05 July 2012

Psychological Inoculation

On Killing by LtCol Dave Grossman, 2009, Excerpts

Martin Seligman developed the concept of inoculation from stress from his famous studies of learning in dogs. He put the dogs in a cage that had an electric shock pass through the floor at random intervals. Initially the dogs would jump, yelp and scratch pitifully in their attempts to escape the shocks, but after a time they would fall into a depressed, hopeless state of apathy and inactivity that Seligman termed “learned helplessness.” After falling into a state of learned helplessness, the dogs would not avoid the shocks even when provided with an obvious escape route.

This process of inoculation is exactly what occurs in boot camps and in every military school worthy of its name. When raw recruits are faced with seemingly sadistic abuse and hardship, they escape through weekend passes and, ultimately, graduation. They are being inoculated against the stresses of combat. Soldiers are highly rewarded and recognized [marksmanship badge, three-day pass] for success in this skill and suffer mild punishment in the form of retraining, peer pressure, and failure to graduate from boot camp] for failure to quickly and accurately “engage” the targets – a standard euphemism for “kill”. Today we understand the enormous power of drill to condition and program a soldier.

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