Torture Research

Military Training

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A number of researchers have examined the role of military training and military encouragement of obedience to orders in facilitating torture and mass killing. During basic training, the recruit’s sense of individuality and agency is broken down through strict discipline, strenuous work, humiliation, insults, and irrational and arbitrary punishments. The sense of self is then rebuilt as a soldier, so that by the end of basic training, soldiers have replaced their old identity with a new one relevant to their new social world. Old loyalties to family and community are replaced with a loyalty to the soldiers’ new primary group, their military unit (Cooley 1909; Manning 1991; Morris 1996; Moskos 1970). Their moral orientations change also, as killing another human being, the most prohibited of all immoral acts, becomes not only permitted but praiseworthy in the context of warfare (Bourke 1999; Grossman 1995).

McCoy, Katherine. 2005. “Trained to Torture? The Human Rights Effects of Military Training at the School of Americas.” Latin American Perspectives 32, 47-64.

Using data from the School of Americas Watch, finds that officers who attended more than one course at the School of Americas were more likely to commit human rights abuses than officers who only took one course. Unfortunately, the data set used does not include data on the officers’ human rights records prior to attending the school, or the type and location of their assignments after attending the school, so the data are not adequate to establish that training at the School of Americas actually causes officer to commit human rights abuses.

Bourke, Joanna. 1999. An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare. New York: Basic Books.

Cooley, Charles H. 1909. Social Organization: A Study of the Larger Mind. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Grossman, David A. 1995. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.

Manning, Frederick J. 1991. “Morale, Cohesion, and Esprit de Corps.” Pages 453-470 in Reuven Gal and A. David Mangelsdorff, Handbook of Military Psychology. Chichester, New York: John Wiley and Sons.

McCoy, Katherine E. 2005. “Trained to Torture? The Human Rights Effects of Military Training at the School of the Americas.” Latin American Perspectives 32(6): 47-64.

Analyzes data collected by School of Americas Watch that links graduates of the School of the Americas with reports of human rights abuse. The sample includes 11,792 graduates, from six countries, who attended the school from 1960 to 2000. While only 1.3% of these graduates committed human rights abuses, graduates who took two or more courses were much more likely to commit abuses than graduates who only took one course.

Minow, Martha. 2007. “Living Up to Rules: Holding Soldiers Responsible for Abusive Conflict and the Dilemma of the Superior Orders Defense.” McGill Law Journal 52:1-54.

Argues that invalidating the superior orders defense will not do much to restrain abuse, as social science research shows “how difficult it would be for individuals to understand and comply with a rule expecting compliance with all superior orders except those that are illegal.” However, insisting that soldiers disobey illegal orders has some value in upholding “a symbolic ideal of individual responsibility.” Better training can help, but effective training is difficult to implement. The best solutions are preventing the illegal orders in the first place, changing military culture, allocating resources to translation and communication with civilians, and incorporating legal analysis into all levels of command.

Morris, Madeleine. 1996. “By Force of Arms: Rape, War, and Military Culture.” Duke Law Journal 45(4), 651-781.

Moskos, Charles C., Jr. 1970. The American Enlisted Man: Rank and File in Today’s Military. New York: Sage.


Written by tortureresearch

January 27, 2010 at 8:15 pm

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