Broken souls

He looked so normal, so young and yet, scary. He could be anyone’s teenage boy, the kid next door who delivered your paper or cut your grass for extra money. Yet, he was a killer facing a long prison sentence. He was 14 years old. He, along with several friends, the oldest being 16, had plotted and brutally killed “the girl next door.” She was their friend and trusted them. They hung out together which made her death all the more frightening. The five boys brutally beat and strangled her to death. They’d formed a rock group and wanted to “sacrifice her to Satan” in the hopes they would become famous. They acted out themes from the music they listened to every day.

Juveniles do not live in the reality of the real world; their brains aren’t completely formed and judgment is sorely lacking. They create their own reality, conforming to groups and not weighing the consequences of bad decision-making.

Science knows far more now about the development of the human brain than it did 20 years ago. We know for instance that maturity in the human brain isn’t normally complete until about age 25 in males and around 22 or 23 in females. That accounts for the many young women who are foregoing marriage until considerably later in life or to older men. Too many young men are emotionally arrested and not maturing even at 25; those that do are too few for young women interested in marriage. Responsibility and commitment are scarce commodities in today’s young male population. For the emotionally damaged young male, it also makes them incredibly dangerous.

Most people will not kill, sometimes even to save their own life. They just can’t. Human beings are programmed with an emotional gene that inhibits their ability to kill another human being. Some cannot kill animals either. In the Army, I taught survival classes to combat troops, including Special Forces. I had “tab qualified” Army Rangers and Green Berets who couldn’t kill a rabbit for dinner. We were on a winter warfare exercise and the temperature at night was -32 degrees (F). We were sleeping in snow caves; if you didn’t kill and prep the rabbit, it would be a long hungry night. Some just couldn’t do it. One hulking Ranger actually got sick at the thought of it. The military discovered that in WWII, nearly 80 percent of combat troops either didn’t fire their weapons at all or fired ineffectively at the enemy, up or to the side, but not at enemy troops. About 10 to 15 percent of combat soldiers were effective killers. This was true for fighter pilots as well with about two percent of combat pilots accounting for more than 40 percent of aerial “kills.”

The military changed its training regimen and by Vietnam, the rate of effective firing by infantrymen exceeded 90 percent. What changed? Previously, the military had troops fire at “bullseye” targets. By Vietnam, troops were trained to shoot at human silhouettes. They trained to shoot people, not cardboard. The closer a trooper was to a crew-served weapon firing on “full-auto,” the more likely the troop was to fire his weapon at the enemy. Fear likes company.

The process involved “operant training,” training muscles and memory to function together just as an Olympic athlete trains muscles to function almost automatically to achieve incredible performance, so too do we train people to kill.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book “Outliers” that mastering a task to near perfection takes about 10,000 hours. Olympic athletes are a case in point, starting in early childhood to master a physical feat. Bill Gates mastered computer technology through childhood circumstances that gave him an enormous mental edge (about 10,000 hours of computer time) by the time he entered and dropped out of Harvard to establish Microsoft.

We are doing that today with violent video games. An emotionally damaged juvenile spending 40 or more hours a week perfecting his shooting skills in a violent video game is perfecting shooting ability. Witnesses relate that shooters aim straight ahead, firing single head-shots with deadly accuracy, moving from target to target (as video games taught and rewarded him) killing until they run out of ammunition or are confronted and killed. By contrast, in police-involved shootings, it’s not uncommon for dozens of shots to be fired without anyone being hit or only a fraction of rounds actually hitting an intended target. Usually, officers will remember firing far fewer rounds than they actually fired.

School shootings begin and end in five to ten minutes. What’s notable is the accuracy involved. Too many cases involved shooters making fatal head shots at rates comparable to the Navy’s counterterrorism unit, SEAL Team Six. SEALs fire thousands of rounds in practice to achieve that accuracy, yet juvenile mass killers with minimal firearms experience (first-time firing a weapon in practice days before, firing only 15-30 rounds) are matching the accuracy of the world’s premier counterterrorism force.

The key factor is years of training in “violent video game mass-murder simulators,” games comparable in accuracy to flying a 747 airliner or the Space Shuttle. I’ll refer you to two works by the leading psychological expert on killing, Dr. David Grossman. His books, “Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill” (2014) and “Assassination Generation” (2016) will give you the data and the nightmares to go with it. We’ve created a generation of broken souls and are reaping the consequences.


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