A natural killer is a person who has a predisposition to kill—he enjoys combat and feels little or no remorse about killing the enemy. These men have existed throughout the history of warfare, and their feats have often been hailed as heroic. They constitute less than 4 percent of the force, yet some studies show that they do almost half of the killing. These men rarely distinguish themselves before the moment arrives to pull the trigger. It is only after the smoke has cleared that the full impact of their accomplishment is seen. It is important to identify natural killers before combat, because these soldiers are both a vital asset and a potential liability—correctly positioning them in a unit can turn the tide of battle. To better understand the importance of identifying these soldiers, one should understand what makes soldiers kill, the characteristics of natural killers and their battlefield capabilities and limitations.
A temperament for killing exists among some human beings. Marshall, in identifying the battlefield fighters, said, "the same names continued to reappear as having taken the initiative, and relatively few fresh names were added to the list on any day." A post-World War II study by R. L. Swank and W. E. Marchand proposed that 2 percent of soldiers were "aggressive psychopaths" who did not suffer from the normal remorse or trauma associated with killing. I use the word suffer because when the job of the soldier is to kill, those fettered by their conscience are suffering while doing their job. We tend to shun the concept of the willing killer because it offends our kinder sensibilities, but a controlled psychopath is an asset on the killing fields. Those who possess such a temperament are natural killers and many have served this country well. The problem lies in identifying these individuals and positioning them where they can be most effective.
How to identify them?
The natural killer is most likely not a first-born son. Later sons are generally more aggressive and have less fear or anxiety in dangerous situations. An Israeli Defense Force study of its officers from 1961 to 1966 showed that "first borns" were more anxious than "later borns" and that they generally sought less dangerous positions in the military. Later borns were more likely to volunteer for combat and had a better chance of encountering terrorists on patrols. A study of Korean War fighter plane aces found that first borns engaged the enemy less and were more anxious about flying. Family position also seems to relate to assassins. Almost all American assassins have been later sons—John Wilkes Booth, Charles Giteau and Lee Harvey Oswald, to name three.15 Later borns, by virtue of being routinely dominated by their siblings, ultimately feel less fear during stressful situations. They also feel the need to prove their worth over their siblings and more quickly accept dangerous challenges.
A natural killer has been a fighter for much of his life. Frequent fighting as a child does not mean the individual was a bully. Rather, he chose to respond to stressful situations with aggression. Arthur J. Dollard concluded that aggression is the result of frustration and this is a normal human reaction. The sociopath, also referred to as the undercontrolled aggressive personality type, has low internal controls against violence and will resort to aggressive behavior unless constrained by rigid external controls. Such a person can be conditioned to not respond to frustration with external aggression. Thus, if frustrated by a Drill Sergeant’s control, the undercontrolled personality type will refrain from direct aggression and look for another target for his aggression. The military provides ample displacement outlets for this aggression in the form of physical training, field maneuvers and weapons ranges. It is the perfect environment for a sociopath to excel.
The natural killer is an aggressive athlete whose physical makeup allows him to excel at contact sports. Combative sports provide long-term training in aggression while acting as a short-term catharsis or safety valve for aggressive individuals.19 An Army-funded study of Korean War veterans discerned differences in the characteristics of fighters—those who took aggressive action in combat—versus nonfighters—those who were hysterical or nonresponsive in combat. This study, conducted by the Human Resources Research Office (HumRRO), concluded that the fighters had been more active in contact sports such as football, boxing or hockey. It also concluded that fighters had a high masculinity factor or outdoors adventurousness about them. Their body types were larger; on average they were an inch taller and eight pounds heavier than the nonfighters. They were rugged individuals who had channeled their aggressions through contact sports.
Another discriminator for identifying natural killers is their socio-economic background. Natural killers usually come from a middle or upper class background. The volunteer military has had the luxury to pick and choose those who will be allowed into the service, and we exclude those with criminal records. Sociopaths follow a "cheater strategy" to obtain what they want. The lack of a social conscience allows the sociopath to cheat without remorse. Consequently, those who find themselves in the economically disadvantaged lower class will resort to crime unless placed in a highly controlled environment. In other words, a sociopath from a depressed economic background will most likely have a criminal record, and under today’s standards, he would not be able to enter the military. Thus, natural killers in the US military will most likely come from a middle or upper class background.
Sociopaths are generally extroverts. One reason for this is the inheritance of a nervous system that is relatively insensitive to low levels of stimulation. Individuals with this physiotype tend to be extroverted. They also have lower than average levels of adrenaline and seek experiences to heighten this. Extroverts and sociopaths are less affected by threats of pain or punishment, and they have greater tolerance of actual pain or punishment. Both sociopaths and extroverts will approach a situation that most people will avoid. These factors were confirmed by the HumRRO study conclusion that fighters were extroverted, spontaneous and relatively free from anxiety.
The natural killer has above-average intelligence. Like sociopaths with no economic resources, those without above-average intelligence end up in jail. Therefore, sociopaths in our military are usually intelligent. The HumRRO study found that the intelligence quotient (IQ) of fighters was, on average, 13 points higher than nonfighters’. The study subjects were all infantrymen and the mean group IQ was only 85, 15 points below the national average of 100. This indicated that less intelligent men were sent forward to fight, but within that group, the more intelligent ones were better fighters.
Additionally, the natural killer has a caustic sense of humor that relies on sharp wit and biting sarcasm. Such hostile humor acts as a tension-discharger, a relief valve. While we normally associate humor with friendly behavior, laughter itself is a primarily aggressive behavior. Laughter is usually directed at someone and is infectious, with the unspoken agreement being to "join in or not be part of the group." With aggression as the underlying theme, the natural killer enjoys humor.
Sound like anyone you know?