Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Nation Confused Is Prepared To Lose…Everything.

A Nation Confused Is Prepared To Lose…Everything.

Nature or Nurture?

Why Soldiers Get A Kick Out Of Killing : By John Horgan

April 27, 2010 "Scientific America" - April 23, 2010 -- Do
some soldiers enjoy killing? If so, why? This question is thrust upon us by the recently released video of U.S. Apache helicopter pilots shooting a Reuters cameraman and his driver in Baghdad in 2007. Mistaking the camera of the Reuters reporter for a weapon, the pilots machine-gunned the reporter and driver and other nearby people.

The most chilling aspect of the video, which was made public by Wikileaks, is the chatter between two pilots, whose names have not been released. As Elizabeth Bumiller of The New York Times put it, the soldiers "revel in their kill." "Look at those dead bastards," one pilot says. "Nice," the other replies.

The exchange reminds me of a Times story from March 2003, during the U.S. invasion of Baghdad. The reporter quotes Sgt. Eric Schrumpf, a Marine sharpshooter, saying, "We had a great day. We killed a lot of people." Noting that his troop killed an Iraqi woman standing near a militant, Schrumpf adds, "I'm sorry, but the chick was in the way."

Does the apparent satisfaction—call it the Schrumpf effect—that some soldiers take in killing stem primarily from nature or nurture? Nature, claims Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard University and an authority on chimpanzees. Wrangham asserts that natural selection embedded in both male humans and chimpanzees—our closest genetic relatives—an innate propensity for "intergroup coalitionary killing" [pdf], in which members of one group attack members of a rival group. Male humans "enjoy the opportunity" to kill others, Wrangham says, especially if they run little risk of being killed themselves.

Several years ago, geneticists at Victoria University in New Zealand linked violent male aggression to a variant of a gene that encodes for the enzyme monoamine oxidase A, which regulates the function of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. According to the researchers, the so-called "warrior gene" is carried by 56 percent of Maori men, who are renowned for being "fearless warriors," and only 34 percent of Caucasian males.

But studies of World War II veterans suggest that very few men are innately bellicose. The psychiatrists Roy Swank and Walter Marchand found that 98 percent of soldiers who endured 60 days of continuous combat suffered psychiatric symptoms, either temporary or permanent. The two out of 100 soldiers who seemed unscathed by prolonged combat displayed "aggressive psychopathic personalities," the psychiatrists reported. In other words, combat didn't drive these men crazy because they were crazy to begin with.

Surveys of WWII infantrymen carried out by U.S. Army Brig. Gen. S.L.A. Marshall found that only 15 to 20 percent had fired their weapons in combat, even when ordered to do so. Marshall concluded that most soldiers avoid firing at the enemy because they fear killing as well as being killed. "The average and healthy individual," Marshall contended in his postwar book Men Against Fire, "has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility…At the vital point he becomes a conscientious objector."

Critics have challenged Marshall's claims, but the U.S. military took them so seriously that it revamped its training to boost firing rates in subsequent wars, according to Dave Grossman, a former U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and professor of psychology at West Point. In his 1995 book On Killing, Grossman argues that Marshall's results have been corroborated by reports from World War I, the American Civil War, the Napoleonic wars and other conflicts. "The singular lack of enthusiasm for killing one's fellow man has existed throughout military history," Grossman asserts.

The reluctance of ordinary men to kill can be overcome by intensified training, direct commands from officers, long-range weapons and propaganda that glorifies the soldier's cause and dehumanizes the enemy. "With the proper conditioning and the proper circumstances, it appears that almost anyone can and will kill," Grossman writes. Many soldiers who kill enemies in battle are initially exhilarated, Grossman says, but later they often feel profound revulsion and remorse, which may transmute into post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments. Indeed, Grossman believes that the troubles experienced by many combat veterans are evidence of a "powerful, innate human resistance toward killing one's own species."

In other words, the Schrumpf effect is usually a product less of nature than of nurture—although "nurture" is an odd term for training that turns ordinary young men into enthusiastic killers.


John Horgan, a former Scientific American staff writer, directs the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology. (Photo courtesy of Skye Horgan.)


Bank Reform: Setback in the Senate, Action in the Streets

posted by John Nichols on 04/27/2010 @ 12:47am

The party of "no" said "no" again on Monday -- this time to tightening regulation of the nation's financial system.

While 57 Democratic and independent senators voted to open that long-delayed debate, Senate Republicans and a single Democrat (Nebraska's Ben Nelson) blocked a cloture vote that would have opened the debate on repairing a financial system so vulnerable and dysfunctional that it has repeated brought the nation's economy to the brink of collapse.

Monday's 57-41 vote offered a powerful perspective regarding which side the Grand Old Party -- which made its name a century ago as the champion of trust-busting legislation -- is now on.

Tom McMahon of Americans United for Change summed things up when he said: "Look up ‘Quid pro quo' in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with his hand out to hedge fund managers and banking executives just days before leading the filibuster against Wall Street reform. Pretending as if the financial crisis that cost over 8 million Americans their jobs never happened, Senate Republicans today stood in unanimous support of Wall Street over the Main Streets that suffered the consequences of the big banks' greed and recklessness."

McMahon's assessment was blunt and unforgiving:

Senate Republicans stood in unanimous opposition to ending taxpayer bailouts, to shining a bright light on the shadowy derivatives markets, and establishing a new watchdog agency on Wall Street that will protect American consumers against Madoff-style scams. They did just what they were told by the 1,500 Wall Street lobbyists camped out their offices this week that got every dime's worth of the $465 million they spent last year to kill reform.

Counting on Republicans to block financial reform was the safest and surest bet Wall Street executives have made in a very long time. But, with two-thirds of American people in support of stricter regulations for banks and other financial institutions, Senate Republicans just made the riskiest gamble of their careers. In the face of overwhelming public demand that Wall Street be held accountable for laying waste to our economy, it's not a question of whether reform is going to pass -- it's a question of how long Republicans can run from the pitch forks on Main Street.

Some Democrats are already excited by the prospect of running fall races against Republicans who took the side of the big banks.

But one of the Senate's most ardent reformers, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, was not thinking about the politics of the fall. He was worried about the reality of a banking system reforms that have been too long deferred.

"I am disappointed but not surprised that not a single Senate Republican voted to allow us to proceed to consideration of Wall Street reform," said Sanders, who opposed the Wall Street bailout of 2008 and has been a steady critic of abuses by big banks and financial institutions.

Speaking of his Republican colleagues, Sanders said, "I hope they reconsider. To my mind, it is absolutely imperative that we end the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street which has led to the loss of millions of jobs and the worst recession in modern history."

To help promote that reconsideration, thousands of Americans will gather on Wall Street Thursday to demand that the GOP do the right thing -- and that the whole of the Senate (including reluctant Democrats) back real reform.

The AFL-CIO and National People's Action have organized the afternoon protest so that "everyday people--small business owners and union members, homeowners and tenants, faith leaders, the employed and the unemployed--to join together in recognition of our shared fate and our commitment to democracy."

On April 29th at 3:30pm, the groups say:

Thousands will converge on Wall Street to reclaim America with one simple message: Americans deserve an economy that works for all of us, not just Wall Street!

Wall Street and big banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo crashed our economy leaving millions without housing, work, and critical services.

Join us as we take the fight for financial reform into the belly of the beast!

Wall Street insiders and their political allies may want to shut down the debate about financial reform.

But the people want a showdown, and they will have it Thursday.

Story Pick: Mike Allen and the future of journalism

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Yesterday, the White House confirmed that President Obama will not announce a Supreme Court nominee this week. That means you have at least a week to learn more about the potential nominees and what's at stake with this vacancy.

We have developed brief background reports on the most likely nominees, which are available on our new Supreme Court Watch web page at http://www.afj.org/check-the-facts/supreme-court-watch/.
AFJ has fact sheets on the following potential nominees:

The stakes are high in the appointment of a new justice to replace Justice John Paul Stevens. Our recently released report, "Unprecedented Injustice: The Political Agenda of the Roberts Court" shows a frighteningly clear pattern: the current court has repeatedly gone out of its way to place corporate interests first and the rights of individuals second. Precedents and long-held principles have been disregarded, frequently in 5-4 votes, revealing a drastic rightward, pro-corporate tilt.

That's why it's so important for the next justice to be someone willing and able to persuasively articulate and unhesitatingly defend our individual rights and liberties. Whether the razor thin conservative majority can occasionally be broken is an open question, but given the record of this Court, a full-throated defense of core constitutional values is needed now, more than ever.

Christopher Hitchens on Ronald Reagan

By James Furbush | April 26th, 2010 | 6:20 am UTC

Lest you had any doubts about the way Christopher Hitchens feels about Saint Ronnie, he makes his feelings perfectly clear for Slate.

The fox, as has been pointed out by more than one philosopher, knows many small things, whereas the hedgehog knows one big thing. Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn’t like him all that much. He met his second wife—the one that you remember—because she needed to get off a Hollywood blacklist and he was the man to see. Year in and year out in Washington, I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon.

And that’s one of the more kind paragraphs in Hitchens’s angry rant. Not sure what brought this on from him, but there ya go.

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