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Thread: How soldiers deal with the job of killing

  1. #41
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Yes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    You won't find the answer in a book, each individual and each situation can be a bit different ... I am happy to see some of the academic studies criticized, because they sure as heck didn't match up with my experiences.
    People differ. Armies should hire fewer sensitive souls and more minor sociopaths. It really isn't at all hard to spot those that will work out versus those that won't with 90% or better assurance.

    As an aside on the subject of combat related books, there are of course exceptions but generally sensitive souls write and exorcise, sociopaths don't need to do so thus rarely bother.

    Recall though that for small wars (or Armies...), while such selectivity can be employed, in larger ones the press for more people dictates mass hiring practices engendering an obvious loss of selectivity and thus the acquisition of more rather than fewer sensitive souls -- most of whom will go forth, do their job and be okay afterwards. Some will write books, a few good, some mediocre and some poor.

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    Posted by Ken,

    Armies should hire fewer sensitive souls and more minor sociopaths.
    I think the Army had that ratio about right when I entered. We probably had quite a few minor and not so minor sociopaths (I probably fell in that category myself at that time). These same individuals not only worked hard, they played hard and that was viewed as politically incorrect, so there was an asserted effort to reform the military and make it more politically correct.

    The leaders pushed to have a greater percent of our soldiers married, and then they pushed Christian values on the force to the extreme, and after the Cold War the Army assumed the role of social engineer, and equally important when you add it all up we did everything possible minimize risk and started 15-6 investigations for every relatively minor incident.

    Is it any wonder we're attracting more sensitive types?

    The Army's core purpose is to win our country's land battles, or in more simple terms to be successful in combat. Everything else must secondary, and we risk an identity crisis if that isn't the case. Not every problem can be resolved with combat operations, but the Army's contribution is primarily combat, security operations, or helping others with that role.

    If you recall the Army was considering giving an award for not shooting in OIF, fortunately that idea died. The intent was understandable, but good training and experience will enable soldiers to determine when to shoot and not shoot. Good training is the answer to 85% of our problems, it will also weed out those who aren't suitable.

  3. #43
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Yes. Again...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    The Army's core purpose is to win our country's land battles, or in more simple terms to be successful in combat. Everything else must secondary, and we risk an identity crisis if that isn't the case...
    True. I think -- am terribly afraid -- we're there...
    Good training is the answer to 85% of our problems, it will also weed out those who aren't suitable.
    That's three yesses in a row.

    That's it for you today, Bill Moore...


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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    As an aside on the subject of combat related books, there are of course exceptions but generally sensitive souls write and exorcise, sociopaths don't need to do so thus rarely bother.
    Darn you Ken. I was going through this thread and thought of something to say that something Paul Fussell wrote got me to thinking of. Then you went and said it first.

    JMM99 mentioned something about fighter aces and the whys of their success somewhere in a post above. I read an article years ago that suggested it was far more useful to look at units rather than individuals when looking for the whys of success. That made a lot of sense to me at the time and I stopped thinking about the whys of acedom. I haven't researched lately but I seem to remember that aces weren't evenly distributed throughout fighter forces but were mostly in good units. The whys of successful units are very well known to guys like Ken, Bill, JMA etc. and they differ not at all between ground and air units. The general public loves aces though.
    Last edited by carl; 01-29-2012 at 02:39 AM.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

  5. #45
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Yes. One more time.

    Quote Originally Posted by carl View Post
    I read an article years ago that suggested it was far more useful to look at units rather than individuals when looking for the whys of success. That made a lot of sense to me at the time and I stopped thinking about the whys of acedom. I haven't researched lately but I seem to remember that aces weren't evenly distributed throughout fighter forces but were mostly in good units. The whys of successful units are very well known to guys like Ken, Bill, JMA etc. and they differ not at all between ground and air units. The general public loves aces though.
    All true and is so whether we're talking ODAs (they are not all superb...), SEAL Teams (Squadrons...), Tank Battalions, Rifle Companies, Artillery Batteries or Supply and Service Companies. Good units make the difference. A really good person in a mediocre unit gets lost in the crush more often than not...

    It's hard to soar like an Eagle when one is surrounded by Turkeys.

    OTOH it is even more difficult to be a Turkey when you're surrounded by Eagles.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    People differ. Armies should hire fewer sensitive souls and more minor sociopaths. It really isn't at all hard to spot those that will work out versus those that won't with 90% or better assurance.

    As an aside on the subject of combat related books, there are of course exceptions but generally sensitive souls write and exorcise, sociopaths don't need to do so thus rarely bother.

    Recall though that for small wars (or Armies...), while such selectivity can be employed, in larger ones the press for more people dictates mass hiring practices engendering an obvious loss of selectivity and thus the acquisition of more rather than fewer sensitive souls -- most of whom will go forth, do their job and be okay afterwards. Some will write books, a few good, some mediocre and some poor.
    I believe I understand where you are coming from but would not use the word sociopath because of the potential for misunderstanding. ( See here )

    Yes, when you add conscripts to the mix it gets massively more complicated unless there is an over-riding 'cause' which provides a strong unity of purpose.

    See Kiwi doc again:

    The New Zealand soldier will readily accept the sacrifice of war provided that he feels the national cause to be just. Belief in the cause may be largely inarticulate, perhaps achieved without a definite process of reasoning but it will underlie the actions of the average soldier and sustain his sense of purpose for the duration of the war. Belief in a common cause provides the initial cohesion among the individuals assembled to form a national army, and grows in time into the team spirit that I indispensable to really first class infantry formations and units.
    This may well have been a factor in relation to Vietnam (for some during - "what are we doing here" - and after on return home being shunned by large sections of US citizens and collectively called 'baby killers'). Hard to cope if your support mechanism is not there (as it was for those returning to a heroes welcome from WW2).

    In my war then we had little problem with conscripts especially in my unit (RLI) where they had taken a step up and volunteered for service in a unit which promised relentless action.

    I would add that there was also a difference between the regular soldiers who had signed up before the war escalated and those who signed up because a nice little shooting war had developed. (Here I would discount those who had become ... shall we say 'fatigued' over time and needed a break.

    To make things more complex insurgencies (where the war is generally conducted by small units) require higher levels of initiative and combat leadership skills at lower ranks levels than in more conventional settings were formations are the basic unit (other than special recce of course). By implication the individual skill of each soldier counts. In my war where we used 4-man 'sticks' across the board we could carry a 'passenger' as the 'fourth' man (a buckshee troopie) but in my unit it was rather a new troopie rather than a true 'passenger' who would be blooded in a short timeframe and move up to the position of gunner or stick medic and be replaced by another new troopie (and so on).

    I would suggest that your problems in a platoon would be from those who joined the army as employment of last resort. What's that they say about 95% of the problems being caused by 5% of the troopies?

    About 'sensitive souls'. In his wonderful book '18 Platoon' Sydney Jary about his time as a platoon commander in WW2 (as quoted here by Chris jM) states:

    There is a mathematical formlua: aggression increases the further one goes behind the lines. Opposing infantry, with a few exceptions like the SS, are joined by a bond of mutual compassion which but few of the battlefield aristocracy can understand... Had I been asked at any time before August 1944 to list the personal characteristics which go to make a good infantry soldier, my reply would indeed have been wide of the mark.

    Like most I would have suggested only masculine ones like aggression, physical stamina, a hunting instinct and a competitive nature. How wrong I would have been. I would now suggest the following. Firstly sufferance, without which one could not survive. Secondly, a quiet mind which enables a soldier to live in harmony with his fellows through all sorts of difficulties and sometimes under dreadful conditions. As in a closed monastic existence, there is no room for the assertive or acrimonious. Thirdly, but no less important, a sense of the ridiculous which helps a soldier surmount the unacceptable. Add to these a reasonable standard of fitness and a dedicated professional competence, and you have a soldier for all seasons. None of the NCOs or soldiers who made 18 Platoon what it was resembled the characters portrayed in most books and films about war. All were quiet, sensible and unassuming men and some, by any standard, were heroes.

    If I now had to select a team for a dangerous mission and my choice was restricted to stars of the sportsfield or poets, I would unhesitatingly recruit from the latter.
    These were conscripts and the experience was from D-Day to the end and I suppose they all wanted to survive the WW2.

    Of course in a long war where the same soldiers are in it all the time most of your hard chargers would have a pretty restricted life expectancy. (Unlike these days where the Brits say "You pop over to Afghanistan for six months then its home for tea and medals".)

    As Desiderata warns us:

    "Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."

    This, I have on good authority, is why they have only one sergeant major per infantry company

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    Default Hey Gents

    The reference (here) was to the common denominator being that they (fighter aces) got into more fights when they were kids relative to the other pilots. Which gets us to "minor psychopaths" (or "minor sociopaths", whatever).

    It strikes me (talking just about kids) that "minor psychopaths" are not all the same qualitatively. Let's take the "bully" first; but I'd put him on the shelf real quick because he won't take on anyone he thinks is equal or stronger. He'd make a lousy soldier (IMO), but he's one kind of "minor psychopath".

    Then, there's the "defensive" kind who won't fight unless provoked - perhaps by a bully type, but also by one of the two "offensive" kinds of "minor psychopaths".

    One of those is the kind who pushes other "minor psychopaths" who are within his capabilities just for the sake of seeing who comes out on top.

    The other of those two is the kind who also pushes other "minor psychopaths" and doesn't care how far beyond his capabilities they are. A little nutsy that kind (but some booze also helped).

    Those are my observations based on "minor psychopathic" kids I grew up with who saw a bit of violence as being a normal part of life.

    Actually, the only kind I regard as being a "minor psychopath" is the bully. The others are simply your normal kids who won't take $hit. "Normal" for the Copper Country, but Carl can be a reality check on that.

    And, covering Dropkick Murphys, while we sure weren't Vegan and definitely not Swedish, we were a bunch of sensitive guys - no need for us to take sensitivity training - honest.

    Your thoughts ?

    Regards

    Mike
    Last edited by jmm99; 01-29-2012 at 06:50 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    I think the Army had that ratio about right when I entered. We probably had quite a few minor and not so minor sociopaths (I probably fell in that category myself at that time). These same individuals not only worked hard, they played hard and that was viewed as politically incorrect, so there was an asserted effort to reform the military and make it more politically correct.

    The leaders pushed to have a greater percent of our soldiers married, and then they pushed Christian values on the force to the extreme, and after the Cold War the Army assumed the role of social engineer, and equally important when you add it all up we did everything possible minimize risk and started 15-6 investigations for every relatively minor incident.

    Is it any wonder we're attracting more sensitive types?

    The Army's core purpose is to win our country's land battles, or in more simple terms to be successful in combat. Everything else must secondary, and we risk an identity crisis if that isn't the case. Not every problem can be resolved with combat operations, but the Army's contribution is primarily combat, security operations, or helping others with that role.

    If you recall the Army was considering giving an award for not shooting in OIF, fortunately that idea died. The intent was understandable, but good training and experience will enable soldiers to determine when to shoot and not shoot. Good training is the answer to 85% of our problems, it will also weed out those who aren't suitable.
    Your points are good Bill.

    I tire of all this political correctness which seems to distract US, Brit and European armies while seldom affecting any of the recent enemies. It wastes too much time and distracts from purpose over insignificant detail.

    Take the case of dear-old Prince Charlie. In the 80s Charlie,who BTW has no risk of PTSD, decided to go public with his deep concern about the Brigade of Guards having no black faces on parade. ( see here )

    In good old British fashion all British subjects - especially the senior officers in the military - fell over themselves to address this Royal concern. A spokesman for the prince indicated that he himself employed 'one or two' blacks. But the spokesman failed to indicate how many gays, lesbians and transgender people the good prince had on his staff.

    Which raises the issue (which I am currently addressing elsewhere) of whether the military must mirror society. It seems it doesn't matter who actually wants to be a soldier, all that matters is whether the military reflects the demographics of the nation.

    The military probably has a defined role in terms of the constitution and/or statute ... they should be able to comply without micromanagement from politicians. Not going to happen so get used to it.

    Ah... courageous restraint, I wonder who thought that one up. We (being the old and the bold from my war) have discussed this at some length and are glad we are beyond the reach of this insanity.

  9. #49
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default True...

    Quoth JMA:
    would not use the word sociopath because of the potential for misunderstanding.
    Little hyperbole on my part. Actually, most of the people I'm referring to with that bit of shorthand are those described by jmm99, as always bringing some sense to some of the dumber things I write:
    ...the only kind I regard as being a "minor psychopath" is the bully. The others are simply your normal kids who won't take $hit.
    Yes. Fortunately, there are really a lot of those around but they are often eclipsed today by a few who have been over exposed to this foolishness properly slammed by JMA:
    ...all this political correctness which seems to distract US, Brit and European armies while seldom affecting any of the recent enemies. It wastes too much time and distracts from purpose over insignificant detail.
    Totally true and as Bill Moore noted, that creates a major problem:
    ... we risk an identity crisis if that isn't the case. Not every problem can be resolved with combat operations, but the Army's contribution is primarily combat, security operations, or helping others with that role.
    Need a little pressure not currently available to dispel that crisis, return to reality and dispel the superfluous and the excessive and "insignificant detail." Hopefully, this is just a cycle we're in an we'll wake up as if from a bad dream. In the meantime, I console myself by strongly identifying with this from JMA:
    ...We (being the old and the bold from my war) have discussed this at some length and are glad we are beyond the reach of this insanity.
    Yea, verily. Me, too -- and for which I'm very, very thankful. Man, am I ever...

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    Default Marlantes on dissociating the enemy

    (Still in Chapter 2: Killing)

    He talks of seeing 'Crispy Critters' all over the hill. (We had that nape stuff too, man was it ever a game changer.)

    Psychologically I had become identified with the threatened [and surrounded US recce team] and the advancing enemy was no longer human. I didn't kill people, sons, brothers, fathers. I killed 'Crispy Critters.' It could have been krauts, nips, huns, boche, gooks, infidels, towel heads, imperialist pigs, yankee pigs, male chauvinist pigs... the list is as varied as human experience. This dissociation of one's enemy from humanity is a kind of pseudospeciation. You make a false species out of the other human and therefore make it easier to kill him.
    Richard Holmes in 'Acts of War' also covers this (pg 365-75) and has more to say on the matter. In addition he reminds readers that soldiers tend to create and unofficial name for everything. So if every item of equipment is given a new name does it really come as any surprise that this also happens to the enemy?

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Richard Holmes in 'Acts of War' also covers this (pg 365-75) and has more to say on the matter. In addition he reminds readers that soldiers tend to create and unofficial name for everything. So if every item of equipment is given a new name does it really come as any surprise that this also happens to the enemy?
    Paramedics enjoy throwing around these sorts of terms. Particularly when they’re having lunch with non-paramedics.
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Default The Western View versus others

    So far our focus is focused on Anglophone soldiers that generally hail from similiar cultures. After a few hours of reading today about Japanese soldiers during the early days of WWII it is clear that they not only didn't hesitate to kill, but relished in torturing innocents and participating in mass rape long after the excitement of any combat. The German SS were also capable of visiting exceptional cruelity, as a number of others throughout history. As Anglophones we do surprisingly well at killing considering the values accepted as norms in our society, but there are others in the world who seem to be completely unhindered by what we would consider moral norms.

    What enabled the Germans and especially the Japanese to participate in mass murder and torture? Their culture? Lower level of social development? Superior social development? Is it undefinable? When did we become relatively moral compared to our enemies? Was there a turning point in history?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    What enabled the Germans and especially the Japanese to participate in mass murder and torture? Their culture? Lower level of social development? Superior social development? Is it undefinable? When did we become relatively moral compared to our enemies? Was there a turning point in history?
    This is from a guy who hasn't seen nearly what you guys have.

    I think that capability exists in almost all of us, and it exists very close to the surface. In young men it is even closer to the surface. What holds it in check is the process of acculturation and learning that parents do from just a little after the day of birth. The results of that process are reinforced and held in place by a social structure. If you remove that social structure, all that learning and nodding your head yes when your mother tells you not to pull the wings off flies can be forgotten in a extremely short time, almost as if was never there.

    To me the most important part of the that social structure that keeps us from savagery is the "legitimate authority figure". I put that in quotes because that can vary with circumstance, but if the authority figure says it's ok to (name your atrocity), those "good boys (or men or women)" will do it and have fun doing it and brag about it. There are some saints out who won't, God bless them, but they will tend to get washed away with the tide if they aren't backed by authority figures.

    That is one reason I get so upset when people want to give a pass on things like hazing or desecrating bodies. It is chipping away at the dike holding back that tide of savagery and that dike is always under severe strains. Even minor cracks can develop into catastrophic breaks unless they are fixed immediately.

    An example of that is Capt. Medina's company. He set that company up for that crime for months by, IIRC, telling them that it was ok to act on their savage impulses. The legitimate authority figure gave them permission so they did it.

    A more extreme but perhaps more illuminating example is the child soldier of Africa. These kids are removed from their social support world and given a new authority figure who is then able to create a sweet faced monster in just a few days. This is independent of continent or race. You can take most any 12 year, 14 or 16 year old anywhere and if you handle him right, you will have a stone cold but giggly killer of his own parents in 3 weeks or less. (Peter Singer's book Child Soldiers is great on this.)

    The Germans and Japanese did those things because their leaders told them it was ok. If our leaders tell us it is ok, we will do the same thing. We already have on a minor scale, "enhanced interrogation." We can revert to savagery in a very short time if we don't constantly tell each other "We're Americans. We don't do that ####." (Thank you Brandon Friedman.)

    Of course that begs the question, when do leaders on a big scale, say that #### is ok? Maybe it is a millenniumist (sic) ideology, Nazi for the Germans, that contrived bushido emporer nonsense for the Japanese, and you can add communism for any number of countries. All totalitarian ideologies that subordinated everything to the ideology.
    Last edited by carl; 01-30-2012 at 08:41 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    Actually, the only kind I regard as being a "minor psychopath" is the bully. The others are simply your normal kids who won't take $hit. "Normal" for the Copper Country, but Carl can be a reality check on that.
    Copy on Copper Country people. One of the reasons I really like the UP is because the people are so mostly old fashioned sensible in all things. Not a lot of posturing up there.

    This comes from a forever a civilian regarding your asking for thoughts.

    I think what Sydney Jary said is true, especially because you maybe aren't looking for exceptional individuals, you are looking for individuals who can be formed, and are willing to be formed, into an exceptional group. This is just a civilian's guess but the exceptional individual fighters may just sort of show up within a group that is selected for the qualities Jary mentioned.

    Something else that goes with that is something else that I read long ago but forgot where. When you are selecting for a good military unit, you are selecting for the same things that you would select for if you were hiring for a business. You look for honesty, maturity, ability to get along, work ethic, punctuality, stick-to-itiveness etc. The only thing different for a military is perhaps physical fitness.

    The above is one reason I was so optimistic about the chances the Libyan rebels had to win their fight, so many of them seemed to be small businessmen, teachers, university students etc; Copper Country guys who decided they had had enough. If the heavy weapons could be kept at bay for a while, I didn't think those guys could lose.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ganulv View Post
    Paramedics enjoy throwing around these sorts of terms. Particularly when they’re having lunch with non-paramedics.
    Yes most certainly happens outside the military. Need some input from someone with Psych qualification.

    Starts with boys and their tree-house. Members only and no girls allowed.

    Not just anyone can become a member. There has to be some initiation/selection/hazing. Some sort of (blood) oath or swearing of allegiance etc etc. Then there are codes and customised slang only members will understand... and so on.

    Look at gangs... look at university fraternities... look everywhere men group and realise that the military will be (can't be otherwise) no different.

    Its just that in the military 'looking after our own' means just that and the level of trust and belief in their mates is essential to their very existence.

    When you shout 'cover me' to your buddy it means you are putting your life in his hands. That's special. That's why 30 years after my Regiment - a single almost always under strength battalion - was disbanded we still gather together in hundreds to share a little time with people we shared moments in combat with (300 odd in South Africa and 200 odd in the UK last year).

    Civilians don't get near creating this non-sexual bond between men. They will never understand ... and as we soldiers say:

    You have never lived until you have almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a special flavor the protected will never know.
    So f**k them.

    Let us learn to understand ourselves and the psychological dynamics of what we are expected to do so we can prepare those who choose the profession of arms in our footsteps.

    We know that to be able to just walk up to random guy the politicians line us up against and blow him away would require an army of psychopaths so we need a little help. Calling the enemy a kraut, nip, gook or rag-head makes it a little easier (as no doubt the names they use for us makes it for them) and when they commit atrocities like the Japanese and the Germans did and like in the photo up this thread killing them is made a whole lot easier.

    So Backwards Observer the use of the word 'gook' is more of a necessary crutch for us soldiers than a racial slur directed at all people of East Asian origin... try to understand that.

    I remember going through the pockets of a dead guy once and found a handkerchief which had been crudely (but lovingly) embroidered with some words and a heart. I looked at him and realised that someone out there loved this 'gook' and would never see him again nor probably hear what had happened to him. I was sad for her. I still have that handkerchief somewhere.

    Look at the kid in the photo. Lucky if he is 18. Been around or he would not be carrying a machine gun. Saw a lot of $hit in his time in the RLI and slayed a lot of bad guys. Wonder what's going through his mind - still dirty from being out on an op. Time for the civvies to start cutting our young soldiers some slack ... and if they don't its up to us who have nothing to lose to dish out a few slaps... (verbally of course )

    Last edited by JMA; 01-30-2012 at 08:46 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    So Backwards Observer the use of the word 'gook' is more of a necessary crutch for us soldiers than a racial slur directed at all people of East Asian origin... try to understand that.
    No sweat, JMA. A thoughtful post.

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    Quote Originally Posted by carl View Post
    The Germans and Japanese did those things because their leaders told them it was ok. If our leaders tell us it is ok, we will do the same thing. We already have on a minor scale, "enhanced interrogation." We can revert to savagery in a very short time if we don't constantly tell each other "We're Americans. We don't do that ####." (Thank you Brandon Friedman.
    Not sure this is how it works. A widespread remark was "Wenn der Fuehrer das wuesste!" (~ "If only Hitler knew about it!")
    They often KNEW it was wrong and they often ASSUMED that top leadership was not intently tolerating it. That was usually an illusion, of course.

    The reason for bystanding passively was probably more the feeling of being but a tiny wheel in a huge, unstoppable machinery.

    The ones who actually committed (war) crimes (and there's no war, no active war party without some!) probably did it for the reasons illuminated in the Stanford Prison Experiment.


    PS: Since when does the forum delete Umlaute?

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    What goes on in the mind of a sniper?

    25 January 2012

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16544490

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    Fuchs:

    I think we are thinking about approximately the same thing. That entry on the Stanford experiment contained this quote "In other words, it seemed the situation caused the participants' behavior, rather than anything inherent in their individual personalities." The most important part of the situation i think being the immediate authority figures explicitly saying it is ok or tacitly approving things by not stopping them. The Milford experiment, mentioned in that entry showed the same thing.

    One thing I should have mentioned is that young males in groups without supervision are inventively cruel almost by nature. If they aren't stopped they take that as approval and get worse and worse.
    Last edited by carl; 01-30-2012 at 04:57 PM.
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    Default Umlauts

    Fuchs:

    PS: Since when does the forum delete Umlaute?
    With the changeover to the new server, the associated editor doesn't do "umlauts" (whether German, French or Finnish) with any consistency. Notice of problem in Nov 2011 by JMM99 and Stan (1, 2, 3, 4).

    My BLUF:

    ... that good result [umlauts] occurs only if I use the basic Edit. If I Go Advanced, the umlauts are wiped out again.
    I won't make jokes about bears being near-sighted. I won't makes jokes about bears being near-sighted ... (repeat 100 times).

    Umlaut - Advanced:

    Umlaut - Basic (Edit button): ä

    Regards (really)

    Mike
    Last edited by jmm99; 01-30-2012 at 06:05 PM.

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