http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/k ... ntentSwap1
The American military is training its soldiers to become so inured to killing that it becomes easy.
'Over here, killing people is like squashing an ant. I mean, you kill somebody and it's like 'All right, let's go get some pizza'."
That's an American soldier, Private Steven Green, interviewed in Iraq in 2006.
Green's words sound shocking but they represent the reality of combat in places such as Iraq: good soldiers kill quickly and dispassionately. Even with modern, high-tech weapons, someone must still pull the trigger.
And that's not necessarily easy.
Since then, military trainers have developed various techniques to overcome the inherent human resistance to killing.
Most importantly, soldiers such as Private Green now train in realistic simulations of combat so that aiming, firing and seeing the target fall dead becomes a single, almost unconscious, conditioned response. The Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright quotes Sergeant Brad Colbert on his first experience of combat. "It was just like training. I just loaded and fired my weapon from muscle memory. I wasn't even aware what my hands were doing."
The muscle memory that allows the soldier to kill without inhibition can be developed during live-fire exercises but increasingly the American military relies on computerised simulations, providing the trainee with a level of realism never before possible.
Such computerisation works so well in breaking down the resistance to killing that some officers suggest that even off-the-shelf combat games can help develop it.
Yet reality is not a video game, and killing a human being is not the same as squashing an ant.
Conditioned reflexes might allow soldiers to open fire without hesitation but they do not provide them with a framework for coming to terms with what they've done. The soldiers in Iraq who kill more efficiently than any previous generation are also returning home with extraordinary levels of psychiatric trauma. Already, about 50,000 Iraq veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As for Private Green, shortly after he talked about how little killing affected him, he was arrested for raping an Iraqi girl and murdering her and her family.
When you've finished playing America's Army, you can turn the program off and walk away. Real violence is different. The tragedy of Iraq encompasses more than those who have been killed. It extends to those who have done the killing: most often young men and women from ordinary backgrounds, who will often be haunted by war for the rest of their lives.