Monday, February 14, 2011

On Combat by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace
My son gave me this book for Christmas, after hearing Lt. Col Grossman give a talk to some Marine Corps leadership. It's not the kind of book you just zip through, it really needs to be digested in small chunks. Grossman has had a long career working with soldiers and law enforcement personnel, preparing them for deadly situations and the aftermath. He writes in great detail about both the psychological and physiological effects of conflict. It turns out that Grossman is also a science fiction fan, and he uses quotes from books I'm familiar with here and there in On Combat.

The human body has, programmed into it, fight or flight responses that happen in the midst of conflict, when our lives are in danger. Some of these responses can be overcome or mitigated by the proper training. At normal heart beat rates from 60-80 bpm, our physiological responses are basically normal, but when adrenaline starts to raise our heart rates above 120 bpm, the first thing to go is fine motor skills. Above 145 bpm, complex motor skills also deteriorate. Above 160 bpm, our sight and hearing can be constricted, causing tunnel vision and loud noises to be distorted.

However, with the proper type of training, which may include live-fire paintball combat simulations, professional soldiers or law enforcement officers can become accustomed to heart rates this high, and push the effects of a given heart rate to a higher level. Highly trained athletes can also see the same effects in their performance, from forcing themselves to continue to compete at higher metabolic levels.

Grossman has also worked extensively with PTSD victims, and this book contains a lot of information about the causes and effects of this disorder, and advice for soldiers and law enforcement on how to deal with them constructively. I never knew that during WWI and WWII, there were actually more men disabled by psychological problems than by enemy bullets.

This was a very informative book, and I highly recommend it if you are in a profession likely to involve you in a deadly force situation, or are a family member of such a person.

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