Lt Col David Grossman has given OfficerResource.com permission to reprint some of his work. This is the second of three articles we are posting of his on the psychological effects of combat. -Xiphos
By 1946, the US Army had accepted Marshall’s conclusions, and the Human Resources Research Office of the US Army subsequently pioneered a revolution in combat training that eventually replaced firing at bull’s-eye targets with deeply ingrained “conditioning” using realistic, man-shaped, pop-up targets that fall when hit. Psychologists know that this kind of powerful operant conditioning is the only technique that will reliably influence 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 groups, leadership, and distance 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 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. Figure 3 (below) presents a schematic representation of the interaction between the killing enabling factors that have been manipulated throughout history, including the key, modern ingredient of conditioning.
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 three-to-one 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.