The psychology of becoming a soldier

April 22, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More

In 1983, PBS gave this extraordinary unvarnished view of what it means to be trained to be a soldier. The six-part documentary is called “Anybody’s Son Will Do,” and the documentary focuses on boot camp at Paris Island.

Here’s one of the opening quotes: “The secret about basic training is that it’s not really about teaching people things at all. It’s about changing people so that they can do things they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing otherwise.” In Part III, the instructor asks the trainees to name that special person to whom they are dedicating all of their hard training. The answer: To your enemy, so that he can “die for his country.” The commentator adds that it doesn’t really matter who the enemy is. Rather, it’s the idea of an “outside threat that binds a combat unit together so strongly that its members will make the most extraordinary sacrifices for each other.”

In part V, the commentator mentions another key point of basic training: They indoctrinate the recruits with the idea that the enemy–whoever he may be–is not fully human, and so it’s all right to kill him.” Here’s an excerpt from an actual training session (also from Part V, starting at the 2:30 mark), discussing the extent which the Marines need to destroy the enemy:

You want to rip out his eyeballs, you want to tear apart his love machine. You want to destroy him, privates! You don’t wanna have nothing left of him. You want to send him home in a glad bag to his mommy.” [loud laughing from the recruits] . . . Marines are born trained killers, and you’ve got to prove that every day.”

Here’s part I:

It’s apparent throughout this documentary that soldier training depends upon hating one’s enemy. It is also apparent that many of the members of the military are religious. Somehow, through this mix, the religious command to “Love your enemy” co-exists with the military command to “Hate your enemy.”


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Category: Military, Psychology Cognition, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Eighteen U.S. military veterans commit suicide every day.

  2. Alan says:

    Note that the video is outdated.

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