Human beings have been engaged in conflicts and wars throughout history. Massacres and killings have been the norm. But bear in mind that killing is not an innate human characteristic. Various scientific studies and real-world examples have proved it.
Humans have evolved drastically since Darwin’s theory. Our brains are equipped to handle complex social interactions. This characteristic allows us to empathize with others and form long-lasting relationships. Our brains are wired to prioritize survival, with violence being the means to an end.
In contrast to the conventional belief system of soldiers, especially in warfare, possessing a ‘kill or get killed’ attitude has been proved to have taken another form. At times, soldiers are not willing to kill enemy combatants due to several reasons. Some soldiers intentionally miss their targets or injure their enemies instead of killing them. This proves that killing is not an innate characteristic of a human but a developed skill.
The Milgram Experiment
In the 1960s, the Milgram experiments were conducted to illustrate the innate resistance to killing. In these tests, participants were instructed to administer electric shocks to someone in another room who could hear but not see. The shocks were not natural, but the participants believed otherwise. Despite the recipients’ screams and protests, most participants continued administering powerful shocks as instructed.
It was found that participants remained under severe emotional distress and conflict during the experiment, suggesting that killing, even in a simulated situation, is not an easy act. Conclusively, the statement prevails, “Killing another person is not an innate human characteristic.”
Why Humans Resist Killing?
The Moral Compass
According to research in social psychology, most people have an innate aversion to killing other human beings, known as “innate resistance to killing.” They can’t kill others because of their moral beliefs. Islamic values prohibit killing innocent people during a war. Women and children should be spared and separated from the captured lot.
The Ripple Effect
At times, the fear of drastic repercussions can pressure a soldier to avoid taking an innocent’s life. Many soldiers fear the legal or social consequences, while others want to avoid the death penalty. This generates a ripple effect among the entire battalion.
Aaron’s War Within: Decisions Influenced by Social Factors
Richard McMaster, in his book, presents a contrasting view of glorifying soldiers as enthusiastic killers. His novel “Aaron’s War” challenges the conventional notion of killing through the character of Aaron Vanko. He is the main protagonist who fails to conquer his fears and pressures of fighting against the enemy.
Many men join the military out of sheer patriotism. Military service and war expose soldiers to stressful situations that can cause severe psychological and physical damage, including PTSD, depression, anxiety, and physical injuries. Additionally, wars can create moral and spiritual conflicts within a soldier’s mind. Long deployment periods can lead to anti-social behavior and home sickness.
Peer pressure can change an individual’s decision quickly. It has a significant impact on the personality of an individual, causing forceful obligation towards an unappealing action. Feelings of resentment, doubt, and lack of control emerge thereafter.
As the novel depicts, the protagonist, Aaron, finds it challenging to avoid talk of war when his classmates, Tony and Fritz boast about their achievements. Their conversations are a turning point for Aaron, who ultimately decides to join them, much to the disappointment of his parents. Despite the decision, Aaron does not intend to take another person’s life.
The Glorified Vision
Men, especially young minds, often familiarize themselves with the glorified vision of the military. As depicted in “Aaron’s War,” Aaron and his boys meet Sergeant Taggart, an army recruiter who vividly describes war by manipulating amateur minds. He holds the country’s honor and prestige at the helm of every aspect. Furthermore, he likes to prepare the recruits through different tactics:
- Giving statements like ‘kill the enemy mercilessly’ & ‘Girls love army uniforms most.’
- Showing similarities of war-based games.
The Key Takeaway
‘Killing is an inherent part of human nature,’ a myth that various scientific studies and real-world examples have debunked. During war times, many soldiers cannot take the lives of innocents. Others don’t want to break their religious sanctity.
Richard McMaster’s book, “Aaron’s War,” challenges the conventional notion of killing people by depicting the story of Aaron, a boy who couldn’t accept any wrongdoing during war times. After joining the military under patriotism and peer pressure, his mental prowess was questionable. He couldn’t budge from the thought of killing his own people.
About the Author
Richard McMaster is the author of Aaron’s War. He led three startup companies and held positions on multiple boards. Originally from Iowa, the author lived in North Idaho for almost two decades before settling in Phoenix, Arizona. Along with being a writer, he has also written screenplays such as “The Attic” and “Ticket to Heaven.”