Hearts and Minds

Now that US troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, the war drums are beating again over Iran. One excuse for war is a threat, made by a blithering idiot in the Iranian military, to shut down the Straits of Hormuz. That action would stop the flow of oil to much of the world.

Of course, an obvious solution to dealing with countries who don’t like us, together with the rising price of gas, the failing US economy, and job losses—“Drill, baby drill!”—is ignored by the armchair warriors in Washington D.C.  Who knows, maybe some of them are drooling over the prospects of insider stock tips on arms and weapons manufacturers. While we would end up in jail for insider trading, (using confidential information to profit on the stock market) members of Congress are apparently not held to the same laws.

The romanticism of war, espoused mainly by those who have not fought in one, is nauseating in light of the costs. As one former soldier, Stan Goff, says of the Vietnam conflict, “In our process of fighting to stay alive, and in their process of trying to expel an invader that violated their dignity, destroyed their property and killed their innocents, we were faced off against each other by people who made these decisions in $5000 suits, who laughed and slapped each other on the back in Washington D.C. …” None of the wars in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan were actually declared, “War,” by Congress, but they did vote to send in US troops.

According to the Brookings Institute, approximately $1trillion dollars of US taxpayer money was spent over the course of the Iraq conflict; 4,486 soldiers were killed, more than 32,000 were wounded, 75 helicopters were downed, 150 journalists were killed, more than 100,000 Iraq citizens were killed, and over 2 million Iraqis are refugees in Syria and Jordan. It cost $390,000 per year to keep one soldier at war in Iraq, and the US paid over $20 billion for air conditioning there. I couldn’t find any information on money paid to the US from Iraq oil revenue. Meanwhile, 46 million Americans are getting food stamps because they can’t afford food.  

Iraqi politicians are now battling each other in efforts to control the country. I have to wonder just whose hearts and whose minds we won over there, or here, for that matter.

I recently read, “On Killing: the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” the revised edition, by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. The gist of the book is that human beings do not want to kill and therefore, soldiers and police officers have to be conditioned to do so. Grossman maintains this to be universally true for all people with the exception of sociopaths. He writes, “When people become angry or frightened, they stop thinking with their forebrain (the mind of a human being) and start thinking with their midbrain (which is indistinguishable from the mind of an animal.) They are literally scared out of their wits. The only thing that has any hope of influencing the midbrain is also the thing that influences a dog: classical and operant conditioning.” In other words, stimulus-response psychology that was originally developed by Pavlov decades ago is being used to train soldiers and police officers.

Grossman says that the prevalence of violent entertainment today influences some people’s midbrain to such an extent that they are conditioned toward violence, and will act upon any stimulus that is relevant to them such as; drugs, alcohol, physical abuse, or a perceived threat. Just remember, before you yell at a police officer over a speeding ticket, that guy or gal has most likely had stimulus-response conditioning in their training, and it will click in. They don’t know if your midbrain is in control or not. You will be treated as a threat, subdued with professional skill, and taken away for the courts to handle. Yes, Virginia, it is a brave new world.

I am not an advocate of the kind of gun control that many Liberals would like to see, but Grossman’s book puts my pistol packing associates in a whole new light. I work with several gals who carry loaded guns around in their purses. While I doubt that any of them have been in a serious situation where self-defense was a matter of life and death, the idea that fear could trigger a midbrain response is scary. On the other hand, if the world falls apart next week; I won’t have to lend them a rifle…


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