Military training is designed to break down a person’s resistance to killing their fellow man. During World War II, the U.S. government discovered that an estimated 15 percent of soldiers would aggressively and preemptively fire their weapons at enemy soldiers. The government eventually employed training methods similar to operant conditioning. By the time of the Korean War, it was estimated that 55 percent of soldiers would fire at the enemy without a thought. During the Vietnam War, that firing rate was above 90 percent. This method of desensitizing soldiers to the act of killing accomplished the government goals. However, such conditioning also made returning to civilian life and abiding by a substantially different set of rules and principles a daunting task for veterans.

Further Reading

“Factors Associated With Antisocial Behavior in Combat Veterans” by Stephanie Booth-Kewley, Gerald E. Larson, Robyn M. Highfill-McRoy, Cedric F. Garland, and Thomas A. Gaskin, Naval Research Health Center (2010)

The objective of this study was to identify factors associated with antisocial behavior in 1,543 Marines who deployed to combat zones in support of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan during the period of 2002 to 2007. Five factors were associated with antisocial behavior in multivariate analyses: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, deployment-related stressors, combat exposure, younger age, and being divorced. PTSD symptoms had a stronger association with antisocial behavior than any other variable. A unique and important finding of this study was the association between deployment-related stressors and a higher incidence of antisocial behavior. Because deployment-related stressors are potentially modifiable, the military may be able to address them in concrete ways such as by shortening deployments and improving communication with home. Read the full report.

“Combat Veterans, Mental Health Issues, and the Death Penalty: Addressing the Impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury” by Anthony E. Giardino, Fordham Law Review (2009)

Abstract: More than 1.5 million Americans have participated in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past seven years. Some of these veterans have subsequently committed capital crimes and found themselves in our nation ‘s criminal justice system. This essay argues that combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury at the time of their offenses should not be subject to the death penalty. Offering mitigating evidence regarding military training, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury presents one means that combat veterans may use to argue for their lives during the sentencing phase of their trials. Alternatively, Atkins v. Virginia and Roper v. Simmons offer a framework for establishing a legislatively or judicially created categorical exclusion for these offenders, exempting them from the death penalty as a matter of law. By understanding how combat service and service-related injuries affect the personal culpability of these offenders, the legal system can avoid the consequences of sentencing to death America’s mentally wounded warriors, ensuring that only the worst offenders are subject to the ultimate punishment. Read the full article.