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A Guardian interview with Lynndie England
January 6, 2009 6:26 AM   Subscribe

A Guardian interview with Lynndie England (of Abu Ghraib notoriety).
posted by nthdegx (111 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sociopath.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:38 AM on January 6, 2009


How many more times Metafilter people!! It's not England. It's either the UK or Britain. If you just say England, you miss out Scotland and New Zealand.
posted by seanyboy at 6:41 AM on January 6, 2009 [22 favorites]


Isn't a sociopath one who behaves in ways considered to be against the social norm? If that's the case it seems like old England was anything but a sociopath in the context of Abu Ghraib.
posted by xmutex at 6:53 AM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


I feel bad for her child, having to grow up with a mother like that.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:54 AM on January 6, 2009


Previously, on Abu Ghraib.
posted by timsteil at 6:56 AM on January 6, 2009


That was a totally bizarre and unsettling read.
posted by The Straightener at 6:57 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Isn't a sociopath one who behaves in ways considered to be against the social norm?

do we have a social norm in this country anymore?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:59 AM on January 6, 2009


Isn't a sociopath one who behaves in ways considered to be against the social norm?

Not really. Here's some basic info on sociopathy.
posted by Drexen at 7:05 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


the sign outside the bar - "Hunters welcome" - has an unnerving effect on the passing non-hunter.

Ugh. This article is pretty distasteful. It is possible to examine this woman's behavior and upbringing without reveling in snobby classicism you know. Particularly now that evidence is mounting that the torture and abuse of prisoners was decreed by the Yale educated upper crust at the top of the administration, not some Texas Chainsaw Massacre american underbelly hoi polloi fantasy. If you're looking for darkness, look in the boardrooms and lecture halls. Trailers have nothing to do with it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:05 AM on January 6, 2009 [28 favorites]


Er classism, not classicism. Though given my anti-Straussian rantings recently perhaps that was a Freudian slip?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:07 AM on January 6, 2009


I don't mean this to excuse her actions in any way whatsoever, but being entrusted with the care of dead chickens seems like the upper part of her range.
posted by mandal at 7:07 AM on January 6, 2009


I fell some sympathy for her. Obviously damaged from day one, maybe autistic or just retarded. She shouldn't have ever been accepted into the Army.

But despite all that, she should be in prison for a few more decades.
posted by orthogonality at 7:09 AM on January 6, 2009


"Trailers have nothing to do with it."

And that, if anything, is the thrust of this article. It doesn't attempt to link her background as a hunter to the reasons she did what she did. Take the line about the hunters welcome sign at face value.
posted by nthdegx at 7:10 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stories like this make me wonder if a eugenics program isn't more compassionate in the long run.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:11 AM on January 6, 2009


the sign outside the bar - "Hunters welcome" - has an unnerving effect on the passing non-hunter.

Ugh. This article is pretty distasteful. It is possible to examine this woman's behavior and upbringing without reveling in snobby classicism you know. posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:05 AM on January 6 [+] [!]

Not sure that's a class thing Potomac Avanue. As someone from the predominately non-hunting UK, as is the writer, I too would find that sign slightly disturbing.
posted by fatfrank at 7:11 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Decades? Really?

You think it'll take decades of social isolation and draconian circumstances in order to prevent her from abusing prisoners again?
posted by jock@law at 7:12 AM on January 6, 2009


No sympathy for her. If anything, it makes me seethe when I think of the others just like her in Iraq and Afghanistan who are "winning hearts and minds."

Just like America to send the bottom of the barrel to do the government's meet and greet in foreign lands.
posted by photoslob at 7:14 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is possible to examine this woman's behavior and upbringing without reveling in snobby classism you know. Particularly now that evidence is mounting that the torture and abuse of prisoners was decreed by the Yale educated upper crust at the top of the administration

Valid point. A childhood of blowing up frogs would have given W. a good preparation for the institutionalized sadism of a Skull and Bones initiation.

Still: it takes one kind of monstrousness to sign a piece of paper in an air-conditioned D.C. office space. It takes another kind to stand in the concrete interrogation room over the blood-smeared man pleading for mercy and give him another boot in the face.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:14 AM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Trailers have nothing to do with it."

And that, if anything, is the thrust of this article. It doesn't attempt to link her background as a hunter to the reasons she did what she did. Take the line about the hunters welcome sign at face value.


nthdegx: Why would you say that this and all of the other stereotypes about West Virginia are included in the article then? I have been to West Virginia a lot and there are plenty of other things to see and talk about. What other purpose would dropping these particular details into the interview other than to try and cast her and the story in general in terms that make Europeans and middle-class Americans go "Ewww, white trash SHUN."...?

The article isn't all bad, I do get the author's point about possible abuse by her boyfriend complicating easy judgments of the situation, I just wish the Guardian hadn't been so concerned about pushing the "bottom of the barrel" button.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:21 AM on January 6, 2009


You know, I was feeling a bit of sympathy for her, just a bit, and then I got to this part:

Did she see any photos with women prisoners in them?

Roy says, "The only thing I know is that someone got in trouble because he had had some contact with one of them."

England snorts and says, "His dick had some contact."


Sympathy gone. Now I don't have to feel bad for thinking she's an entirely despicable person.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:24 AM on January 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


Decades? Really?

You think it'll take decades of social isolation and draconian circumstances in order to prevent her from abusing prisoners again?


I'm not a big fan of the general (as opposed to specific) theory of deterrence, but I certainly think it's an appropriate consideration here.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:25 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Frankly, that story made me think that, even if she had never joined the military, her life would be pretty fucked up anyway. Of course, being placed in such an exceptional set of circumstances raised her fuckupedness to Greek tragedy levels.

As a felon, she is prohibited from owning or using a gun again. "That pissed me off; made me so mad." What she liked about hunting, she says, was "the going out, being in the woods. Time to think, being out in nature. I love it. Now I can't do that."


That's the one thing that pissed her off? Really? Hmm, America's gun culture is even sicker than I thought. And hasn't anybody bothered to tell her that she can go out, be in the woods, think and enjoy the nature without shooting the crap out of the local fauna?
posted by Skeptic at 7:25 AM on January 6, 2009 [19 favorites]


Saying England's background is relevant to the story is not the same as saying that a "hunters welcome" sign explains everything.
posted by nthdegx at 7:25 AM on January 6, 2009


"And hasn't anybody bothered to tell her that she can go out, be in the woods, think and enjoy the nature without shooting the crap out of the local fauna?"

It made me wonder how the cost of a gun compares to the cost of an SLR. How much does a gun you'd use for hunting cost? I literally have no idea.
posted by nthdegx at 7:27 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Not sure that's a class thing Potomac Avanue. As someone from the predominately non-hunting UK, as is the writer, I too would find that sign slightly disturbing.

The class associations of shooting animals with guns are rather different in the UK though.
posted by atrazine at 7:32 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


"At some point she noticed that some of the rules were being broken - when people dropped meat, say, they'd put it back on the conveyor belt. She told her manager, who said he'd look into it. "And a month later, when nothing had changed, I quit.""

That's a fascinating and sad contrast in behavior compared to Abu Ghraib.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:33 AM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


It made me wonder how the cost of a gun compares to the cost of an SLR. How much does a gun you'd use for hunting cost?

Looks like about the same, $3-600 for a decent one. Of course you can't eat a photograph. Also, if you get shot by a gun, all you do is die. Clearly cameras are way more dangerous for her to be around.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:34 AM on January 6, 2009 [8 favorites]


Just like America to send the bottom of the barrel to do the government's meet and greet in foreign lands.

The military has always been a place where those with no hope of advancement could go and possibly have a slightly better life by agreeing to enter a profession that had an increased likelihood of death or injury and which required a severe loss of freedom. People went into the military, despite all that, because what they left behind was worse. That used to be okay. To have these uneducated peasants running around with guns and with a high degree of power over the inhabitants of the area the military force they were part of found itself. That was the norm. But that was barbaric. We see that now. I think we see not only that we shouldn't take our poor, arm them, and send them to other countries, but we shouldn't have vast segments of our population that are as poor and ignorant as Lynndie England. We need better education for them, more opportunity for them so that they have a reason to want to pursue that education. While actions far worse than those engaged in by Lynndie England were taken by people who had every advantage in life, part of what happened here is definitely tied to the fact that Lynndie England had no advantages. America allowed her, and allows millions like her, to wallow in ignorance and hopelessness and her "betters" only call on her and those like her when they want them to fight a war for them or vote them into power. Trailers don't explain everything that happened, but they are part of the equation here.
posted by ND¢ at 7:36 AM on January 6, 2009 [15 favorites]


In terms of general deterrence, I think she's already been made an example of. See, e.g., this entire thread.

I have grave doubts that all of the following are true about any given soldier:
- He* is contemplating this kind of treatment of prisoners
- He would not be deterred by the prospect of public humiliation, dishonorable discharge, loss of military health benefits, unemployability, and indefinite living-with-mom.
- He would be deterred by the prospect of a longer jail sentence.

*For the anal-retentively PC crowd, please read "he" as "xe" or "s/he," at your option.
posted by jock@law at 7:40 AM on January 6, 2009


I wonder if I should even mention that I'm from Ft. Ashby. My brother graduated with Lynndie, and lives in Ft. Ashby still. My parents are members of a church there. Like most things, there's a gradient of experiences there. Of course there are the stereotypical poor Appalachians. Yes, I know of many examples. I have relatives that would fit all of that very well. But, there are also those of us that don't fit. The Monday before Thanksgiving is the opening of deer season, called "Deer Day" here and public schools are closed in Mineral County that day. But many of us have never been deer hunting, and don't even own a gun. Trailer parks are the exception, not the rule. It's a much more interesting story, though, to show the hillbillies running around barefoot with a gun in one hand and a jug of moonshine in the other.

Is this a poor area of the US? Sure. Do many people here grow up hunting? Sure. Is her background relevant? Sure. Has this area been painted with too broad a brush? Sure. Am I defensive? Sure.
posted by eafarris at 7:49 AM on January 6, 2009 [21 favorites]


Doing a Lynndie.
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:50 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, I was feeling a bit of sympathy for her, just a bit, and then I got to this part: "Did she see any photos with women prisoners in them? Roy says, 'The only thing I know is that someone got in trouble because he had had some contact with one of them.'
England snorts and says, 'His dick had some contact.'"
Sympathy gone. Now I don't have to feel bad for thinking she's an entirely despicable person.


I read that as England expressing bleak-humoured contempt for Roy's weak euphemism, rather than 'LOL rape'.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:54 AM on January 6, 2009 [15 favorites]


Mmm... you may be right, it could be read either way. Without actually hearing her say it it's hard to tell. To me it came across as at the very least a "that's what SHE said" response, if not all the way in LOLRAPE territory.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:59 AM on January 6, 2009


Hmm, America's gun culture is even sicker than I thought.

yeah, because it's just sick to use a gun to feed your family instead of hiring some people to keep animals in cages for their whole lives so they can be cut up into nice plastic wrapped pieces in your local supermarket and you can pretend they dropped like manna from heaven onto your plate
posted by pyramid termite at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2009 [16 favorites]


That's a fascinating and sad contrast in behavior [at the chicken plant] compared to Abu Ghraib.

Empathy gets trained out of soldiers in boot camp. I don't know where it gets trained out for America's elite. Or, for that matter, for America's chicken plant supervisors.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:03 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just wonder what sort of childhood her kid is going to have.
posted by timsteil at 8:10 AM on January 6, 2009


ND¢ I understand your point, but none of the guys I know in the military are (or were) best described as underacted peasants. Some of them were poor, some of them were well off, but all of them made an informed decision to join up. It's as condescending to believe that just because someone is poor and desperate and from the south/midwest/Appalachia/ghetto that they are too dumb to know what they are doing and bear no responsibility for their actions as it is to believe that their background was the cause of something as reprehensible as England's torture of prisoners. It's naive of me to think that this debate would be free of condescension, I guess, because it is the internet. I just wish everyone, especially the author of this piece, would ease up on the "othering" of lowerclass people from anywhere.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:14 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite: yeah, because it's just sick to use a gun to feed your family

Er, I don't have any trouble with that, or even with hunting as a sport. What I find fascinating is that, after being mentally and possibly physically abused by her "boyfriend", cheated on, publicly humiliated in front of a worldwide audience, compared with Nazi camp guards, scapegoated by her country's military leaders, convicted and jailed (losing quite a few rights apart from that of owning a gun), and being left an unemployable single mother on meds which she won't be able to afford as soon as her military benefits run out, after all of that, the ONE thing that "makes her mad" is that she won't be able to shoot at things anymore?!

That IS sick, pardon me very much. Even more so since it is the outdoors experience which she seems to enjoy from hunting, not the "shooting at things" part of it...
posted by Skeptic at 8:18 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Underacted=undereducated. I know I'm not selling my point of view very well with all my misspellings but you try skinnin' a possum and postin' innernet at the same time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:20 AM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


She could still bow hunt.
posted by rfs at 8:23 AM on January 6, 2009


"Hunters welcome" - has an unnerving effect

In the UK I'd expect there would be two entirely different establishments for the games keepers and the poachers, and either would be unnerved where the other would be welcome.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:26 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stories like this make me wonder if a eugenics program isn't more compassionate in the long run.


Yikes - what a stunningly snotty thread.
And I'm only singling out Burhanistan's comment (above) as typical of the general tone here.

I thought the piece made a decent stab at describing the tainted culture that was behind the photos without the usual psycho babble "explaining" her actions or trying to turn her into a caricature.

I also thought this bit from the article was brilliant:

As a felon, she is prohibited from owning or using a gun again. "That pissed me off; made me so mad." What she liked about hunting, she says, was "the going out, being in the woods. Time to think, being out in nature. I love it. Now I can't do that."

In a nutshell, the writer gives us a jarringly precise glimpse of the limitations on her worldview.

I'm not revolted that she's not middle class enough to enjoy a thoughtful walk in the woods without a shotgun in her hand - or that she can't see the irony in her whine.

But it makes me somewhat sympathetic to the woman.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:34 AM on January 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


the ONE thing that "makes her mad" is that she won't be able to shoot at things anymore?!

That IS sick, pardon me very much.


you obviously have NO understanding of how central to the american experience hunting is for some people - it's a lot like being told you couldn't watch football or watch television - come fall, there are many people whose lives center around getting the time off to go hunting and "getting that buck" - and it's a tradition that's handed down from generation to generation

and she's no longer allowed to participate in it - (and i'm not clear on whether a bow is considered a weapon for the purposes of the law she's subject to)

that's a big deal to someone from her background
posted by pyramid termite at 8:37 AM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


But it makes me somewhat sympathetic to the woman.

During the article, there were a few points where I started to feel a bit sympathetic. But then I remembered the Abu Ghraib photos. In all fairness, I think the article should have included at least a few of those.

It's all too easy to see "the human side" of any reprehensible person if you look hard enough. I'm sure that Stalin was occasionally nice to small children, and that Bernie Madoff will miss his family when he goes away to the clink. Still doesn't change the fact that they deserved to be shamed and punished for what they did.

Still, I feel bad for England's kid. Someone should take that kid away and give them a good home with a non-psychotic mom who didn't torture people.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:43 AM on January 6, 2009


"It made me wonder how the cost of a gun compares to the cost of an SLR. How much does a gun you'd use for hunting cost? I literally have no idea."

To qualify that, I didn't mean to crassly imply she should simply swap one activity for the other. That wasn't my train of thought at all, as I'm aware of the culture and social importance of hunting in parts of America. I was thinking that, without that social background, or a different social background, the latter activity would meet a similar need. She didn't say she hunted because she needed the food, although she did react to the "what did you do with the squirrel?" as if it was a thoroughly stupid question.
posted by nthdegx at 8:50 AM on January 6, 2009


From the article:

"Well, you know what?" England says. "In New York - I've never been to New York, but I've heard people say - there's apartments there where people pay $1,500 a month for something smaller than a trailer. We only pay $200. And they look down on us."

*shifts uncomfortably*

She's...got a point there, at least....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:55 AM on January 6, 2009 [8 favorites]


While actions far worse than those engaged in by Lynndie England were taken by people who had every advantage in life, part of what happened here is definitely tied to the fact that Lynndie England had no advantages.

Clive James' remarks on torture in Cultural Amnesia are à propos here:
"In modern history, which is most of the history that has ever been properly written down at the time, there is is plenty of evidence that the torturers are people who actually enjoy hurting people. What was true in medieval Munich was true again in the cellars of the Gestapo HQ in the Prinz-Albrecht Strasse, and what was was true under Ivan the Terrible was true again in the Lubyanka and the Lefortovo. The frightening thing is that any regime dedicated to ruling by terror so easily finds a sufficient supply of lethal myrmidons, and even Americans, on those occasions when they bizzarely conclude that the third degree might expedite their policies instead of hindering them, never suffer from a shortage of volunteers: at Abu Ghraib, the dingbats were lining up to display their previously neglected talents.
...The opportunity to inflict torment gives absolute power to the otherwise powerless, and must be a heady compensation for those with a history of being the family dolt."--pg. 273-275
Obviously, not every disadvantaged person is a potential Lynndie England, just as obviously, not every soldier is a torturer. But if there's any two minute lesson in her story it's that it isn't just wrong to let whole groups of people become a powerless, resentful underclass, it's dangerous; and that torture is only prohibited by prohibiting the circumstances where torture takes place.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:55 AM on January 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


Just like America to send the bottom of the barrel to do the government's meet and greet in foreign lands.

Well, somehow the Harvard and Bennington graduates and the Fortune 500 families managed to be busy with other things, strangely.
posted by jonmc at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't mean to "other" anybody or condescend, but I also don't plan on romanticizing poverty. I don't think that substandard health care and nutrition, combined with minimal education and no exposure to the outside world (aside from military service) tends to create the best human beings. Yet those are exactly the conditions that America's poor grow up in. A lot of those people then enter military service (your anecdotal evidence aside). Anything can lead to the creation of a terrible human being. Upper class, middle class, lower class, they all have their share of sociopaths or whatever Lynndie England is. However, I believe that if we as a society didn't allow millions of children to grow up with inadequate heath care, didn't allow them to go hungry, made a good faith effort to provide them with the type of education that those in rich parts of the country receive; then we may produce less Lynndie Englands.
posted by ND¢ at 9:02 AM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


Did we really need this article? Did we really need another Guardian article painting rural America as Louis Theyroux meets Deliverance? Did we really need an article to highlight that Lynndie England isn't all that bright, and she doesn't have many prospects?

I felt sorry for her. She doesn't have the words to describe her experiences and feelings, served with a side of "suck it up" working class attitudes and a garnish of military "close ranks" culture. I'm not defending what she did in the least. But I find it really sad in a way that a girl whose opinion of herself was so low that she'd allow her married bf to take pictures of him having anal sex with her is having her words and opinions so obviously edited and manipulated by her handler (Roy). She knew her bf would show those pics to his friends, and she knows Roy is stepping on her words.

The dick contact thing... I read it like Alvy did, btw. More like "c'mon, don't present it like it was like he gave her his email address" than LOLrape.

I don't think I've seen one article about Lynndie England that really nailed the atmosphere in a military unit, let alone a unit in deployment, and how women bend and twist themselves at times to just fit in. They really do have to be one of the guys. Sometimes, you have to be more laddish than the guys themselves. Men in the military don't always see this, but I don't know a single woman in the military who didn't and doesn't go through this process on some level. For every ten women who work their asses off and don't ask for favours, there is one who flirts her way out of work, and makes the other ten have to work that much harder.

Say you're in that environment. You aren't that bright. Hell, you're infantry, by definition you are thick as hell. You really want to fit in. The military has spent a lot of time and money training you to you to fit in and to follow orders. You might well be a bigot, in a casual sort of way that people can be. Your superiors are telling you that the people you're guarding are scum of the earth, responsible for killing other soldiers. You will have known someone who's been shot at, possibly hurt, possibly killed. The dynamics of the Stanford prison experience kick in.

It would take almost superhuman real strength of will to not be Lynndie England in those circumstances. What on earth does living in a trailer have to do with any of this?
posted by Grrlscout at 9:05 AM on January 6, 2009 [18 favorites]


I would like to know how many people here think they could do both of the following:

1) Unquestioningly follow orders from your commander to attack and kill enemy soldiers in a city building with nothing more than your rifle and grenades.

2) Question and disobey orders of your commander to extract information from enemy prisoners through physical and psychological abuse.

Remember, what many of you are implicitly asking for when you criticize the behavior of soldiers in Abu Ghraib is that soldiers be capable of BOTH 1 and 2. They have to kill when commanded but not beat up prisoners when commanded. Could you do this?
posted by Pastabagel at 9:07 AM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's all too easy to see "the human side" of any reprehensible person if you look hard enough. I'm sure that Stalin was occasionally nice to small children, and that Bernie Madoff will miss his family when he goes away to the clink. Still doesn't change the fact that they deserved to be shamed and punished for what they did.

Afroblanco,
Apparently it's not "easy" enough for most of the people in this thread to detect England's "human side" though, is it?

I also think the Stalin/Madoff comparisons are bloody pointless.

I don't remotely approve of her exasperating lack of sackcloth contrition, but I have more of a glimmer of her perception of the crime & her punishment than I did before I read the article.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:08 AM on January 6, 2009


:) -> !
posted by Reverend John at 9:12 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fewer, not less. If you're going to bark about the education of people like England, as if the actions of our elite class in the past eight years or so don't prove that education is not tied hand in hand with personal morality and pathology, don't go making basic written English errors. I could agree, however, that an increasing gap between rich and poor and the better educated and less educated presents more opportunity for criminal or unethical activity, for people of all socioeconomic groups. I just don't see a causal relationship between education and morality.
posted by raysmj at 9:14 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also think the Stalin/Madoff comparisons are bloody pointless.

Not really trying to compare her to Stalin or Madoff. If you like, you can substitute in . They were just the first two to come to mind.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:17 AM on January 6, 2009


I felt sorry for her.

I felt sorry for her, too. I got the distinct feeling Roy is just another Graner in England's life, someone who has inserted himself into her life. And I got the sense that the desperation of her post-war life seems to be getting to her, facing no prospects and ever-increasing alienation from society.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:17 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


oh that's right, Metafilter chokes on angle brackets. Should have read :

Not really trying to compare her to Stalin or Madoff. If you like, you can substitute in (insert random reprehensible person here). They were just the first two to come to mind.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:18 AM on January 6, 2009


pyramid termite you obviously have NO understanding of how central to the american experience hunting is for some people

Actually, that was my original point, even if I phrased it somewhat differently: America's gun culture is even sicker than I thought.

That kind of obsession, whether it's about guns or collecting stamps, just isn't healthy.
posted by Skeptic at 9:23 AM on January 6, 2009


These photos are pretty damning for our progress as humans. I feel a bit sorry about her too, but I can't fathom the lack of empathy, the distancing ("bad guys") it takes to pose with a human-made-trash at your feet.

Most of the people in Abu Ghraib were released without charge. Karpinski estimated that 90% of detainees in the prison were innocent.

I don't think getting the Abu Ghraib peons and sergeants counts for much. Rumsfeld has no problems sleeping at night and the worst W. may face is PTSD every time he sees shoes.

Stories like this make me wonder if a eugenics program isn't more compassionate in the long run.

Fuck no.
posted by ersatz at 9:23 AM on January 6, 2009


I also think the Stalin/Madoff comparisons are bloody pointless.

Indeed. Madoff may have tortured logic, even tortured his financials, but as far as we know he never tortured people.

They have to kill when commanded but not beat up torture prisoners when commanded. Could you do this?

Difficult as that might be, I'd say it's the difference between an honorable human soldier and a robotic killing maching. If it's truly as impossible as you imply, than maybe we should work on producing more humans and fewer killing machines.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:23 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


I just don't see a causal relationship between education and morality.

I am trying to draw a causal relationship between deprivation and morality, rather than education and morality. Thanks for the heads up about fewer and less. I tend to make that error.
posted by ND¢ at 9:26 AM on January 6, 2009


It's still more a matter of opportunity, not a direct, causal relationship. And deprivation of what? Material things only? If that were the case, the Great Depression and the years following it, when Depression kids came of age, would have been one constant, live version of "28 Days Later." Or do you mean love? Children of the affluent and well educated are often deprived of that as well.
posted by raysmj at 9:36 AM on January 6, 2009


By the way, while it's interesting and worthwhile to wonder how we descended to torture etc. again, Lynndie England clearly got the better end of the stick.
posted by ersatz at 9:43 AM on January 6, 2009


By deprivation, I mean:

being born and raised in homes and neighborhoods devastated by years of poverty, social neglect, and in many cases, the enduring effects of racial discrimination. It is reasonable to believe that those who grow up in these pockets of social deprivation that exist in otherwise affluent societies are affected in ways and to degrees that those experiencing temporary hardships in their lives are not. These individuals merit special attention in any discussion of the legitimacy and efficacy of legal punishment.


That is from Diminished opportunities, diminished capacities: social deprivation and punishment.
posted by ND¢ at 9:51 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, we have a tendency to want to view people who do bad things as freaks, but in fact they're pretty normal. yeah, Lynndie may have had a fucked up childhood, but is the author simply picking out the most salacious parts of the story to make it interesting. What makes you think she wasn't "loved" as a kid? Because she was spanked or whatever? Or that her mom assaulted her father 20 years later?

And lets not forget that there were a lot of people who were involved in this sort of thing at the prison, and many more who were involved with the torture thing. If you look at the milgrim experiment, the Stanford prison experiment, you can see that this kind of behavior develops pretty quickly in people.

Frankly, I think the whole concept of sociopathy is bankrupt. It's not even in the DSM-V. I don't think it's a scientifically rigorous concept. It's something that comes up because people don't want to believe that other people can be that awful, but in situations like this people really will be that awful. I think People, most people anyway, will do things we all consider horrible if they believe that what they are doing is socially acceptable or socially demanded of them.
posted by delmoi at 9:59 AM on January 6, 2009


Oh and furthermore, I would say the real problem is condoning or encouraging social norms where the kinds of stuff that Lynndie did was acceptable and encouraged.
posted by delmoi at 10:01 AM on January 6, 2009


Interesting, if disturbing read. It feels that she has still not taken responsibility for her actions, instead relying on the 'he made me do it' defense. She never apologizes, she never shows any empathy for anyone, she never admits being anything but 'naive.'

I also appreciate her pride in not ratting out other guilty parties. Real classy.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:08 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


We might thank the Lynndie Englands of the world for one thing ... they make us lie awake for a few minutes at night wondering if we'd have done it too.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Surprised no one's mentioned the sociological money shot yet:

"You're in a war, and you're the good guys and they're the bad guys, and that's how most Americans see the world. And those were the bad guys."

Thanks, Dubya. Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.
posted by jckll at 10:24 AM on January 6, 2009


The last line of the story struck me:

Afterwards, we go back to the bar and England stands, deflecting interest, waiting for permission to leave.

Even after all this time, she acts like someone has to tell her what to do. Is that something from her military life, from her prison time, or something inherent in her?
posted by mephron at 10:24 AM on January 6, 2009


It isn't complicated. Most people would do the same thing. Not my opinion, it's been proven. Whether it's administering shocks to people or just plain taking advantage of being in authority. She was basically a Migram x Stanford experiment, and she had little chance of doing anything but what she did.

She deserves to be punished, what she did was wrong. But she's a pawn in the game and if it was a fair world, she would be punished a lot less than those who put her in the position to do what she did.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 10:28 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I want to feel sympathy for her, but I find it hard when she says things like, "I don't want to say they deserved what they got, but they ... um."

Does she still not realize why what she did was wrong?
posted by yeti at 10:33 AM on January 6, 2009


Lynndie England should've been a footnote in the largest court martial proceedings in American military history.
posted by fullerine at 10:35 AM on January 6, 2009 [9 favorites]


ND¢: to clarify, my anecdotal statement is that regardless whether or not they were formally educated, those people I know that joined up did so fully aware (most pre-9-11) of what they were getting into. Most are critical of US Policy, but only one even slightly blames the devastating effects of his service on his background. Actually his story is somewhat interesting so I'll tell it here instead of working.

J is a friend of a friend. He joined the Marines in the late 90s after graduating from Howard University, at the urging of his family and members of the tight-knit middle class church community he was a part of. He was a funny sarcastic guy with a penchant for goofing off and a reputation with the ladies, but he never did drugs or even drank. He agreed with his peers and mentors that military experience might make him more settled and disciplined, and took their word for it that it would make him more employable. They had a big party for him when he left, hanging banners in the church and promising to pray for him. After training all around Europe, he ended up in Iraq as one of the first divisions into the country, towards the end of his tour. (He refuses to watch Generation Kill no matter how much I try to get him to.)

When he got back, in 2003, he was different. He had bulked up a lot, and shaved his head. He seemed dour and unresponsive. Just like when he left, his church and family hung banners to welcome him home. During the service he stood up and asked them why they had lied to him. "You said that it would make me a man, make me grow up and learn about myself. You didn't say that I would have to live with watching my friends die, and remembering those I killed, for the rest of my life. You should think about that the next time you call yourself a Christian." He's never been back.

Despite that he doesn't regret being a Marine. These days he's starting to come out of his shell a bit: he's going to school for graphic design and thinking about asking a girl or two out. His only real anger goes to the top of the administration--it's hard to understand how much the stupidity and evil at the top of a system like the military can affect the day to day operations and mindset of the lowest level troops unless you've been a part of such a system. The chain of command is so rigid it's almost a separate, non-human organism, like an anthill or a big ol' fungus. Other than that he's caught between pride at being part of a group of such power and importance and shame at what retarded and malignant acts this brotherhood has been set to accomplish. I've told him I believe that me and the non-military members of the US, even those that opposed the war, should feel responsible for the bullshit that happened to him, and the bullshit he dealt out in Iraq, and I think he agrees. His private actions belong to himself, but also to all of us as a country, whether you live in the trailer park or the $1200 (cheap!) apartment downtown. Now if I can just get him to agree that Transformers is the worst movie of that past decade, the healing process can begin.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2009 [23 favorites]


As someone from the predominately non-hunting UK,
There is plenty of hunting in the UK, only there it is considered a typical country pursuit of the landed gentry, the idle rich and the Royal Family.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:49 AM on January 6, 2009


This is an amazing article. I wish I could link to Nick Flynn's piece from Esquire last January.
posted by Stephen Elliott at 10:57 AM on January 6, 2009


Oh wow what a snotty thread. To all those who think it's a class thing or uneducated thing, read the Stanford Prison Experiment OR Milgram Experiment.

That's THE Stanford University, well off and highly educated kids turned into brutal animals inside of a few days. Imagine a war setting with real authority you have to answer to and corp mentality of protecting your brother's in arms? And the real fucked up part is that when someone interviewed a Stanford "Guard" later in the 80's or 90's, he STILL steadfastly maintained that the "prisoners" deserved their treatment.

ALL of you would be Lyndie given the circumstances.
posted by Kensational at 11:00 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


A youtube link regarding the Stanford Prison Experiment
posted by Kensational at 11:01 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lynndie has a lucrative career as a dominatrix waiting for her any time she wants it.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:12 AM on January 6, 2009


I think this shed's a lot of light on England, and it would have been a far better article if the author had any idea of how he sounded w/r/t to guns and class issues.

Context is everything, and it's clear a lot of people don't get guns in context. I grew up in Montana and seeing hunting rifles on a truck is an everyday occurrence ccertain times of the year. OTOH, seeing someone carrying a rifle in downtown San Francisco would send me diving for the bushes.

Hunting isn't just a "sport", either. There are a number of poor rural areas where shooting something maybe the only meat you get.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:12 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Shed's. Good grief.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:13 AM on January 6, 2009


lynndie england head so round she has to step into her shirts
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:16 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


You must be new around here, Kensational (even by my standards). You can't have a thread about human behaviour around here without someone tossing in Milgram and Stanford.

Ah, THE Stanford. Pardon.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:26 AM on January 6, 2009


but I can't fathom the lack of empathy, the distancing ("bad guys") it takes to pose with a human-made-trash at your feet.

It's easy. They were in a war zone. Bad guys in a war zone kill you or your side, so anything you can do to save yourself or your buddies, makes sense.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:26 AM on January 6, 2009


It doesn't really matter if sociopathy is 'real' or not, Lynndie England doesn't fit the bill. She's not charming. No one with delusions of grandeur would show such pride in being a chicken processor, or shy away from being praised for her actions. She defended her father for showing restraint. She has no juvenile record - even Ted Bundy, who tested as having an IQ of 124, wasn't smart enough to avoid that, while Edmund Kemper (136 IQ) was known to be an animal torturing pyromaniac. She's not a sociopath. She inflicted severe abuse on prisoners and probably doesn't feel very guilty about it. If that's pathological, the Stanford experiment proves that it's a common pathology, common enough that everyone knows a number of people with it.

I enjoyed reading this article - she's an interesting person. I don't feel much sympathy for her, but I don't see how her feelings, such as guilt, should have anything to do with that. She made a mistake, and she was treated fairly by the system.
posted by topynate at 11:29 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Philip Zambardo, the psychologist who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, wrote a book, The Lucifer Effect, about what makes people go evil and what makes them do the right thing. When he found out about Abu Gharib, the guards actions there seemed very similar to what the "prison guards" in the Stanford Prison Experiment had done. He was an expert witness for one of the soliders, Ivan "Chip Frederick". His conclusion is that what makes people go evil is mostly situational.

He also gave a Ted talk about it. This is NSFW: from 5:20 to 6:53 the Ted Talk features several of the Abu Gharib photos.
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:31 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


“Still: it takes one kind of monstrousness to sign a piece of paper in an air-conditioned D.C. office space. It takes another kind to stand in the concrete interrogation room over the blood-smeared man pleading for mercy and give him another boot in the face.”

Re: kinds of monstrousness -


I never promise a woman anything nor let her know what I'm going to give her. That's the only way to manage them. Always keep them guessing. If you cant think of any other way to surprise them, give them a bust in the jaw. - The Sound and the Fury


There is a price for being good the same as for being bad; a cost to pay. And it’s the good men that can't deny the bill when it comes around. . . . The bad men can deny it; that’s why dont anybody expect them to pay on sight or any other time. . . . Maybe it takes longer to pay for being good than for being bad - Light in August

No battle is ever won.... They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. - The Sound and the Fury

(reading this just got me in a Faulkner sorta mind - with some deference to eafarris and co.)
(Meh - maybe 4 of you will catch what I’m saying here)

“Empathy gets trained out of soldiers in boot camp. I don't know where it gets trained out for America's elite. Or, for that matter, for America's chicken plant supervisors.”

Yeah. I see her and I’m frustrated that she doesn’t seem to have much moral conviction or reasoning.
What she has, she doesn’t know what to do with it. And that’s a shame. That’s a failure on so many levels on what we prize as a society. Making money apparently at the expense of creating legions of loosely educated, poorly socialized automatons.

But that is, to some degree, a saving grace. If grace it can be called, or a convenient flaw. It doesn’t excuse her of course. Nothing does. And she deserved getting time in prison.

But it does throw the situation into sharp relief.

I mean - what’s the excuse for the people in those limos, planes, etc. signing those papers who *are* supposed to know better?

“it isn't just wrong to let whole groups of people become a powerless, resentful underclass, it's dangerous; and that torture is only prohibited by prohibiting the circumstances where torture takes place.”

Exactly.

“They have to kill when commanded but not beat up prisoners when commanded. Could you do this?”
&
“...The dynamics of the Stanford prison experience kick in.
It would take almost superhuman real strength of will to not be Lynndie England in those circumstances.”

I wouldn’t have done it. And I have not done it.
This is not to say your (both) observations aren’t valid. They are. I just don’t think it excuses her. For several reasons. Some I’m not prepared to fully defend, but the one that is solid for me is her use of the word ‘rat.’
On scene - I can forgive her for following orders under those circumstances. I wouldn’t cut her a break, but given how you (both) outline it - yeah, I can see where she, and others, would waffle.
Afterward, counseling was available to her. She can reason or avail herself of moral advice.
She still hasn’t peiced it together and clings to this idea of not ratting anyone out.
I can understand that as well (without condoning it). But by not coming clean, she’s come out in support of this kind of behavior.
That’s unacceptable. But again - maybe she doesn’t know better. She should learn. It’s our duty as a society to teach her and people like her.

Instead we wind up creating them, exploiting them and disposing of them.
Doesn’t excuse anyone really. But I’d like to see less ‘shocked face’ when things go to hell and this pretense that it’s no one’s responsibility or just a lower echelon aberration.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:54 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


This article might shed some light on the mentality of the folks who were at Abu Ghraib

As easy as it would be for me to dismiss these people as ignorant hillbillies, I can't say that I have any idea what I would do in their situation. I mostly feel bad for them. I think that it makes more sense to save your vitriol for the people who ordered them to do this.
posted by orville sash at 12:13 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's always interesting to see how people frame their statements:
She says he wasn't ever violent, just manipulative. "They said in the trial that authority figures really intimidate me. I always aim to please. They said that one of the reasons Graner easily intimidated me was because I saw him as an authority figure. So I was really compliant."
Ah, but what do you say, Lynndie? What a cop-out.
posted by Edgewise at 1:16 PM on January 6, 2009




It's interesting, in cases like Lynndie England's and others, that we all want so badly for there to be an easily-articulated reason for why a person did what they did. We want there to be a cultural and/or psychological road map showing us exactly how they arrived at the mental state where they could commit such atrocities. But often there are no real answers.

People who have horribly deprived and abusive childhoods can still grow up to be healthy, functional adults who don't harm others. And, conversely, people who grow up with loving parents and economic comforts can still grow up to be sadists and narcissists and sociopaths. But we want a definitive why. We want it all to make sense, somehow, and it's unsettling when it doesn't.

People from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences have the the capacity for evil. People who behave "normally" in public might be cruel in secret. The nice guy down the street who helped you shovel your driveway might be beating his wife. Your favorite professor, who is so smart and insightful, might be raping his daughter. The friendly waitress at your local hangout might be drugging her children to get them to be quiet when she comes home from work.

It's all the more horrifying to accept the fact that, in most cases, we don't have reliable ways to identify the monsters among us until their deeds come to light. It reminds me of Leonard Cohen's poem, "All There Is To Know About Adolph Eichmann":

All There Is To Know About Adolph Eichmann

Eyes: ....................................... Medium
Hair: ........................................ Medium
Weight: ................................... Medium
Height: .................................... Medium
Distinguishing Features: .......... None
Number of Fingers: .................. Ten
Number of Toes: ...................... Ten
Intelligence: ............................ Medium

What did you expect?

Talons?

Oversize incisors?

Green saliva?

Madness?

posted by amyms at 2:10 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'd guess that the individual that wouldn't abuse prisoners in an environment where it was tolerated by administrators/authorities was literally one in a million. Isn't this why we can't even successfully copy the Stanford Prison experiment without similar abuses slowly escalating?

Lord of the Flies time.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:28 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry Durn, from all the posts above mine about England's intelligence and poverty attributing to her being abusive and the snobish personal attacks on her it seemed no one got the Milgram experiment.

I guess it was terribly noob of me to point out a psychological study of well off and smart kids getting sucked down into accepting torture and abuse as prison guards in relation to a real woman whose tolerance and participation in abuse, as a prison guard, was being blame on socioeconomic status.

I'm such an ass that way. Next time I'll be sure to point out only the obscure psych studies on why some people are douche nozzles for snarking on other's comments.
posted by Kensational at 3:00 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


“Isn't this why we can't even successfully copy the Stanford Prison experiment without similar abuses slowly escalating?”

There are protections. You can discipline yourself. Marshall your resolve. Practice. There are ways on a personal level. I had a lot of rage and anger as a kid. I was very violent. I suspect if I grew up in some other family I’d be in prison for assault or some such now. As it is I learned how to control it. First step is identifying and accepting it. That you’re capable of violence.
From there it’s just practice. Myriad ways and methods to that with many productive goals and outcomes from martial force to pure pacifism. All of them preferable to being ruled by fear or anger and one’s external circumstances.
I suppose there’s not much that can be done for any single individual if they don’t want to do the basic work or mental hygiene. Just like you get fat if you eat a box of donuts every day. No fitness program can really stop a determined individual. (A Jelly Do-nut!?)

What’s disconcerting is we know these things on the broad scale but don’t examine it to prevent mass following of the individual that succumbs to that ugliness within us all.
Sociologists. Psychologists. It’s not my field, but if we know these things - why then don’t we protect ourselves and each other? I know we have the law, social organizations, a bunch of other things.
But some forms of contrary human behavior seem like cutting the brakes on your own speeding car.
We know this exists within us and were going to exacerbate it? Magnify it? Allow it to spread?
That strikes me as some kind of uber-insanity way past pathology.
There’s no guarantee it won’t turn on you (Robespierre comes to mind).
I’ve never seen any certainty in this world. Certainly not when it comes to politics and violence.

Chains (or in this case, leashes) bind both ways. Even if you’re not on the short end, that sucks. And, really, it could always change. Only real solution is not to have them.
I’m just some asshole and I know that. What the hell kind of ‘sane’ people do they have thinking up excuses and fostering environments for folks to be more vicious to each other?
Gonzales comes to mind. Did he think he was going to be powerful forever? He would never be at the sharp end?

Kind of reminds me of something someone said about fidelity. You can’t really control (’control’ control, not y’know, not be a bad partner) whether someone cheats on you or not. But that doesn’t matter because your fidelity belongs to you, not them.

I feel the same way about how I treat others, especially an enemy. My treatment of them can’t control whether they mistreat me or torture me or not.
But my humanity belongs to me, not to them.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:01 PM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]


Kensational It's not that you mentioned the two. As I said, that's de rigeur. But that you then also linked, and then made a show of it being THE Stanford and thus presumably nothing to sneeze at.

I assure you: both are now a fixture of pop psychology and completely ingrained in the fabric of MeFi discussion. The post disclaimer may as well read: "Everyone needs a hug, especially considering how easily humans can go tragically awry when commanded by authority figures, or when adopting their roles, as seen in the Milgram and Stanford studies, respectively."
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:14 PM on January 6, 2009


Interesting article. It makes it clear that England's life sucks but seems to sympathize with that fact and how she was singled out. Your comments were also interesting. No one should be surprised that if you train someone to kill, they're not going to value other people's lives or rights very well.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 4:06 PM on January 6, 2009


ND¢: social neglect, and in many cases, the enduring effects of racial discrimination

Thought about this later. I didn't suggest as much, mainly because she managed to finish high school, and didn't take any qualifying exam. The most dysfunctional kids in inner cities do live in neighborhoods that endured the effects of racial discrimination and ludicrously low funding of social services, poor policing, etc., AND in too many cases don't even have a clue what familial love is, most often don't even make it to their senior year.

England, if you'll notice, could not have suffered much from racial discrimination.
posted by raysmj at 5:35 PM on January 6, 2009


I'm not sure I'd use the term "deprivation" to describe the whole inner city experience, regardless. That's an operationalization of an abstraction for social science purposes--in the case you're citing. It's used here as an all-encompassing term to describe a certain combined effect of racial discrimination, probable drug use and the effects of the drug war including increased incarceration (not a deprivation there, but too much of a certain thing), the decline of social services over a period of time, economic isolation and de facto segregation, etc., in predominantly African-American sections of American cities. Nothing England has suffered in her lifetime compares to that, as unfortunate as her upbringing might have been compared to most of ours.

Even so, it's still true that more people from these neighborhoods are most likely to engage in crime as a result of motive and opportunity, in the same way as more affluent criminals. They might just typically have more motive (less education and opportunity in the legitimate marketplace, material deprivation) to get involved with criminal opportunity that will send them to a state pen. More affluent white collar criminals will get sent to a Club Fed prison or get to wear house arrest bracelets or whatever.

This still says nothing about morality or ethics and a direct causal relationship with education.
posted by raysmj at 5:50 PM on January 6, 2009


This article might shed some light on the mentality of the folks who were at Abu Ghraib.

Absolutely horrific. Reposting the link because I think everyone should take a few minutes off from the thread to read this, if you haven't already. Thanks, orville.
posted by naoko at 5:54 PM on January 6, 2009


Der, except I screwed up the link. Here you go, again.
posted by naoko at 5:55 PM on January 6, 2009


Okay, as far as the Stanford Prison Experiment - there were guards who broke the rules to be nice and compensate for the bad guards. The prisoners were so cowed that they basically rioted after a couple of days. Hard to imagine that they didn't understand the theater of the situation.

Milgram? Look at the films - those poor saps do not want to turn the dial that far, the often say, clearly, that they wish they had a choice but they need the money. This part doesn't seem to have been written up - if that's because at the time Stanley didn't imagine that the average person would be able to view the actual film, well that's dark in itself. He says "how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist" without mentioning that many of the subjects were otherwise unemployed men. And I am not sure (and not interested in re-reading the original paper to check) if he documents the length of some of the arguments about shocks.

Plenty of people will do horrible things without any kind of excuse, and yet is seems like we want to talk about the people who can be bullied and cowed into do things that shame them.

That said, all I need to know about Lynndie England I learned from reading God's Little Acre. Griselda is with us always. Do we even have any evidence that Lyndie was a hunter before this? Or is claiming she's "mad" just another bid for attention?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:04 PM on January 6, 2009


It's all the more horrifying to accept the fact that, in most cases, we don't have reliable ways to identify the monsters among us until their deeds come to light.

I think the horrifying part is the knowledge that the monster is us.

There are people who are fundamentally so anti-social as to make rehabilitation difficult if not impossible. But, as experiments like Stanford and Milgram seem to demonstrate is that each of us has the potential to fulfill the role given the right circumstances. That might be oversimplifying it a bit. But it is like the shadow self, the side of human that is relegated to the devil in Christian mythology. It's always just been us. Western cultures sometimes have difficulty reconciling the idea that people are capable of great evil. And not just a few particular "bad" people who worship the wrong god or practice the wrong form of economy.

The scariest part of the torture photos was seeing people like us there, doing that, in graphic detail, and looking really pleased with themselves. It's like seeing the photos of actual lynchings. You kind of know it's happening, and then you see it, and it's shocking and brought a huge feeling of shame over so many here, that we would let it get this far out of hand. It quickly became easy to identify England with class issues, but at first she was just a shockingly smug American doing unspeakable evil in front of a camera. In our name. I should preface what's to come by stating that this interview is fascinating and needs to be done. I'm concerned that putting too much of a personality to the action creates this sort of caricature, and there were parts of the interview that drifted in that direction, and like what's happening in the thread, and it becomes too easy to believe that it's because she's ignorant, slow or a sociopath. That might explain a bit about how she ended up not only torturing people but having a child in such circumstances, and why she doesn't seem too concerned with the moral implications. But it explains nothing about how we, as a country, ended up torturing people as a policy, not as an accident, how we became the aggressor, and how we turned into the thing we claimed to be fighting against.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:26 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lesser Shrew,

Milgram? Look at the films - those poor saps do not want to turn the dial that far

Of course they don't - they're not sadists.

the often say, clearly, that they wish they had a choice but they need the money.

And this is true as well - but it neglects the absolutely crucial fact that the subjects were informed, prior to the experiment, that they had earned their money just by attending, and whatever happened, they would still get it. Please see from 1:00 in this video.

This part doesn't seem to have been written up - if that's because at the time Stanley didn't imagine that the average person would be able to view the actual film, well that's dark in itself.

This is a problematic hypothetical for you to introduce, having presumably already watched the film, Obedience, which I linked to just above. The film was shot by Milgram himself, and distributed not by his own university, Yale, which probably denied him tenure for his research in this field, but by Penn State.

He says "how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist" without mentioning that many of the subjects were otherwise unemployed men.

He (or the narrator he uses) says the men come from all walks of life and education levels. And if men say on camera that they're unemployed or short of cash, and he puts that in his own film, what more is there to say?

And I am not sure (and not interested in re-reading the original paper to check) if he documents the length of some of the arguments about shocks.

The film, which he shot, shows those arguments.

Plenty of people will do horrible things without any kind of excuse, and yet is seems like we want to talk about the people who can be bullied and cowed into do things that shame them.

Should we instead discuss the kind of distortions you made to minimize the culpability of the experimental subjects, and cast doubt on the general applicability of the conclusions Stanley Milgram drew? You have the wrong end of the stick. The men rationalize their obedience. They even confabulate by implying they will be denied payment if they abandon the experiment. They lie!
posted by topynate at 9:41 PM on January 6, 2009


The scariest part of the torture photos was seeing people like us there, doing that, in graphic detail, and looking really pleased with themselves..It quickly became easy to identify England with class issues, but at first she was just a shockingly smug American doing unspeakable evil in front of a camera.

This nails it and, I think, speaks to why there's an urge to other-ize England. When she's One of Us, it's deeply disturbing, but if she's some ignorant hillbilly and that's why she did it and since we're not ignorant hillbillies, we wouldn't...it's a comforting thought, in a way. But as has been mentioned above, this ignores the people higher up who set the policies that allowed this to happen. The enemy is still us.
posted by naoko at 10:19 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


Smedleyman, you're ignoring something.

Who enlists? People who have no other options. Patriots. People whose choice is a stint in the Army or Navy or a jail sentence. People from chaotic backgrounds, seeking order. People from ordered backgrounds, seeking more of the same. Fuckups who want to make good. All sorts. The military has fairly scientific ways to make all these people march to the same drum. Even the recruitment process is designed to make you want to participate.

Who makes infantry? People who aren't smart enough to get into specialised training. The ASVAB? Ever taken it? I have. Many years ago. I had a really boring class that morning, a guy I knew was taking it, my best friend was in JROTC at another school and I thought... what the hell. The guy who took it with me had actually studied for it. For him, and for a lot of people who join the military, it's their SAT. And it's really presented that way... with the same sort of "woo, what did you score?" drama.

I scored in the 98th percentile. I am not the brightest person I've ever met, and I'd only heard of the damned test that morning. It really made me wonder who scored in the 60th percentile... particularly after studying. I wonder if Lynndie England studied for that test? I wonder where she scored? I thought I was going to have to take out a restraining order against the Air Force recruiter guys. Army recruiters are just as bad. Wonder if that made LE feel really special? I kept saying "No, I'm not interested. I'm going to a good college, I have a scholarship." My best friend? She had ROTC waiting for her. She would not have gone to college otherwise.

I'm saying that yeah, you are a person first, a soldier second, but that you are deluding yourself if you think that you are going to be smarter than a raft of military psychologists who've figured out ways to make you participate in things you'd normally avoid. I mean, people normally avoid being shot at. Your impulse is to run away, not to run towards a target, or to shoot back.

You have a choice, as an individual, sure. You can choose to be humane. There is a mechanism in the military that allows for you to question an illegal order by your SO. You'd better be damned sure that it's actually an illegal order, or that your SO's SO will give you the time of day, but the mechanism is there.

Potomac - I really feel for your friend. He needs to get into a PTSD group, though. Lots of people in the military feel this thing in Iraq is a steaming pile of shit, and lots of them are in the same boat. He might not be all that thrilled with the VA right now, but they could refer him to a group that might be able to help.
posted by Grrlscout at 3:02 AM on January 7, 2009


It's easy. They were in a war zone. Bad guys in a war zone kill you or your side, so anything you can do to save yourself or your buddies, makes sense.

Torturing prisoners doesn't do anything to save you or your buddies though. Posing over a corpse, covering men in shit, forming human pyramids, making people masturbate; none of these have anything to do with security.
posted by ersatz at 5:29 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Everyone in the chain of command from Bush and Rumsfeld down to England should've been fired and jailed.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:03 AM on January 7, 2009


For those who haven't seen it, Erroll Morris' Standard Operating Procedure is an excellent documentary on Abu Ghraib and features an extensive interview with England.
posted by mattholomew at 10:47 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Grrlscout, why do you keep saying she's Infantry? One, she can't even serve in the infantry, it is barred to her, secondly and more specifically, she was in the Military Police. Infantry doesn't guard prisons.
posted by Snyder at 12:43 PM on January 7, 2009


“Torturing prisoners doesn't do anything to save you or your buddies though.”

Indeed. Quite the reverse.


Grrlscout - Yeah, I’m ex-military. Plenty of brass in my family too. My point was broader though. I mean as a society. You can train someone to do just about anything. Stuff that some people would consider superhuman I now see as pretty mundane effort. And something said above about folks being trained to kill devaluing life and human rights. I’ve found it completely opposite. I speak from personal experience.

That’s not what I’m saying tho.

At some level, when folks are setting policy, they decide ‘x’ or ‘y’ or ‘z’ and there’s all this data. These psych experiments discussed here, the effects of poverty, child abuse, etc. etc. etc. on top of all that the banality of evil we know exists in all of us - and still - people just go ahead with their goofy pet ideas.
I mean, why the hell would Rumsfeld sign such orders, back such programs, etc.?
I can’t believe he doesn’t know better. All I can figure is you need to leave some chaos in the wake of a crime. That’s giving him the best benefit of the doubt as smart as I can think from that position.

Otherwise all I can think is he’s stupid crazy or willfully evil.

And more broadly - some people do like exploiting/using others. Slavery today is bigger than it ever was in history f’rinstnce.
I couldn’t imagine being part of such a thing.
Just stymies me really.
Perhaps it’s not madness, perhaps it’s a failure of imagination.
Neil Postman (I believe) tells the story of a greek king. An inventor came before him and he had invented what was essentially the pre-cursor of the steam engine. This is the Plato-Socrates, etc, era, so, way back. And the inventor is saying they can harness steam power to do all kinds of work.
And the king says “what would we do with the slaves?”

Same kind of mentality.
People think you have an enemy and you have to fight them, keep them down, etc.
Well, do that and you will ALWAYS have enemies.
I think a lot of warriors write books on philosophy because they come to these kinds of conclusions after years of experience. Musashi. Sun Tzu.

Sun Tzu says stuff like don’t press a desperate foe too hard and the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory and the supreme strategy lies in turning an enemy into an ally.

It’s not just nice touchy feely sentiments about being good to each other. It’s what works practically in warfare. And I know it works by experience.

It’s not like I’m the smartest man who ever lived and I know this. Some of this stuff is thousands of years old, I just read it.

And I know others have as well. Certainly the general staff has. Maybe Rumsfeld hasn’t but what does he do all day otherwise? Jerk off?

Maybe it’s like Liddle-Hart says “For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.”
posted by Smedleyman at 1:13 PM on January 7, 2009


So you're saying that you think there's some sort of studied decision by the COC (ah heh heh) and his advisors to make a big statement that the US is big, bad, crazy, mean and really pissed off? Piggybacking off the idea that we're in the Gulf and the Stans for the next ten years? Yeah, OK, I'll buy that. We're in agreement that the decision to torture or to lose the higher moral ground is self-defeating. We kind of lost that when we either lied or were lied to, and we invaded Iraq, but to just go ahead and hand it over... stupid.

I agree that brutality is a zero sum game. Particularly in that part of the world. I also think it's a little silly to pretend that there aren't a lot of people in the middle east and elsewhere who hate the US and really do want to hurt us... regardless of what we do to prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

I don't back torture, of any sort. We torture them, they have yet another excuse to torture us. OK, they'd do it anyway, but it's yet another excuse.

And I'd like to think that I would have the strength of will to not participate. But I also don't think I'm too far from average, and I am not entirely confident I could point the finger at her. Maybe I could resist. I know people who definitely could withstand the pressures and refuse to join in. Thing is, they've been trained to be able to withstand that kind of pressure. And they have natural leadership abilities, natural resilience. I don't think this girl had that kind of spirit or strength. I don't think most of us do.

Maybe I need more faith in human nature, but I get a bit annoyed at people who use someone like England as an example of the military as a whole (mindless killing drones) or who get really personal in their distaste. (the horrible mother comments upthread). I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, between her circumstances, abilities and training vs her own free will. But slavering horrible alien monster she isn't. Not really.
posted by Grrlscout at 6:22 PM on January 7, 2009


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