Peace Matters Index

descent into madness

ONLINE contents

- in memoriam
- conversion to peace
- send in the blue shirts
- soldiers in the laboratory
- military in schools
- monitoring toolkit
- descent intomadness
- history of movements and ideas
- science and war
- cold war modern
- history of movements and ideas
- 'New thinking' needs new direction

- complete issue pdf

This film is a reminder that not all Americans are mini Bush clones; its exposition of the power of systems to corrupt ‘ordinary’ men and women is something we should pay more attention.

Dilawar did not like farming and decided to be a taxi driver. As he drove his first ever passengers to their destination he was, for no obvious reason, detained by the U.S military. Five days later he died in his Bagram prison cell. The conclusion, after the autopsy was that he had died due to sustained injuries inflicted at the prison by U.S. soldiers. Over 100 men have died in US custody under suspicious circumstance. The film develops the last weeks of Dilawar’s life and shows how decisions taken at the heart of the Bush Administration led directly to brutal death.

35 per cent of Americans believe that torture is acceptable. In the words of the film, popular culture has built up a constituency for torture which enabled the Bush administration to get away with it. Albert Bandura, a Canadian psychologist sees it another way ‘Our ability to selectively engage and disengage our moral standards … helps explain how people can be barbarically cruel in one moment and compassionate the next.’ The US Military explained the abuse in Abu Ghraib prison as the actions of a few bad apples but Philip Zimbardo sees it differently; he acted as expert witness in the court martial hearing of one of the US Army reservist accused of criminal behaviour in Abu Ghraib and was the author of the Stanford Prison experiment which revealed how easily and quickly many ordinary young men can become cruel. In The Lucifer Effect – how good people turn evil, Zimbardo provides the first in depth analysis of that experiment and considers it relevance to society today. This is not an easy book; it is a book about the nature of morality, about what it means to be human. If more people absorbed its arguments and understood that ‘evil’ people do not come ready made but are created by the circumstances they have to operate in – situational forces, as Zimbardo calls them, then there might be a chance for a gentler world. A handful of men and women at the pinnacle of government power took decisions which created a permissive environments in which all manner of brutality can flourish.

Taxi to the Dark Side. Alex Gibney. 2007
The Lucifer Effect – how good people turn evil. Philip Zimbardo. Rider & Co.2008.

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