Desensitizing People to Violence

Clint Eastwood posted a status update on his FB profile today. No, I’m not a “friend” or a fan, don’t “like” him or “subscribe” to him, but his comment is making the rounds of FB, and it ended up on in my news feed. Several times. I found the comment interesting because of my research for More Deaths Than One, a book about mind control, and what I learned about how the military desensitized recruits to killing.

Eastwood wrote: With a lot of thought on this in light of all the shootings in the past few weeks I am very concerned that the left is now going to hit hard on pushing the 2nd Amendment over the cliff.

This is the only amendment that the ‘O’ can attack with any chance of repealing. If this, and God help us if he does, will lead to a barrage of attacks on all the amendments and socialism will be a forgone conclusion.

If anything should be shut down it should be the violent video games. Really, and I know everyone likes their electronics but these are the things that are taking kids and young people out of interacting with society and their peers.

I know I will probably take a lot of flack for that last observation but I’ve taken the flack before.

Have a great Sunday and hug your family.

I’ve written about this before, most recently in If Everyone Wants Peace, Why are there Wars? As I said, many of today’s — and yesterday’s — video games were developed by the military because studies had shown that repeated images of violence and death inured people to killing. During World War Two, as many as 85% of soldiers fired over enemies’ heads or did not fire at all. After World War Two, there was a concerted effort by the military to overcome this natural reluctance to kill, and apparently they succeeded because during close combat in Vietnam, only about 5% of soldiers failed to aim to kill. These same desensitizing “games” were later released as toys for children. Is it any wonder that many people — teens and adults — now seem desensitized to violence? They are playing games that were purposely created to foster killing.

I am not a fan of guns, though I have attended a couple of shooting clinics sponsored by a local gun club. As an author, I thought it important to know how it felt to shoot a weapon at a target. The targets we used were the round kind rather than a silhouette of a human. (Not so incidentally, those human-like targets were also created by the military to get soldiers used to firing at people.) I enjoyed learning how to shoot, but handling the pistols, revolvers, shotguns and rifles did not create in me any desire to shoot at another human being. Guns by themselves do not encourage violence or a desire to kill. Certain video games do. Sociopathic tendencies do. Psychotic characteristics do. Military think tanks do.

Author Lee Child says that we don’t write what we know, we write what we fear, and that certainly is true in my case. I fear the machinations of the powerful, deadly, and calculating men and women who control our lives behind the scenes. And I fear politicians and celebrities who use tragedies to further their own ends.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

29 Responses to “Desensitizing People to Violence”

  1. mickeyhoffman Says:

    I think the mass shootings are done by attention seeking dirt bags and if the cable news didn’t give these events so much publicity for days and days, these assholes wouldn’t be doing it. They might kill one person they hated but they’d not feel motivated to spray bullets at a crowd unless they’re terrorists.
    As for video games, a violent video game can repel a player too. While I was playing and enjoying Skyrim, the violence was making me sick and I didn’t play through as much of the game as I might have otherwise. There are other ways in that game to get what you want, though. If anything, there’s a lack of empathy and group coalescence in this country.
    The culture here is crazy for “individual rights” and if you say anything different, you’re called a socialist or a communist. But think about what individualism is, taken to the Ayn Rand extreme. Me, me, me and my rights over you. This reduces others to objects that are in your way. So why not shoot them?
    I do not see why assault rifles have to be available to ordinary people. If they’re afraid of socialism, their rifles aren’t going to stop the communist government from taking over. The government has tanks, nukes, whatever. We’re not living in the 1700s anymore when it took a militiaman fifteen seconds to reload and lucky if he hit anything at all with his musket. Clint Eastwood is living in a different era and should keep to his chair speeches.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I never understood why military weapons such as assault rifles were ever offered for sale to individuals. It’s an insane world we live in. And yes, violence can repel. It sure does repel me! I have never considered violence entertainment. Why would anyone?

      You’re right about individual rights. We do have rights, but we do not have the right to stomp on other people’s rights while we are demanding our own. I’m learning to put myself first in my life, but oddly, instead of making me selfish, it’s making me kinder. Obviously, though, that doesn’t work the same for other people. They are becoming more insular and consequently, as you say, they seem to see others as objects in their way.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Those video games were also created the same way that books, movies, and television shows are created: the creators draw from the world around them and take what they draw to turn it into a product that they’re proud of and that people wish to buy. If we want to shut down the games and the other media that feature violence, what would we ban? Fun? Risk? Adventure? There’s an infringement of rights if ever I saw one.
    And like you said, the impulse to kill indiscriminately comes from psychopathic tendencies, not from games people play. I don’t know what Clint Eastwood is thinking.
    Then again, he’s the guy who talks to chairs that have nobody in them, so I don’t know how much stock we can put in the man. At any rate, not a lot.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t believe in banning anything — but the truth is that some of the video games on the market were created by the military specifically to teach people how to kill. It’s up to the parents to decide what games their children should play.

      • rami ungar the writer Says:

        Indeed. Not only that, but some video games are designed by the military to combat PTSD by allowing the soldiers to revisit what happened to them and through that work out their psychological kinks. They only get put into the market as a source of profit.
        And like you said, parents should decide what they want their kids to play, and really think hard about it.

  3. Rod Marsden Says:

    It is a pity there aren’t video games out there aimed at teaching people how to live rather than how to kill. After having said that there are always other factors to consider when it comes to war and killing.

    I don’t know where the facts you have come up with came from but I do understand the military need to train soldiers to kill when doing so will obviously mean the difference between life and death for the soldier in question. That being said it doesn’t seem right to do so through desensitizing the soldier or taking it further by desensitizing a civililian population to killing.

    I know that during World War Two bomber air crews felt nothing for the people they were killing with their bombs. They were generally too high up to see people blown apart or burried under rubble by their actions. At night this was even more true. There were flashes from the ground that lit up the sky for a few seconds after the bombs were dropped and that was it. Then it was head for home hoping not to be downed by enemy flak or enemy fighters. It wasn’t until the end of hostilities that many of the surviving air crews came to realize from on the ground film footage what they had been doing.

    Dresden was the real shocker. It was a German city with no military value whatsoever. It was mostly a place of learning. What’s more, it had American prisoners of war. In bombing Dresden American and British air crews were not only killing mostly German civilians but also Americans. This was known by the higher ups but not by the air crews who went on tghe bombing mission. They found out to their horror much later.

    As for the difference between WW2 and Vietnam, I hate to say it but there may have been the factor of race recognition. There is that hesitancy to kill someone who, despite being in another uniform, actually looks very much like you. There wasn’t that much difference between the way a German looks and the way an average American at the time looked. Also, many Germans despite Hitler were Christian.

    I can’t recall flame throwers being used by American soldiers on German soldiers during WW2 but flame throwers were used on both Japanese soldiers and sometimes by mistake on Japanese civilians. During the Vietnam War the enemy looked very different from the American soldier and had either a very different religion or no religion at all. Opposition to the war back home might have also been a factor. Plus during the war it was impossible to tell the good civilians from those in support of the enemy. This was a fact that would generate a certain hatred for the enemy.

    In Afghanistan today and also Iraq the not knowing who is on your side and who is not has been a continuing factor in bad military behavior.

    My thoughts at any rate.

    • mickeyhoffman Says:

      There is one game that teaches consequences and social skills. It’s the SIMS. When I was teaching high school special ed., I had this game on my classroom computer and let the students play during lunch. They didn’t have a CLUE about action/consequence. One time, a 14 year old boy had his character get married and they had a baby. He just left the baby outside and the game automated a kidnapper who came and stole the baby. My student was so shocked. Perhaps if he’s ever a parent, he will remember this and watch his kids. The game is full of stuff like that. You can set your house on fire if you aren’t doing upkeep or you’re negligent, you can get fired from your job if you don’t show up on time, etc. etc. etc. I think there are games also that have people learn how to take care of pets.

  4. Andrew Barlow Says:

    I agree. It is not only the video games but all the violent trash to which people are exposed every day of their lives. To what extent does all -in-wrestling desensitise people, the movies in which violence seems to be a requirement. Children especially but also adults must by viewing this very often come to the stage where violence is seen to be at least very acceptable.

  5. dellanioakes Says:

    While video games might be partially to blame, I have to agree with Mickey that it’s often attention seekers. People who were ignored in life find notoriety in death. I also believe that a lot of the problem is that our medical system isn’t prepared to deal with mental illness. Teachers, co-workers, neighbors, community members — none of us are aware enough of the inner workings of a sick mind to ferret them out or predict how they will react.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That’s true, and another terrible story entirely. The institutions that were geared to deal with the problem were so inhuman that they were closed down, and all those folks dumped on the streets. People who need help often can’t find it.

  6. Diana Duncan Says:

    I have no doubt that the rampant violence in our culture desensitizes people to killing. However, I find this accusation rather ironic coming from Clint Eastwood. Of course he personally never contributed to the violence problem, because his movies were all warm fuzzies, with nary a gun in sight, right?

  7. Dave Says:

    A friend of mine posted this status update, and I have to question it’s legitimacy. Do we know this is a legit Eastwood profile and quote, or a poser? Historically, Mr. Eastwood has typically been a supporter of gun control, and has even been quoted saying he doesn’t understand the need for assault weapons. Do we know this is from him?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Good question. The Eastwood profile I saw was quite detailed about his life, including photos and bios and such, but who knows if any of the updates were actually written by him. For that matter, is anything anyone writes on the internet written by the person who is supposed to have written it? Anyone can post anything using any name they choose.

  8. John w Howell Says:

    I have nominated your blog for The Very Inspiring Award! Thank you for making the world a more interesting place. More details here: Thank you also for inspiring me.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Congratulations on your nomination, and thank you for naming me. I’m delighted to be nominated for an inspiring blog award. It’s nice to know that the work I put into my posts does not go unnoticed.

  9. GiRRL_Earth Says:

    I wish Clint would keep is opinions to himself!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Not just him, but all celebrities! It gets old after a while.

      • GiRRL_Earth Says:

        It annoys me to no attend that Clint used this tragedy to take jabs at Obama and the Left. I think his comment was in poor taste. I’ve lost a lot of respect for him since the “chair” incident.

        • Dave Says:

          I’m just not convinced this FB profile is really him, or representative of him. I wish there was positive confirmation

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            I googles his views of gun control, and apparently he only wants to keep guns out of the wrong hands. He himself does a lot of target shooting.

          • Dave Says:

            But he’s openly stated support for Assault Weapons bans, and doesn’t seem to be the Gun-toting 2nd Amendment champion this post would suggest

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            The comment seems more about his views on socialism, and I don’t know what those are (never cared enough about him to find out), so I don’t know if this reflects his opinion. If that profile is his, the comment could just as easily have come from his PR person, which is often the case with celebrities.

            A person could be against assault weapons in the hands of non-official personnel and stil be for the second amendment.

          • GiRRL_Earth Says:

            good point.

  10. Carol Says:

    While I don’t doubt Eastwood has a conflict of interest when it comes to gun control and violence with firearms, I have no sympathy with anyone’s argument that ‘bearing arms is a constitutional right’. It’s a right taken out of context and in recent generations taken to a ridiculous extreme. We have become a violent society out of control.

    As much as I regret the death of the killer’s mother, it boggles my mind why any parent would have multiple guns including a semi-automatic assault rifle — apparently all legal — in her household! Guns in the possession of anyone other than law enforcement officers and the military is simply asking for trouble. There is no safety in owning a gun “for personal protection”, not even against criminals who will always manage to obtain weapons illegally.

    I abhor violence whether it’s in video games, television, movies or books. Yes, it may reflect “real life”, but we don’t need to feed on it for entertainment, nor should it be available to poison vulnerable minds.

    The CT tragedy has prompted outcries born of frustration and fear, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

  11. Carol Wuenschell Says:

    It takes more than just a desensitization to violence to produce people who are willing to kill other people. It takes also feeling that one has “permission” to do it – not just external permission, but internal permission. It takes us-versus-them or me-versus-the-world thinking. Us-versus-them dehumanizes some group of people who are seen as alien or other, evil, or bad, and therefore acceptable targets. That can be based on race, religion, even politics. Unfortunately I do hear a certain amount of such talk in this country. (A little like Mr. Eastwood’s reduction of the President of the United States to “the O” and characterizing him as someone who would single-handedly repeal the 2nd amendment – something that isn’t even possible).

    According to the reports from people who knew Adam Lanza, he didn’t play first-person shooter games. He played strategy games, and he played them with other kids online, not in isolation. I saw one reference to the possibility that he had Asperger’s syndrome – the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. It’s characterized by difficulty relating to other people. Certainly there was ample evidence that he was not “normal”, though apparently no evidence of violence. He would probably have passed a background check, but apparently was too impatient to wait for one. We don’t know his motivation. The fact that he was carrying his brother’s ID – a brother with whom he used to be “close” and from whom he may have become “estranged” – is a possible clue. It’s plausible that he shot his mother because she tried to prevent him from taking the guns, but we will never know. The point is that violent video games are not likely contributors to this particular tragedy. A more likely dangerous influence was growing up in a home with guns and with a mother who was a gun enthusiast. Guns were normal. Guns were there. He knew where to get them when he took it into his head to do this unthinkable thing. This tragedy could most easily have been prevented by denying access to the weapons. If we want to avoid a similar incident in the future, that is what we have to do.

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