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6rant6's avatar

Should military training be curtailed because of serial killers?

Asked by 6rant6 (13672points) June 21st, 2011

There’s a strong correlation between violent serial killers and military training. Here’s one article

One theory is the military intentionally desensitizes people about killing to the point that they more easily become serial killers when things go bad. Another theory is that sociopaths are drawn to the military where they learn how to kill and then go do what they were always inclined toward.

In either case, it seems like these are arguments against supplying “killer” training. I imagine that most people in the military never hold a gun in battle. I understand that in earlier eras that was not the case and so everyone needed to be ready to kill. But It’s just not the way things work now.

So would you support your military giving “killer” training only to soldiers who are designated for the front lines?

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36 Answers

King_Pariah's avatar

Problem is that today, anyone in the service can go out on patrol. Just because you’re finance, doesn’t mean you get to stay behind that desk all the time. Also, there have been several incidences where what was supposed to be a relatively safe transportation of desk jockeys from point A to point B came under fire and even those desk jockeys were needed in the ensuing firefight.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Aren’t those in the military trained to be serial killers anyhow? That’s kind of the point. They take people, dehumanize them, deinviduate them and mold them to follow as one. No wonder they don’t stop killing after their training.

Coloma's avatar

I can’t even wrap my mind around training someone to be a killer.
Most of what I know about psychopathology says that at least 50% of sociopathic behavior/inclination is genetic. I suppose some sociopaths might be drawn to a military career, but, I really have no knowledge of the theories you propose.

Personally I think, regardless of mental disorders that involve lack of conscience and empathy, that anyone that is forced to kill will be forever changed, and not for the better.

I can’t even begin to answer this without bias.

A necessary evil that destroys lives, literally and figuratively IMO.

I was a Vietnam era kid/teen and I’ll tell you what, if I had a son ( I have a 23 yr. old daughter ) I’d have spent my life savings to get my boy out of the draft zone and war scene. I would have hidden him well, for fucking EVER!

syzygy2600's avatar

In This Topic: People who don’t know what a serial killer is.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@syzygy2600 You must have a special definition that excuses actions in time of war, then.

6rant6's avatar

@King_Pariah I don’t suppose sailors often get called out on patrol. They still receive firearm training. It’s not a lot, and it’s not necessarily “killer” training.

syzygy2600's avatar

A serial killer is someone who kills three or more people, with a “come down” period in between each killing. Their reasons for killing are to satiate an ingrown bloodlust, or for trivial reasons that seem absurd to people who are capable of possessing emotions for others “i.e. “I killed him because he wouldn’t stop bragging about his new car.”

Someone who believes they are fighting for freedom, however wrong that belief may be, is not a serial killer.

YoBob's avatar

I can hear it now… In the most intimidating boot camp drill instructor voice possible…

Alright solders! You are part of the finest military force ever assembled and will become our country’s ultimate defense. After our calisthenics this morning you will all assemble in the muster area for sensitivity training.

Later at the muster area…

Now tell me maggot, exactly how did trying to reason with the sniper that just shot your buddy feel?


Don’t be absurd, the military are trained in the art of combat for a reason!

syzygy2600's avatar

No, it’s a factual definition of the word. I can’t just start calling a “tree” a “monkey” because I think thats what it should be called. I don’t get to change the english language to suit my argument.

Try doing a little research on serial killers – a shockingly high number of them are either doctors or have some form of medical training. I don’t see anyone suggesting that all doctors are desensitized killers.

WasCy's avatar

Thanks, @YoBob. I was starting to lose all hope.

Randy's avatar

Having an untrained military is like having no military at all. It’s kinda pointless. We might as well all be militia and have no military if that were the case.

It’s not the training that snaps a solider’s brain and makes him a merciless killer. It’s the individual person. There are more examples of people going through a life service and growing old as a “normal” person than there are of soldiers becoming serial killers.

I’m not going to get all ‘Merica! on this thread but it’s my opinion that our military is needed and they need to be trained. Like the age old protection rule: I’d rather have it, know how to use it and not need it than not have it and need it.

_zen_'s avatar

One article from some obscure Canadian newspaper (I’m familiar with it and its readership) means there’s a strong correlation?

It’s like linking video games and teen violence: isolated cases.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@syzygy2600 I have done some reading on serial killers. Doctors, however, aren’t trained to to disarm or kill at all cost. They’re trained to DO NO HARM. Whether or not they do this is a different story. As for definitions, in some cases, it’s up to the person defining it. Like in that question about sluts. I say it has no definition, others say it does and everyone’s definitions varies.

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe the military is more likely to attract serial killers, or those who like the idea of killing. Which would mean it is not the military training, but what Military men are able to do within their job specifications. Like how pediphiles become clergy and teachers; gets them close to children. I always say there are two types of cops, the men who really believe in the law, and wanting to bring good to their communities, and then those who like the idea of carrying a gun, having power over people, and probably have some sort of inferiority complex.

_zen_'s avatar

@JLeslie Lots of generalizations there: seriously – men become teachers because they are pedophiles trying to get close to children? The military attracts serial killers?

I think we should also distinguish between a voluntary, professional military (the US) and a conscripted military (like Germany and many European armies). But either way, one can train in weaponry and not be a serial killer – and one can flunk out of the army, or not get accepted at all, or not be interested at all – and just know how to wield a knife.

syzygy2600's avatar

I’ve studied serial killers for over 10 years and read thousands of books and articles on the subjects. There is a lot more to a serial killer than “someone who was trained how to kill.”

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@syzygy2600 I agree with that last part. More to the military than just training to kill, as well.

6rant6's avatar

@zen @JLeslie wasn’t really saying anything that startling. People pick professions where they can have more of whatever they fixate on, more so if what they fixate on is taboo. So yes, pedophiles are more likely to go into professions where access to children is easier. Murderous sociopaths are likely to go into work where they get to kill people.

She’s not saying that everyone who goes into those professions has those tendencies.

What’s your point about the volunteer army, that if they are volunteers, it will more likely attract people who are looking for legitimate ways to kill?

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Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

There isn’t a strong correlation between serial killers and the military. The majority of serial killers that have been caught and studied had no military background. According to this article (and yes, I know…it’s Wikipedia and what that means), only 7% of known serial killers have been in the military. The article provides some additional theories.

With all of the research that is available today, nothing points to the fact that the military turns people into serial killers. They obviously attract some for various reasons, but not all by a long shot. And in just about every case, if not all, the various reasons for someone becoming a serial killer started well before joining the military. It started in their childhood development.

The article posted in the OP mentions Jeffrey Dahmer, David Berkowitz and Charles Whitman. Each had psychological issues well before joining the military. Whitman asked that an autopsy be done after his death, and his wish was carried out. They found a brain tumor which might or might not have contributed to his rampage.

If anything, maybe some military groups could step up their advance screening process before allowing new members to join. In reality though, if serial killers are to be prevented, it is a matter of addressing the common factors of how they come to be based upon childhood experiences and lack of proper development. How to do so is a whole other discussion.

If anyone is really interested, here is a published article on Serial Killers With Military Experience: Applying Learning Theory to Serial Murder. It is long, but quite interesting.

JLeslie's avatar

@zen Of course a huge difference between a voluntary military and onenthat require mandatory enrollment. I am not saying the military or clergy for that matter is full of serial killers and pedophiles, I am saying we should not necessarily blame the service or religious institutions for these actions by its’ members because a man who loves to carry a gun, drive fast, and wear a uniform, feel a sense of authority and control might think police officer sounds really good, that will be my job. There are all sorts of stats about police officers themseves being wife beaters, all sorts of violence. I don’t know how accurate or reliable this information is. If it is just half true it is really bad and dissappointing.

6rant6's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I don’t have any personal experience on the relationship of serial killers and military training, but I’ve read a lot that suggests the theory. So I followed back the link from Wikipedia to the actual source data of the cite in the article you linked to. I find in the summary this,

“Present results indicated that 34–45% of the interstate variation in rates of serial killer activity could be accounted for by three dimensions of local culture. Higher rates of male serial killer activity were associated with a local state culture supportive of game hunting and military training and a local culture supportive of punitive violence.”

emphasis mine

So apparently the people who wrote the article found that military training WAS a correlate with serial killing, despite what the writer of the wikipedia entry may say, or how you and I may be misinterpreting it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying stop military training; if we have a military, it doesn’t make sense to not train them to do their jobs well. But it does seem that either we are training people who are likely to be society’s problem as long as they live, or – even worse – training damages soldiers in a horrible way. If the latter, then I would suggest that many people so damaged would not be serial killers – but are nonetheless damaged by it.

So all I’m suggesting is that we “eptify” no more than we need to and recognize the cost to society when we do train someone for that task. And if we can screen out the freaks, so much the better.

King_Pariah's avatar

@6rant6 my post was in regards to the Army and Marines mainly, and we (jokingly) don’t consider Air Force or Navy soldiers. Except for SEALS.

SavoirFaire's avatar

An important point about statistics: that most serial killers have military training does not mean that most people with military training are serial killers. The correlation found in the article is unidirectional. Imagine someone pointing out that most serial killers have Y-chromosomes. It’s interesting, and there might be important things to get out of that fact—but it does not follow that most people with Y-chromosomes are serial killers nor that we should curtail the creation of people with Y-chromosomes in their genotype.

Regarding the two theories concerning the correlation: if the first theory is correct, and the desensitization process that is part of military training makes people more likely to become serial killers, then it might be that we need to change the the reintegration process that follows military service. It is true that part of military training involves tearing down parts of one’s old personality and replacing them with new aspects. The discharge process is then supposed to reverse this process or modify the new personality such that the person is not a danger to others. If this is failing in certain cases, eliminating military training altogether is not the only option. There is also the possibility of improving the discharge process.

If the second theory is correct, on the other hand, and future serial killers are simply drawn to the military to learn how to kill, then eliminating military training will not solve the problem. There are plenty of ways to learn how to kill, and they are easily learnable outside of the military. And even if we outlawed training in all martial arts—an act which would be, in my view, both unfortunate and oppressive—serial killers would not necessarily be stopped. They’d just resort to “on the job” training instead of taking the time to learn how to do it more efficiently first.

While one might question the morality or advisability of military operations in the first place, as I take it @Simone_De_Beauvoir does, that seems to me a separate question.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@6rant6 Which article is that quote from? There were two references cited in the Wikipedia article, and only one of them led to a link to another article…It one I included as a link in the last line. Is it the same article, or another one? The reason for asking is that the quote that you provided isn’t clear to me. I’d like to read more on it.

Like @SavoirFaire points out, statistics are questionable. They can be sliced and diced to fit the point-of-view of the writer.

I’ve read a limited amount of true crime books on serial killers and watched a few documentaries, as well as a tiny bit of all of the research on the internet. In no way am I an expert either, but the only common denominator seems to be a very bad childhood. That is not to say that this type of environment will result in creating serial killers…surely there is something else going on.

JLeslie's avatar

@SavoirFaire Thank you for stating what I thought was obvious, I mean that seriously. Of course it does not mean that most people in the military are serial killers.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Considering a couple of very famous serial killers are from my area, and neither of them had military training whatsoever, I think the study may be a bit off.

I didn’t read all of the above answers, so if someone already said this, sorry.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@JLeslie No problem. Sometimes the obvious needs to be said.

@SpatzieLover The study does not say that all serial killers had military training, but rather that most of them had military training. The use of the word “most” implies (even if it does not entail) “not all.” As such, the existence of two counterexamples doesn’t really undermine the study.

6rant6's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Here is the cite on the wikipedia article that you originally linked to which is referenced in the “7%” statistic. I then Googled to find a summary of the article here. The summary is available on a number of sites.

_zen_'s avatar

I liked what @SavoirFaire said and I would like to expound upon it, but without some scientist’s theory, or silly study of four serial killers or whatnot.Too many “theories” and “scientific studies” get ultimately completely dispelled anyway.

I think that people are a combination of nature and nurture, which determines certain key elements in their lives, which ultimately contribute to their general well-being, and dispositions. Plural.

I think there is a correlation between one’s job and one’s nature. Sometimes it works out perfectly, other times there is dissonance and dissatisfaction, leading to frustration. t many different levels. Our work, plus sleep, take up more then ⅔ of our lives.

I think one may have a certain charateristic flaws, for lack of a better term, which may lead them to believe that life is not so precious. They might have a certain flaw – a perversion – which compells them to take lives, and get excited by this – rather than celebrate lives – help lives – like doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, policemen and therapists – et al. This horrible, but unique confluence of events is what causes the rare exception to society – the serial killer.

There might be a perversion – a flaw – which causes them to see life as meaningless, worthless – not worthy of being taught something, as do teachers, councellors, guides et al.

A combination of these horrible factors, plus timing, plus luck – the definition of which is: the meeting of preparation and opportunity – (in this case, passive preparation) may cause a few sociopaths, psychopaths – to snap.

And thus are born the very few, very very few (but celebrated and written about because we love our shock and entertainment) serial killers.

I can tell you that here we haven’t had any thus far. We all serve in the military, for at least three years. I was broken down and made into a killing machine. I am still the same person I was many years ago when this happened: a poet who seeks peace. As are all my friends and everyone I know, including, but not limited to Barak and Netanyahu – former Commandoes, who want nothing more than peace – and would never in their wildest dreams, become anything like a serial killer. Swords into ploughshares. That is our motto and dream. And it shall happen one day, I know it.

Politics aside, please. No-one – not one single ex-commando or infantryman in Israel ever became a serial killer – as there haven’t been any in our history.

So I truly fail to see the correlation between the two: when someone snaps, when there is a confluence of these opportunities and happenstances, the killer will weild his/her poison, wire, knife or gun – and it won’t matter whether they were trained in the military, or sat at home playing video games all day for a living.

JLeslie's avatar

@zen Which I guess means there is not one serial killer in your country? So, it is probably more a comment on American society than the military possibly? Although, I have no idea how many serial killers exist in other countries. Also, in America, we are such a huge population, I guess we are more likely statistically to have a few nut jobs. Since we are a voluteer army, there is a different dynamic I think, and possibly our training is different, I have no idea.

You say you become a killing machine while in the service, but then afterwards it is left behind and again you are your warm and fuzzy peace in the world self. But, here in America we here all sorts of stories of troops not adjusting well afterwards. Coming home from war and coping poorly, treating their spouses badly, and abusing drugs and alcohol. Not everyone of course, it probably is only a minority that has these difficulties, but it seems to happen enough that it is reported. I am not talking about people traumatized by horrors they have witnessed and have stress disorders, sleeping difficuties and depression, as much as I am talking about men who come back and are wound up and very reactive and sometimes violent. My feeling is those men, already bordered on or had violent tendencies, and maybe went into the army that way to begin with.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@6rant6 There were two sources listed in that Wikipedia article. Both were sited under the same statistic that 7% of studied serial killers were in the army. I provided the source for the first article. Thank you for doing the additional research to locate the second source.

After reading the second article, which mentions nothing about 7% of serial killers being in the military, I went back to see if the first one sites it. And indeed, it does.

Unfortunately, only one empirical study has examined the possible link between serial murder and military experience. Using data collected from 354 previously identified case studies, Castle (2001) identified 25 American serial killers with previous military experience. Thus, approximately 7% of all the serial killers identified in her study had a military background. In the next section, we apply learning theory to serial murder with a special emphasis on military experience. Source

Curious if the 354 ‘previously identified case studies’ were all American or not, I attempted to look up the Ms. Castle’s unpublished university thesis. I didn’t have any luck, but here is a quote from an article mentioning it:

Citing previous research using social learning theory for the study of murder, this article explores how potential serial killers learn to reinforce violence, aggression, and murder in military boot camps. As with other variables considered in serial killer research, military experience alone cannot account for all cases of serial murder. Future research should continue to examine this possible link. Source

The article that you graciously looked up doesn’t provide any information that supports 7%, although the full study’s report is not listed in that link. The bit that you quoted had me curious. If the full summary, which that bit came from, had been listed, a broader picture is painted:

Explaining the phenomenon of male serial homicide has usually been approached from a psychiatric perspective. However, recent integrative theory suggests that cultural factors may play a role in shaping the psychology of young males with particular psychiatric and possibly neurological vulnerabilities in such ways as to facilitate converting the motivation to kill into actual behavior. Present results indicated that 34–45% of the interstate variation in rates of serial killer activity could be accounted for by three dimensions of local culture. Higher rates of male serial killer activity were associated with a local state culture supportive of game hunting and military training and a local culture supportive of punitive violence. The findings must be viewed with caution since societal variables are complex and the results are based on correlations which cannot be causally interpreted without more direct evidence of validity. Source

The details of that article cite the 34–35% based upon comparison of serial killers by US states. It is just a statistic that is drilled down to an interesting, yet unrelated, figure when looking at serial killers worldwide.

@JLeslie Israel has had one serial killer, Nicolai Bonner, but the guy was an immigrant who was convicted for murdering other immigrants. It does not appear that he had any military training, at least in Israel.

_zen_'s avatar

Question: even if it is 7% – it means that 93% of serial killers do not have military training.

JLeslie's avatar

@zen I agree if it is just 7%, that is really not significant. Those men would have been serial killers not matter what I think. Which goes back to my point that these men are just murderous nuts.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@zen and @JLeslie Please do not fall into the same Wikipedia trap that I originally did. My last post was an attempt to explain that the 7% quote may or may not be true. The bottom line is that in all of these studies, they all support data on pre-existing conditions. While some may end up in the military or law enforcement, they choose to do so for reasons not thoroughly researched as of yet. It is only one variable that has been considered.

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