third method the military uses is operant conditioning,
a very powerful procedure of stimulus-response, stimulus-response.
A benign example is the use of flight simulators to train
pilots. An airline pilot in training sits in front of a
flight simulator for endless hours; when a particular warning
light goes on, he is taught to react in a certain way. When
another warning light goes on, a different reaction is required.
Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response.
One day the pilot is actually flying a jumbo jet; the plane
is going down, and 300 people are screaming behind him.
He is wetting his seat cushion, and he is scared out of
his wits; but he does the right thing. Why? Because he has
been conditioned to respond reflexively to this particular
When people are frightened or angry, they will do what they
have been conditioned to do. In fire drills, children learn
to file out of the school in orderly fashion. One day there
is a real fire, and they are frightened out of their wits;
but they do exactly what they have been conditioned to do,
and it saves their lives.
The military and law enforcement community have made killing
a conditioned response. This has substantially raised the
firing rate on the modern battlefield. Whereas infantry
training in World War II used bull's-eye targets, now soldiers
learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that
pop into their field of view. That is the stimulus. The
trainees have only a split second to engage the target.
The conditioned response is to shoot the target, and then
it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response:
soldiers or police officers experience hundreds of repetitions.
Later, when soldiers are on the battlefield or a police
officer is walking a beat and somebody pops up with a gun,
they will shoot reflexively and shoot to kill. We know that
75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield
is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training.
Now, if you're a little troubled by that, how much more
should we be troubled by the fact that every time a child
plays an interactive point-and-shoot video game, he is learning
the exact same conditioned reflex and motor skills.
I was an expert witness in a murder case in South Carolina
offering mitigation for a kid who was facing the death penalty.
I tried to explain to the jury that interactive video games
had conditioned him to shoot a gun to kill. He had spent
hundreds of dollars on video games learning to point and
shoot, point and shoot. One day he and his buddy decided
it would be fun to rob the local convenience store. They
walked in, and he pointed a snub-nosed .38 pistol at the
clerk's head. The clerk turned to look at him, and the defendant
shot reflexively from about six feet. The bullet hit the
clerk right between the eyes--which is a pretty remarkable
shot with that weapon at that range--and killed this father
of two. Afterward, we asked the boy what happened and why
he did it. It clearly was not part of the plan to kill the
guy--it was being videotaped from six different directions.
He said, "I don't know. It was a mistake. It wasn't supposed
In the military and law enforcement worlds, the right option
is often not to shoot. But you never, never put your quarter
in that video machine with the intention of not shooting.
There is always some stimulus that sets you off. And when
he was excited, and his heart rate went up, and vasoconstriction
closed his forebrain down, this young man did exactly what
he was conditioned to do: he reflexively pulled the trigger,
shooting accurately just like all those times he played
process is extraordinarily powerful and frightening. The
result is ever more homemade pseudo-sociopaths who kill
reflexively and show no remorse. Our children are learning
to kill and learning to like it; and then we have the audacity
to say, "Oh my goodness, what's wrong?"
One of the boys allegedly involved in the Jonesboro shootings
(and they are just boys) had a fair amount of experience
shooting real guns. The other one was a nonshooter and,
to the best of our knowledge, had almost no experience shooting.
Between them, those two boys fired 27 shots from a range
of over 100 yards, and they hit 15 people. That's pretty
remarkable shooting. We run into these situations often--kids
who have never picked up a gun in their lives pick up a
real gun and are incredibly accurate. Why?
of Violence, Peace, and Conflict, Volume 3, p.159
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