Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Question Of Trust

Three posts down, in the first paragraph, I passigly noted the Anything But Bush virus sweeping even the blogosphere - a virus nesting in the vaults of self-deception and preying on critical thinking faculties. On the same issue, Anti-War blogger tex made this wonderful comment:

American politics is all about trying to figure out which liar is lying about the thing you hope he's lying about.

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?

Don't Forget Afghanistan

A media hack gave up many (tough not all) of his delusions and wrote an article titled "The situation in Iraq right now is not as bad as the news media are portraying it to be. It's worse." Well, the same goes for Afghanistan.

I saw a heartbreaking documentary on German TV yesterday. Two reporters were travelling across the country, repeatedly showing signs of hope, only to show later why they won't work.

They flew on a helicopter with Zalmay Khalilzad, de-facto senior warlord of Afghanistan (officially US Ambassador). He doesn't travel any other way - outlining both the security stuation on the ground and his detachment from Afghan reality. Being Afghan-born, his recitation of the complete neocon creed about having to confront Muslim backwardness after confronting the USSR sounded hilarious, and his neocon philosophising about not using the big stick most of the time but using it toward those who "don't understand anything else"; and his apparently sincere belief that the demonstrations of the US big stick indeed made the intended impression, while flying in a helicopter above unsafe-to-pass country, was downright surreal.

Later the reporters travelled to Khost with an ex-Mujahedeen. But even he didn't want to travel by night on the unpaved dirt roads. Once in Khost, they visited a girls' school, where in groups of one or two hundred, in clean white rooms, 1400 girls learn reading and learn to recognise all kinds of unexploded ordnance ("DON'T PLAY WITH IT!" they say in choir). But only 20% go to the school, which is fire-bombed regularly, and both teachers and the little girls are threatened.

In the city, people were paving a road, but it was some local project as aid agencies long ago fled the city and the US brought nothing. People asked on the street, and the ex-Mujahedeen guide too, were angry about unfulfilled promises. US patrols were like Martians - in appearance as well as understanding. In one sequence, they would search the entire neighbourhood for gunmen after a mortar attack, then tell the reporters "we found everyone is peaceful here", while the ex-Mujahedeen guy knew the guerillas use remote-controlled stuff.

Elsewhere, Pashtuns from the North hunted away by Northern Alliance warlords camped in the desert. They were contemplating why the US doesn't eliminate them - if it could eliminate the Taliban. They gave every hint of waiting for the US to leave to start a new civil war.

Then the reporters visited a new Afghan Army training camp, talking to the optimistic and idealist recruits who just finished training - marching in a Russian way at Afghan tunes in front of their US trainers. I seldom felt as positive about people in uniform as when I saw this. However, later they met one of the guys in civilian clothes in Kandahar, talking a very different language for his own security - or not just his security, his idealist-recruit-talk might have been not entirely sincere either. And the reporters also told that many recruits soon desert to join a warlord.

Worse: the training is laid out to have a large army until the November elections - rather than a smaller but qualified one, one that could smash the warlords if the US won't. Training takes just six weeks. And at the end, the 'behind-the-curtain' moment of the film: flashback to the 'graduation ceremony', the reporters interview an American military trainer. He tells all the PR stuff about how these soldiers are able to secure the country.

The reporters ask back, "These soldiers, with this little training? C'mon, you're not serious!", to which he answers with a sarcastic smile: "We're Americans. Always optimistic!"

An awful feeling of futility must be simmering behind that smile - I really felt sorry for the guy. I mean, this is not the pilot bombing wedding parties or the patrolling soldier invading private homes and mishandling the natives, this is a guy who could have been doing something positive - and watching the orderly march, he seems to have been doung to best he could do with his short time - but the orders and the circumstances are not the right ones.

Monday, August 02, 2004

It's Not Just Me - US economic imbalance noticed

In this long, hot summer, my manic net preachery took a pause. As there is an ever-deteriorating situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine/Israel, Chechnya and elsewhere; as the ABB virus swept over the leftist press including the anti-Iraq-war Blogosphere; and anti-public-transport and anti-regenerative-energies policies progressed across Europe, even I got wondering at the futility of stating the truth.

But recently, some encouraging signs have built upon each other. Some people are waking from their liberal hypocrisy of caring for the Troops but caring only in words for the involuntary war participants (i.e. the natives). Spot-on criticisms of US Democrats with a look beyond the elections by Jonathan Steele and - with a different twist - Naomi Klein in The Guardian, as well as a longer piece in Lenin's Tomb. The dogmatically neoliberal Danish government giving up on its project to kill one of its main export industries by re-committing to the expansion of wind power, while Canada's ruling Liberals finally committing themselves to massive regeneratives expansion, despite a more conservative new leader.

And also this article in, of all places, the Business Week: The Unbearable Costs of Empire by one Mark Weisbrot. The theme is an old one, that the US can't afford the Empire its political establishment daydreams of:

The bottom line is that the American empire just isn't affordable. Within a decade or so, the U.S. will be forced to be much less preemptive and outward-looking and to engage in scaled-back foreign policy -- even if the foreign-policy Establishment never changes its views or ambitions.

What is more interesting is a description of US deficits, and their financing through borrowing from foreign banks, as a global economic imbalance ripe for a self-correction.

I'll quote some of it - first on hidden parts of the budget:

...the U.S. is entering this new age of empire with a gross federal debt that is the highest in more than 50 years as a percentage of gross domestic product. For fiscal 2005, which begins in October, the U.S. gross federal debt is projected to be $8.1 trillion, or 67.5% of GDP. By the time 100,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam in 1965, it was 46.9% and falling.

...the most commonly reported estimate of the annual federal budget deficit is $478 billion for 2004. But this number is misleading, because it doesn't include borrowing from federal trust funds -- mostly Social Security and Medicare.

But the money the government is borrowing from Social Security and other trust funds will, with nearly 100% certainty, be paid back -- just like the money it borrows when it sells bonds to Bill Gates or the Chinese government. The [underlying] annual federal budget deficit is, therefore, $639 billion, according to the numbers from the Congressional Budget Office. This is 5.6% of GDP, a near-record level for the post-World War II era.

May I add, the deficit as percentage of GDP would be even higher, would US GDP be calculated without HPI and other tricks (see earlier posts of mine). The article next makes a point about the FED rates and the debt:

...the interest burden on the debt is currently manageable because of extremely low interest rates. But the Fed is expected to raise short-term rates to 2% by yearend. More important, long-term rates will almost certainly rise even more because inflation has accelerated to 4.9% over the last six months -- a big jump from 2003's 1.9%.

The article goes on to outline how this deficit is financed - by foreign cental banks and investors - and points out that this can't be sustained. And here I can read one of my vailings in the wind, for the first time from someone else - that bursting the bubble now is not the worse possibility:

Sometime within a decade, and most likely in the next couple of years, foreign investors will see that a steep decline of the dollar is unavoidable and will begin to unload them and U.S. Treasury securities. As with any bubble, it will be better if this one bursts sooner rather than later, when it would be even bigger. But adjustment and pain will still occur, including higher interest rates and consequently slower growth.

Finally, the author mentions a housing bubble:

Slower growth will also mean larger federal budget deficits. And one event that will certainly slow growth and increase federal government borrowing well beyond current projections is the bursting of the housing bubble. Housing prices have seen an unprecedented run-up since 1995 of more than 35 percentage points above the rate of inflation. That has created more than $3 trillion in paper wealth that –- just like the illusory wealth of the stock-market bubble -- is programmed to disappear. This, too, is almost certain to happen in the next few years.

I'm a bit sceptical here; 35% real value growth doesn't seem all too much, Britain seems a better candidate for a severe housing bubble burst. In the USA, the burst of the house bubble seems more likely as a lesser part of a private debt crisis.

Now, if only a major player in the Kerry team - or, indeed, any major power's government - would have Chirac's critical vision, not just towards secret services but economists who "intoxicate each other" with obvious, self-blinding stuff, too.