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The Costs of Killer Training

How did we become a nation full of people who want to make others feel their pain? Ask John Allen Muhammed.
 
 
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Given the circumstantial evidence we've all heard or read about in the arrest of the Persian Gulf War vet John Allen Muhammed and his "stepson" John Lee Malvo in connection with the maniacal sniper killings, we apparently are faced with yet another tragic case of chickens coming home to roost.

Although most combat veterans don't turn into sociopaths upon completion of their tour of duty, I'd be a fool to think military training doesn't come with terrible psychological consequences for the combat survivor and harmful social consequences for the rest of us.

Ever since I was a kid, I've been extremely concerned about the violence in the world around me. That, coupled with heavy doses of Jesus, Martin Luther King and Gandhi studies, I've been trying to penetrate the mysteries of peace and security for virtually all my life.

My study was aided by a book called "On Killing," written by retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former Army Airborne Ranger infantry officer and West Point Academy psychology and military science professor. The book was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and is required reading at West Point, the U.S. Air Force Academy and in peace studies programs in colleges and universities across the country.

As a scholar, lecturer and author considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on the roots of violence and violent crime, Grossman is also the director of the Killology Research Group, whose mission is to highlight "the psychological cost of learning to kill."

The other day I came across a news account of a talk Grossman gave in April 2001 in which he described the four "killing enabling methods" used by the military that are mirrored in our mass media today -- brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and role models. He said that brutalization and classical conditioning methods assaulting American minds everywhere are most evident in action-adventure movies where a horrible act is followed not by a quest for justice but for vengeance -- "the evildoer's death."

"The people who do just want justice are seen as wishy-washy. They're just in the way," he said, exposing the foolishness of war hawks and their verbal attacks against so-called peaceniks and appeasers.

"The result is we have become a nation full of people who are going to make others feel their pain. Whenever you feed death and violence and destruction to your children, you reap what you sow in about 15 years," he added.

This all swirls through my head when thinking about the sick heart-mind of the sniper and another Persian Gulf War vet, Timothy McVeigh, who referred to his victims as "collateral damage."

When Colin Powell, a good and intelligent military leader by most accounts, was asked about the death toll of Iraqis following the Gulf War, he responded: "It's not a number I'm particularly interested in." Of course, Powell isn't even in the same category as McVeigh or the sniper. But to talk about these things in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys" is clearly overly simplistic. We're dealing with something much deeper here.

Now, let's consider Sisters Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte -- nuns affiliated with a peace group called Plowshares. Last week, they were arraigned in a federal courthouse in Denver, charged with obstruction of the national defense of the United States and injury of property of the United States.

These are the same charges that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts were charged with in connection to the embassy bombings in Kenya a few years ago.

The nuns' crime? Recognizing that while wealth doesn't always trickle down as supply-side economists suppose, values certainly do. So the Sisters took a pair of bolt cutters, cut through the fence of a missile silo in Well County, Colo., poured some of their own blood on top of the silo as a dramatic reminder of what these weapons are used for, and then prayed until they were arrested.

Facing a possible 30 years in prison for their nonviolent direct action, they refused an offer to be released on personal recognizance because the bond requires them not to participate in any further demonstrations. As a matter of conscience, they couldn't accept the offer. I spoke to a former priest named Bill Sulzman who knows these peaceful women well. "These are very religious women," he told me.

A pretrial conference is set for Dec. 13. A support rally for them is being held in front of the Georgetown, Colo., jail on Nov. 10.

It strikes me that there are only two kinds of religion in this world today -- the religion of violence and the religion of nonviolence. Which religion do you adhere to?

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. Email him at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com.