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Haditha and the Milgram Experiment

By       Message Jay Daverth       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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Perhaps you are familiar with the famous Milgram experiment wherein Stanley Milgram of Yale University proved that, under orders from an authority figure, the majority of ordinary people would administer a lethal dose of electricity to another person. Although prior polling of psychologists revealed a nearly unanimous belief that, at most, less than 1/10th of 1 percent of subjects would succumb to this atrocity, the fact is that the Milgram experiment has been repeated in a variety of settings and derivations, always with the result of nearly two-thirds of participants willing to administer the fatal shock.

The point is that we would all like to believe that we have an immutable system of morals and respect for life. That there is no way that we would succumb to kicking around decapitated Iraqi heads like soccer balls in order to entertain ourselves after a lazy Sunday afternoon killing spree. That these individual soldiers are somehow twisted by nature and must be locked away before they sully America's good name any further. But the Milgram experiment represents empirically solid proof that the mind is a fragile and malleable construct; that under the right circumstances, we can rationalize the most horrific of acts in order to protect our subconscious from the reality of our actions.

Basically, under any circumstances of unjust and elective warfare, our minds are confronted with conflicting notions of our own (dare I say
ingrained) morality and the propaganda of authority figures. The only way we can preserve our mental health is to dehumanize the "enemy" so that it is no more difficult than killing an animal. The problem with this kind of mental conditioning is that it leads to all sorts of evil consequences beyond the obvious intended ones.

Should those who commit atrocities be held culpable? Absolutely, lest we send a message that we condone such behavior. But when you train dogs to attack strangers, you should not be surprised when that's exactly what they do. Is it the dog's fault or is it the trainer's fault? The real villains of these atrocities are first and foremost the leaders who have blurred wartime conventions so much so that morality is indistinguishable. Beyond that, we must blame those in the American public who gave their implicit permission for this behavior by electing a group of terrorists to run the country, and finally those who know better but fail to speak out .

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Dr. Daverth is an International Relations scholar who writes extensively on global security and postmodern political theory. His daily rants can be found at The Hindsight Factor

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