Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Imperialism, Boot Camp and Cognitive Dissonance

Imperialism, Boot Camp and Cognitive Dissonance

by James Craven

Sat Aug 25, 2007 at 06:12:16 PM PDT

It is time to strip away some of the mythology and outright sycophancy vis-a-vis military service in the U.S. imperial war machine. Yes, some heroic actions are undertaken and sacrifices made by U.S. forces despite the often ugly intentions of those who sent them into battle, but the U.S. military is also full of psychopaths, sociopaths, glory boys, morons, racists, proto-fascists, and other forms/types of pathological personalities who often thrive in a military environment. What kind real veteran, with an IQ over 60, could stand or cheer, for one minute, the likes of Chickenhawks Bush and Cheney in faux military gear or talking tough to the VFW? Bush in military gear is like a pedophile priest in elegant flowing robes.

They are not "serving" what is euphemistically called "American Democracy" because: a) America was never founded as a "Democracy"; it was founded, by white propertied elites as a plutocratic pseudo-republic and remains so; b) America is rightly regarded as an oppressor and outright suppressor of Democracy not as a liberator and promoter of it all over the world;

Why do "THEY" hate us? Often for some good reasons.

Imperialism, Boot Camp and Cognitive Dissonance

copyright 2007 by Jim Craven/Omahkohkiaayo i'poyi

I am convinced that cognitive dissonance explains a whole lot of human behavior. I might even buy it as a central component of a meta-theory of human history. Examples: What is a conservative? Answer: A Liberal that has been mugged. What is a Liberal? Answer: A Conservative that has been outsourced or downsized.

Cognition comes from the Latin root "cognoscere" or becoming acquainted with something or "knowing". And dissonance refers to disharmony. Put the two together you get cognitive dissonance. Those, who seek to create human robots, build empires on the blood and obedience of innocents, cover-up crimes, create advertising, in military psyops and those who design curricula and cultures of military boot camps understand it well.

We have different ways of thinking about things and we have different things we think about. There are "facts" we discover or are presented with which we may or may not bother to discover, think about or accept as facts. We have beliefs about ourselves, those closest to us, about where we live and what we do that come from and are modified by a variety of sources. We have emotions or passions about things that often correspond to our interests or what we think are our interests.

Cognitive dissonance arises when certain purported FACTS come into conflict with certain BELIEFS; when certain BELIEFS come into conflict with certain EMOTIONS; when certain EMOTIONS come into conflict with certain FACTS. Something has to give lest a potentially physiologically and psychologically disturbing, sometimes even life threatening, dissonance or contradiction develops.

I still remember my first day of Boot Camp (Basic) at Fort Ord, California as if it was yesterday. I was seventeen years old, a few days after my seventeenth birthday, kicked out of high school and declared an "incorrigible delinquent" (for going off on a high school vice-principal that truly deserved it and for telling a school district administrator who had taunted my poor mother to go fuck himself and his whole school system), alone and totally unsure of what awaited me. But I knew that without a high school diploma, whatever "credentials" for future jobs, along with my present job, I would get would come from the U.S. Army--my new "home" and "family".

It was early 1963, just five months after the so-called "Cuban Missile Crisis,during which we came right on the edge of World War III and the likely total annihilation of the planet. Even without knowing what we know now about just how close we had come to World War III during October 1962, even in those days we knew it was close.

But even with all of that, and coming from a very left-leaning political family (who were in despair about my choice to go into the Army) I had no ideas about "killing Commies for Jesus ". I had no ideas about "defending American Democracy" (especially as the son of a Blackfoot mother who talked about genocide against Indigenous Peoples in the Americas often). I had no idea about the imperative of destroying the lives of others in distant places--"we've got to fight the Commies and terrorists OVER THERE instead of here on OUR soil..." I certainly had no idea about the U.S. military and the global missions of that military being consistent with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?).

And in the first days of boot camp, when we were getting to "know" each other, I never heard even one fellow soldier recruit express even one "patriotic" sentiment or rationale for going in. They all gave various reasons but those reasons were all very self-centered and even opportunistic--no transcendent causes for sure.

I heard stuff like the following ["voice" included]: "I knocked-up some bitch and had to get out of town before her three very nasty brothers beat the living shit out of me"; "I got busted doing a sort of prank and the judge gave me the choice of here or the joint."; "I am from this nowhere podunk town and wanted the fuck out before winding up in that same mill my dad's been working in and that has been killing him slowly for the last twenty years."; "I dropped out of a very boring high school and wanted some adventure.";"My dad was in Europe after the war and said it was the best time of his life so I'm headed where he was..."; "I just came in to get a trade and get paid while I am getting it and then I am getting the fuck out."

Now I never heard anyone openly say something like: "Damn, this is great, I used to torture small animals and always wanted to kill people, up-close-and-personal would be the best, but the thought/threat of jail or the death penalty kept me in line; but now, here they will pay me, send me to exotic places and give me medals for doing the killings I've always dreamed of doing?--Sign me up". But I'm sure some of my fellow recruits were thinking that as evidenced by the naked psychopathic and sociopathic proclivities they demonstrated in boot camp and after.

Now the first taste of what lay ahead for me besides the Drill Instructors (DIs) screaming all sorts of racist epithets and threats--and who were allowed to physically kick the shit out of us in those days-- came when I got my dog tags. Your dog tags give your name, serial number, blood type and religion. When I was asked my religion I answered none. Right then and then the DI went off: "What the fuck do you mean no religion? No religion? Are you some kind of special person, some kind of royalty, asshole? OK, you are now what I am--a Lutheran; now move the fuck out NOW and I'm going to be watching you carefully boy..."

Later, when I learned about cognitive dissonance, I wondered why they would want us to be so "religious" and/or at least express a religious preference when what they had planned for us to be doing in the service of U.S. Imperialism would clearly and nakedly violate the most basic tenets of almost all known faiths: murder; cover-ups and lying; complicity in planning and launching and executing illegal wars [what they hanged criminals at Nuremberg for]; war crimes; actions involving planned or highly likely massive collateral damage; etc.

The answer was that they knew we brought with us certain ideas and values from our families and faiths, or just from mass culture, in conflict (dissonance) with the values and missions they wanted to accept and carry out. And often it is easier, from a cognitive-dissonance-point-of-view, and in terms of classic propaganda techniques, to try to show our given and highly entrenched values are "in reality" quite consistent with their values, missions and notions of what our faiths are really about and what they allow or don't allow, than it is to try to immediately disabuse us of our own values, faiths or notions of what our faiths and values would or would not allow us to do or think or say. They had it down to a science for sure. Like the Emperor Constantine, converting the Roman Empire to Christianity, they understood is is easier to start with and co-opt existing sacreds (symbols, ideas, values, rituals, sacred dates and festivals) than to try to wipe out all of the old and introduce a whole new set of ideas, taboos, sacreds and values.

Right from the beginning, the racism and use of racist epithets was common. "Hey Chief" as all us Natives were called; and the name "Chief" got to be confusing. Even the "N-word" for African-Americans was common; but in those days, African-Americans were not calling each other "Nigga Please". Poor Whites were all "Crackers" etc. And since most of the DI's were Korean War vets, with a few World War II vets, reference to Asians as "Slopes", "Dinks" and "Gooks" was common. This was also part of the cognitive dissonance reduction: "When you go to Vietnam or somewhere else where the people are non-white, then you will not really be killing human beings like yourself or your family; they are "commies" [now "terrorists"] and not really "human" like us anyway...". "And besides, the Bible says 'Thou Shalt Not Murder' not 'Thou Shall Not Kill' and in defense of freedom, killing commies is not 'Murder' it is self-defense which the Bible allows"... No kidding, we got all of this including from the Chaplains.

Now here is some more potential cognitive dissonance: Someone, perhaps Native or African-American, in a racist military machine being taught to use racist terms that work and slander even against the group from which he came? They had an answer for that too. For Natives, they made continual reference to being part of the "Way of the Warrior" or reference to famous Native heroes like Ira Hamilton Hayes on Iwo Jima. Never mind being Native in the U.S. military, serving genocidal U.S. Imperialism, was like being one of Custer's Scouts. And for African-Americans, the reference was either of getting out of the ghetto and getting a trade, for which they should be grateful, or sometimes references to "Buffalo Soldiers" or African American heroes of the past. And of course there was always divide-and-rule by shades of color or "darkness" among African-Americans and/or by "blood-quantum" or how much Indian one "looks" among Natives.

Right away I noticed something interesting. Although we had not yet taken our tests (I eventually took and passed cold the GED test for my high school and also took and passed cold the OCT test for Officer's Candidate School) so we didn't know what our eventual MOSs [military occupational specialties] would be, but I noticed that a lot of my fellow recruits who were short in physical stature (height) as was Audie Murphy (hence the term "Audie Murphy Syndrome"),as are a lot of macho action movie stars like Jimmy Cagne, expressed that they specifically signed up for infantry and combat arms. The military understood this very well and understood how to use some apparent insecurities about height (often exacerbated by those short in height often being taunted and bullied) to overcome any cognitive dissonance problems arising from any previously-held values conflicting with the kinds of missions and activities they would likely face and the values they would likely have to internalize to carry out those missions.

For those driven to enlist by the Audie Murphy Syndrome, the military had a way to hook them early and keep them going: medals and ribbons and patches. For marksmanship--everybody gets some kind from basic to sharpshooter to expert--and other unit competitions and awards start almost from day one. So even when you go home on leave after Basic, and you want to show that "bitch" Muffy who dumped you for Biff the quarterback at the high school you dropped out of, that NOW you are a "somebody", you have at least some kind of medals, patches and ribbons to show off.

Now you are required to go to "Chapel". And even if you are say Jewish, "Chapel" in those days was only some kind of amorphous "Christian" service. There is no concept of "Freedom of religion" means--and even demands--"freedom FROM religion". There is no notion of any kind of fundamental contradiction between putting your life on the line on the one hand, to serve and protect the U.S. Constitution, while having your basic and most elementary Constitutional rights spit and shit on right off the bat on the other hand.

And paradoxically, it was at "Chapel", with the Chaplain wearing his robes and not his rank, that we got our first taste of "Killing Commies for Jesus". No, not only were we NOT violating the basic tenets of our faith in training for and eventually carrying out our murderous missions for U.S. Imperialism, actually, we were, as the hymn says, "Onward Christian Soldiers" doing the Lord's work on earth in unique ways. And they went even further: "If you hesitate, get weak, start expressing qualms and reservations, while the forces of Satan, who wears many masks, and Communism is but one of them, does not sleep or hesitate or equivocate, then YOU are not only betraying your faith and all those before you martyred for the faith, you are an agent of the enemy and therefore of Satan." They actually said stuff like that in addition to the supposed distinction between "killing" and "murder".

What about those psychopaths and sociopaths drawn into the military? And trust me there are many. By definition, the psychopath has no allegiance to any kinds of transcendent values and the sociopath has any allegiance only to a very narrow range of anything transcendent outside of himself. Everything is about them. They are narcissistic, predatory, self-absorbed, shallow in affect, able to wear and pass-off masks, calculating and ultra-individualistic. They are "Homo Oeconomicus" [Economic Man]--what capitalism tries to create and celebrate--incarnate. This is indeed one of the central contradictions of capitalism as a system: the very types of "individuals" who make good and profitable consumers and markets, and thus are necessary for the expanded reproduction of capitalism and capital (self-absorbed, greedy, narcissistic, ultra-individualistic, fad driven, unable to delay gratification, competitive, egoistic, no conscience, no transcendent values), do not make good military unit or team members (there is no "team" in "I"), informed voters, neighbors during a crisis, sons-in-law, husbands etc etc.

Since military operations may be quite dangerous to the most precious thing a psychopath or sociopath has--himself and his life--and since psychopaths and sociopaths can be dangerous to a military mission, as well as quite effective instruments for it, the military has something to overcome any potential cognitive dissonance along these lines: unit and team bonding. Various exercises are carefully calculated to build unit cohesion, bonding and allegiances based not on "esprit de corps" (that again would require some kind of allegiance to or reward from a cause beyond ones self-absorbed self) but based on mutual reciprocity and survival.

You learn early, through team building and unit cohesion exercises in Basic, along with blanket parties for "deadbeats", the "weak" and "whiners", that everybody is in the same boat, including fellow psychopaths and sociopaths who give as much a shit about you as you give about them. Your only chance of survival is to join the team and pull together and that "I" and "Team" can be mutually complimentary and not contradictory; in fact, it is the only way out and for any chance of your own survival. During basic training, in addition to blanket parties, you get a real taste, from the DI's, how the "weak" and "ultra-indivualistic" will likely fare in combat with references to and "real stories" about, fragging, weakened static lines, poisonous snakes in the sleeping bag, poisoned K-rations, bullets in the head (from "snipers in the bush") of "chickenshit" or "glory-boy" second lieutenants just out of OCS putting your ass on the line for their own glory and promotions.

What about those not religious or political, not psychopaths or sociopaths or not on an Audie Murphy trip? Well some of them came in for the "family" they never had on the outside. For those they have a whole new alternate kind of "family" in mind. One thing is that since all military bases look basically the same, and have the same basic services, then when one rotates to a new post, you will immediately be in familiar territory and with your new "family" who will not only take care of your basic needs, but they will tell you what you need to know and do to not only "survive" but to actually prosper and get promoted. Your squad, platoon and company are your most immediate family. Your divisional and army unit patches you wear are sort of like the extended family. And your branch of service, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, that is your broadest "family" or allegiance against other services that are clearly inferior to the one you are in. Just as cognitive dissonance dictates that your old Alma mater could only have been the most rigorous and best anyone could have attended (who wants to admit to having a degree from a useless paper mill and having got a degree while totally wasted on dope for four years?), and just as cognitive dissonance leads to the syndrome of "the older I get the more heroic I used to be", so it is that my service (Army) was/is "the best". And you even have jokes disparaging other services and/or units within services to build bonding, allegiances and "family ties"--allegiances that will cause you to overcome any reservations about being part of a "family" doing some war crimes in the service of U.S. Imperialism. We had jokes like: "How do the Marines really separate the men from the boys? Answer: With a crowbar?"; "What is the secret of the Silent (Submarine) Service? Answer: A Hundred guys go down, fifty couples come up"; "What falls from the sky? Answer: Birdshit and fools".

Not everyone can be an Audie Murphy and come home with a blue cord for infantry, a beret, a neck scarf, jump boots, paratrooper wings etc. Here the military produces some of the cognitive dissonance it has to later reduce. If you focus on the "glory" associated with certain specialties, say combat arms, then where is the "glory" in the others that also need to be staffed?

What about the cognitive dissonance associated with winding up in "non-glory" MOSs: Supply, a Cook, a Clerk etc "in the rear with the gear" (and thus often only eligible for American Legion instead of VFW when coming home). The military has an answer for that. In Basic when pulling duties like KP (kitchen police), loading, police call (garbage pickup) they drill it into you that EVERY job is part of an indivisible whole and that no one job can be done without the others being done also; and you learn how shitty and nasty some of those jobs are and how grateful you are and should be, to those doing them and grateful that you are not doing them as an MOS. "The Green Beret or LRRP, deep in the bush in Vietnam, did not make his own clothes or bullets, and cannot even begin to do what he does without logistics support, intel, air transport and support, food, rest, entertainment, etc and, without force deployments in other places, yes, less hostile and more safe, but, nonetheless, where those forces are also critically needed (and no one really "chooses" where one serves and thus is not responsible for where one winds up serving and in what MOS)." Thus everyone is a vital part of "The Green Machine" thus freeing the Green Berets and LRRPS, who get the glory, to do what they do where they do it.

And for those who just came in for job training, planning to get out, they have something for them to overcome any cognitive dissonance angst. For example, if someone is a "best fit" as a sniper, and yet came in only for "job training", unless one is planning a career as a Mafia hit man or Merc, there is a definite disconnect in terms of post-military career prospects. The answer, from the perspective of the military, is that in all MOSs, Military Occupational Specialties, whether a sniper or cook, one acquires secondary skills and capabilities (discipline, focus, cooperation/team work, patriotism, physical fitness, etc) that prepare one for a variety of jobs and management positions, the hiring for which by the way, will likely be done by fellow vets more in tune with hiring fellow vets.

And finally what about the cognitive-dissonance-producing disconnects between, on the one hand, the beliefs and emotions as associated with one supposedly being a part and an instrument of, "Fighting for Democracy", "Protecting U.S. National Security", "Stopping Godless Communism", etc and even "all for Jesus" on the one hand, versus, on the other hand, the clear FACTS of being part of installing and/or working for and/or propping up ugly despotic, fascist, genocidal, corrupt, militaristic, brutal, Satanic regimes that no American would ever want to live under?

They have some cognitive-dissonance-reducing answers for this problem. "Those are all lies". "You simply do not see the big picture". "We do not live in a perfect world, and the perfect is often the enemy of the good". "If we are not as ruthless as our enemies, they will win and decency will be lost". "Who told you or where did you read/hear about these supposed "FACTS" about our friends; did you not know you are prohibited from messing in politics or having access to prohibited stuff?" "For the sake of the mission and indeed for the sake of your own safety and that of your comrades, we need you to do what you are told to do and when you are told to do it and not to question why; that is way above your pay grade". "What makes you think you are so fucking special when none of your teammates asks these kinds of questions that can only give aid and comfort to our enemies-- the same ones that will kill you and your friends without a moment's hesitation and do not ask their superiors why they do what they do..."

And all of these techniques are not only used in conscious and calculating ways on new recruits, they are also used on the mass public as well (manufacturing consent) with often the same effects. But once one understands what is going on, why, by whom it is calculated and orchestrated, with what instruments and in whose interests, those who rule lose some of their force and effects.

As I was thrown out of high school, I had this history teacher, a wonderful man and teacher who gave me a copy of "The Negro in America" by Arnold Rose, a condensation of "An American Dilemma" by Gunnar Myrdal. This teacher told me as I was going into the Army that he had five questions for me to think about; he sa id after I posed and answered the first three questions I would be lead inexorably to the next two. Those questions were:

Who are the rulers?
Who are the ruled?
In which class am I?

How do the rulers rule?
How do WE take them out of power?