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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Jan, 2011 4:37 pm    Post subject: Mercy Killing and the Dehumanization Effects of the Helm.         Reply with quote

I've recently watched a show (on YouTube) about how the biological response to War is that 95%-98% of men (front line soldiers etc.) are not willing to genuinely kill (yet will still stand their ground and do other things to support the 1%-2% who do) and it made me think.
One of the ways that they make it more palatable to dispatch someone is that during training (or so the show said) they "de-huminise" the "enemy" and thus make the soldier capable of killing without "thinking" too much (that is not to say that thinking is bad, but rather that their body reacts more efficiantly to the stress of the situation).
Ergo, when they take of a great helm or lifts or removes their visor, perhaps not only are they doing so because it grants access to fresh air, extra line of sight and clearer sound, and indeed the intial threat of arrows and lances having passed (this theory is assuming a close melee), perhaps also it allows the recognition of humanity rather then a faceless creature or iron or a steel automaton.
Put more simply, the sacrifice of physical protection is compensated for by the fact that the victor will spare their fallen opponet as they feel empathy.
So, what do you think?

Edit: And here is the source http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vlGR7S2wcI

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Last edited by Sam Gordon Campbell on Wed 05 Jan, 2011 10:02 am; edited 1 time in total
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Larry R




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Jan, 2011 5:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam

What era of soldiers was this video about? Were they green soldiers or veterans? My understanding is that knights sometimes spared other knights, but valued the common soldier's life little. Also, I wonder if medieval soldiers (people) were more prepared or conditioned for war. They lived with it far more closely than most (not all) people at present.

Also, as the campaign or war progresses green soldiers (now veterans) can, based on my research of modern wars, sometimes find it easier (so to speak) to dispatch the enemy. Just my opinion---no personal experience.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Jan, 2011 5:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The math is complicated by the fact that while a large percentage of fighters take up defensive postures, this is an self-preservation reflex, not a initiate reluctancy to kill.
They also launch blows, but these are primarily aimed at defeating or driving of threats to themselves. In a close melee, hitting people is the best way to do this, and fighters in posture will simply swing at all hostiles within range to keep them at bay.
As such, a man with a visible weak point is less dangerous, and people are more likely to risk attacking him.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Jan, 2011 5:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, maybe, and in some contexts an exposed face might get mercy when surrendering as the facial expression would help communicating the willingness to surrender.

The reverse effect is also in effect since a fully armoured fighter with face hidden by a visor may look more like an unstoppable death dealer. The visor hides the emotions of fear and other cues that might telegraph intent making it harder to fight him.

On the other hand lack of free air and diminished situational awareness of a closed helm is also a disadvantage so there are plenty of reasons to at least lift one's visor occasionally. Also needed to give orders at time or show the face of the King to dispel a rumour that he has been killed.

One reason why elite soldiers or seasoned warriors are effective is that they are the ones ready and willing to kill and disproportionally effective even when outnumbered by common troops or " virgin " troops.

When opponents of the knightly class who happen to respect each other or have good reasons like ransom or avoiding a long term feud between families they would be inclines to empathize with their fellow warriors.

Oh, and in period many wars where like family disputes that could make thing more brutal or much less so: At times one branch of a family would join one side and the other half of the family would join the other side and the victorious side of the family would negotiate mercy for the losing side.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Eric Meulemans
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PostPosted: Tue 04 Jan, 2011 6:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

95-98% may be a tad on the high side, but it sounds as though they're following the long-standing claim established by S.L.A. Marshall, who found that in WWII somewhere between 75 and 85% of combat troops did not fire their weapons to kill, even when under fire themselves. There has been dispute over his figures, but studies on other, earlier conflicts (US Civil War, Napoleonic, etc.) support the idea that the average combat soldier historically, when left to their own, did not fire their weapon.

Changes in training methodologies following WWII, namely the shift from firing at static targets to pop-ups to ingrain a firing reflex, brought the firing ratio of combat soldiers up to over half in Korea, and approaching 100% by Vietnam. This is all through training methodology and conditioning, including depersonalization and dehumanizing of the enemy.

The presence of an authority figure or leader to will their men into battle was likely a very influencing factor, as people can be brought to do all manner of things they would not ordinarily do when they are told to by someone they believe to be in authority and who will accept responsibility for their actions (see Stanley Milgram and Obedience to Authority). As Lord Moran wrote in The Anatomy of Courage, "It had always been strange that the mass of people who will believe anything should be at the mercy of the few who believe in nothing."

As far as lifting the visor to instill some humanity... I'm not sure this would save one's life through an act of mercy, but it certainly has happened to reinforce the authority component above, as in William lifting his visor at Hastings and rallying his troops.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 04 Jan, 2011 7:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric,

I think you might be right that they are using Marshall's data and I agree one should be somewhat suspect. In the end the variants of such testing make such a assessment very difficult to ascertain.

I am very surprised that soldiers who were in a war zone and under fire would not return fire. To me it would seem to be a natural human condition to protects ones life and those of his/her friends.

Not sure Milgram is the best example as some 35-40% completely refused to go all the way and every single person at least once tried to end the experiment and simply were quasi-bullied into returning if they dissented with prompts like you will ruin all our experiment or you must continue. Now I guess the military could use such conditioning but I'd would assume not, though I admit I personally was not in the military I have a large amount of former military friends and family that are pretty close and never got the impression they felt this way. That said in a way Milgram does show that officers certainly could influence a large percent but nearly half to a third would no using such a system which would seem inadequate.

My guess is simple experience would make the biggest difference over human's ability to fight and disable another. .

As for helms use one way or the other. My assumption is that it would be of little effect whether a person spared them or not. That said the other way around I'd bet it'd intimidate enemies very much, particularly people new to battle.

Interesting discussion though. Keegan's History of War and Faces of Battle cover this in part as well.

RPM
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 04 Jan, 2011 9:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In some cases, men died when they lifted the visor on their helmets. Consider Harry Hotspur, who was allegedly shot through the mouth at the Battle of Shrewsbury when he lifted his visor because he was short on air.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 3:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
In some cases, men died when they lifted the visor on their helmets. Consider Harry Hotspur, who was allegedly shot through the mouth at the Battle of Shrewsbury when he lifted his visor because he was short on air.


Yup, open your helm and turn away from the arrow storm or tilt your head way down if possible if not right in the front line fighting i.e. a short retreat to the rear of the line catch your breath then go back to the fight.

A well organized force with paired fighting partners should have a system of giving each other small " breathers " literally. Wink Laughing Out Loud

Obviously in the case you mentioned the timing chosen to open the visor was " unfortunate " but at times when gasping for air one has little choice but to take a chance.

Or even in a seemingly safe spot or time one's luck goes bad.

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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 5:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think men can afford not wanting to kill each other in a gun fight where your enemy is relatively far away and you don't percept him as a direct threat. In a melee, you are in a very direct danger and you will have to deal as hard blows as you can to stay alive and disable your opponents... And knightly class is dedicated warrior class, I doubt they had much issues with killing. Commoner levy troops might have less then needed deadly intent...
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Robert Hinds




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 7:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
I think men can afford not wanting to kill each other in a gun fight where your enemy is relatively far away and you don't percept him as a direct threat. In a melee, you are in a very direct danger and you will have to deal as hard blows as you can to stay alive and disable your opponents... And knightly class is dedicated warrior class, I doubt they had much issues with killing. Commoner levy troops might have less then needed deadly intent...


I agree with Luka. Someone a quarter of a mile away shooting at you would not instill the same "rage of battle", or whatever you want to call it, that feeling of imminent danger and adrenaline that makes you want to strike out to get rid of that threat waving the big axe...

As for the lifting of the visor to try to avoid being killed, it might have worked on levy soldiers but not as much on the older veteran knights.

Also don't forget Lord Clifford at Dinting Dale, Removed his gorget to get more air while fleeing from the Yorkists and got an arrow in the throat. And Lord Dacre at Towton who lifted his visor and got an arrow in the face... The amount of deaths reported that occurred because someone lifted a visor seems to suggest it was not a good thing. (although probably necessary at times)

"Young knight, learn to love God and revere women; thus your honor will grow. Practice knighthood and learn the Art that dignifies you, and brings you honor in wars." -Johannes Liechtenauer

"...And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one..." Luke 22:36


Last edited by Robert Hinds on Wed 05 Jan, 2011 9:01 am; edited 1 time in total
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Jonathan Blair




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 7:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think those percentages are colored by the modern distaste of war. Ironic considering that the 20th century was the most war wracked in history and the 21st is shaping up to surpass.
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." - The Lord Jesus Christ, from The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, chapter x, verse 34, Authorized Version of 1611
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 8:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The problem is that almost all of the research into willingness to kill refers to 20th century Westerners (many writers on the topic have anecdotes from earlier periods, but the plural of anecdote is not data). Medieval warfare and culture were so different that its hard to compare. And for every SLA Marshall who stresses the reluctance of ordinary people to kill, there is a Christopher Browning who stresses that ordinary people have carried out massacres.
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Larry Bohnham





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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 9:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Every vet I've ever talked to about the subject has had a different opinion, and I think this points to the fact that every person has their own perceptions of an event based on a multitude of personal factors. However the most common thing expressed by those vets was by and large an strong attachment to their particular group of soldiers, ie unit, be it the squad or company, or combat teams in the case of the Spec Ops people I know, and a desire "not to let my buddies down." Under extreme stress, people revert to their core personalities and their training. Military training since ancient times has sought to instill in the soldier a set of learned responses to the stress of battle that will (hopefully) override their individual tendencies and reactions.

Dehumanizing the enemy helps this process to some degree, but all the vets who I know who have killed men face to face all say that they fully recognized the humanity of their enemy but that the circumstances of the situation, ie it was him or me, or I was protecting my buddies, when combined with their trained responses overrode their basic desire to either flee or not harm the other soldier.

I would recommend to all of you to read memoirs and accounts of battle written directly by combat vets, or better yet sit down and talk to them, as this, IMHO, is the best, most direct feedback of an experience that only a tiny minority of humans ever go through. It also helps if you have ever been in a situation where you yourself have experienced true mortal fear, ie been in a situation where you knew you had a very high likely hood of dying within seconds or minutes. Flying an airplane through a thunder storm on final approach comes to mind for me. The experience will be most enlightening as to what you are truly made of and what you can and can't do as a frail human. Frankly, unless you've been in combat I don't think any of us have a common frame of reference to fully discuss the matter with those who have.

As for the helm, research done by modern militaries has shown that the more detached a man is from the observed effects of combat the more likely he is to pull the trigger or push the button. I think covering the face in battle has two effects. 1. It reduces your sense of identity, ie you know that the other person can not see your face an ID you, so there is less moral restraint for your actions; your anonymous. 2. You feel more protected and thus less vulnerable to attack so this increases your likely hood of pressing forward with your own attack. It also removes the vital sensory input for your opponent of seeing your facial expressions and thus they are much less able to gage your emotional state and see where you are looking as a prelude to judging where you will move next.

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 9:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interestingly, there seems to be an idea in this discussion that a helm (great helm or later helm with visor) totally obscured the identity of the person underneath, rendering them faceless and anonymous. Early in the age of the face covering armour that may have been true and may have remained true for some lesser men at arms throughout the following centuries. We have the account from the battle of Hastings where William the Conqueror had to take off his helmet to show his followers he was still alive. He would likely have been wearing some kind of non-visored conical helm with a mail coif (perhaps integral to his hauberk). That kind of setup left eyes and mouth somewhat visible, but obscured the nose, chin, etc. enough that people supposedly needed to se the rest of his head to know he wasn't dead.

By the time we hit the 13th century, efforts are made at using personal identifying symbols, marks and coloring, the system we now call heraldry. The primary purpose of this was to aid in battlefield identification because armour obscured its wearer. Heraldry helped troops recognize their leaders. Opponents versed in heraldry would know who you were as well. Emblazoned shields, helm crests, surcoats, jupons, tabards, badges, etc. that persisted for a couple of centuries were designed to show at least allegiance, if not specific identity in an era before standard-issue uniforms were known.

I'm sure that not seeing the opponent's face because of a helm may have helped remove some hesitations about dispatching them. But not seeing their face doesn't mean you didn't have a means (heraldry) to identify them.

Happy

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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 10:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Those are some thought provoking replies thus far.
I agree that the data is skewed in the sense that it represents more recent conflicts (i.e. Last one hundred years or so), however it is interesting to see if it is applicable to earlier periods. After all, whilst technologies and techniques change, Homo Sapiens remain rather constant.
Also, it surprises me that we have evidence of people removing their visor or helm or what-have-you and being struck down. The fact that it is even noted down is rather odd.
And with regards to heraldry as a form of identification; whilst I'd agree that it worked, one would assume that those who new the various nuances were in the minority (save perhaps particulary obvious families), whilst the majority of the soldiery would be rather oblivious as to whom which design stood for.
These are, of course, just my opinions.

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Eric Meulemans
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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 10:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
Not sure Milgram is the best example as some 35-40% completely refused to go all the way and every single person at least once tried to end the experiment and simply were quasi-bullied into returning if they dissented with prompts like you will ruin all our experiment or you must continue.


I agree, Milgram is not an ideal example, though your figures may also be taken to reinforce both the original assumption regarding a reluctance towards lethal action in the masses as well as such persons requiring an overriding influence (in the form of an authority) to commit such acts.

J.F. Verbruggen writes on the mentality of the Medieval Knight and the role of fear, and this was a constant spectre on the battlefield then, and now. The most likely reason for not engaging the enemy was fear, and he suggests, in many cases, it was a greater fear (duty to God or country) that overrode this. A strong factor was also the sense of entrapment often found in war, where one is far from home, amongst fellows, and if able to escape, likely to be caught and killed by one side or the other. Often it was better to stay and fight than to risk relatively certain death by fleeing.

Anecdotally, I can say that I have many times seen fearful behaviour play out in group or massed combat even when there is no actual risk of death (except accidental)! In combat societies and even LARPS(!) a great many tend to hang back rather than directly engage, despite there not being any "real" risk. Then there are of course the few who relish pushing forward, and often, bring others to follow. This hesitant "fear" is, just as is observed in the "real world" generally due to inexperience and can be minimized through training.

Chad Arnow wrote:
I'm sure that not seeing the opponent's face because of a helm may have helped remove some hesitations about dispatching them. But not seeing their face doesn't mean you didn't have a means (heraldry) to identify them.


In many instances it is likely that the assailant would have no idea who the individual was, regardless of identifying marks, so what do they matter to him? I agree with Larry however that the effect of the visor or concealment is less of a factor upon others as it is upon the wearer. Sunglasses, car windscreen, or visor, all provide for a physical and emotional distancing from one's surroundings and actions.
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 10:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Additionally you have to think of how violent early tournaments were. Before the joust or tilt the amount of violence the avg knight would be exposed to before he was in any war would be quite extensive.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The numbers quoted are are not people that fire their weapons, but those that actually aim with the intent to kill a specific enemy. This does not mean that the rest do not fire. Indeed, they would probably fire MORE, since they do not bother with targeting. They might even fire at single individuals; the difference is if the focus is on making a kill or neutralizing a threat to yourself.

As far as I have gathered the theory is that there are four basic reactions to the threat of violence;
1: Freeze: You panic, and do nothing
2: Flight: Self explainatory
3: Posture: You assume an aggressive stance, and generally act in a aggressive manner (body language, shouting, pushing, striking at nearby enemies or firing in the general direction of the enemy), while avoiding to commit to actual fighting.
This is the part of a bar brawl where the deligerents try to intimidate each other, push each other with open hands etc.
4: Fight: You attack the opponent with the specific goal of defeating him.

In a clash of small forces, such as a gang or schoolyard showdown or a medieval skirmish, the most common reaction is to assume Posture, as both sides seek to intimidate or outmaneuver each other.
In such settings, the individuals that DO go into Fight mode are what the greeks defined as Heroes; Men that went bravely forth in battle without fearing injury. (a greek hero can perfectly well be a bad guy)
Subsequently, this kind of heroes are extremely important in cultures that engage in this kind of warfare, and their deeds are exalted in order to encourage similar behaviour.
Examples of this is scottish clansmen, native americans, and to a certain extent knights.

Another way of handing the issue is to develop drill and doctrine that minimizes the effects. The easiest way is to place people in close formations; As part of a formation, the choice of reaction is dictated by the unit, and the posture behaviour of the individual is to do what the others do. A fixed and rehearsed drill makes this even more efficient.
For instance, a greek hoplite or swiss pikeman's posture reaction is to follow his drill, and push forward with the unit. He might not look to closely at what he is hitting, but the fact that he is attacking will in itself push the enemies back.
Once the formation breaks, however, they become a mass of individuals that make their own fight/flight decitions, with the later being more probable in the face of a intact unit.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Ben P.




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 4:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would reccomend Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman's books On Killing http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Psychological-C...dogpile-20

And it's sequel On Combat.

http://www.amazon.com/Combat-Psychology-Physi...pd_sim_b_1

@ Elling, I thought that the percentages were the number of people who willing to fire their weapons in the enemy's direction.

One thing about killing close up (Bayonet or Knife range) is that PTSD skyrockets. Although I think a fully armored man would be easier to kill. Very little blood, no face to see, etc.
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Larry R




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PostPosted: Wed 05 Jan, 2011 5:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
Additionally you have to think of how violent early tournaments were. Before the joust or tilt the amount of violence the avg knight would be exposed to before he was in any war would be quite extensive.




I agree. I think you have to look at how violent early life in general could be. People were much closer to death than most modern people are. Death was more of a constant companion even a couple hundred years ago compared to today. Combine familiarity with death, early (starting at a young age) knightly training, knightly expectations (pressure to be strong, brave, ect.) and I don't believe most knights would have any trouble killing the enemy.
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