The Science of Evil

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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13 Responses

  1. Not torturing your POWs is a good start.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

      No, no, no!

      We have to seem humane, while actually being evil. That’s the game-theoretical optimum here. So we need to torture in secret prisons, and just do a better job of making sure no one ever finds out.Report

  2. Avatar Graham J. says:

    Part of the new training implemented in response to Marshall’s findings actually incorporated the idea of ‘missing’ one’s shot.

    The concept of suppressing fire, while certainly present during World War II, was emphasized as a way to get soldiers to fire with the possibility of not hurting anyone. Kind of like the one blank cartridge in the firing squad (obtusely).

    But also, as for humanity, compare the European and Pacific theaters of World War II. In one, we were fighting ‘Hitler’, in the other our enemy was ‘the Japs’. Yet both ended in victory – arguably the ETO was easier. So was dehumanization a response to Japanese persistence, or the cause of it?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Graham J. says:

      There are so many variables to consider in comparing the European and Pacific theaters of World War II that I don’t imagine there’s a scientific result to be had from it.Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to Graham J. says:

      What are you talking about? Suppressing fire is at a target and not designed to “miss.” Now you may only have a general idea of the location of the target due to cover or concealment but you are shooting at them so they don’t fire at the other part of your unit that is maneuvering to kill them.

      The US was dehumanizing the Japs even before WW2. Victory in the ETO was easier b/c most Germans but not all would give up if the knew they would be allowed to surrender and they didn’t possess the fanatical fight to the death mentality that the Japs had. Not to mention that the Japs dehumanized allied forces just as we did to them. Look at the effects it had on civilians on Siapan and Okinawa were the Japs convinced them to kill themselves rather than be held by US forces.Report

      • Avatar Graham J. in reply to Scott says:

        Sorry, let me rephrase that. I don’t mean “designed to miss” so much as ‘not necessarily to kill’. You’re trying to make them keep their heads down while other units maneuver and flank. To prevent them from adequately responding. Suppressing fire itself probably isn’t going to wipe out the enemy. I mean, if it does, great – and it’s not like that would be discouraged – but any casualties inflicted by suppressing fire are secondary to that first purpose.

        From the official NATO definition (PDF): “Fire that degrades the performance of a target below the level needed to fulfil its mission.”Report

    • Avatar Jim in reply to Graham J. says:

      So Japanese resistance was dependent on what the US did or didn’t do? It had nothing to do with Japanese values and cultural norms? Theywere just our yellow little brothers dancing on puppet strings?Report

  3. Avatar Casey Head says:

    This is just one veteran’s perspective, so you can take it with a grain of salt.

    Taking human life is psychologically difficult. But no part of my training or combat experience was ever focused on the idea of “missing” shots. You work to compartmentalize the part of our mind that recognizes the target as human, to reduce it to an abstract shape in motion, and target it as accurately as possible.

    The moral question only comes with the aftermath.Report

    • “You work to compartmentalize the part of our mind that recognizes the target as human, to reduce it to an abstract shape in motion, and target it as accurately as possible.”

      On the above point, listen to the language this Marine sniper uses in his recounting of an engagement.

      “The moral question only comes with the aftermath”

      On this, I remember testimony from a celebrated Viet Nam war sniper. He returned home and became a police officer with the (IIRC) the Newark Police department. One day he found himself in a clear-cut “good shoot” situation — his life/the lives of others were in danger — and he could not bring himself to fire his weapon. I don’t remember if he quit, or moved to desk duty, but he took himself out of service that might put him in that position again.Report

  4. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    What Casey said makes sense to me. Rather than act which must be prepared for, it seems like something the individual must deal with after the fact.

    I’m a big believer in environments shaping the way people act. War is a certain stage where upon certain actions are acceptable and others necessary or demanded of an individual. The same soldier who was able to “dehumanize” his targets in a military conflict might be have a completely different reaction to a threat in a civilian context, though perhaps not.

    It’s only a hypothesis, but all of the cultural, societal, and physical environmental factors of the “war scene” might itself be a scene in which human life is “dehumanized,” but I’m not sure that it’s something the military must enforce directly or drill into it’s soldiers, or that the soldiers would consciously be doing themselves.Report

  5. Avatar Jim says:

    “As we all know, most people are highly obedient to authority anyway, so in the end, maybe killing is pretty easy, at least under the right conditions. ”

    People are much more obedient to whatever their peer group demands they do tha to some authority figure above them. Watch kids on a playground. They certainly don’t need someone in charge to tell them to bully, beat or kill someone.

    Just following orders is never a valid explanation, let alone and excuse.Report

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