Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hopelessness, shame, rage, and denial

When people see this footage of US helicopter pilots and fighters gun down these unarmed civilians in Iraq, two questions sometimes arise: 1) Is this kind of behavior typical? and 2) How can these soldiers be so bloodthirsty?

Only by answering how our soldiers can be so cruel can we discover whether this kind of killing of innocents is prevalent in US war making. So - how do our soldiers end up acting like those in the leaked video?

I believe the answer is twofold: 1) Probably alot of these soldiers are self-selected violence prone people; and perhaps more importantly: 2) One of the main points of basic training for the military is to "break down" the personality of the recruits in order to acclimate them to killing and being a good cog in an authoritarian system.

This breaking of the will of recruits is designed to make them feel helplessness, shame and rage - feelings they must deny in order to be a solider - feelings that are later activated to discount the lives of people they will later kill. In "battle" these soldiers act out these feelings on the designed "other." Because the supposed "other" is ill-defined in modern warfare lines of conduct are blurred and easily breached. My guess is that this video is far from an aberration and closer to typical US behavior.

This also explains why veterans often turn out to be so violent when they return to civilian society, and why people from the military are prone to right wing Republican politics. After all, it is the conservatives who run campaigns based on stigmatizing "others" - whoever is convenient at the time, i.e. communists, blacks, hippies, liberals, gays, etc. - then displacing the repressed feelings of emotionally hurt individuals onto the specified "other" and symbolically destroying it. It is no coincidence that the military uses almost the exact same psychological maneuvering.

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