VERY interesting book on combat
By Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, covering both police and military combat. Available here.
I've read it twice, and it is excellent. Most people don't understand that fear and combat have been the subject of much serious study. The earlier work was probably du Pict, who was killed in the Franco-Prussian War, and who based his studies on interviews of Napoleon I's veterans. Then there was Lord Moran's "On Fear," based on his observations as a battlefield doctor in WWI. S. L. A. Marshall's study of WWII and Korean firefights (where he found interestingly that only 15% of men fired if they saw the enemy, and which led to revisions in training away from bullseye targets, to get soldiers conditioned to fire at enemy rather than round bulls). Then there are quite a few more recent studies.
This work essentially integrates all that data, and adds quite a few original insights, and then lays out practical principles of training. I can't do it justice in a blog post, but will try in extended remarks below.
Grossman's book covers both military and police operations; I think the latter is where it best fits a void. For police it has practical combat tips, but also things such as (1) how to deal with it if you have to shoot someone; (2) how you should help a buddy deal with that if he has to shoot; (3) suggestions for police departments, such as minimizing overtime (sleepy men make mistakes).
He has some interesting data, based on work by Jeff Cooper, as modified by medical knowledge, on human functioning under stress. Basically, as your heartbeat rises you lose fine motor skills but gain on gross motor skills (which were historically more important to survival). But at certain points you start to lose judgment, too. Training can enable a person to push that envelope and retain judgment where others would lose it.
Practical and detailed data on effects of stress on a combatant. Not just tunnel vision. The discovery that in dim lighting (unless you are trained for this) you fire at sound rather than sight. This is instinct rather than judgment. In a dark room, hear a shot and see a muzzle flash, you fire at the sound (meaning at a general area) rather than the flash ( a precise target). We instinctively depend on our ears in the dark. Training can overcome this.
Studies of other effects: why muzzle blast is not noticed by hunters or people in a gun fight. How hearing changes under those conditions, how time slows down. Necessities of training, because a person will drop back to their instincts (interesting case of an officer who constantly trained at disarming people by hand. Have someone hold a gun on him, and take it away from them, hand it back and repeat. He came face to face with an armed criminal, snatched the gun away from him -- and handed it back. He survived the experience luckily.
The necessity of training with paint pellet guns (not paintball) to become conditioned to firing and being fired on.
An interesting section on violent video and video games. What he suggests is -- if an object of training is to condition a person to fire on other people, what violent and increasingly realistic games do is to give that condtioning to everyone, including murderers. It also teaches them marksmanship. If you look at mass schoolyard killers, they loved these games, but never touched martial arts, competitive shooting, Jr ROTC, hunting, or paintball. In short, they were obsessed with violent games and TV but would not participate in any activity that required discipline or might risk getting hurt. The violent games give them a way to get training without submitting to discipline. And some of the killers behave uncannily as if they were in a video game: the object is to run up the point score with as many kills as they can as fast as they can.
This is one interesting, and thick (366 pgs) book. I HIGHLY recommend it.
If this is anything like his last book, I will skip it. He has a frustratingly poor understanding of nearly everything outside his narrow area of expertise.
I was quite nauseated hearing him (without a hint of sarcasm) opine about how banning video games would help to end violent crime. I got a very strong impression he has never actually played a video game.
Posted by: Jim W at June 22, 2007 10:29 AM
I really must disagree with the part about the video games. You cannot learn how to field strip, load, unload, chamber rounds, aim, fire, change magazines, etc. through a video game. Using a mouse and a keyboard is nothing at all like firing a real firearm, and any similar comparisons are grossly negligent and ridiculous.
Posted by: Jonas Salk at June 22, 2007 01:01 PM
I have to agree about the video game aspects. There is no real adrenaline rush playing video games as there is, I'm sure, when someone is shooting at you. That's not to say I don't think video games have any use in training; the military has been using them, after all, but I find it hard to believe that video games helps make it easier for people to deal with the stress of combat absent other types of training.
Posted by: Sebastian at June 22, 2007 02:56 PM
I am no expert, but at one point I learned to be reasonably accurate with a pistol: I never tried contests or anything, but I made tight clusters compared to most other folks at the range, and I came in first in a class of six when I took a "practical pistol" course (firing from cover, poor light, etc.). I emphatically agree with Salk about the disconnect between video games and practical shooting skills. "Teaches them marksmanship"? It sure didn't seem like it to me, in any of the ten or more popular action games I've played.
Possibly video games might help with the psychology and physiology of shooting in a tense situation, I dunno. It seems to be well-accepted that the usual hormonal reaction to life and death situations is a serious obstacle to effective firearms use, and it's occurred to me before that if someone could just fool himself into thinking "this is just the target range" he might be far more effective. Might video games be extremely effective at helping someone play such a trick on his mind in a real-life crisis? It's not a ridiculous idea. But it's not obviously a sensible idea, either: if the man really deeply believes it, shouldn't he should be out making a gazillion Web 2.0 bucks by making a video game which simulates music performance, and selling it to artists to eliminate stage fright?
Posted by: William Newman at June 22, 2007 03:36 PM
There are too many points on the lack of value in video games in teaching combat.
The mass school killers did not engage in combat. They both planned and did avoid combat. The kills were against unarmed, non-resisting civilians.
What the video games may have done is desensitize them and give them a taste for acquiring the real thrill with as little risk as possible.
Posted by: harry at June 24, 2007 11:38 AM
You forgot to mention the name of the book.
Posted by: R.G. Wells at June 25, 2007 03:28 PM
Video games DO NOT teach marksmanship. What they can do it teach tactics.
Due to safety restrictions on shooting ranges no one learns to do the myriad of sub-skills that increase one's chances of survival. For example: "move while shooting." Many cops don't do this because they train at a range where they have to stand still. Sure they learn to shoot, but you can't fight that way without putting yourself at risk. Back to video games; when someone plays these games they learn real quick that standing still makes you a target. Fire on the move, seek cover, and who knows what else become useful tactics.
So it is Principles Of Combat that one can learn/self teach when playing video games. This is why the Army uses video games in training.
Posted by: Clint at June 25, 2007 11:03 PM
I am a retired violent crime's detective and have had the good fortune of attending one of Col. Grossman's lectures. Those who criticize the video game factor perhaps didn't get enough information from reading the book alone, if they read it at all. In person, Col. Grossman makes the video game connection crystal clear. The military and many police departments now use video scenarios in combat training, so there must be something to what he says.
Posted by: R. Lee at June 26, 2007 08:49 AM
Grossman assertions are countered in two books: Demonic Males and The Dark Side of Man. Both use very strong science to catalogue/ explain violence in primates.
Grossman posits that species are hardwired by evoloution to not kill their own species but he doesn't recognize the many examples in Nature. Such as male lions killing the infants of rivals they have overthrown. And those males, having been overthrown, soon die from their wounds and/or starvation.
Posted by: Will at June 17, 2008 07:53 PM