Guns, Games, and Videos- A Marine Sniper on Violence and Killing

“I left the sky in the middle of the night
I hit the deck and I’m ready to fight.
Colt .45 and Kabar by my side
These are the tools that make men die.”

-Infantry Cadenceonkilling

This post is not a position on gun control rather it is intended give some insight into a side of the issue few outside of specialized jobs probably recognize or acknowledge.  That of the human weapon. 

There is an expression every Marine learns in Basic Training.  “The most dangerous weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”  Without justifying the statement (we Marines are very good at self-promotion), the statement is insightful and applies equally to the Rangers, Airborne, SEALS, RM Commandos or any other combat troop.  The truth is that it is the combination of the Marine and his rifle that make a weapon.  The ‘weapon’, whether it is an M4, SAW, LAW or even the Marine’s legendary Ka Bar fighting knife is nothing more than a tool that, when applied by a skilled individual allows a person to achieve an objective.

Is a gun a weapon?  It certainly can be.  Can it kill without being a weapon? Certainly.  Consider a firearm used for hunting that explodes and hurts the user.  This is a safety issue in which a tool failed.  Can an insect sprayer be a weapon?  In the wrong hands, it has been used to kill many people.   On June 11, 1964 a person walked into a school in Cologne, Germany with a bug sprayer filled with gasoline.  Armed with his “flamethrower”, a mace, and a lance, he killed 9 students, then himself.  Alone, a bug sprayer is an innocuous and helpful tool.  In the hands of someone intent on killing, it becomes a deadly weapon.  This post is talking about the person that makes the gun, bug sprayer, sword, or bomb…a weapon.

50cal1I was a Marine Sniper.  I have a Combat Action Ribbon for my time as a sniper in Somalia.  While not an expert on the subject, I would say I am at least a minor authority on the subject at hand.  As a mentor told me once: “It is not easy to kill a person the first time …it is easier the second time and continues to get easier”...I would agree.

In his book “On Killing”, Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman states that until the Vietnam war, an estimated 75-80% of riflemen did not even fire their weapons in combat.  The reluctance or even inability to harm another human being in combat is well documented throughout history.  Chief US Army History S.L.A Marshall said:

“It is therefore reasonable to believe that the average and healthy individual – the man who can endure the mental and physical stresses of combat- still has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take a life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility…At the vital point he becomes a conscientious objector.” 

This is why less than 1% of fighter pilots in World War II accounted for 30-40% of all combat victories.  Most combat fighter pilots were hesitant to kill another person.

The Marine Corps, Army, and every other military unit in the World spend countless hours teaching tactics, and techniques to fight and kill the enemy.  They also spend countless hours toughening their soldiers mentally to kill, when needed.  Once inured in combat, a Marine, SEAL, Ranger or any other combat troop can act decisively and with controlled violence to accomplish their objective.

It is the mentality of a person that allows them to do harm to another person that makes a weapon.

By the Vietnam War it is estimated that 95% of riflemen fired their weapons in combat.  This is a huge change from WWII in which less than 25% fired their weapons.  What happened? Quite simply the US Military began desensitizing its soldiers to the horror of killing.  In his book War; The Lethal Custom, Gwynne Dyer states:

“Most of the language used in Parris Island to describe the joys of killing people is bloodthirsty but meaningless hyperbole, and the recruits realize even as they enjoy it.  Nevertheless, it does help to desensitize them to the suffering of an ‘enemy’, and at the same time they are being indoctrinated in the most explicit fashion (as previous generations were not) with the notion that their purpose is not just to be brave or fight well; it is to kill people.”

Marine bootcamp is filled with cadences that glorify killing.  More advanced training continues to glorify killing.  For a Marine, it is a necessary and important piece of training to ensure that the mission can be accomplished. This is also true for combat troops throughout the world and throughout history.

Israeli Defense Force antiterrorist sniper trainer Chuck Cramer, tried to design a course in such a way that practicing to kill was as realistic as possible.

“I made the targets as human as possible.”  He continues: “I changed the standard firing targets to full-size anatomically correct figures because no Syrian runs around with a big white square on his chest with numbers on it.  I put closes on these targets and polyurethane heads.  I cut up a cabbage and poured catchup into it and put it back together.  I said, “When you look through that scope, I want you to see a head blowing up.”

One cannot view the tragedy that happened this weekend and has happened too many times in the past in a single light.  A one dimensional approach will do little to prevent recurrences.   The event at Ohio State University simply supports what is said in this blog post.  It is not the gun or knife that is the weapon it is the person who wields the tool that becomes the weapon.

I am not against video games, movies, or TV shows at all.  That being said, I question the perspective of a person who decries guns yet allows their 13 year old son to play Call of Duty for hours on end.  Remember my statement earlier where I said “It is not easy to kill another human being…the first time.”.  In the course of playing Call of Duty or a number of other games, players are getting the experience of killing over, and over, and over…many thousands of times.

The military has recognized the value of these games.  The graphics and reality of these games are incredible. People bleed, and die…just like in real life.  On that note, Jason Bourne, James Bond, and military movies like BlackHawk Down, and Saving Private Ryan show combat as closely as it can be shown without being there in person.  Again, watchers get to see people ‘die’ over, and over, and over again.

Lt. Col (and Dr.) Dave Grossman says: “In a kind of reverse Clockwork Orange classical conditioning process, adolescents in movie theaters across the nation, and watching tv at home, are seeing the detailed, horrible suffering and killing of human beings, and they are learning to associate this with killing and suffering with entertainment, pleasure, their favorite soft drink, their favorite candy bar, intimate contact of their date.”


The following is a screenshot taken from an online video freely available to anyone with internet access.  It shows an ISIS terrorist teaching to kill a human being with a knife.  While it is easy to recoil at this imagery, this is little different that that which society sees on a daily basis in entertainment.

Make no mistake about the impact of such media.  Videos, games, and movies of people dying in very realistic scenarios desensitizes a person to the horror of killing.  This has been acknowledged and embraced by the US Army in their development of specialized video games.  According to Skip Rizzo, a USC Psychologist working with the US Army on development of the video games to prepare military recruits for the horror of war before deploying: “The rationale is you want to teach people this stuff when they’re in a state of arousal so that they’re more likely to access that learning when they’re in a similar state”  Rizzo continues:

What we want to create is something that pulls at the hearts of people,” Rizzo said. “Maybe there’s a child lying there with the arms blown off, screaming and crying. Maybe your action kills an innocent civilian, or you see a guy next to you get shot in the eye with blood spurting out of his face.”

On September 12th, 2013 Foxnews published an article titled “Training Simulations” which articulated the connection between violent video games and mass killings. University of Missouri’s Associate Professor of Psychology, Bruce Bartholow says  in the article:

“From a psychological perspective, video games are excellent teaching tools because they reward players for engaging in certain types of behavior. Unfortunately, in many popular video games, the behavior is violence.”


Nobel Prize Laureate author Ernest Hemingway famously said: ““There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”  As many parents can attest, their sons and daughters become fixated on games where killing and violence is played out time and again.  In researching this blog post I came across a situation in which a young man who is playing ‘Guild Wars’ and wrote: Someone comes at you with an axe, intent on cleaving your skull open? Take a breath, keep your cool, realise that your mind actually works a lot faster than you think it does and try and cleave their skull open right back.”  This is a person talking about killing in a video game.

This is not to suggest causation rather correlation although there is strong anecdotal evidence for causation, as well.  I am not saying that either guns, video games or movies should be outlawed.  What I am saying is that reducing violence in our society requires that we think about a multi-faceted approach that considers firearms, AND ensures that we are not creating and training the most dangerous weapon with violent movies, TV shows, and video games…that weapon being an impressionable mind that is inured to the horrors of killing another person.

404263-hitmancoverAs you consider presents for this holiday season and pass by the video game Hitman (does the strategy need any explanation?) or the movie Deadpool and are thinking of purchasing for a gift, ask yourself whether you now believe “Guns” are to blame for violence in our society and why you would arm your child with the the capacity for violence while decrying guns?  While Matt Damon decries the 2nd Amendment he has no hesitation about making violent movies like the Bourne series.  Quenten Tarentino said: “But still this is a movie,” he says. “The bottom line is I’m not responsible for what some person does after they see a movie.  While the director of arguably the most violent movies in recent history does not believe he is responsible for any violence he is quick to lay the blame at the feet of guns…the very guns he displays in his movies: “I think it’s totally disrespectful to their memory. Obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health.”


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