Swans Commentary » swans.com January 1, 2007  



What Happens To The Decent Kids Who Enlist


by Philip Greenspan





(Swans - January 1, 2007)  "I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer," was the shocking statement Paul Meadlo's mother made to Seymour Hersh, who came to interview the boy -- one of the GI's who participated in the My Lai massacre. The United States military has long prided itself on molding raw recruits into hardened soldiers. And what pray tell are hardened soldiers? Murderers! The military did an excellent molding job on Meadlo, and on many other Vietnam veterans who testified about the war crimes they committed and saw! It also excellently molded the GIs in the war zones today.

I took basic training in the Army during WWII. While we were taught how to handle all sorts of weapons, how to conduct operations in the battlefield, were subjected to strenuous physical conditioning, were shown films of our diabolical enemies, etc. there was very little as I recall it that would turn us into killers.

It didn't. The military discovered that in all wars through WWII only 15 to 20 percent of the fighting men were firing their weapons to kill enemy soldiers. The innate resistance of animals to kill their own kind predisposed that substantial percentage of soldiers to resist their military duty to kill. Realizing the need to correct this problem, the American "can do" attitude radically altered its training program to include indoctrination and drilling in the attitudes and skills necessary for accomplishing military objectives. With outstanding results! In subsequent wars "the shoot to kill" figure soared up to 90 to 95 percent! I learned of those surprising facts and statistics by reading On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1995), a retired army officer and an expert in the psychology of killing!

I was aware of the major training changes after reading about them in Grossman's book but a couple of weeks ago when I attended a screening of the film "The Ground Truth" (http://thegroundtruth.net/) I was stunned as I observed the nitty-gritty methods of indoctrination that were employed. I watched and heard how raw innocent recruits in Marine boot camp were dehumanized. They were subjected to degrading, brutalizing, and severe training conditions. Their heads were shaved; they were screamed at; they were belittled; they were physically abused; and they were subjected to other indignities that ultimately transformed them into compliant automatons ready, willing, and able to follow their superiors' orders.

Instead of firing at bull's-eye targets as we did in WWII, realistic human shaped dummies popped up for them to instantly shoot at and that fell when hit. To destroy their innate humanity, they were inculcated to believe that our designated enemies are a subhuman species not worthy of consideration. The current enemies were referred to as "ragheads" and "hajis." What shocked me the most was hearing them repeat the word "kill" often in cadence and as they marched to a song,

Bomb the village
Kill the people
Throw some napalm in the square
Do it on a Sunday morning
Kill them on their way to prayer
Ring the bell inside the schoolhouse
Watch the kiddies gather round
Lock and load with your 240
Mow them little motherf***rs down
. . . etc.

I believe the callousness with which the enemy is regarded in training encourages the GIs not only to kill opposing soldiers but to commit atrocities -- assaults, rapes, torture -- on innocent civilians including women, children, and babies.

Yes, the military magic works. It molds an immature recruit into an obedient robot without feeling, a hardened soldier fit for duty, a murderer! And if he is a mass murderer so much the better!! The more the merrier!!! But that soldier can't be accused of murder; after all, he only follows orders of his nation-state. Wasn't that the Nazi soldiers' defense? The awesome nation-state is the most criminal entity of all but its actions are beyond reproach except if it loses a war and a formidable victor seeks revenge.

The kill percentages indicate how much more effective today's soldier has become as a result of the new training methods. So how do those imposing figures match up with the wartime results of earlier GIs? WWII was the last war with unimpressive killing percentages. Yet, those troops took on the mighty powerful armies of Germany and Japan and soundly defeated both. True, the U.S. was joined by others in those wars. But its contribution against Germany was considerable; and realistically it was the US military and naval forces that finished Japan.

Since then the U.S. has been engaged in three major wars -- North Korea, Vietnam, and the War on Terror (currently Afghanistan and Iraq). The North Korean war, fought with many allies, ended in a stalemate. It should be noted that because training techniques had not yet developed completely, the kill percentage of the US troops was only 55 percent. Vietnam, when the percentages hit the peak, was the worst military experience for the U.S. The Vietnam Syndrome, a phrase adopted to describe the aberration that overtook the country and which it hoped to surmount and prevent from ever reoccurring, was the result of that war.

Although the current War on Terror is still in progress, it is apparent to most that it as damaging as or even more damaging than the Vietnam Syndrome. As competent as the troops might be they are being thrust into wars that should never have been undertaken.

Unfortunately, the political establishment that gets the country into such a mess is unwilling to extricate it when it should. The same scenario that pushed the U.S. deeper into the Vietnam quagmire is being replayed today.

Tricky Dick got elected with a promise that he had a secret plan to end the war. Instead he expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia in hopes that he could snatch victory from defeat. The Democrats have retaken control of Congress because of the public's desire to end the Iraq misadventure. But it appears that they will emulate Nixon if they "surge" thousands more troops into Iraq. It won't be long before the disgrace of an Iraq Syndrome will overshadow the predecessor Vietnam Syndrome.


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Internal Resources

The Rape of Iraq

Patterns which Connect


About the Author

Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).



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This Edition's Internal Links

2007 Infamous Predictions™ - SWANS

The Soldiers Among Us - Jan Baughman

Failure And Truth - Michael DeLang

Empire And Glory - Martin Murie

A Good Start - Bruce Patterson

The Insurgent Word: Education - Gerard Donnelly Smith

2007 - Milo Clark

Do You Know The Way To San José? - Charles Marowitz

The Turkish Man Mountain - Book Review by Peter Byrne

medianoche - Poem by Guido Monte

Blips #46 - From the Martian desk - Gilles d'Aymery

Letters to the Editor

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art13/pgreen102.html
Published January 1, 2007