The Premise: Lt. Col. David Grossman followed up his best-selling book, On Killing, with On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace. We consider this to be the second part of Grossman’s Killology Opus, and this one is definitely more focused on individuals ready to perform, cope, and survive in combat. It also applies to survival on the streets of a large city as a police officer, an armed citizen, or more importantly, someone who has lived through a deadly encounter. For this book, Grossman partnered with Loren Christensen, a former policeman, martial-arts expert, and author.
On Combat is full of experiences relayed to the authors by combat veterans and police officers who have survived deadly encounters. The latter is probably more relevant to the armed citizen who is looking to defend his or herself and family, particularly if the reader has no professional background in either of these areas.
The guidance contained within On Combat should give the reader a greater understanding of what to expect after a violent confrontation when the aggressor is defeated. The hidden aspects of combat and its effects are explored. Whether it is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress inoculation, or the “Mark of Cain” perception, whereby the warrior feels society views him differently because he has killed another human being.
The 411: At times the prose seems repetitive or even redundant, but after reading the book several times or even going back to read different parts, the reader can see a reason for this.
The book has a therapeutic and reassuring tone as if it was written with an underlying theme of comforting a person who has gone through that trauma and feels scarred to the soul. Critics may condemn it for its lack of an academic style, but Grossman and Christensen don’t seem to care if their work is read or criticized by the ivory tower types. They wrote this one for the warriors.
There’s a bit of hyperbole to the writing, and while the categorization of people as wolves, sheep, or sheepdogs is a good basic analogy, in the years since its publication it has become a bit played out and unfortunately very diluted. Many less-qualified individuals are quick to latch onto the analogy, perhaps by taking it too literally.
Not every combat veteran will have experiences that mirror those cited in the text. However, they’ll often see similarities between most of what’s mentioned because, frankly, no two people have the exact same mentality, spirituality, training, psychological makeup, or life experiences. What affects one person greatly may not have any effect on another. As a result, the physiological effects may be completely different.
Some readers believe that On Killing is the better half of Grossman’s Killology Opus. This reviewer disagrees and holds this volume in higher regard as more of a practical application or first-aid kit for the brain.
The Verdict: There’s a unique aspect to this book as it delves into the physiological and psychological changes that a human being goes through in a life-threatening situation. We’ve all heard of the “adrenaline dump” and the “fight or flight” conundrum that comes with it, and Grossman lays it out in all its ugliness.
Like our review of On Killing in Issue 35, we feel this is a book that contains a wealth of good information on the subject at hand and one that can be referenced again and again. It’s an important one to read before the fight, but perhaps more importantly it should be read again after the fight as a sort of coping mechanism.
This book should be required reading not only for the survivors of a deadly encounter, but for the families, spouses, and friends of someone who has gone through that ordeal. Additionally, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and even grief counselors and Veteran’s Administration personnel who deal with the effects that combat can have on a person should become familiar with its contents.
On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace
by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman with Loren W. Christensen
Warrior Science Publications; 2nd edition