I’ve written a couple of posts on On Combat as I was listening to it and well the previous posts were none too flattering. Grossman is either outright lying about rates of violence or he’s mixing rose colored memories of his childhood in the 50s with some out of focus view of the present. Given that Grossman says he’s citing Aggravated Assault rates from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) – I can only assume he’s lying about the statistics.
Worse yet, all of the things Grossman’s lying about are to push the idea that violence is on the rise on the US when in fact it’s at an almost two generation low and still going down. Then with this false frame, Grossman draws a non-existent correlation with his imagined rise in violence and the increased consumption of violent media when in fact violent media consumption is on the rise while violent crime continues fall – even among self-report accounts.
But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here – the book is definitely worth a listen – just ignore Grossman’s opinions on media. Yes, Grossman is a trained Psychologist and behavioral conditioning through stimulus and response pairing is very powerful – but his attempt to predict human behavior with it is where things fail hard.
So what information is worth holding onto?
Grossman goes into depth on the physical realities of life or death struggle and how the human body will react to the stress. Some of the more common responses among veterans is an evacuation of bowels and bladder – there is a term Grossman cites as a “battle crap” although it’s taken prior to battle to prevent evacuation.
There are interesting sections on the psychological impacts of combat as well as feeling guilty about surviving and feeling grateful that you survived or that your loved ones survived – the idea of “better you than me.” Grossman also talks about what seems to create PTSD, how it’s experienced, and what’s been found effective in relieving it.
The last bit I found really interesting and immediately useful is his “battle breathing” technique – which is a steady 4 count inhale – hold – exhale – hold (I’ve heard it called “box breathing”) to manipulate your autonomic nervous system in order lower your heart rate.
So in summary, On Combat by Dave Grossman is worth reading and there’s a lot of useful information – just tune out anything he says about violent media and rates of violent crime.
If you’d like to read my previous refutations to his theories: