Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Eliminating Killing Inhibition

Two recent articles by Chris Floyd and - commenting on the previous - George Paine have taken up the rarely dealt-with issue of a US military training aimed at eliminating the so-called "killing inhibition". It is so rarely dealt with that often when I bring it up in internet forums, people refuse to believe it. But as Chris Floyd writes,

In-depth studies by the U.S. Army after the [IInd World] war showed that between 80 percent and 85 percent of the greatest generation never fired their weapons at an exposed enemy in combat, military psychologist Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman reports in Christianity Today...

...the military brass were horrified at the low "firing rates" and anemic "kill ratios" of U.S. soldiery. They immediately set about trying to break the next generation of recruits of their natural resistance to slaughtering their own kind. Incorporating the latest techniques for psychological manipulation, new training programs were designed to brutalize the mind and habituate soldiers to the idea of killing automatically, by reflex, without the intervention of any of those "inefficient" scruples displayed by their illustrious predecessors.

One thing even Chris Floyd doesn't seem to know that those "latest techniques for psychological manipulation" weren't from the US Army's own research, but research whose extensive documentation was confiscated from the Nazis.

The Nazis recognised the same "problem" on their Eastern Front, especially when soldiers were ordered to mass-shoot civilians. So they set up a research team to look for ways to break this 'killing inhibition', research that included observing selected soldiers who were ordered to shoot at live target: groups of Russian POWs or Jews branched off from concentration camps just for the 'research' purpose.

It was nothing new that they found, but an effective collection of various behaviors now exploited consciously: focus on unit loyalty rather than loyalty to officers/leaders/nation, deny the humanity of the enemy, especially by insisting on the use of derogatory euphemisms, which also are part of a manichean language to describe the conflict; force open talk about killing in groups where peer pressure can be utilised, and learn to love the sound of the gun. (My source is a German public television documentary.)

As George Paine hints at it, this is what the US Army is doing in training:

Now the mantra "Kill, kill, kill, kill..." is ingrained in young Americans in Basic Training. Eighteen and nineteen year olds are taught rhymes like "This is my weapon, this is my gun..."

I told that none of this is new, just the way it is applied - for example, the Soviets too sang about the gun in WWII, without any "applied killing de-inhibitis". Now, about the success:

And it worked. The dehumanization process led to a steady rise in firing rates for U.S. soldiers during subsequent conflicts. In the Korean War, 55 percent were ready to pump hot lead into enemy flesh. And by the time the greatest generation's own children took the field, in Vietnam, the willingness to slaughter was almost total: 95 percent of combat troops there fired with the intent to kill.

This military brainwashing is terribly effective, and often mentally cripples soldiers - as evident from recent interviews with soldiers in Iraq, collected by Chris Floyd:

"Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, it's like it pounds in my brain," a U.S. soldier told the Los Angeles Times last week. Another shrugged at the sight of freshly killed bodies. "It doesn't bother me at all," he said. "I'm a warrior." Said a third: "We talk about killing all the time. I never used to be this way ... but it's like I can't stop. I'm worried what I'll be like when I get home." A few military officials are beginning to worry, too, noting the high rates of suicide, mental damage and emotional torment among combat veterans.

Finally, the morale of the story, from Chris Floyd:

"Training's intent is to re-create battle, to make it an automatic behavior among soldiers," said Colonel Thomas Burke, Pentagon director of mental health policy. Any efforts to mitigate the moral schizophrenia induced by this training would undermine "effectiveness in battle," he added.

Yet strangely enough, this "warrior ethos" has singularly failed to produce the kind of lasting victories won by those 15-percenters of yore. Could it be that the systematic degradation of natural morality and common human feeling -- especially in the service of dubious ends -- is not actually the best way to achieve national greatness?


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