On first watching The Act of Killing I just wanted to know more. I watched the bonus features and listened to the comments, but I searched for additional material, and found some Youtube interviews. Those were good, but there was another clip that came up with a title that sounded like it might be related:
Well, not exactly. This was an interview with an author who had studied psychology and the military and violence. The interview was from 1996, so would have been related to his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, published in 1995.
I know some people will not appreciate his comments about movies and video games, and I didn't even notice that the first time through. What really struck me was the change in percentage of who was shooting to kill.
In past conflicts, a lot of people who participated in battles were not really trying to kill anyone. Some were, and succeeded, and with less advances in medical care they could be fairly effective, but still, a lot of people who probably thought they would be able to kill the enemy would get out on the battlefield and find they were wrong.
The military used operant conditioning and classical conditioning to change this. One example is that targets for shooting practice were switched from a bulls eye to a silhouette. That was an early change; there are more sophisticated ones now. It was an evolving process, and you can trace that evolution pretty well.
- World War II - 15% shooting to kill
- Korea - 55%
- Vietnam - 95%
This reminded me of something, where I believe I may have been naive.
A few years ago I read Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. One thing it talked about was military rape, and it turns out that it was a lot more common for our soldiers to rape people in Vietnam than in World War II. (I don't specifically remember if she wrote anything about Korea.)
From reading, and maybe from my own extrapolation, I thought that it was because of morale - that because World War II felt like a just cause, and heroic, and Vietnam didn't, especially as more people turned against the war.
That may still have played a role, but now I wonder how much teaching people to devalue life effects everything else.
Then one of the books in the Media Module for Social Issues Through Comic Books was Nightly News, and I will review those soon, but one thing it talked about was working on upping the kill rate, and something it added was shooter games being developed for training and recruitment. It's a fairly paranoid book (on purpose), and so you might not be able to trust everything in it, but a lot of the things that it mentions that sound crazy are documented.
So, no, this interview was not connected to the documentary I watched, and in fact happened over a decade before the movie was released, and yet, it does relate.
It relates because although as humans we have a taboo against killing, we can be taught to get around that, and even to enjoy it, but successfully doing that does not take away the toll. Those who fought in Vietnam did have a high rate of shooting to kill, but they have paid a high price after because of the trauma. Today's soldiers are still facing high rates of suicide and PTSD.
The other way in which it connects to the movie is bringing things out. At one point Grossman talks about drafts being shared while he was still writing the book, and conversations being started, where people could "speak the unspeakable". We need that. We need it so that people can heal, and we need it so that we can be really honest about the kind of society we want to have.