10 July 2012

Physical Distance

On Killing by LtCol Dave Grossman, 2009, Excerpts

The link between distance and ease of aggression has long been understood that there is a direct relationship between the empathic and physical proximity of the victim, and the resultant difficulty and trauma of the kill. This concept has fascinated and concerned soldiers, poets, philosophers, anthropologists, and psychologists alike.

At the far end of the spectrum are bombing and artillery, which illustrate the relative ease of long-range killing. As we draw toward the near end of the spectrum, the resistance to killing becomes increasingly more intense. This process culminates at the close end of the spectrum, when the resistance to bayoneting or stabbing becomes tremendously intense and killing with the bare hands becomes almost unthinkable.

Civilians and soldiers have withstood the actuality of fear, horror, and destruction during artillery bombardments and aerial bombardments without losing their will to fight, while the mere threat of invasion and close-up interpersonal aggression has turned whole populations into refugees fleeing in panic. The potential of close-up, inescapable, interpersonal hatred and aggression has greater impact on the morale of the soldier than the presence of inescapable, impersonal death and destruction.

The eyes are the window of the soul, and if one does not have to look into the eyes when killing, it is much easier to deny the humanity of the victim. The victim remains faceless, and one never needs to know one’s victim as a person. And the price most killers have to pay for a close-range kill – the memory of the “face terrible, twisted in pain and hate” – this price need never be paid if we can simply avoid looking at our victim’s face.

Maximum Range and Midrange
Close Range
Bayonet Range
Knife Range
Hand-to-Hand Kill

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