11 June 2015

War Transforms

The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts

War provides the institutionally approved permission to kill or wound one’s adversaries. Most wars are about old men persuading young men to harm and kill other young men like themselves. A key ingredient in transforming ordinarily non-aggressive young men into warriors who can kill on command if first to change their external appearance, altering their usual external facade by putting on military uniforms or masks or painting their faces. With the anonymity thus provided in place, out go their usual internal compassion and concern for others

In all wars, at all times, in every country, wars transform ordinary, even good men into killers. That is what soldiers are trained to do, to kill their designated enemies. However, under the extreme stresses of combat conditions, with fatigue, fear, anger, hatred, and revenge at full throttle, men can lose their moral compass and go beyond killing enemy combatants. Unless military discipline is strictly maintained and every soldier knows he bears personal responsibility for his actions, which are under surveillance by senior officers, then the furies are released in unimaginable orgies of rape and murder of civilians as well by enemy soldiers. We know such loss was true at My Lai and in other less well-known military massacres, such as those of the “Tiger Force” in Vietnam. This elite fighting unit left a seven-month-long trail of executions of unarmed civilians. Sadly, the brutality of war that spills over from the battlefield to the hometown has become true again in Iraq.

Wartime atrocities occur in all wars and are committed by most occupying forces, even high tech ones. Combat is about stress, and criminal behavior toward civilians in a classic combat stress symptom. If you get enough soldiers into enough combat, some of them are going to murder civilians.

We must acknowledge that soldiers are well-trained killers who have successfully completed an intense learning experience in boot camp, with the battlefield as their testing ground. They must learn to suppress their prior moral training guided by the commandment “thou shalt not kill.” New military training is known as the science of “killology.” This term was coined by LtCol Dave Grossman, now a West Point professor of military science, is elaborated in his book On Killing.

 Photo Credit: Francoise Demulder 1976 Palestine

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