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Character flaws and circumstances in America's deadly warriors-in-chief

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Several character flaws predispose leaders to abuse their power in harmful ways whenever they are in tempting or pressuring circumstances of their own or others' making. Four flaws in particular would seem to apply perfectly to our presidential warriors; greed/ambition, moral frailty, narcissism, and close-mindedness.

1. Greed/Ambition. Greed is when enough is never enough, wanting more becomes a craving, getting more later isn't soon enough, and thus motivates the abuse of power. In the corner offices of the corporate sphere, the profit motive and greed go hand in hand. In the political sphere greed becomes excessive ambition and in the Oval Office motivates an imperialistic drive. It has been a hallmark of all U.S. presidents.

2. Moral frailty. This characteristic is the sine qua non of people for whom the ends justify the means. The late psychologist Lawrence Kolhberg's theory about levels of moral development and how by adulthood the person's moral development would come to rest at one or the other of the levels is instructive here.[3] I've condensed his six levels into three; unconditional ("wrongdoing is wrong"), conditional ("it depends"), and unprincipled ("do whatever is necessary") morality. People at these last two levels always rationalize their bad actions as good ones Most of our presidents rested at the third level. Historian John Dower refers to them as "moral imbeciles' for "grossly misunderstanding or simply ignoring their enemies, their own impulses, and history itself."[4]

3. Narcissism.  One of the abnormal profiles recognized by the American Psychiatric Association is the "narcissistic personality disorder," which exhibits such characteristics as "a grandiose sense of self-importance, is interpersonally exploitative and lacks empathy." I think the hubris that pushes decisions to use military force is a corollary of narcissism. The "poster child" of hubris ought to be President Bush in his military attire standing on the aircraft carrier proclaiming "mission accomplished." When narcissism goes over the edge it becomes sociopathic, which exhibits such characteristics as "disregard of social norms, deceitfulness, and lack of remorse." Historian William Manson, author of The Psychodynamics of Culture, claims that President Clinton exemplifies narcissism and that President Bush has sociopathic tendencies (Bush allegedly firecracker bombed frogs as a youngster. [5] Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon ought to be case studies of this character flaw in its entirety.

4. Close-mindedness. One of the so-called "big five" personality traits is that of "openness." It's the least well understood of the five but it seems to reflect a person's mental ability for comprehensive and objective thinking and a keenness for a variety of experiences. Close-mindedness, narrow-mindedness, and myopia would seem to reflect the opposites. Consider President Lyndon Johnson, for instance. I think he was either an ignoramus about or downplayed the past history of Vietnam and didn't have the vaguest idea of how long the war against that country would last or what its consequences would be. And then there are the more recent presidents with their myopia over the long-term consequences of their military aggressions in the Greater Middle East.


All people deal in one way or another with circumstances, some of their own making. Circumstances usually involve temptations and pressures. I call those circumstances "badvantages" because they give advantages to bad behavior. U.S. presidents, like CEOs, are bombarded by them, most especially by occupying a seductive position, by presiding over the best or worst of times, by a warfare culture, by upside down incentives, by global enticements, and overall by the powerful corpocracy, the collusion between corporate interests and corruptible officials in all three branches of the government.

1. Seductive position. History is replete with characters seduced by the powerful positions they held. Power is readily available to be exploited and abused. The U.S. presidency is perhaps the most powerful militarily speaking and thus the most seductive position in the world militarily speaking.

2. Best or worse of times. The best of times, which stokes greed, tends to bring out the worst in human nature just as the worst of times, which stokes need, tends to do the same. Fortune 500 companies, for instance, tend to get into legal trouble more often when times are good. In the case of U.S. presidents, however, the worst of times is when they get more militaristic. With the arguable exception of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor (FDR is said to have deliberately provoked the attack), warriors-in-chief create the worst of times by creating enemies for the self-serving purposes of the industrial/military/political triumvirate. Nothing boosts its profits and power like having an enemy or two or three.

3. Warfare culture. The triumvirate is adept at creating and sustaining a culture in which continuous military interventions are accepted and expected. Besides relying on spreading lies (e.g., WMDs), half truths and propaganda through corporate-controlled mainstream media, on infiltration into the educational system at all levels, and on entertainment (e.g., war movies) the triumvirate has mastered the art of what we psychologists call "operant conditioning," continuously pairing a negative or less favorable item with a more favorable one until the former becomes more like the latter. That explains, for example, why basketball fans will without reservation watch a game played on an aircraft carrier.

4. Upside Down Incentives. CEOs and U.S. presidents are addicted to them. An upside down incentive, as you can probably guess, is one that rewards bad behavior and/or punishes good behavior. Never having to worry about being prosecuted as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court because it is an absolutely feckless entity and because the U.S. refuses to be a signatory member of it is the most egregious upside down incentive for a U.S. warrior-in-chief.  

5. Global enticements. Globalization is the contemporary euphemism for imperialism. The globe is one giant opportunity for market expansion, resource exploitation and political manipulation. The prospect of installing or protecting dictatorships in the pretext of spreading and defending freedom is just too much of a temptation for CEOs and U.S. presidents alike to resist. The duplicitous and hypocritical Ike with his farewell address warning of the very military industrial complex over which he had presided was a supreme master of secret military operations carried out by the CIA to replace democratically elected presidents with dictators who protected corporate investments and operations and opened up for them rich resources like oil and minerals.

6. The powerful corpocracy. The first five circumstantial factors are all part and parcel of this sixth one, the powerful corpocracy. It took me about 10 years to study and then write a book about what the corpocracy is, what it does, and how it can be ended and democracy reclaimed.[6] A U.S. president is a member of the corpocracy and is influenced by it, especially when it comes to making decisions about military interventions.

Are U.S. warriors-in-chiefs surrogate murderers?

A murder happens when someone is killed intentionally. A surrogate is someone acting on the behalf of someone else. If you accept these definitions, does it not follow that the making and selling of murderous weapons and the authorization by agents at the highest levels of government of the use of those weapons is a form of surrogate murder? And if men, women and children not targeted for killing but killed as part of the "collateral damage," is that not a form of involuntary homicide or manslaughter?

Is any war just?

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I am a retired (1995)organizational psychologist who has since concentrated on the subjects of the collusion between government and corporations and matters of war and peace. I have just finished writing my final book (final because I am staring (more...)

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Do you know how many people have been killed by U... by Gary Brumback on Tuesday, Nov 13, 2012 at 7:06:19 PM
"But to refute the claim made by many authorities ... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 8:30:41 AM
Thank you for your comments even though I disagree... by Gary Brumback on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 10:06:20 AM
But logic is not violated by the fact that, if I w... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 2:01:51 PM
"Slavery probably would have ended peacefully with... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 8:30:59 AM
I appreciate the fact that you did not call me a r... by Gary Brumback on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 10:20:52 AM
Lincoln and others had a moral obligation to act a... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 1:56:15 PM
Yes, I am idealistic but I don't neglect the "sad ... by Gary Brumback on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 3:00:16 PM
Kill the poor.  War for supremacy - or just f... by Don Caldarazzo on Tuesday, Nov 13, 2012 at 7:08:00 PM
Well thought out and well-reasoned summation of ou... by Arlen Grossman on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 4:39:42 PM
Since 1947(end of WW2) Glorious USA bombed more th... by jean labrek on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 6:39:27 PM
Thanks for your reply to Arlen, Jean. You refer to... by Gary Brumback on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 6:54:57 PM
Read more at - - and - webo... by jean labrek on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 7:04:41 PM
Thanks Jean, I'll look into those references.BestG... by Gary Brumback on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 7:33:46 PM
"Their agent"?... by BFalcon on Thursday, Nov 15, 2012 at 8:25:11 AM
Thanks very much Arlen for your compliment. I... by Gary Brumback on Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 at 7:13:48 PM
for our aggression, heroes and villains aside, is ... by molly cruz on Thursday, Nov 15, 2012 at 11:55:32 AM
Nicely put Molly. You covered the matter from the ... by Gary Brumback on Thursday, Nov 15, 2012 at 12:24:37 PM