Soldiers' sense making of killing in combat
: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

  • Elio Martino

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Within Military Psychology, there seems to be little scientific research looking at how soldiers experience and negotiate killing in combat. Whilst theories have suggested an innate, phobia like biological resistance to killing among humans (Grossman, 1995; Marshall, 1968), criticisms exist for this research, which range from contradictory, ambiguous results, to a lack of methodological rigour (Engen, 2009; Murray, 2013; King, 2013). Generally, the literature suggests that whilst not a universal phenomenon, there seem to be degrees of resistance to killing amongst soldiers (Webber et al., 2013; Engen, 2008; Murray, 2013; King, 2013; Williams, 1999). This thesis addresses the gap in the literature, by exploring how combat soldiers make sense of and negotiate killing in combat. Using an interpretative phenomenological approach, 7 autobiographies were selected from an initial list of 24 for study one, and 1 in depth semi-structured interview were analysed for study two, which elucidated the following themes: the warrior self, negotiating killing and death, group identity processes, decompression and validation to make sense of combat, and conflict to the self. In conclusion, negotiating killing in combat was found not to be grounded on an innate resistance, but rather a complex combination of sense making of the self, based on the role of the infantry soldier, with strong moral and legal guidelines, and a sense of justice, freedom and democracy. In this way, killing in combat was accepted when it fit into the way the individual made sense of their role and experiences. This thesis contributes to the underdeveloped field of killing in combat, by providing insight into the sense making of soldiers, and offers a detailed exploration of the warrior identity. This alternative way to study the phenomena experienced by soldiers in combat, has implications for evolving military, policy and strategy, specifically relating to the mental health of combat soldiers both after the military, and in unique combat environment, such as piloting drones.
    Date of AwardApr 2016
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Nottingham Trent University

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