On Killing

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On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
AuthorDave Grossman
PublisherBack Bay Books
Publication date
Followed byOn Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace 

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society is a book by Dave Grossman exploring the psychology of the act of killing, and the military and law enforcement establishments' attempt to understand and deal with the consequences of killing.


The book is based on S.L.A. Marshall's studies from World War II, which proposed that contrary to popular perception,[1] the majority of soldiers in war do not ever fire their weapons, because of an innate resistance to killing. Based on Marshall's studies the military instituted training measures to break down this resistance and successfully raised soldiers' firing rates to over 90 percent during the Vietnam War.[2]

Grossman points out that there are great psychological costs that weigh heavily on the combat soldier or police officer who kills, if they are not mentally prepared for what may happen; if their actions (killing) are not supported by their commanders and/or peers; and if they are unable to justify their actions (or if no one else justifies the actions for them).

The second edition of the book, along with an audio version, was released in 2009.


Robert Engen, in a paper for the Canadian Military Journal critiquing On Killing, both praised and criticized Grossman's works, saying: "On Killing and On Combat form an excellent starting point, there are too many problems with their interpretation for them to be considered the final word on the subject."[1] Grossman's response to Engen, printed in the same journal, addresses the criticisms by showing that S.L.A. Marshall's findings, even after having doubt cast on their methodology, have borne out in further scientific studies and real world experience, and furthermore, have been the cornerstone of military and police training for over a half century.[3]

On Killing is on the United States Marine Corps' recommended reading list.[4]


The series 3 Black Mirror episode, "Men Against Fire" (2016), was partly inspired by Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command and On Killing, and explores the same themes.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Engen, Robert. "Killing for Their Country: A New Look At 'Killology'". Canadian Military Journal. 9 (2). Archived from the original on 2011-07-21.
  2. ^ Steuter, Erin; Wills, Deborah (15 July 2009). At War with Metaphor: Media, Propaganda, and Racism in the War on Terror. Lexington Books. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-7391-3031-5.
  3. ^ Dave Grossman. "S.L.A. MARSHALL REVISITED...?". Canadian Military Journal. Archived from the original on November 5, 2013.
  4. ^ Freeman, Sharon Morgillo; Moore, Bret A; Freeman, Arthur; Edd Arthur Freeman, Edd, Abpp (3 June 2009). Living and Surviving in Harm's Way: A Psychological Treatment Handbook for Pre- and Post-Deployment of Military Personnel. Taylor & Francis. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-135-85934-3.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ "Black Mirror postmortem: Showrunner talks season 3 twists". Entertainment Weekly. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2016.