was these constant factors that can be generally attributed to the extraordinary military success of the Roman Empire, starting in the 2nd and 1st Centuries BC and continuing for around 500 years.

The Greek phalanx required a high degree of training to be effective, but an efficient phalanx could still he achieved, for example, as the product of a local militia who trained in their free time. But the Roman system was a highly complex professional army that devoted itself full-time to the development of its skills and to the development of a leadership structure with systematic professional advancement based on merit, taking soldiers from the ranks and placing them in charge of larger and larger groups of men as they demonstrated competence at each level. The Roman open order of battle permitted their small-unit leaders to move behind the battle line, holding their men accountable and rewarding skill and valor with advancement and reward. Today most professional armies are designed around a professional small-unit leadership drawn from the ranks with advancement based on merit, and small-unit leaders who have proven themselves in combat (except in emergencies) are expected to stay behind their men in order to directly influence their actions in battle, but it must be remembered that the Romans were the first to truly, systematically introduce these factors to the battlefield on a large scale over a long period of time.

Another key aspect of the Roman way of war was the fact that each of their soldiers carried a variety of throwing spears (the number and type varied over the years) with which they were highly proficient. An approaching enemy was greeted with a series of volleys from these spears, which served to break up an enemy’s ranks and often to strip them of their shields. These ingeniously designed distance weapons often included light javelins, which were thrown at a long range, followed by a standard heavy spear (or pilum), which was thrown at a medium range, followed by a lead-weighted pilum, which was hurled, with enormous force, as one final volley before closing with swords.

After shattering an approaching enemy force from a distance with a series of spear volleys, the Romans closed with short swords designed and intended for stabbing. These swords were often qualitatively no different from those of their opponents, but the Romans were systematically trained to use their swords to stab and thrust in a highly effective way that was largely unprecedented prior to this. Like the post-World War II training that was to be developed 2 millennia later to condition men to fire in combat, Roman training used constant, repetitive training, to the point where it could be accurately described as conditioning, in order to insure that their soldiers would thrust in combat rather than use the more natural hacking and slashing blows. This was a technique that was to be used in later centuries to train some elite warriors in fencing and swordsmanship, but never before, nor probably since, has an entire army been trained to this degree of perfection.

This combination of projectile weapons, intense training, and the presence of effective small-unit leaders who moved behind their men and demanded effective killing activities was a devastating force that smashed approaching enemy formations, including the phalanx. The final ingredient in a Roman battlefield victory was the organization of their forces into small units with reserves with dispassionate, highly trained, small-unit leaders operating behind their men, ready to maneuver their unit to exploit any exposed enemy flanks or penetrate deep into the enemy rear. Once the enemy was defeated, the final blow (and most of the killing) was executed by cavalry auxiliaries (which, still without stirrups, were little different from the cavalry of the Greeks), who would pursue and kill a broken, fleeing enemy.

The result of this complex process was the Pax Romana: hundreds of years of relative stability and peace in the western world. But it was a fragile strength, created through complexity and economic abundance, difficult to sustain in the best of times, and impossible to replicate (at least in western Europe) for almost a millennium after the Roman Empire collapsed.

The Mounted Knight

With the fall of Rome the complex Roman way of war collapsed, to be replaced by simpler systems, such as the phalanx, and one new system, which was the mounted knight. The introduction of the stirrup (coming to Europe from China and India around the 10th Century A.D) made it possible for a man on horseback to strike an opponent with remarkable force without danger of being unseated. Furthermore, horse breeding had developed increasingly larger and more powerful mounts who could carry sufficient weight of armor to make both horse and man virtually invulnerable. A devastating blow could be delivered by a spear, or lance, which could be “couched” or semi-attached to the knight. Charging at full speed, the spear point would strike an opponent with the combined momentum and weight of horse, man, and armor approaching at full gallop. After the initial blow with the lance the knight could continue to plow into an enemy formation, delivering blows from above with heavy weapons (sword, mace, flail, or morning star) assisted by the force of gravity and downward momentum. A formation of such knights, striking together, was an extraordinarily frightening and almost overwhelming force, combining high degrees of posturing, force, and mobility, which could only be stopped by a hedge of spears and the horse’s complete and consistent unwillingness to impale itself.

Thus, the answer to the knight was a phalanx, but the horse’s mobility made it possible to maneuver around a phalanx, or any enemy formation, in order to attack from a vulnerable direction and to pursue the enemy after they have been broken. This created the need for spear- or bayonet-equipped ground troops to form a “square” that faced outward in all directions while keeping other units inside the protection of the square. This was an effective defensive maneuver as long as the infantry kept their nerve (if only a few men broke and ran the knights could move into that gap and break the entire formation), but until the introduction of the long bow and (later) gunpowder the forces inside the the square were completely neutralized and could often be held at bay by a small force of knights.

The long bow (and, later, gunpowder weapons) spelled the doom of the mounted knight and, ultimately, of all individual armor until the 20th century. Cavalry would continue to exist on the battlefield for centuries, but their economic cost and their increasing vulnerability to small arms fire meant that by the late 19th century the utility of cavalry had reverted to that of the Greek and Roman era: useful for reconnaissance, to move riflemen rapidly to a key location where they would dismount and fight, and for mobility in the pursuit. During the 20th century mechanization (trucks, tanks, etc.) would almost completely supersede the horse’s mobility contribution to the battlefield.

The Age of Projectile Weapons

Humans had always thrown rocks or fired arrows, but usually these could be neutralized by armor. With the advent of the long bow (ca. 1400), for the first time the average combatant could single-handedly fire a weapon, from a distance, that would penetrate even the best of available, man-portable armor. This was a revolution that introduced a combination of distance and force that would continue in its basic format up until the present. The long bow began the process of rendering the knight extinct, but the advent of gunpowder introduced powerful posturing processes into the equation that quickly (in evolutionary terms) led to the extinction of both the knight and the long bow.

Once individual gunpowder weapons were introduced and widely distributed (ca. 1600), the evolution of close-range, interpersonal weaponry subsequently moved along a single, simple path of perfecting this weapon. The early, crude, primitive, smoothbore, muzzle-loading, gunpowder weapons were pathetically ineffective. They were almost impossible to aim, very slow to fire, and useless in any kind of damp conditions. And yet their posturing (i.e., their noise) combined with their absolutely overwhelming force (when they could hit something) was so great that they soon came to dominate the battlefield.

Gunpowder was invented in China, but China was under a comparatively centralized government that appears to have seen gunpowder weapons as a threat to the established order and made a conscious decision not to develop this weapon. (Over a millennium later the Japanese would do something similar.) A powerful argument can be made that this single decision in weapons development resulted in the eventual subjugation of the east and the inevitable domination and colonization of the world by western Europe. In Europe there were constant wars and turmoil and a complete absence of centralized authority, which created an environment that pursued a continuous development and refinement of gunpowder weapons. This process led to weapons that could be fired in wet weather (percussion caps), fired accurately (rifled barrels), loaded from a prone position (breech loaders), fired repeatedly without loading (repeaters), and fired repeatedly with no other action than pulling the trigger (automatics).

Almost all of this development of gun powder weapons occurred in the 19th century. By the early 20th century this developmental process had reached its culmination. One common myth in this area involves the increasing “deadliness” of modern small arms, which is largely without foundation. For example, the high-velocity, small-caliber (5.56 mm/.223-caliber) ammunition used in most assault rifles today (e.g., the M-16 and the AK-74) were designed to wound rather than kill. The theory is that wounding an enemy soldier is better than killing him because a wounded soldier eliminates three people: the wounded man and two others to evacuate him. These weapons do inflict great (wounding) trauma, but they are illegal for hunting deer in much of the United States due to their ineffectiveness at quickly and effectively killing game.

Similarly, since World War I and until recently the US military’s weapon of choice in pistols was a .45 automatic (approximately 12 mm). In recent years the military weapon of choice has become the 9 mm, which has a smaller, faster round that many experts argue is considerably less effective at killing.

What these new, smaller ammunitions (5.56 mm for rifle and 9 mm for pistol) do make possible is greater magazine capacity, and this has increased the effectiveness of weapons in one way, while decreasing it in another.

The point is that there has not been any significant increase in the effectiveness of the weapons available today. The shotgun is still the single most effective weapon for killing at close range and it has been available and basically unchanged for over 100 years. Long-range killing technology (missiles, aircraft, and armored vehicles) have all evolved at quantum rates, but the basic technology of close-range killing through transferring kinetic energy has apparently achieved an evolutionary dead-end in this century.

The Role of Weapons Evolution in Domestic Violent Crime

Weapons play the same role in domestic violent crime as in war. The resistance to killing also exists in peace-time, and weapons provide psychological and mechanical leverage to enable killing in peace as well as in war.

Weapons Lethality

Weapons lethality (in peace and war) is a factor of the effectiveness of the weapons used to kill and of the ability of available medical technology to save lives. Thus, weapons lethality can be thought of as a contest between weapons effectiveness (the state of technology trying to kill you) and medical effectiveness (the state of technology trying to save you). Like weapons lethality, the difference between murder (killing someone) and aggravated assault (trying to kill someone) is also largely a factor of the effectiveness of available weapons Vs the effectiveness of available medical life-saving technology.

Advances in Weapons Effectiveness

Throughout most of human history the effectiveness of weapons available for domestic violence was basically stable, a relative constant. The relative effectiveness of swords, axes, and blunt objects has been basically unchanged, and killing (as an act of passion Vs a premeditated act like poisoning or leaving a bomb) was only possible at close-range by stabbing, hacking, and beating.

Bows were kept unstrung, not in a state of readiness for an act of passion. It required premeditation plus training plus strength to kill with a bow. Early, muzzle-loading gunpowder weapons were also often not kept in a state of readiness. It required time, training, and premeditation to load and shoot such a weapon. Once loaded, the humidity in the air could seep into the gunpowder and the load could become unreliable. Only in the late 19th century, with widespread introduction of breech-loading, brass cartridges, was a true “act of passion” possible with state-of-the-art weapons technology. Powerful weapons could now be kept in state of readiness (i.e., loaded), and they now required minimal strength or training to use. This achievement in weapons effectiveness has been virtually unchanged since the 1870s. Colt’s revolver or a double-barrel shotgun is basically equally effective to any small arms available today (Table I).

TABLE I: Landmarks in the Evolution of Weapons Effectiveness

ca. 1700 BC Chariots provide key form of mobility advantage in ancient warfare
ca. 400 BC Greek phalanx
ca. 100 BC Roman system (pilum, swords, training, professionalism, leadership)
ca. 900 AD Mounted knight (stirrup greatly enhances utility of mounted warfare)
ca. 1350 Gunpowder (cannon) in warfare (Battle of Crecy, 1346)
ca. 1400 Widespread application of long bow defeats mounted knights ( Battle of Agincourt, I4I5)
ca. 1600 Gunpowder (small arms) in warfare, defeats aIl body armor (30 Years War & English Civil War)
ca. 1800 Shrapnel (exploding artillery shells), ultimately creates renewed need for helmets (ca. 1915)
ca. 1850 Percussion caps permit all-weather use of small arms
ca. 1870 Breech loading, cartridge firing rifles, and pistols™
ca. 1915 Machine gun
ca. 1915 Gas warfare
ca. 1915 Tanks
ca. 1915 Aircraft
ca. 1915 Self-loading (automatic) rifles and pistols
ca. 1940 Strategic bombing of population centers
ca. 1945 Nuclear weapons
ca. 1960 Large scale introduction of operant conditioning in training to enable killing in soldiers
ca. 1960 Large-scale introduction of media violence begins to enable domestic violent crime™
ca. 1970 Precision guided munitions
ca. 1980 Kevlar provides first individual armor to defeat state-of-the-art projectiles in 300+ years

Note: Dates generally represent century or decade of first major, large-scale introduction. ™ Represents developments influencing domestic violent crime.

Thus, the effectiveness of weapons available for domestic violence has remained relatively stable throughout most of human history. It then made one huge quantum leap in the late 19th-century and then has not moved since, with the sole exception of the psychological conditioning to enable killing.

Advances in Medical Effectiveness

Since 1957, in the US, the per capita aggravated assault rate (which is, essentially, the rate of attempted murder) has gone up nearly sevenfold, while the per capita murder rate has less than doubled. Vast progress in medical technology since 1957 to include everything from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, to the national “9-1-1” emergency telephone system, to medical technology advances is the reason for this disparity. Otherwise murder would be going up at the same rate as attempted murder (Table II).

Furthermore, it has been noted that a hypothetical wound that 9 of 10 times would have killed a soldier in World War II would have been survived 9 of 10 times by US soldiers in Vietnam. This is due to the great leaps in battlefield evacuation and medical care technology between 1940 and 1970. And we have made even greater progress since 1970. Thus it is probably a very conservative statement to say that if today we had 1930’s level road networks, evacuation vehicles, communications, distribution of medical care, and medical technology (no penicillin, etc.), then we would have 10 times the murder rate we currently do. That is, attempts to inflict bodily harm upon one another would result in death 10 times more often.

Consider, for instance, some of the quantum leaps in medical technology across the years. Just a century ago, any puncture of the abdomen, skull, or lungs created a high probability of death. As did any significant loss of blood (no transfusions) or most large wounds (no antibiotics or antiseptics) or most wounds requiring significant surgery (no anesthetics, resulting in death from surgery shock). Also consider the increasing impact of police methodology and technology (fingerprints, communications, DNA matching, video surveillance, etc.) in apprehending killers, preventing second offenses, and deterring crime.

Each of these technological developments, in their place and time, should have negated the effects of weapons evolution and saved the lives of victims of violence. When assessing violent crime across any length of time we could and should ask what proportion of trauma patients survive today and what proportion of those would have died if they had: 1940s-level technology (no penicillin), 1930s-level technology (no antibiotics), 1870s-level technology (no antiseptics), 1840s-level technology (no anesthetics), or 1600s-level technology (no doctors, no anatomical knowledge, etc.).

TABLE II: Landmarks in the Evolution of Medical Lifesaving

ca.1600 French army institutes first scientific, systematic approach to surgery
ca.1840 Introduction of anesthesia overcomes surgical shock
ca.1840 Introduction in Hungary of washing hands and instruments in chlorinated lime solution reduces mortality due to “childbed fever” from 9.9 to .85%
ca.1860 Introduction by Lister of carbolic acid as germicide reduced mortality rate after major operations from 45 to 15%
ca. 1880 Widespread acceptance and adaptation of germicides
ca. 1930 Sulfa drugs
ca. 1940 Penicillin discovered
ca. 1945 Penicillin in general use and ever-increasing explosion of antibiotics thereafter
ca.1960 Penicillin synthesized on a large scale
ca.1970 CPR introduced on wide scale
ca.1990 9-1-1 centralized emergency response systems introduced in U.S. on wide scale

Note. Dates generally represent century or decade of major, large-scale introduction.

Increases in Worldwide Violent Crime

Thus, instead of murder, we have to assess attempted murder, or aggravated assault, or some other consistently defined attack as an indicator of violent crime, and the increase in this indicator is staggering. Between 1957 and 1992 aggravated assault in the US, according to the FBI, went up from around 60 per 100,000 to over 440 per 100,000. Between 1977 and 1986 the “serious assault” rate, as reported to Interpol:

  • Increased nearly fivefold in Norway and Greece, and the murder rate more than tripled in Norway and doubled in Greece
  • In Australia and New Zealand the “serious assault” rate increased approximately fourfold, and the murder rate approximately doubled in both nations.
  • During the same period the assault rate tripled in Sweden and approximately doubled in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England-Wales, France, Hungary, Netherlands, Scotland, and the US; while all these nations (with the exception of Canada) also had an associated (but smaller) increase in murder.

All of these increases in violent crime, in all of these nations, occurred during a period when medical and law enforcement technology should have been bringing murder and crime rates down. It is no accident that this has generally only been occurring in western, industrialized nations because the same factor that caused all of these increases is the same weapons factor that caused a revolution in close combat (Table III).

TABLE III:International Violent Crime Rate

Serious Assault
New Zealand∫
United States

Note. All data represents incidents per 100,000 population, as reported by each nation to Interpol and recorded in Interpol International Crime Statistics, Vols. 1977 to 1994. (Except for Canadian data, as stated below in footnote 1). Different nations use different criteria to define “murder” and “serious assault,” therefore ability to use this data to compare between nations is limited, but comparisons of increases within each nation across time is valid. This information was previously reported in a different format in On Killing, © 1996, Dave Grossman.

∫ Data are only through the following dates when the indicated nations stopped reporting to Interpol: Australia, 1988; England-Wales, 1991; India, 1991; New Zealand, 1992.

π Canada does not report crime data to Interpol; Canadian data is from Canadian Center for Justice.

≤ Data begins in 1980, when Hungary started reporting to Interpol.

≥ Netherlands did not begin reporting serious assault data to Interpol until 1981, but murder data begins in 1977

Ü Scotland’s serious assault data begins in 1977, but murder data begins in 1985 (when they apparently started reporting murder under a broader definition) and both murder and serious assault data only run through 1991 when Scotland stopped reporting to Interpol.


Military Conditioning as Entertainment for Children

The tremendous impact of psychological “conditioning” to overcome the resistance to killing has been observed in Vietnam and the Falklands, where it gave US and British units a tremendous tactical advantage in close combat, increasing the firing rate from the World War II baseline of around 20% to over 90% in these wars. Through violent programming on television and in movies, and through interactive point-and-shoot video games, western nations are indiscriminately introducing to their children the same weapons technology that major armies and law enforcement agencies around the world use to “turn off” the midbrain “safety catch” that Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall discovered in World War II.

The US Bureau of Justice Statistics research indicates that law enforcement officers and veterans (including Vietnam veterans) are statistically less likely to be incarcerated than a nonveteran of the same age. The key safeguard in this process appears to be the deeply ingrained discipline that the soldier and police officer internalize with their training. However, by saturating children with media violence as entertainment and then exposing them to interactive “point-and-shoot” arcade and video games, it has become increasingly clear that society is aping military conditioning but without the vital safeguard of discipline.

The observation that violence in the media is causing violence in our streets is nothing new. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and their equivalents in many other nations have all made unequivocal statements about the link between media violence and violence in our society. The APA, in their 1992 report Big World, Small Screen, concluded that the “scientific debate is over.” And in 1993 the APA’s commission on violence and youth concluded that “there is absolutely no doubt that higher levels of viewing violence on television are correlated with increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior.” The evidence is quite simply overwhelming.

Dr. Brandon Centerwall, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, has summarized the overwhelming nature of this body of evidence. His research demonstrates that anywhere in the world that television is introduced, within 15 years the murder rate will double. (And remember, across 15 years, the murder rate will significantly under-represent the problem because medical technology will be saving ever more lives each year.)

Centerwall concludes that if television technology had never been introduced in the US, then there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States; 70,000 fewer rapes; and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults. Overall violent crime would be half of what it is.

Centerwall notes that the net effect of television has been to increase the aggressive predisposition of approximately 8% of the population, which is all that is required to double the murder rate. Statistically speaking 8% is a very small increase. Anything less than 5% is not even considered to be statistically significant. But in human terms, the impact of doubling the homicide rate is enormous.

Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AVIDS)

There are two filters that a human mind has to go through to kill at close range. The first filter is the forebrain. A hundred things can convince the forebrain to take gun in hand and go to a certain point: poverty, drugs, gangs, leaders, radical politics, and the social learning of violence in the media–magnified when the child is from a broken home and is searching for a role model. But, traditionally, all of these influences slam into the resistance that a frightened, angry human being confronts in the midbrain. With the exception of sociopaths (who, by definition, do not have this resistance) the vast, vast majority of circumstances are not sufficient to overcome this midbrain safety net. But, if you are conditioned to overcome these midbrain inhibitions, then you are a walking time bomb, a pseudo-sociopath, just waiting for the random factors of social interaction and forebrain rationalization to put you at the wrong place at the wrong time.

An effective analogy can be made to AIDS in attempting to communicate the impact of this technology. AIDS does not kill people, it simply destroys the immune system and makes the victim vulnerable to death by other factors. The “violence immune system” exists in the midbrain, and conditioning in the media creates an “acquired deficiency” in this immune system, resulting in “Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or AVIDS. As a result of this weakened immune system, the victim becomes more vulnerable to violence-enabling factors such as poverty, discrimination, drugs, gangs, radical politics, and the availability of guns.

In weapons technology terms this indiscriminate use of combat conditioning techniques on children is the moral equivalent of giving an assault weapon to every child in every industrialized nation in the world. If, hypothetically, this were done, the vast majority of children would almost certainly not kill anyone with their assault rifles; but if only a tiny percentage did, then the results would be tragic and unacceptable. But it is increasingly clear that this is not a hypothetical situation. Indiscriminate civilian application of combat conditioning techniques as entertainment has increasingly been identified as a key factor in the worldwide, skyrocketing violent crime rates outlined above. Thus, the influences of weapons technology can increasingly be observed on the streets of nations around the world.

Conclusion: The Future of Weapons Evolution

Wars are fought by one group of humans to force another group to submit to their will. Weapons are tools to help humans overcome their physical and psychological limitations in order to inflict their will upon others. Democratic nations seldom, if ever, go to war against each other, choosing instead less destructive methods of influence.

Thus, with the coming of the age of democracies, the time of wars may be coming to an end, and the passing of war may also mark the passing of some of the instruments of war. Indeed, a precedence for an end to war can be found in weapons evolution.

It has become increasingly obvious’ that each act of violence breeds ever-greater levels of violence, and at some point the genie must be put back in the bottle. The study of killing in combat teaches us that soldiers who have had friends or relatives injured or killed in combat are much more likely to kill and commit war crimes.

The world is just now recovering from the most violent and bloody century in human history, and the streets of the western, industrialized nations are the scenes of a level of violence that is unprecedented in human history. Each individual who is injured or killed by violence provides a point of departure for further violence on the part of their friends and family. Every destructive act gnaws away at the restraint of human beings. Each act of violence eats away at the fabric of our society like a cancer, spreading and reproducing itself in ever-expanding cycles of horror and destruction. The genie of violence cannot really ever be stuffed back into the bottle. It can only be cut off here and now, and then the slow process of healing and resensitization can begin.

It can be done. It has been done in the past. As Richard Heckler has observed, there is a precedent for limiting violence-enabling technology. It started with the classical Greeks, who for 4 centuries refused to implement the bow and arrow even after being introduced to it in a most unpleasant way by Persian archers.

In Giving Up The Gun, Noel Perrin tells how the Japanese banned firearms after their introduction by the Portuguese in the 1500s. The Japanese quickly recognized that the military use of gunpowder threatened the very fabric of their society and culture, and they moved aggressively to defend their way of life. The feuding Japanese warlords destroyed all existing weapons and made the production or import of any new guns punishable by death. Three centuries later, when Commodore Perry forced the Japanese to open their ports, they did not even have the technology to make firearms. Similarly, the Chinese invented gunpowder but elected not to use it in warfare.

But the most encouraging examples of restraining killing technology have all occurred in this century. After the tragic experience of using poisonous gases in World War I the world has generally rejected its use ever since. The atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty continues after two decades, the ban on the deployment of anti-satellite weapons is still going strong after two decades, the US and the former USSR have been steadily reducing the quantity of nuclear weapons for the past 2 two decades, and we have seen a Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a new movement to eliminate land mines. As we have de-escalated instruments of indiscriminate mass destruction so too can we de-escalate instruments of indiscriminate mass desensitization as entertainment in the media.

Firearms probably will not go away any time soon, but their abuse will almost definitely be strongly influenced by technology that will make guns ‘”keyed” so that they can only be fired by a designated individual and will thereby be useless to all others. Similarly, violence in the media will not go away as long as there is a market for it, but there will probably be movement away from indiscriminate violence-enabling of children through violent video games and violence in the media and toward protecting children from these things while still permitting their availability to adults, in much the same manner as alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, pornography, and guns.

Heckler points out that there has been “an almost unnoticed series of precedents for reducing military technology on moral grounds,” precedents that show the way to understanding that we do have a choice about how we think about war, about killing, and about the value of human life in our society. In recent years we have exercised the choice to move ourselves from the brink of nuclear destruction. In the same way, our society can also take the evolutionary steps away from the technology that psychologically enables killing in children. Education and understanding is the first step. The end result may be for weapons evolution to take a considered step backward and for our civilization to come through the dark years of the 20th century and enter into a healthier, more self-aware society.

Glossary of Terms

  • Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AVIDS): The “violence immune system” exists in the midbrain of all healthy creatures causing them to be largely unable to kill members of their own species in territorial and mating battles. In human beings this resistance has existed historically in all close-range, interpersonal confrontations.”Conditioning” (particularly the conditioning of children through media violence and interactive video games) can create an “acquired deficiency” in this immune system resulting in “Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome.” As a result of this weakened immune system the victim becomes more vulnerable to violence-enabling factors such as poverty, discrimination, drugs, gangs, radical politics, and the availability of guns.
  • Conditioning: A type of training that intensely and realistically simulates the actual conditions to be faced in a future situation. Effective conditioning enables an individual to respond in a precisely defined manner in spite of high states of anxiety or fear.
  • Chariot: A two-wheeled platform pulled by horses (usually two) generally carrying a driver and a passenger. Of limited value for commerce due to its small capacity, the chariot was primarily an instrument of war and the hunt. Its greater mobility gave it a high degree of utility in the pursuit of a defeated enemy. The passenger was usually an archer who would fire from the platform while on the move or during brief halts.
  • Phalanx: A mass of spearmen in tight ranks, carrying spears approximately 4 meters long and protecting themselves with overlapping shields, highly trained to move in a formation organized in depth (i.e., moving and fighting “in column” as opposed to “in line”) and trained to strike the enemy as a coherent mass. First widely utilized by the ancient Greeks.
  • Physical Limitations: The physical limitations of the human body which, when overcome, will assist in physically enabling killing. These can be broken down into force, mobility, distance, and protection.
  • Posturing: In the territorial and mating battles of every species the individual who puffs itself up the biggest or makes the loudest noise is most likely to win; this process is referred to as “posturing.” Humans engaged in close-combat are invariably profoundly frightened, and in such individuals primitive, midbrain processing often causes the actual battle to be, from one perspective, a process of posturing until one side or another turns and runs, after which the real killing usually begins. Thus posturing is critical to warfare and victory can be achieved through superior posturing. Bagpipes, bugles, drums, shiny armor, tall hats, chariots, elephants, and cavalry have all been factors in successful posturing (convincing oneself of one’s prowess while daunting ones enemy), but, ultimately, gunpowder proved to be the ultimate posturing tool.
  • Psychological Enabling Factors: The processes that can be manipulated as a weapon to psychologically enable a human, or a group of humans, to kill. These can be broken down into posturing, mobility, distance, leaders, groups, and conditioning.
  • Weapon: A device or system that is designed to permit humans to overcome natural physical and psychological limitations in order to enable the killing and domination of other creatures, particularly their fellow human beings.
  • Weapons Evolution: The process of Darwinian natural selection in the development of a series of ever-more-effective weapons.
  • Weapons Lethality: A factor of the effectiveness of the weapons used to kill and the ability of medical technology available to save lives. Thus, weapons lethality can be thought of as a contest between weapons effectiveness (the state of technology trying to kill you) and medical effectiveness (the state of technology trying to save you)


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  • Griffith, P. (1989). Battle tactics of the civil war. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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  • Grossman, D. (1995/1996). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. New York: Little, Brown. Holmes

©2000 Killology Research Group ~ All Rights Reserved.

Col. Grossman is a West Point psychology professor, Professor of Military Science, and an Army Ranger who has combined his experiences to become the founder of a new field of scientific endeavor, which he has termed “killology.” In this new field Col. Grossman has made revolutionary new contributions to our understanding of killing in war, the psychological costs of war, the root causes of the current “virus” of violent crime that is raging around the world, and the process of healing the victims of violence, in war and peace.

He is the author of
On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and is required reading in classes at West Point, the U.S. Air Force Academy, police academies worldwide, and “peace studies” programs in numerous universities and colleges. Co-authored with Gloria DeGaetano, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence has received international acclaim.

Col. Grossman is an Airborne Ranger infantry officer, and a prior-service sergeant and paratrooper, with a total of over 23 years experience in leading U.S. soldiers worldwide. He retired from the Army in February 1998 and has devoted himself fulltime to teaching, writing, speaking, and research.

Today he is the director of the Killology Research Group, and in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks he is on the road almost 300 days a year, training elite military and law enforcement organizations worldwide about the reality of combat.

Reposted from Killology Research Group.

Read Dave Grossman’s Aggression and Violence.