On Combat – Follow Up #1

If you didn’t read the last bit I wrote on On Combat by Dave Grossman, you should read it here.

I’ve been continuing to listen to On Combat for the last few days and again there’s a lot of useful information in understanding the ramifications of life or death struggle and how to condition people for it.

But then there’s also been a number of tirades against violent video games that just don’t hold up (again). So lets dive into Grossman’s misrepresentations and what I can only call lies due to ignorance (or worse).

Aggravated Assault Rate – Up or Down?

Grossman repeatedly states that violent crime is on the rise in the US (and over and over that the reason for it is violent media video games). Grossman also states that while the murder rate has gone down, it’s only because medical technology has improved so much since the 1970s and that in order to see the impact of violent media we have to look at the Aggravated Assault Rate – because it equates to attempted murders.

Okay great, looking at the rates available (the FBI website has only back as far as 1995 available – with 1994 numbers contained within for comparison) the aggravated assault rates follow overall violent crime statistics (imagine that) and they’ve been on an overall downward trend since since the early 90s.

Source: Wikipedia

Granted that’s according to the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics – meaning offenses that have actually been reported to law enforcement agencies.

What does the National Crime Victimization Survey say? The same thing.


Grossman also cites a 5 fold increase (a relative number) and I think he’s talking again about currently compared to the 50s. Grossman does this to try to bolster his claim that media video games are causing violence saying that we’re living in the most violent peace time era ever. But again he’s conveniently forgetting that the US murder rate was almost just as high as in the 90s prior to the 50s.

While Grossman doesn’t come right out and say that we’re living in the most violent time he does imply that things are getting continually worse – even though there has been a downward trend for almost an entire generation at this point. Granted the book was being written around 2001-2002, but even then there was a very drastic drop off in violent crime prior to that. There wasn’t even a spike until 2006 – but a single point doesn’t make a trend.

School Shooters Had ONE thing in Common (Aside from Violent Media)

Now for the most batshit claim I’ve heard so far – the school shooters in Columbine and others had one thing in common – that they were all in school band.

With that claim, comes the follow-on that the shooters weren’t involved in Varsity Sports or Martial Arts – activities with discipline!

I can only take Grossman’s portrayal of band as either total disdain based on ignorance or as an outright lie. I say this as someone who has numerous friends who were in school band programs and they all described band as very disciplined – particularly marching band. Marching band puts varsity sports to shame in terms of discipline and physical endurance – marching band member have to practice in heat, rain, and snow – often with 30+ lbs of kit.

Compare that with varsity football players that go inside or cancel practice when it rains.

Strange Claims About Bullying

Another claim Grossman makes is that violent media consumption turns people into bullies because they become scared.

That’s interesting, although my experience with bullies growing up in the 90s leads me to believe different things. The bullies I dealt with were the popular kids (the ones who would go on to varsity sports no less). I think I was targeted primarily because I was tall and awkward, not to mention socially inept – but once I stood up straight and started paying more attention to social niceties the bullies disappeared.

Media Ratings

It’s funny, Grossman is constantly berating violent media (and particularly video games), he’s gone so far as to use some vague claim about the video game industry trying to deny a “proven” link between violence and violent video games.

Nevermind that his own cited data shows the opposite, especially when taken in concert with the amount of violent video games being sold (see the inverse correlation between video game sales and the overall violent crime rate in the US I laid out in the previous article).

There’s still an hour left in the chapter on Domestic Violence evolution, so Grossman could address the rating systems put in place by the MPAA, FCC, and ESRB to help parents out – but I’m not holding my breath.

Addendum to Ratings and Parental Responsibility

Grossman actually does bring up “it’s the parents responsibility argument” and implies by arguing that alcohol, tobacco, porn, guns, and cars are all regulated by the government that so should violent media.

My question at that point, why shouldn’t the government also regulate junk food? With obesity and diabetes on the rise and projected to increase – shitty health is far, far, far, far more likely to kill someone prematurely than violence (heart disease accounts for 1 in 4 deaths per year in the US as of 2015 according to the CDC).

Grossman also cited a specific number of something like 2.5 million cases of violence in schools every year – first off, I’d love to see a citation, and second I wonder how the rates breakdown with correlation to poverty and the population density of the surrounding area.

Further Conclusions

There’s lots of good information in this book – when it’s on topic. But Grossman has this nasty habit of reverting to tirades against video games – yes he’ll pay lip service to other violent media but then goes back to video games.

Even with the information that I’ve seen verified by other other authors on violence I still can’t help but be somewhat weary as so much of what he’s said about the causes of violence are simply unproven or are disproven by his own data.

At this point I think it’s very clear that Grossman is almost entirely ideologically driven – I think he believes what he’s writing – but he attempts to reduce the complexity that is interpersonal human violence to the introduction of violent media through television – see his 15 year theory on the increase of violence in society (violence doubles 15 years after the introduction of TV).

Grossman’s 15 year theory is internally inconsistent – he cites that a code of practices was in place until 1968 that didn’t allow villains to be heroes until after that point – the first major TV broadcast was in 1947. 15 years after would have been 1962 – which would have have been several years before the code of conduct went out of favor.

Now I’m unable to find specifics on what we now call violent crime, but if you look at historical rates of intentional homicide in relation to the first major TV broadcast, then in the US in 1947 the murder rate was 6.1 per 100,000 – a rate of 12.2 wasn’t reached until… Oh wait – in the US a rate of 12.2 murders per 100,000 people hasn’t ever been reached (the closest we got was 10.2 in 1980) – even before 1970 when according to Grossman, all the great advancements in modern medical technology started.

Source: Wikipedia

And again this does not explain the high murder rate of 9.7 per 100,000 in 1933…

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