My World of “Ought to Be”
by Timothy Wilken, MD

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Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Aggression and Violence

Dave Grossman explains: To understand the nature of aggression and violence on the battlefield, it must first be recognized that most participants in close combat are literally "frightened out of their wits." Once the bullets start flying, most combatants stop thinking with the forebrain (that portion of the brain that makes us human) and start thinking with the midbrain (the primitive portion of our brain, which is indistinguishable from that of an animal). In conflict situations, this primitive, midbrain processing can be observed in the existence of a powerful resistance to killing one's own kind. Animals with antlers and horns slam together in a relatively harmless head-to-head fashion, and piranha fish fight their own kind with flicks of the tail, but against any other species these creatures unleash their horns and teeth without restraint. This is an essential survival mechanism that prevents a species from destroying itself during territorial and mating rituals. One major modern revelation in the field of military psychology is the observation that such resistance to killing one's own species is also a key factor in human combat. *Brig. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall first observed this during his work as an official U.S. Army historian in the Pacific and European theaters of operations in World War II. Based on his post-combat interviews, Marshall concluded in his book Men Against Fire (1946, 1978) that only 15 to 20 percent of the individual riflemen in World War II fired their own weapons at an exposed enemy soldier. Key weapons, such as *flame-throwers, were usually fired. Crew-served weapons, such as *machine guns, almost always were fired. And action would increase greatly if a nearby leader demanded that the soldier fire. But when left on their own, the great majority of individual combatants appear to have been unable or unwilling to kill. (10/16/02)


Evolution of Weaponry

Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman writes: Wars are fought by one group of humans to force another group to submit to their will. Weapons are tools to help humans overcome their physical and psychological limitations in order to inflict their will upon others. Democratic nations seldom, if ever, go to war against each other, choosing instead less destructive methods of influence. Thus, with the coming of the age of democracies, the time of wars may be coming to an end, and the passing of war may also mark the passing of some of the instruments of war. Indeed, a precedence for an end to war can be found in weapons evolution. It has become increasingly obvious' that each act of violence breeds ever-greater levels of violence, and at some point the genie must be put back in the bottle. The study of killing in combat teaches us that soldiers who have had friends or relatives injured or killed in combat are much more likely to kill and commit war crimes. The world is just now recovering from the most violent and bloody century in human history, and the streets of the western, industrialized nations are the scenes of a level of violence that is unprecedented in human history. Each individual who is injured or killed by violence provides a point of departure for further violence on the part of their friends and family. Every destructive act gnaws away at the restraint of human beings. Each act of violence eats away at the fabric of our society like a cancer, spreading and reproducing itself in ever-expanding cycles of horror and destruction. The genie of violence cannot really ever be stuffed back into the bottle. It can only be cut off here and now, and then the slow process of healing and resensitization can begin. (10/16/02)


Learning from the Past

New York Times -- The building, begun early last year just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, was to be the world's most environmentally correct residential high-rise, its developers said — an air-purified, solar-paneled monument to the marriage of mother earth and technological gee-whiz. Now as construction resumes after a 10-month break during the cleanup of ground zero, the 27-story tower has become even more than the sum of its ambitions, builders and environmentalists say. Environmental awareness among residents, office workers and employers was sharply elevated by the dust from the twin towers' collapse and the lingering smoke from their ruins. A regional drought put new value on water conservation. And the linkage of Middle Eastern oil and the financing of terror gave solar power new life, environmentalists say, because using alternative fuels can now be considered an act of political defiance. The biggest single element that has changed, development experts say, is that in Lower Manhattan, thinking beyond the old boundaries is now in fashion, and right there, on downtown's front porch, is Exhibit A of how to do it. "To have a sustainable building going up in an area that was a target of a terror attack is a very powerful thing," said Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and an adviser to the Regional Plan Association, which is helping put together a new design for downtown. "I think there's a great possibility that this example will trigger things even more imaginative on the part of architects or designers." (10/16/02)


Saving the Florida Panther

New York Times -- The Big Cypress Swamp region of Southwest Florida is a vast, wet, mysterious land of biological exuberance and subtle beauty. It is, as well, the last redoubt of the Florida panther, the stealthy and powerful cat that roamed the southeastern United States until hunting and development isolated it here by the mid-20th century. When they were first listed as endangered in 1967, barely 30 panthers were left. Biologists undertook a crash program to prevent them from vanishing completely, and today there are more panthers in South Florida — 70 to 100 adults and kittens — than at any time in decades. Now the Florida panther faces a different peril, a product of the recovery program's success. Wildlife scientists caution that the current number of panthers may be as many as South Florida can hold. Because at least 250 animals are needed for a self-sustaining population, the biologists say, new habitat must be found to support them. And the scientists warn that more must be done to secure the panther's South Florida habitat, 40 percent of which lies in private hands in two of the nation's fastest-growing counties, Collier and Lee. The Big Cypress Swamp encompasses two million acres, and it may be hard to believe that so vast an area can support only 100 or so panthers. But panthers need dry land with plenty of shrubs, palmettos and small trees, and that kind of terrain is scattered and in short supply. (10/16/02)


6:09:53 AM    

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