Monday, March 20, 2006

Alice Miller: The Origins of Torture

Exerpts from an article by world-renowned author and psychologist Alice Miller:
Many people have claimed to be appalled by the acts of perversion committed by American soldiers on ADULT people, Iraqi prisoners. . . .
It is definitely a good thing that light has been cast on the situation and that the media have exposed this lie for what it is. Basically it runs as follows: We are a civilized, freedom-loving nation and bring democracy and independence to the whole world.

Under this motto, the Americans forced their way into Iraq with devastating results and still insist that they are exporting cultural values. But now it turns out that alongside their bombs and missiles the well-drilled, smartly dressed soldiers are carrying a huge arsenal of pent-up rage around with them, invisible on the outside, invisible for themselves, lurking deep down within, but unmistakably dangerous.

Where does this suppressed rage come from, this need to torment, humiliate, mock, and abuse helpless human beings (prisoners and children as well)? What are these outwardly tough soldiers avenging themselves for?

And where have they learnt such behavior? First as little children taught obedience by means of physical "correction," then in school, where they served as the defenseless objects of the sadism of some of their teachers, and finally in their time as recruits, treated like dirt by their superiors so that they could finally acquire the highly dubious ability to take anything meted out to them and qualify as "tough."

The thirst for vengeance does not come from nowhere. It has a clearly identifiable cause. The thirst for vengeance has its origins in infancy, when children are forced to suffer in silence and put up with the cruelty inflicted on them in the name of upbringing. They learn how to torment others from their parents, and later from their teachers and superiors.

It is nothing other than systematic instruction by example on how to destroy others. Yet many people believe that it has no evil consequences. As if a child were a container that can be emptied from time to time. But the human brain is not a container. The things we learn at an early stage stay with us in later life.

In my recent book . . . I pointed out that in 22 American states children and adolescents can be beaten, humiliated, and sometimes exposed to outright sadism without this having any legal consequences. . . The scandal in Iraq shows what becomes of these children when they reach adulthood. The perverted soldiers are the fruits of an education that actively instills violence, meanness, and perversion into young people.

The media quote psychological experts who contend that the brutality displayed by the American soldiers is a result of the stress caused by war. It is true that war unleashes latent aggression.


It would be impossible for individuals who have not been exposed to violence very early, either at home or at school, to abuse and mock defenseless prisoners. They simply couldn't do it. We know from the history of the last World War that many conscripted soldiers were able to show a human face, even in the stress of war, if they had grown up without being exposed to violence. Many accounts of the war and the conditions in the camps tell us that even such extreme stress will not necessarily turn adults into perverted individuals.

Perversion has a long, obscure history invariably rooted in the childhood of the individual. It is hardly surprising that these histories are usually concealed from the eyes of society. People who have been taught to obey by having violence inflicted on them have very good reasons to avoid being reminded of the sufferings they went through in childhood and prevent the suppressed facts from ever emerging into the light of day. . .

It is not true that we all carry in us the "beast," as some psychological experts claim. Only people who were treated in a perverse way, but deny the fact, will seek scapegoats on whom they can unconsciously take out their rage, telling in interviews they did it only "just for fun" (exactly as their abusing "innocent" parents might have declared). Or they destroy themselves by taking substances to ease the pain.

Children, of course, are unable to bear the pain of their victimization or understand that crime is being committed to them. But as adults they can learn to sympathize with the wounded child and, by becoming conscious, they can free themselves (and the world) from the "beast" within.

Preznit Toad-Exploder, Rummy, Cheney. Lynndie England. Dogbeater Dobson. Graner. What have they all in common?

Alice Miller is the author of many books, translated into 21 languages, including For "Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence". Complete article here.
[photo: dying horse in Iraq]


Puma said...

I would add to Alice Miller an expansion: 1, that much of this "vengeance" mentality is overtly encouraged, by parents, friends, and society at large (we can't really underestimate the power of forever-repeated shoot-em-up movies and video games) - boys told to "be a man" and "don't take no shit offa anybody" etc. and 2, that men in this country are raised to believe that their feelings are someone else's fault, someone else's responsibility. Many soldiers who, in more benign situations will only manifest simple immaturity, will "unleash" their sense of entitlement once exposed to the emotionally-difficult warzone. Some women demonstrate this propensity too, but generally few do.

It is the denial of perversity, whether visited upon themselves by parents or superior officers, or whether visited by them upon those who are vulnerable TO them (girlfriends/wives, children, animals, and civilians in a war zone) that manifests the evil, not the perversity itself. In other words, many men, and very often women, are daily subjected to perverse, violent, abusive behavior, and yet, through scrutiny, contemplation and integrity, are able to find a way to live without perpetuating the evil. It is those who refuse this self-examination who continue the damage.

No Blood for Hubris said...

I agree. So would Miller.

Neil Shakespeare said...

Yes. Very good. And there is no culture which worships violence more than ours. On top of that these are video game children. Saw a documentary clip a few months ago that shows a G.I. killing an Iraqi about 50 yards away and then whooping it up, cheering wildly and saying, "Man! That was just like 'Grand Theft Auto'!"