Some Ways War Can Be More Catastrophic Than Need Be or be Started Unnecessarily, and Some Solutions

By Diana Holbourn


  1. The Dangers of Government Leaders Not Getting Alternative Points of View When Making Decisions About War
  2. Things That Can Turn Fairly Ordinary People Into Torturers and Abusers
  3. Research on How Effective Torture Really Is
  4. How Unskilful Peace negotiations Can Actually Damage Peace Prospects, and Types of Negotiations That Are Better
  5. Wars Can be Started or Made Worse if Psychopaths are in the Leadership
  6. Being Humanitarian Can be Good Military Strategy

Go to the end of the article if you'd like to know the main sources used in creating it.

Part One
The Dangers of Government Leaders Not Getting Alternative Points of View When Making Decisions About War

Though this article doesn't cover all the reasons people die needlessly in war, it does discuss some. One of them is a tendency among people that makes it easier for bad decisions to be made that's been called groupthink, which is basically where a group of people uncritically conforms to the same opinions the leader has out of loyalty and motives like that. When that's a political or military leader proposing a bad strategy, the results can be catastrophic.

There's a good analysis of groupthink in Wikipedia. It says it happens when people value the unity or camaraderie of a group so highly they don't want to cause possible awkward scenes by disagreeing with the rest of the people in it, even when their decisions could be disastrous. If it isn't obvious their decisions will lead to disaster but they might, people, even those involved in top-level political decisions that could mean tragedy for many, have bowed to the will of the majority in a group, not wanting to speak out and be awkward, or not thinking things through enough, since after all, they know they might be wrong, and that would be embarrassing, especially if they're querying an authority figure who they might assume knows better. They're even less likely to speak out if they're reassured by other members if they do express any doubts, or told they ought to defer to the group leader who won't be happy if their plans are challenged.

One terrible problem with some governments in the past has been that they haven't looked to outsiders for critiques of their policies so they've made tragic decisions when they might have stopped to consider what they were doing more carefully if they'd made a point of bringing in advisers who'd pointed out problems with their ideas and suggested alternative courses of action. Decisions affecting millions in drastic ways have been made by an in-group of very few. Some have learned and tried to change things so the same mistakes don't happen again.

In Wikipedia, it says a psychologist called Irving Janis studied several "disasters" in American foreign policy some time ago, such as the failure to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, the "fiasco" at the Bay of Pigs when the CIA sponsored a failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Communist Fidel Castro that just resulted in casualties, and tragic early decisions that were made about the Vietnam War. He concluded that the bad decisions were made because everyone in the group making them was, or appeared to be, in agreement. No critiques of the ideas were made by people with alternative points of view. Any dissenting voices there were were told to keep quiet.

The psychologist said that in an in-group, tragic decisions can be made with little opposition because people who disagree don't want to speak up for fear of looking foolish, or embarrassing or angering other group members. The camaraderie of the group can be valued so much that people don't voice opinions that might cause arguments for fear of turning it from a good-natured group to one where there's unpleasant conflict between the majority and a minority. Group members might also assume that if the majority thinks something is a good idea, it must be. Also, it's been found in a number of psychology experiments that people are often willing to take riskier decisions in a group than they would on their own, possibly at least partly because the responsibility for anything that goes wrong will fall on the group rather than on them as an individual, so they think they don't have to worry so much.

Another thing is that many leaders will deliberately surround themselves with advisers who agree with them, because naturally they'll want few obstacles in the way of them doing what they believe in, and it'll also be good for the self-esteem to have people around them who support all their plans. And it may be especially in the interests of group members to please the leader by supporting him if they think he might be able to give them advantageous career chances. But it can be dangerous not to have people around who can see flaws in your plans and suggest alternative ideas; or if they are around, it's dangerous to disregard them. It can sometimes be that something seems to be a very good idea, and people decide to go with it because it seems the best thing to do, when in reality it only seems that way because they haven't spent much time discussing the possible risks, and because it hasn't occurred to them to try to think of what other courses of action are open to them. Doing so might mean much better ideas are brought up.

The book Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland describes two military disasters that could have been avoided if those making the decisions have been surrounded by people who were more prepared to be critical of their decisions. They also demonstrate how if a certain course of action has been publicly decided on by a person or committee, they can be very reluctant to change their minds even in the face of strong evidence they're wrong, partly for fear of losing face, and partly because people have a tendency to examine a case by hunting for evidence that supports their point of view, rather than behaving as if they have no opinion on the matter and looking for the best evidence on both sides and then weighing it up.

They're even less likely to weigh up evidence for and against what they want to do if there are time pressures and other pressures on them.

Also, strong emotions can cloud a person's judgment, so a general who's desperate to impress another or feeling an intense desire to outdo a rival, or out for glory and willing to take risks to achieve it, or full of anger at the way the enemies have behaved, or governed by some other strong emotion that acts as a driving force, can make reckless decisions to try to achieve a goal quickly, that result in disaster and great loss of life. There need to be systems put in place so those making decisions, whether it be politicians or military commanders, have to weigh up alternative courses of action put forward by experts and the risks versus the benefits of each possible plan before making decisions.

The book Irrationality illustrates some of those things by describing what happened in the lead-up to the Pearl Harbor attack during the Second World War:

America actually got lots of warning that the Japanese might attack. They weren't specifically told the attack would be at Pearl Harbor, but there were quite a few things that should have led to concerns that the ships there might be attacked, so more could have been done to stop it happening. But evidence was ignored, and warnings were taken as less relevant than they should have been, on several different occasions, even as they grew more urgent-sounding.

In the summer of 1941, Admiral Kimmel, Commander in Chief of the American Pacific Fleet, received a lot of warnings about the possibility of war with Japan. His men weren't fully prepared, so he had them put on a training course, but he assumed that an attack was unlikely to come soon, so he didn't stop peacetime shore leave, which meant that there were a lot of ships in the harbor and lots of planes in the airports on Hawaii at the weekend. If they'd been out on patrol or training or making themselves ready in some other way, they wouldn't have been in the harbour then so they wouldn't have been sitting targets for the Japanese to attack. Putting the sailors on full alert would have interfered with their training, so it would have been inconvenient. But Kimmel stuck to the decision not to do anything even when the warnings became more ominous, brushing them off as likely referring to possible attacks in other places, since they didn't specifically say it was Pearl Harbor that would be attacked.

He held meetings with his staff, who reassured him he was doing the right thing, possibly out of a desire to please him by backing him up, obedience to him as an authority figure, and the wish to conform with the others in the group, since if they spoke up, their concerns might turn out to have been unjustified and then arrangements would have been made for nothing and they would have felt responsible and foolish. One warning message had said that a surprise aggressive attack could take place in any direction, and named a couple of places where it might happen. One of the admiral's staff pointed out that since Pearl Harbor hadn't been named in the message, the warning probably wasn't referring to it; but the warning had said an attack could happen anywhere before mentioning possible places. Instead of just assuming Pearl Harbor was safe from attack, if there was any doubt in his mind, he should have checked with Washington whether that really was the case. Also, he assumed the army was on full alert, and they manned the anti-aircraft guns that could have helped beat off a Japanese attack. But in fact the army wasn't on full alert. It would have been easy for him to check to make sure of his assumption. But he didn't.

More warnings were received. One said a message from Japan had been decoded that ordered Japanese embassies throughout the world to destroy 'most' of their secret codes. Instead of seeing that as an ominous warning that something nasty was afoot, the admiral and his staff seized on the word 'most', and reasoned with each other that if Japan was going to go to war with America, they would have destroyed all the secret codes. It was as if they really wanted to believe there wasn't going to be an attack on Pearl Harbor and were doing their best to find evidence that confirmed them in that belief.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the admiral was given instructions to burn all confidential documents on outlying Pacific islands, which included Hawaii, in case they fell into the hands of the Japanese; and he was told by his chief intelligence officer that the location of the Japanese aircraft carriers was unknown; for days it had been impossible to intercept their radio signals. That convinced him there would be an attack very soon; but still no one was sure where it would be. His staff convinced him he didn't need to worry that it would be at Pearl Harbor, since they were sure the Japanese wouldn't have enough strength left to attack there after their operations in the Asiatic area.

The book continues the story:

Five hours before the Japanese attack, two American minesweepers saw a submarine which they assumed to be Japanese just outside Pearl Harbor. Because there was no full alert, this was not reported, but one hour before the attack, a Japanese submarine was sunk near the harbour entrance. The officer of the watch reported it to all the relevant naval officers he could contact and the message reached Admiral Kimmel. Instead of taking immediate action, he decided to wait for confirmation that the submarine really had been Japanese. The destruction of the American fleet followed. As for Admiral Kimmel, he was court-martialled and demoted.

Had Kimmel gone on full alert, he would almost certainly have saved most of his fleet. Full radar surveillance would have revealed the Japanese planes in time to take some action, and the incidents with the submarines would have been reported faster. Moreover, there would have been a proper anti-aircraft defence and the fleet would not have been sitting in Pearl Harbor over the weekend.

It should be said that Kimmel had reasons for not going on full alert. The maintenance of aerial reconnaissance would have used up his short supplies of fuel, and his training programme would have been disrupted. Nevertheless, he could have adopted half-way measures, such as full anti-aircraft and radar alert, some dispersal of his ships, the cancellation of weekend leave, and the insistence that any sign of Japanese activity must be immediately reported to his headquarters. Janis and Mann argue that in his anxiety to deny the presence of a threat, Kimmel became fixated on the two extreme alternatives of doing nothing about it and going on full alert. As we have already seen, such fixed ways of thinking tend to occur under stress.

Another example from the Second World War is the battle at Arnhem, where generals ignored the gross impracticalities of their plan, such as the fact that the boggy ground on either side of a narrow road would mean tanks would have to stick to the narrow road and travel over a very long stretch of ground in single file, which would hardly make them a good easily maneuverable fighting force that could attack in strength and beat a hasty retreat to regroup if necessary, and evidence that a much stronger German force than they'd bargained for was in the area. Their failure to take facts such as those into account led to disaster, with heavy loss of life among the allies. It seems those planning the attack were so desperate to achieve the objective they'd set, possibly mostly for their own personal reasons, that they became reckless as to how advisable the plan really was. Stress and anger might also have contributed to clouding their judgment significantly, so they became willing to take risks to get something done when cooler heads would have advised caution and may have suggested alternative courses of action that were less risky for the allies but would be equally as effective. But there too, the group of people they were surrounded with supported them in their plans and brushed off criticism of them.

Ways of Preventing Groupthink

The psychologist Ervin Janis who studied the tendency of groups to be uncritical of the plans the leader likes the idea of made seven recommendations to stop such things happening:

  1. Group leaders should assign each member the role of "critical evaluator", which means their job is to think about how good the possible decisions that could be made are likely to be and what flaws there might be in them. If it's the duty of each member to do that, then each member will feel free to voice any objections and doubts they have about the possible decisions.
  2. Those in positions of authority in the group should not express their opinion before others have had the opportunity to express theirs.
  3. A greater variety of viewpoints may be gained and the camaraderie of a big group won't be under threat if it's split up into several different small groups, each independently working on the same problem.
  4. All the decent suggested alternative policies should be examined.
  5. Each member should discuss the group's ideas with trusted people outside the group.
  6. The group should invite outside experts into the meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
  7. At least one group member should be given the role of 'devil's advocate', putting forward all the valid objections and alternative viewpoints they can think of. This should be a different person for each meeting.

We're told that after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, president John F Kennedy wanted to avoid the perils of groupthink during the remainder of the Cuban Missile Crisis. So he invited outside experts into all the meetings to share their viewpoints, and allowed the group members to question them carefully. He also encouraged group members to discuss possible solutions with trusted members in their separate departments. He even divided the group up into several sub-groups, to partly break the group bond that might otherwise have made some members reluctant to oppose others. He deliberately made himself absent from the meetings, so as to avoid accidentally influencing people by voicing his own opinions.

Thoughts on the Harm Groupthink Has Done


Apparently, before the Iraq War in 2003, George Bush gathered around him people who agreed with him, telling him what he wanted to hear, giving him intelligence that confirmed him in his beliefs rather than things that would throw serious doubt on them. It's generally acknowledged that whatever the rights and wrongs of going into the war might have been, no planning was done for what would happen once Baghdad was taken. They'd had all that time to prepare, and yet they hadn't made plans for what to do.

It certainly seems dangerous to have people making those kinds of decisions who aren't willing or able to surround themselves with a group, some of whom will put forward strong alternative points of view and raise objections to policies.

The trouble is that even where there are such people, they could easily be shouted down by a majority so confident in their views and so emotionally invested in them for whatever reason that disagreement only makes them defensive and more determined. It seems that it would be wise to have some filtering process in business and government that only allows people with a reputation for listening carefully to opposition and taking on board wise advice to get to the top.

Another example of a government making a hasty life-and-death decision was the decision to go to war to support the rebels in Libya during the so-called "Arab Spring". Anyone who saw the cruel way Gaddafi treated his people and predicted the rebels were about to be brutally crushed might have been motivated by compassion to order the military in. But could they have been acting with faulty reasoning, imagining they only had two options, either to send the military in to help or to sit back and watch the rebels be crushed? Surely there were other options, such as urging the rebels to call a ceasefire or to declare a surrender, in order to stop the bloodshed, promising them that a specialist unit would be sent in in the near future to arrest Gaddafi and he would be charged with crimes against humanity? However practical that particular idea would have been, is it possible there were options that weren't even considered, that would have been if people with a wider range of opinion had been consulted? Certainly there wasn't much time, because what would have been the final battle was going to happen very soon; but still, were there not people who could have been consulted at short notice who could have given alternative wise suggestions? Surely there were. The military were sent in to prevent loss of civilian life; but is it not likely that it could have been foreseen even then that the war would turn into a drawn-out conflict if the rebels were given help, and many more civilians would end up dying as a result than would have done if the rebels were instructed to declare a ceasefire and wait for outside intervention, or even if the rebels had been crushed within days, as would have happened, and then the uprising was over? I think we can accurately guess now that more civilians did suffer and die than would have done if immediate military intervention hadn't been ordered.

The Importance of Regularly Reassessing Plans and Tactics to Decide Whether They're Working

Having a good idea

Even plans that seem great at first can run into unforeseen problems because unpredicted things happen. In the past, some generals have stuck to tactics despite the fact that it turned out the enemy were fighting a completely different style of warfare to that which they'd planned for, that meant they weren't going to be so easily defeated, or that masses more casualties were likely to result than had been expected.

For instance, it seems General Hague in the First World War somehow hadn't bargained for the fact that technology was capable of killing people far more quickly than it had been in previous wars, so tactics that might have worked a century earlier were likely to be disastrous. Despite the masses of casualties, he just kept right on with the same tactics. In fact, his outlook was apparently so old-fashioned that even in 1926, he was praising the horse as a tool of battle.

Similarly, in the Vietnam War, the general devising tactics, General Westmoreland, based his tactics on inappropriate strategies; he had been trained to conduct the kind of battles soldiers fought in the Second World War where full frontal assaults were thought to be the best way of driving the enemy back. He apparently refused to change his tactics, despite the fact that it turned out that the Vietnamese Communists were fighting a guerilla war instead, where small very mobile units would hide among the people and ambush the enemy when and where they weren't expecting it.

It's essential that meetings are conducted often throughout a war where committees of people, some whose job it will be to show up flaws in current plans, meet to discuss how effective the tactics being used are, and whether and how they could be improved. Sometimes a dramatic change might be in order. It's essential that people with imagination and vision are recruited to such committees, who will hopefully suggest original or alternative ideas that might save many lives.

After all, many lives have been saved by unconventional strategies before; for instance during the Second World War, a lot of lives were saved by people thinking up imaginative plans that wrong-footed the Germans so the allies got the advantage, such as the hoax called Operation Mincemeat, where a body with fake military plans was planted somewhere where it was likely to fall into the hands of the Germans, who'd find the plans that were designed to convince them that an invasion of Griece and Sardinia would take place soon, so they'd divert troops there, so those landing at the real invasion cite in Sicily would face less stiff opposition, and thus win an easier victory and be spared casualties. If a decade earlier, imaginative people had been recruited to put their minds to how to stop Hitler getting to the stage where he'd have a powerful fighting force ready for war, perhaps the war wouldn't even have happened.

Critical thinkers and visionary planners could help save the lives of millions in future if they're employed at each stage of the process of planning and conducting military operations.

Part Two
Things That Can Turn Fairly Ordinary People Into Torturers and Abusers


An example it's possible to learn from is what happened at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War, where prisoners were abused and humiliated by their guards. Some male prisoners were sodomised and females raped, and some were sexually assaulted with objects like truncheons and a phosphorescent tube; and some were humiliated in other ways, such as having clothes forcibly removed. A few people even died there. One of them had been tortured, and hung up by the wrists with his wrists tied behind his back.

Human Rights Watch listed more abuses it had heard about there and at other prisons where Iraqis were detained by the Americans during the Iraq War, some from a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who were actually forbidden to go to inspect Abu Ghraib prison unannounced after they started coming across appalling mistreatment, and more from a report by Major General Antonio Taguba:

Human Rights Watch reported in 2004:

The United States, as an Occupying Power in Iraq under the Geneva Conventions, may deprive civilians in Iraq of their liberty in only two situations: for "imperative reasons of security," or for prosecution. Since President Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq in May 2003, more than 12,000 Iraqis have been taken into custody by U.S. forces and detained for weeks or months. Until very recently, the U.S. has failed to ensure that so-called security detainees received a proper review of their cases as is required under the Geneva Conventions. In its February 2004 report to Coalition forces, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that military intelligence officers told the ICRC that 70 to 90 percent of those in custody in Iraq last year had been arrested by mistake.

Apparently those going out to arrest suspects were under pressure to arrest a certain number and tended not to be too fussy about who they captured. And when they captured people who didn't know anything of importance, it was easy for the interrogators to assume they were just refusing to talk so they needed to be broken some more till they did.

It's easy to assume the guards were just nasty people who needed to be punished and leave it there. But there were things about the system that made the guards more likely to become abusers, and making sure conditions aren't the same in future as far as possible might reduce the risk of abuse happening. According to an article in USA Today, the things wrong with the system included:

How it's Easy to Dehumanise Enemies and How That Makes it Easier to Inflict Cruelty on Them


In times of conflict where atrocities are being committed, or even if there's just an atmosphere of bigotry and hatred around and groups of people are being vilified by others, it's easy for people to stop thinking of people from a vilified group as fully human, especially if they're angry with them or contemptuous of them. That means they stop considering them worthy of the respect due most humans, so they can start thinking it's acceptable to commit atrocities against them that they'd strongly disapprove of if committed against members of their own group. So, for instance, they could make moral-sounding speeches about how abuse of women is wrong and how they'd happily kill a rapist, especially one from the enemy side, and yet happily go along with their group in raping the women of the enemy. If the contradiction was put to them, they might defend themselves by saying there was a big difference between raping a decent woman and an enemy bitch.

The more severe a conflict between groups is and the more atrocities are committed by one or both sides, the more anger and hatred will be generated and the easier it'll be for people to start viewing those on the other side as less than human and deserving of cruelty. It's easy to start stereotyping the entire group as evil, stupid, criminal and so on, and once that's done, wholesale persecution of them becomes acceptable. It becomes a lot less likely that objections will be raised to widespread violence against them, especially if it's seen as just retribution for atrocities committed. When violence against the other side has become generally acceptable, conflicts can begin to rage out of control, the actions of each side fuelling the other side's hatred and contempt for them and desire for more violence against them. Groups can begin to view the total defeat and surrender of the other side as the only acceptable option, no longer being willing to negotiate with such evil unreasonable beasts, and seeing them as too much of a threat to risk compromising with. More militant leadership on their own side may be tolerated, and people can come to view the conflict as a war between good and evil. Reports of atrocities by the other side can be viewed as evidence of their inhumanity, while reports of the same kinds of atrocities by people on one's own side can be seen as justice and deserved retribution. People on the other side can be seen merely as members of an evil group rather than as individuals with their own individual personalities, hopes and dreams, loved brothers and sisters and parents, likes, dislikes, opinions and moral values. When they're seen as just members of a hated group rather than individuals in their own right, it becomes much easier to shrug off or participate in persecution against them. People can find things acceptable and sometimes do things themselves they would have thought they were incapable of finding acceptable or doing before.

Naturally, when groups of government policy makers develop attitudes like these, results can be disastrous.

There are a few things that could help a little: Attempts can be made to bring home to people the humanity of members of the other group by reporting on harrowing stories from the point of view of individuals in each group, bringing children from both groups together in joined projects where they can work towards common goals together and form friendships, and other schemes designed to promote understanding of people on the other side.

Empathising With the Enemy, and Why it Can Sometimes be Vital for Policy Makers to Do That in Preventing Loss of Life

When people try to understand things from the points of view of the enemy, trying to understand what the enemy are hoping to achieve by behaving as they are and what could be motivating them, they've got more chance of being able to work out what might change their behaviour so they can attempt to do so in ways that could prevent some loss of life.

There are some examples of this from recent conflicts:

In a film from 2003 called The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara, Robert McNamara, who was American Defense Secretary from 1961 to 1968, so he was in office during the Cuban Missile Crisis and several years of the Vietnam War, looks back in hind-sight on his and others' mistakes and disastrous policies and talks about successes, and makes one or two suggestions as to ways in which loss of life could be prevented in future conflicts:

The Cuban Missile Crisis happened in 1962 and was the closest the Cold War got to turning into nuclear war. It could have done if a vital decision hadn't been made by the Americans that meant the Russians could walk away feeling as if they'd gained some advantage. It was a close thing; the persuasion of one man may have saved the world from nuclear destruction.

The Americans had tried several times to overthrow the Cuban government of Communist Fidel Castro. They'd also stationed nuclear missiles in various parts of the world aimed at Moscow. The Russians and Cubans started building bases on Cuba that the Russians were going to put nuclear missiles on that were aimed at America. The American government was worried by this and tried to stop them. They thought about attacking Cuba by land and sea, and then decided on patrolling the waters around Cuba to stop the delivery of any more nuclear missiles. They made ready to invade Cuba and attack it from the air with a lot of force if they thought it was necessary. They thought they'd better do something because America would look weak if they didn't, even though they knew the Russians weren't actually threatening to fire the missiles unless there was aggression from America so in practical terms, there was no more danger to America than there was before, especially since the number of nuclear missiles America had vastly outweighed the number Russia had.

But the American government thought the stationing of nuclear missiles so near America couldn't be tolerated. So some in the government were prepared to take action that might have resulted in nuclear war with the obliteration of millions of Americans and others to stop it.

The man who was the American Secretary of Defense at the time, Robert McNamara, recalls that a huge air attack on Cuba had been planned. President Kennedy didn't want to go to war, but didn't think there was much hope of avoiding it. He spoke with his advisers about what to do. McNamara advised that two things were necessary: to think of a plan of action, and to think about the likely consequences of carrying it out! He said he didn't know what kind of a world they'd be living in afterwards, since he didn't know how the conflict could be stopped after they'd attacked Cuba. A general in the room was all for a massive attack on Cuba. He wanted to totally destroy it. But the world was spared, because they eventually decided not to.

The general in fact wanted a nuclear conflict with Russia, according to McNamara; he wanted to "wipe 'em all out". His reasoning was that at the time, America's nuclear capabilities vastly outweighed those of the Russians; he thought there was bound to be nuclear war with them sooner or later, so it had better happen while America's nuclear weapons still vastly outnumbered those of the Russians. Never mind that the Russians still had the capability to kill millions of Americans. This was an advisor in the top echelons of the American government. Thankfully for the world, he didn't get his way, and he was wrong about nuclear war between America and Russia being inevitable one day. But if the rest of the government had been as convinced as he was that he was right, the world could be a very different place now!

The night before, a message had come in from President Khrushchev in Moscow making an offer to America, saying if they guaranteed they wouldn't invade Cuba, Russia would take the missiles away. It said that for them to go to war with each other would be tragic and unwise, since war caused so much suffering and would lead to terrible destruction. Before they could respond, they received a second message that must have been written under the influence of hard-liners; it had a more aggressive tone, saying that if America attacked Cuba, they could expect to be confronted by massive military force.

They wondered whether to respond to the 'soft' message or the 'hard' message. Sitting next to Kennedy was a man who'd been America's ambassador in Moscow. He actually knew Khrushchev; he and his wife had even lived with him and his wife sometimes. So he had an idea of what kinds of things motivated him, and what kind of response was most likely to influence him to want to order Russia to back down from its plans to station nuclear missiles in Cuba. He said to President Kennedy, "I urge you to respond to the soft message."

President Kennedy said they couldn't do that since surely that would get them nowhere. The former ambassador was bold enough to say, "Mr President, you're wrong." President Kennedy said he very much doubted they'd be able to get the missiles out of Cuba by negotiation; but the former ambassador said there was a chance they could. He explained that he thought the important thing for Khrushchev would be to be able to tell the Russian people he saved Cuba from invasion. Khrushchev would have realised he'd got himself into a very awkward position, and it would spare massive loss of life as well as his reputation and allow him to look as if he'd done something good if he could say to his people, "America was going to destroy Castro and I prevented it".

It turned out that the former ambassador to Moscow was correct. The American government took his advice, and when the pressure was taken off Russia, they became willing to make concessions, and the crisis was over. They wouldn't have been willing to back down in the face of aggression from America. They would have felt compelled to fight to defend Cuba. Khrushchev's advisors had been saying America couldn't expect a deal if they were asking Russia to reduce the pressure on them while failing to reduce pressure on Russia.

After that, arrangements were made to make it easier for Russia and America to negotiate about nuclear issues.

McNamara said the former ambassador's understanding was what he called empathy - it was important to try to think of things from the other side's point of view, to try to understand why they were doing what they were doing, what kind of provocation they felt they were under, what they would like from the other side and why, and what might induce them to back down from aggressive action.

From the point of view of America, Russia had been engaging in dangerous aggressive action; but from the point of view of the Russians, they were trying to protect Castro, since America had tried to assassinate him a few times and attempted to invade Cuba once, and now senior voices in the American government were calling for a more aggressive invasion.

Sometimes, it's much more difficult to empathise with enemies than it was then, either because their actions seem plain irrational and it seems impossible to comprehend what's in their minds or to view what appears to be there as worthy of any consideration; or because not enough contact has been made with them to know what on earth their motives really are. But it's important to make an effort to find out. Negotiating with the enemy could save massive loss of life. This is illustrated by something else McNamara says, regarding the Vietnam War, where there was a horrendous amount of death and injury that could have been avoided if politicians and commanders had acted with more wisdom. One reason for that is that if the opposing governments had understood each other's points of view on things, they would have realised there was no need for the massive conflict they thought there was, or could have come to some agreement by talking things through. That's what Robert McNamara, American Secretary of Defense during much of the Vietnam War seems to be implying.

The Vietnam War was basically caused because America feared Vietnam would turn Communist, and that would just be one in a whole set of countries that might fall into Communist hands if efforts weren't made to fight to keep Communism from expanding further than it already had. In fact, they appear to have had a paranoid viewpoint that if Communism wasn't stopped, it would get nearer and nearer America until countries right on America's doorstep were going Communist, and then what! They saw the Vietnam War as just a strategic part of the Cold War, whereas for the Vietnamese, it was a civil war.

Robert McNamara says the Americans didn't understand the Vietnamese well enough to guess what their motivations were for fighting and how they viewed things, and the Vietnamese didn't understand what the Americans were really trying to achieve either. Years after the Vietnam War, McNamara wanted to test out a theory he had that America's objectives could have been achieved without nearly so much loss of life and suffering, if any. He decided he wanted to talk to one of the people who'd been in the North Vietnamese government during the war. He went and spoke to their former foreign minister, and it turned out that he had been convinced the Vietnam War had been a colonial war where America had been trying to take over Vietnam and enslave its citizens, and they'd had to fight for all they were worth for their independence. McNamara said that was an absurd belief. But he found it hard to convince the former foreign minister of North Vietnam. There were, after all, reasons to believe it.

Vietnam had been ruled by the French for some time before the Second World War. Then it was taken over by the Japanese. When Japan lost the war, the Vietnamese established their own independence, but soon the French violently tried to take over again and install a puppet Vietnamese leader. Then the international community divided Vietnam into North and South Vietnam, with the south governed by the successor of the man the French had tried to install as a puppet leader and the north governed by the man who'd been the leader during the short time Vietnam established their independence at the end of the Second World War. But he was a Communist, and America feared the Communists would take over the south, the leadership of which was brutal and corrupt , so Communism might have seemed attractive to many. So America felt the need to stop Communism spreading in the country, by brute force.

One day fairly early in the war, there were reports that an American ship had been attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin. No one was hurt and little or no damage was done; but Robert McNamara says he's sure there was a genuine attack because he found some remains of North Vietnamese weapons on the deck of the ship. Two days later, they believed they'd been attacked again, not because anyone was hurt or killed or any ship was damaged, but because the people trying to detect evidence of attack by listening for it with sonar equipment felt sure they heard one. It turned out they were wrong; they could instead have heard something else and mistaken it for evidence of an attack. And freak weather conditions may have been interfering with radar signals, making them easier to misinterpret. But instead of waiting for things to be clarified or trying to negotiate with the North Vietnamese to find out what on earth was going on and why, perhaps warning them that they risked retaliation if such incidents were repeated, and finding out if it was possible to negotiate their way to an agreement, president at the time Linden Johnson ordered a bombing campaign in retaliation for the supposed attack that turned out not to have happened. He'd assumed the supposed attack on the ship must mean the North Vietnamese wanted to escalate the conflict and wouldn't stop short of winning. A rather dramatic conclusion to reach.


That's how the bombing campaign was justified in his mind. At first, it was reasonable and limited, targeting mainly torpedo boat bases. But later he decided a much more large-scale bombing campaign was warranted, hoping it would help stop Communism spreading in the area. In fact, over three times as many bombs were dropped in Vietnam at that time than were dropped in the whole of the Second World War. A lot of damage was done to the civilian population. It's claimed that a lot of it was deliberate, the aim being to maim as many civilians as possible so North Vietnam's resources would have to go into looking after them for some time, so they wouldn't be able to use the manpower and money and organisational skills to attack the Americans. That was the theory. So many of the bombs contained metal and plastic pellets that would injure those they hit rather than kill them, and many contained chemicals that would cause serious burns.

A couple of decades earlier, Winston Churchill ordered revenge bombing during the Second World War. A couple of German planes apparently lost their way one night and bombed London by mistake, instead of the RAF air fields they were supposed to be bombing. Churchill ordered a big bombing raid on Berlin in revenge. Revenge can be costly. The Germans retaliated in their turn, launching a bombing campaign against British cities, particularly London, and many thousands of civilians were killed and injured. The British retaliated in turn, and many thousands of civilians in German cities were killed and injured.

Some believe that the German switch to bombing civilians instead of the air fields they'd previously been bombing was a blessing in disguise, since it meant the air force could be built up and training was easier so it was a more effective defensive force against German attempts to severely damage Britain's air defences in preparation for an invasion of Britain they'd planned than it would have been otherwise. Others think the RAF could have achieved what they did regardless, since when the Germans bombed air fields, they weren't put out of action for long.

There's a terrible danger of making orders in anger, because a person is likely to demand a harsh punishment in a temper without thinking of all the other possible courses of action, or wanting to bother investigating the facts first, or thinking about the possible consequences of the retaliation and so whether it could do more harm than good to one's own interests. That's another reason why it's best if big decisions are made by committees of people with differing perspectives who are confident enough to share them, rather than just by one man, or a small group of people who all think the same way or will be too easily influenced by a leader. Also, when making decisions that don't have to be made in an emergency, time can and should be left for tempers to cool first.

Anyway, regarding Vietnam, it's easy to understand how the North Vietnamese leadership might have thought America wanted to take over the country. The American government, for its part, thought Vietnam might become a puppet of Communist China or Russia if they didn't fight to stop that happening. The former Vietnamese foreign minister said that was an absurd idea, since Vietnam had been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years; they were hardly likely to give over the governance of their country to them, especially given how much they wanted Vietnam's independence! The mix-up could have happened because China did support North Vietnam and gave them arms, in the struggle against America.

So all or most of the massive loss of life may have been avoided if the American government had sent negotiators in to speak with the North Vietnamese who'd developed a good understanding with them about what each side wanted and tried to agree on terms, instead of them assuming they knew best and needed to act and subdue the area with brute force, which led to huge loss of life and injury not only of Vietnamese but American troops.

Deliberately Training People to Dehumanise an Enemy, to Make it Easier to Kill Them


It's alleged that army training itself prepares people to view people from hostile countries as subhuman and not worthy of respect. An article about army training called Learning to be a Lean, Mean Killing Machine claims:

… After the initial shock of the first phase of training, DIs [drill instructors] indoctrinate recruits to dehumanize the enemy in order to train them how to overcome any fear or prejudice against killing. In fact, according to longtime counter-recruitment activist Tod Ensign, the military has deliberately researched how to best design training for how to teach recruits how to kill. Such research was needed because humans are instinctively reluctant to kill. … The process of dehumanization is central to military training. During Vietnam, the enemy in Vietnam was simply a "gook," "dink," or a "slope." Today, "rag head" and "sand nigger" are the current racist epithets lodged against Arabs and Muslims. After every command, we would scream, "Kill!" But our call for blood took on particular importance during our physical training, when we learned how to fight with pugil sticks, wooden sticks with padded ends, how to run an obstacle course with fixed bayonets, or how to box and engage in hand-to-hand combat. We were told to imagine the "enemy" in all of our combat training, and it was always implied that the "enemy" was of Middle Eastern descent. "When some rag head comes lurking up from behind, you're gonna give 'em ONE," barked the training DI. We all howled in unison, "Kill!" Likewise, when we charged toward the dummy on an obstacle course with our fixed bayonets, it was clear to all that the lifeless form was Arab.

Even in 1997, we were being brainwashed to accept the coming Iraq War. …

Dehumanisation of a Group Through Propaganda


When hate-filled propaganda is disseminated by people considered authority figures, people can start despising a group they've had little cause to hate before, especially if they've been indoctrinated with the propaganda from an early age.

An example of how this was done with a lot of success is the Nazi campaign of propaganda against the Jews. A "Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda" was even set up. Children's books were written condemning Jews, as well as films being made depicting them in very unflattering ways. The Jews were portrayed as a threat to Germany, and anti-Jewish legislation was sold as a means of restoring order. Jews were depicted in the press as subhuman, and a dangerous threat to Germany. The propaganda was designed to stop people caring about what happened to the Jews and make people believe it was necessary.

Propaganda has been used in more recent wars and conflicts to dehumanise enemies, in order to whip up support for campaigns against particular groups from people who will accept it uncritically.

Harming Others Through Unquestioning Obedience to Authority


There have been military disasters in history that happened when people obeyed orders they couldn't see the sense in or thought were downright foolish, but felt obliged to obey anyway because they were given by authority figures. Perhaps the most famous example is the Charge of the Light Brigade, where an order from an army commander was misinterpreted by his subordinate in command of the men. He was apparently given the army commander's order by a man who disliked him and who was prone to impatience. He objected to it, but the man gave him a brusque reply that seemed to confirm the order and rode off. Not questioning further but believing the army commander's orders would just have to be obeyed, he ordered a charge into a valley where they were faced on three sides by rows of enemy guns, where many of the cavalry in the charge were killed, for hardly any gain. The general who'd given the original order hadn't wanted them to go there at all but somewhere else, and he was extremely angry about what happened, and actually said to his subordinate that he should have used his own judgment in deciding whether to do what he'd thought the order had said. The subordinate wasn't happy at being blamed, claiming the commander had allowed him no independence of action up until then but had demanded his orders be obeyed to the letter.

Psychology experiments have found that people will do things they believe are inflicting great pain on others, simply because they're obeying authority figures, when there won't even be any possible penalty for disobeying. There was one, for instance, carried out in the early 1960s by psychologist Stanley Milgram, where people were told they were doing an experiment to see how well punishment helped people learn, and they thought they were giving genuine electric shocks to a person in an adjoining room, which became more powerful with every wrong answer they gave until they were excruciatingly painful and eventually people thought they might be killing the person they were supposedly trying to teach. Many still carried on giving what they thought were the shocks. They were fake, but almost all didn't realise. Some got upset and nervous and begged the experimenter to let them stop, but they continued to give what they thought were the increasingly powerful shocks when told to go on, even though they could hear the screams of the person they thought they were punishing, which eventually stopped, as if the person had gone unconscious. The psychologist ordered them to treat silence as a wrong answer and shock the person for that too.

Some showed no emotion at all but a satisfaction in doing their job - obeying the psychologist. The fact that some were upset but carried on anyway suggests that rather than being sadists, they felt they just had to obey the authority figure, even though they'd been told beforehand that they could leave the experiment whenever they wanted. Some did start to ask questions, but were replied to with phrases like, "It's essential for the experiment that you continue", and then they did so.

The experiment was done again several times more with new people and slightly different circumstances. It was found that when the experiment was done with people not being able to hear cries of pain from those supposedly being electrocuted, the number of people who gave them the most powerful shocks increased significantly, though it had been surprisingly high before! That ties in with the belief that a lot of people will be more prepared to do others damage from a distance where they won't have to personally witness the consequences of the damage as it's being done. Even some senior Nazis felt sick when they physically witnessed their orders to massacre Jews being carried out.

Another finding of the experiments where people were told they were teaching by electrocution was that when the learner/victim was in the same room, the number of people prepared to give the most powerful electric shocks diminished, as if being close to them had more of an effect than just hearing screams. Also, when the psychologist left the room and someone was in charge who wasn't seen as an authority figure but more of an equal, the number of people giving the most powerful shocks decreased, though it was still quite high. But the fact it decreased suggests again that at least part of the motivation for those thinking they were electrocuting learners to see if it helped them learn was because they felt the need to obey authority. But they took their obedience to amazing extremes, thinking they were in danger of actually killing the learners with the most powerful shocks, but carrying on anyway because they were told to, all for the sake of an experiment.

Obviously they weren't thinking critically about what they were doing, or they would surely have protested that the entire premise for the experiment they thought they were taking part in was absurd and it shouldn't be done. A basic knowledge of psychology or just mere common sense should teach people that people do not learn better when they're being distracted from their task by pain and by the stress of worrying about the pain that might be just about to be inflicted on them, especially if it's severe. Certainly, some level of physical punishment can dissuade people from giving wrong answers deliberately just to be awkward and give them an incentive to concentrate harder so they can learn better. But it can't be assumed that all failure to learn is a deliberate attempt to be awkward; and when physical punishment gets beyond a certain level of pain, people shouldn't be expected to be able to concentrate enough to remember anything! And what did the people who thought they were inflicting the pain imagine the outcome of the study would be? Even if it was found that people did learn under those conditions, was it in any way likely that any recommendations to come from the experiment would be acceptable to the education authorities? Was it really possible that electric shock generators would be set up in each classroom and children who didn't learn fast enough would be routinely shocked, even to the point of being nearly killed? Of course not. And even if people were found to learn better under those conditions, what if there were ways that were just as good if not better? Would it not be more ethical to look for ones which were, where pain didn't have to be inflicted on learners? Or perhaps some thought the experiment was aimed at disproving the notion that people can learn through physical punishment. But in that case, why would the electric shocks get more powerful; why wouldn't the punishment just be equivalent to what it was thought acceptable to mete out to children in schools at the time? And surely the experiment would have been set up differently if it was aimed at proving physical punishment didn't work, because even in those days, it surely can't have been thought acceptable in schools to cane people for simply getting an answer wrong in a test.

It seems that questions like that didn't come up in people's minds, but they were willing to trust the experimenter's judgment no matter what the consequences seemed to be. Or if questions like that did come up in the minds of any of them, perhaps they just weren't confident enough to boldly challenge the authority figure who appeared to know best. After all, people are taught from an early age to respect and obey authority figures and not to be rude to them. Most of the time, it's for a good reason, and with children can even make the difference between survival and death, for instance when they're told not to cross the road when there's a car coming. But having the lesson of the importance of obedience to authority ingrained in a person too thoroughly is clearly a bad idea, since there are times authority figures need to be challenged.

This has implications for times of war and other violent action. How many torturers have thought critically about whether what they're doing is a good idea? Possibly not many.

In the experiments with fake electric shocks, there was no penalty for leaving the experiment. People are asked to do unethical things in other situations where they would be penalised for refusing, such as in the army or in business. It may well be that this means people are even more likely to be unthinkingly obedient to authority there.

The experimenter Stanley Milgram believed the tendency to conform and obey authority is the explanation for why so many Germans who might otherwise have been decent committed atrocities in the Second World War. There was probably a lot more to it though, as during the experiments, people were urged to continue whenever they objected, though some said they really weren't happy doing what they were asked to do but carried on, whereas a lot of those who commit atrocities during war won't have such direct supervision or such specific orders, so they can feel freer to cause less suffering than is in their power to cause if they want to.

Part Three
Research on How Effective Torture Really Is

On crutches

Not only is there a good case to be made that torture is unethical, but research has cast a lot of doubt on whether it even works.

An article published at the end of 2010 called Neuroscience Discredits Coercive Interrogation says:

According to a new review of neuroscientific research, coercive interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration to extract information from terrorist suspects are likely to have been unsuccessful and may have had many unintended negative effects on the suspect's memory and brain functions. A new article, published by Cell Press on September 21st in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Science, reviews scientific evidence demonstrating that repeated and extreme stress and anxiety have a detrimental influence on brain functions related to memory.

Memos released by the US Department of Justice in April of 2009 detailing coercive interrogation techniques suggest that prolonged periods of shock, stress, anxiety, disorientation and lack of control are more effective than standard interrogatory techniques in making subjects reveal truthful information from memory. "This is based on the assumption that subjects will be motivated to reveal veridical information to end interrogation, and that extreme stress, shock and anxiety do not impact memory" says review author, Professor Shane O'Mara from the Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. "However, this model of the impact of extreme stress on memory and the brain is utterly unsupported by scientific evidence."

The article says psychological research has found - as if people really need telling - that people under pressure to talk during torture will indeed speak to get relief from the torture; but that doesn't mean that what they say will be truthful. It might be difficult to make up stories while in pain and under pressure to talk; but stories could be made up while the person isn't under so much pressure that are told during interrogation sessions to get relief from the torture, that might lead the military on all kinds of wild goose chases, and even to pick up more innocent people. And information made up on the spot could be given under torture that isn't well put together but could still lead the authorities off in the wrong direction. Unnecessary scares about imminent terrorist attacks could be generated. And even if torture works sometimes, is it not possible that there are equally good if not better ways of getting the information without using it? That doesn't mean being soft on terrorists; they can be punished later; and after all, a lot of people tortured were only terrorist suspects.

But as for the article, it goes on to put forward even more damning findings that relate to torture. It says neurochemical studies have found that the chemicals that increase in the brain when people are suffering severe stress and sleep deprivation make the memory worse. Research has also found that extreme stress can temporarily damage the brain in such a way that people become unable to distinguish between genuine memories and false memories their brain's making up and making them think are real. So a person could be trying to tell the truth in all honesty and yet misleading their interrogators.

That doesn't mean it's never appropriate to use torture. It has been argued that it's appropriate in emergencies, such as if the authorities get to hear that a bomb has been planted somewhere but they don't know where and they believe they're holding a person who does know, and they need to find the information quickly before it goes off. But there's no guarantee the person being tortured will give them the correct information; if they're given false information, the authorities could waste valuable time checking it out before discovering it's false. And it would actually be very rare that the authorities could pick up someone they were sure knew a bomb had been planted and was likely to go off within hours, without having a clue as to where it had been planted. Also, if word gets back to the community of the one who's been tortured that they've been mistreated, there may be people who will become angered and commit fresh violence in retaliation.

In an Article in the Washington Post called I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq, a man who worked as a "senior interrogator" in Iraq said he was disturbed by the interrogation methods commonly being used in Iraq, partly because they betrayed the values associated with a civilised country like America, and partly because they plain didn't work. He said the interrogation methods he saw were based on fear and control; they often ended in torture and abuse. He refused to use those techniques, and a month later ordered the team he was leading to change their methods as well. He taught them a new way of interrogating suspects, one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding, and using brain power to "tease out" information. They got to know the suspects, learned to negotiate with them, and adapted criminal investigative techniques the ordinary police would use to their own interrogations. He says it worked; it led to a "chain of successes" that resulted in the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war".

He says:

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond. Perhaps he should have. It turns out that my team was right to think that many disgruntled Sunnis could be peeled away from Zarqawi. A year later, Gen. David Petraeus helped boost the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces, cutting violence in the country dramatically.

He says their new interrogation methods led to "one of the war's biggest breakthroughs": they convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up Zarqawi's location, and he was killed, along with fellow insurgent leaders. Yet that great success wasn't enough to convince the "joint Special Operations task force" he worked for to change their ideas on appropriate interrogation methods; interrogators carried on using the old abusive methods for the most part.

He says he came back from Iraq convinced something had to be done to change people's attitudes, and was even more disturbed to learn the CIA had been using waterboarding to try to get information from terrorist suspects. The justification was that getting rough is the only way to get information from the hard cases, such as battle-hardened Al Qaeda leaders; but he says that isn't always true; he and his team, using his techniques, "turned" several "hard cases", including foreign fighters who'd gone there especially to fight against America. A few never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up vital information. He quotes one as telling him, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."

The senior interrogator who wrote the article said he believes torture to be immoral; but more than that, it actually costs American lives:, which is obviously the opposite of what it's intended to do:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.

He said he wrote a book about his experiences, and was shocked when the defence department wanted a lot of it removed before it was published, even though it was unclassified. It seemed they not only disagreed with his opinions about how torture is unnecessary, but didn't want the public to even hear them. But there were other interrogators who agreed that torture shouldn't be used and were speaking out, including some former members of the military, the FBI and the CIA who had met some months before to condemn torture and had spoken before Congress, "at considerable personal risk".

The man's article was written just before Barack Obama took office, and he said he was optimistic that there would be a change of attitude if he was elected.

Part Four
How Unskilful Peace negotiations Can Actually Damage Peace Prospects, and Types of Negotiations That Are Better


If negotiations are carried out with imagination and creativity, they can sometimes succeed where a less imaginative approach would fail miserably and war could ensue that cost the lives of millions. Skilled negotiators could help prevent tragedies that would otherwise have a legacy that leads to suffering for years to come. Some horrendous conflicts in the past could have turned out very differently if there had been more willingness to negotiate and/or the organisers of negotiations had been more skilful.

Getting the Best Out of a Negotiation, and Some Pitfalls of Traditional Kinds

The style of negotiation most likely to satisfy each side so as to give more chance that peace will last is one where each side explains the reasons for their demands at the beginning, and explains what they fear will happen if they don't get what they want, and then everyone tries to think up ways both sides can get as much of what they feel they need as possible without inconveniencing the other one. They try to be as inventive as possible in coming up with ideas. The negotiation isn't about winning and losing, but about both sides being as satisfied as possible with the outcome. Each side is asked to try to see or at least understand things from the other's point of view, and then help think of ways the situation could be resolved to the satisfaction of the other side as well as themselves.

This contrasts with a traditional style of negotiation where both sides come with opposing demands, and are then encouraged to compromise more and more, giving up things they originally demanded. That style of negotiation encourages people to take an extra hard line at first, so when they're made to compromise, they can make it seem as if they're compromising, by saying they'll give up things they only pretended to want in the first place, in the hope of ending up with what they really wanted to start with. Negotiations are likely to be slow, since no one will want to give up too much at once, out of concern that they might just be encouraged to give up more, so they'll want to give in little bit by little bit as the other side makes concessions. Also, they won't want their supporters to think they're selling them out. They'll want to be seen to be getting the upper hand and coming out being able to claim a victory.

The more they're pressed to give things up, the more they're likely to argue against it in defence of their position; and the more they argue in defence of their position, the more firmly they are likely to hold to it, since the more they have to justify it, the more they will think of reasons why it's a good idea and why the other side doesn't have enough good reasons to oppose them. They will argue the more vigorously the more they feel their points are being disregarded or challenged. It's simply human nature. After that, they will be reluctant to give concessions, because they will likely think that to do so, after arguing so passionately for their position, would mean looking pretty foolish, feeling as if they're humiliating themselves in public by having insisted they needed something and then giving it away as if it's not important after all. So ego issues can prevent them making concessions.

So negotiations can become bogged down, with people obstinately refusing to move much from hard-line positions.

Either that, or if the negotiators want to be co-operative instead, they can end up compromising more than they really want to, so they go away dissatisfied, because they've given up too much of what they were hoping for.

Taking a harder-line position in the beginning than people are really interested in taking means peace agreements will be harder to reach. Compromising more than people are happy with means peace agreements are less likely to last, as dissatisfaction festers and some people refuse to accept the compromises the negotiators made.

Naturally, people can't be expected to be that willing to try to help think up solutions that will please the other side, especially if atrocities have been committed by them. But they'll likely be more willing if they realise it's in their own interests because they'll benefit if it leads to peace.

To prevent negotiations descending into argument because one side comes up with solutions they hope will benefit both sides and the other side ridicules them, both sides can be encouraged to throw out possible solutions without, for the time being, thinking about how practical they are, since even if they're not likely to work, they might spark off new ideas that are. In fact, it can help if they're asked to think up possible solutions before the negotiations even start, and bring them to the talks. Then the pros and cons of each can be discussed by both sides.

Examples of Negotiating Strategies and Their Success or Failure

So, for instance, if a rebel force is demanding that a country be partitioned and part of it should belong to them in future, instead of starting the negotiations with only two options - that they take charge of it or they don't, they can be asked to explain all their reasons for wanting a separate state - all the grievances and fears that have made them feel sure that breaking away from the rest of the country needs to be done. Then ways of solving the grievances can be discussed.

For instance, if they're an ethnic minority and they're being discriminated against in some employment settings, and members of their community are often mistreated by the police, most of whom come from the majority ethnic community, then ways of stopping those things happening can be discussed, and if they end up confident that all their grievances will be resolved, they might drop their demands for a separate state without it even being a demand of the other side that they do.

In 1967, there was a very short war between Israel and the surrounding Arab states. Israel then took control of the Egyptian Sinai peninsula. Egypt was never happy about that, naturally, and in peace talks some years later to improve relations between Egypt and Israel, they were encouraged to resolve the dispute over its ownership. At first, the organisers of the peace talks tried to encourage them again and again to compromise, drawing map after map of the area with boundaries in different places to see if they would be acceptable to both sides. Israel was willing to give up some of it, but Egypt absolutely refused to agree to give up their claim to an inch of it, but demanded that Israel return the whole lot. If the negotiators had been less skilful, the talks could have broken down over it with Egypt being condemned as unreasonably refusing to co-operate, and violence could have flared up at some point. But the negotiators had a new idea.

They asked the Egyptians just why it was that they didn't want to give up their claim to any of the Sinai Peninsula whatsoever, and they asked Israel why they were so keen to have at least some of it.

It turned out that Israel had been insisting on at least having some of it because they were worried that if they didn't, there would be lots of Egyptian tanks right on the Egypt-Israeli border and their own land would be threatened. The reason Egypt had been refusing to give up even an inch of it was because it was land Egypt had held since the time of the Pharaohs, but for centuries it had been dominated by one foreign power after another - Greeks, Romans, Turks, the French and then the British, and Egypt had only regained full sovereignty over it again recently. They didn't want to have finally regained full sovereignty over it, only for control of it to be taken away yet again!

When it was realised that Israel's concern was the security of its borders, and Egypt's concern was that it held on to sovereignty, an agreement was easily reached, where Egypt would be allowed to regain sovereignty over the whole lot, but much of it would be a demilitarised zone. So the Egyptian flag would fly over all of it, but Egyptian tanks would be nowhere near Israel.

In contrast, a negotiation doomed to disastrous failure and tragedy was one that took place to try to stop a civil war in Angola. There were three outside countries involved - America, Portugal and Russia. Yet the peace agreement they came up with couldn't possibly last. They decided that an election would be held so the people would decide which side they wanted in power. But it would be a "winner takes all"-style election, of the type that is held in the USA to decide who will become the American president; the side with the least votes would get nothing. After all the lives lost on that side, they were never likely to settle for that. And indeed, after the election, fighting broke out again, and hundreds of thousands were killed before a lasting peace agreement was reached - many many more than were killed in the war before the original peace agreement was made.

It's essential that both sides gain something valuable and lasting from an agreement. It's also essential that the concerns of both sides should be taken seriously and addressed.

An example of talks that broke down without any agreement being reached happened in the time of President Kennedy. Negotiations were going on between America and Russia over a proposed ban on any nuclear testing. The talks broke down over the question of how many inspections each country would be allowed to make in the other country per year. Negotiators for the United States insisted they be allowed to make ten, but the leaders of the Soviet Union insisted there be no more than three. Both sides simply refused to compromise further than they had done, so the talks failed.

But they hadn't even thought to discuss with one another what reasons the Soviet Union had for rejecting demands for inspections and how their concerns could be overcome, or much at all about what kinds of inspections they'd feel it necessary to carry out. So it wasn't clear whether what each side was thinking about when they talked about inspections was the same or very different - whether they envisaged one person going into the other's country for a day, or lots of people being around for a month! If they'd discussed each other's concerns and reasons for being reluctant to allow the other one to do inspections, it might have become clear that neither side liked the idea of lots of people from the other country being around for a long time intruding into things. They could then have perhaps agreed on limits that could be put on the number of people going in and the length of time they'd be there for.

Making Plans to Help the Countries at the Negotiating Table In the Long-Term Future

Working in the forest

Naturally, the things people are trying to gain from a war will sometimes not be ethical by any stretch of the imagination, so it won't be easy to come up with ideas on how they could be satisfied by another course of action and give up what they're hoping to gain by war. But sometimes it might be possible to find a solution, even if things seem hopeless at first. For instance, if one country has invaded another to get control of its oil wells in the hope of increasing its share of world trade so its government can become richer, its representatives at peace talks can be firmly told that the behaviour of the invader is unacceptable and the invasion can't be tolerated, while at the same time, all sides in the negotiations could try to come up with ideas on other ways the country could increase its share of world trade. For instance, offers of investment in the country could be made in return for its withdrawal from the other country. That way, the invader can withdraw with dignity and something to promise those of its people who'd otherwise protest if it made concessions and was seen to be backing down.

That doesn't mean aggressor nations should be treated leniently. There can be an insistence that war criminals who've committed or ordered atrocities must be brought to justice - or at least those who the negotiators aren't direct representatives of so there's some hope of an agreement, - while at the same time promises of help to find a solution that's beneficial to the country are made, one which will be conditional on it withdrawing from the country it's invaded.

One thing that can help ensure that a peace agreement lasts is if the hostile parties are asked what disadvantages they are concerned they'll face if a peace agreement is reached. For instance, one disadvantage of laying down arms is that many of those employed to fight will become unemployed; and in some countries that means survival becomes difficult; so it's tempting for many to take up arms again. So as well as discussing how to stop the fighting, it can be valuable to try and invent solutions to all the things that can be foreseen that might stand in the way of a lasting peace. For instance, since experience has shown that many unemployed soldiers in countries where they're not provided for can easily be tempted back into war, there could be discussions of projects that could take place in the country, perhaps with support from other governments, to develop it and provide employment for former soldiers and many others.

The Importance of Discussing Differences in Beliefs and Values as Well as the Practicalities of a Solution


Negotiations often break down because the two sides, though they could find a practical solution that satisfies them both, have what they consider to be irreconcilable beliefs and values that make it impossible for them to want to work together or to believe that a solution could ever work. For instance, a lot of Palestinians think the state of Israel has no right to exist, and a lot of Israelis totally object to the idea of giving away any of their land to the Palestinians - partly on religious grounds. But progress can sometimes be made in a negotiation where the aspirations of one are abhorrent to the other if both sides are asked to try and understand things from each other's points of view, and then asked to be as novel and creative together as they possibly can be in inventing solutions that might satisfy the other without giving away concessions that would be objectionable to them. Short of making concessions on things very precious to them, there might be quite a bit they end up willing to accept.


In the process, one or both sides can be questioned in depth about their values, and it may be that after being led to think critically about them, sometimes they might even come to see things differently. Socratic questioning can sometimes be used, where first they're asked if they agree with something they're in fact very likely to agree with; and then they're asked more and more questions they're likely to agree with, though sometimes only after some thought, till it eventually becomes apparent to them that their original position isn't worth believing in as strongly as they thought it was.

To give an example, a Taliban member might say they're absolutely opposed to the education of women and girls and that they'll fight brutally to stop it. After questioning, they may feel less certain about their position. For instance, questions that could be asked, that they might well agree with, could be things such as:

"Would you agree with the claim that women in your society should normally be given respect?"

"Would you agree that giving them respect involves respecting their human right to a life where they often feel contented and fulfilled and competent to cope with the day-to-day challenges of life?"

"Would you agree that their sons should be educated? - If we were to organise education classes for boys where they could learn new things that would help them really get on in life, would you like that?"

"What if as part of a class, the boys were asked to take some work home with them and do it there, and some of them needed help with it at home? Would you agree that it would be nice if their mothers could help them with it, to help them get on in life?"

"And also, do you agree that it would make the mothers look bad in front of their little ones, and cause them to be thought of with less respect by them, and that both the mothers and the boys would probably feel less capable, if the mothers couldn't help their children with their homework?"

"If the mothers are going to be able to help their sons, wouldn't you agree that it would be useful if they were educated enough about the subjects to do that, and also so are girls who'll grow up to be future mothers?"

"So is it really all education of girls you object to, or would you be willing to accept a lot of it as long as certain conditions were met?"

Questions on topics like that do have to be asked with skill and knowledge, and also an appearance of innocent inoffensive humble enquiry that makes it seem as if the person asking the questions isn't confident they're right and the person answering has got it wrong. That way they'll be more likely to avoid asking a question that might lead in to a tirade of angry opinion and accusation from someone who feels insulted, or that will make the person feel as if they're being trapped into agreeing with things they hadn't intended to, or that shows ignorance of a cultural norm that will prompt an outburst of disgusted criticism about the ignorance.

The questioning doesn't have to sound accusatory or as if it's intended to belittle the values of one side. In fact, it's essential that it doesn't, because if it does, it'll likely make them angry and defensive and retaliate with accusations of their own that might provoke angry responses from the other side, and a negotiation can descend into chaos and argument and not get anywhere. The way things are phrased can therefore be vital to success or failure. Instead of sounding like hostile challenges, questions can be made to sound innocent, if they sound as if they don't necessarily reflect the beliefs of the person asking the question, but the beliefs of some other people elsewhere who might want answers.

So, for instance, instead of asking, "Why did you do such a cruel thing?", the question can be phrased, "Some people would say that was a very cruel thing to do. What would you say to the accusation?"

The Importance of Taking Into Account the Emotions of the Negotiators

Man having a tantrum

One reason negotiations can break down and conflicts continue to cause suffering is because the negotiators simply hate each other, don't trust each other, are very angry with each other, or are very defensive and take any request for a modification of a formerly-declared position of theirs as an attack on their honour; no one will want to suffer the dent in their ego caused by having to publicly give up a claim to something they recently declared they'd never give up.

So it's very important to take personal feelings and sensitivities into consideration. It's important that both sides can come out of the talks being able to declare that they've made important gains, and that they're able to frame any demand they have given up as a good practical move they'll get something in return for, rather than as a defeat.

As for personal hostilities and distrust, it's essential that right from the start of a negotiation, there are plans to manage people's emotions and provocation, or the negotiations could easily fail, as negotiations apparently have before, because something said in hostility by one side provokes an angry response from the other, an argument starts, tempers flare, and angry accusations fly back and forth till both sides want nothing whatsoever to do with talking to the other anymore and peace talks are abandoned.

While a space should be made to discuss feelings, - in fact it can be best if they're the first thing discussed, so as to allow the parties to vent and drain off their anger in hopes of them then being able to negotiate in a calmer and more rational frame of mind, - agreement needs to be reached between both sides to separate their feelings and views about the people on the other side of the conflict from their discussion of the actual issues involved in resolving the conflict, so their dislike of them doesn't get in the way of a settlement being reached.

It can help if both sides can be seen to make a public commitment to that, because people are less likely to go back on something they've agreed to if they've agreed in front of witnesses, because to go back on their word would mean the shame of being seen to be dishonouring their own word and of going back on a position they themselves declared to be good and right.

So, for instance, to try to create an atmosphere of goodwill and co-operation at the start of the discussions about the actual issues, and to get that public agreement, the person organising the negotiations could ask questions to both parties at once, that they'll find it hard to say no to, such as:

Once they've agreed, then if they start doing the things they agreed not to do, they can be reminded they publicly agreed not to do them, and the organiser can then try to get the negotiations back on track and move them on.

Naturally it will be easier for them to do that if they don't wait till tempers have flared and the two sides are in no mood to listen.

Wagging finger in angry accusation

Before that agreement is made though, it may sometimes help if each side is asked in turn what their hopes and misgivings about the negotiations are. Since what each side says will probably anger the other one though, in order to prevent things degenerating into an angry exchange of accusations that cause the negotiations to fail before any issue is even discussed, the conversation can still be given a positive direction; each side in turn can be asked what their hopes and misgivings are, and at the same time told that assurances will be sought from the other side that they don't have to be so concerned; that whatever's happened in the past, they will behave honourably during the negotiations and will honour any commitments made.

The viewpoint can also be expressed that if an agreement is reached that satisfies everyone, it will be in the interests of any party that's currently distrusted to stick to the agreement in future, because breaking it is simply bound to lead to consequences that cause them themselves problems, from the wider international community as well as from the other side in the negotiations.

There still might be flare-ups of anger after feelings have been discussed at the beginning of the negotiations, some caused by misunderstandings and people taking attacks on their positions personally, as well as by anger because of their grievances against the other warring party.

One way of trying to ensure tempers remain cooler is if a rule is made right at the beginning that only one person is allowed to express anger at a time. That might stop shouting matches developing where no one gets heard and people end up too angry to listen to each other so talks break down. Both sides can be asked at the beginning of the talks if they agree to the rule that only one person will be allowed to express anger at a time for the purposes of trying to keep things calm. If they both agree, then if one side is making an angry speech, the other one may be more willing to try to control themselves, since losing their temper will seem like going back on their word and losing face. Afterwards they might be glad of the opportunity the rule gave them to collect their thoughts before responding.

After all the possibilities for solutions that can be thought of have been examined during the negotiations, it may be that two sides who seemed absolutely immovable at first can come to an agreement.

Part Five
Wars Can be Started or Made Worse if Psychopaths are in the Leadership


Not all psychopaths are violent criminals; some commit other types of crime, such as becoming conmen, and some abuse others in legal ways, such as getting involved in a string of relationships with people they use and then abandon without any pangs of conscience. A psychopathic politician could do far more damage than a serial killer ever could, totally legally; many may have taken their countries to war in the name of high ideals such as bringing democracy or peace to a region or fighting tyranny, reckless of how many lives were being lost and of whether the war really was necessary.

The following article excerpts illustrate that it's perfectly possible for a psychopath to rise to a position of power in a country and do a lot of damage there.

Psychopaths aren't all the same; some have such anti-social tendencies they're liable to end up in prison, whereas others can be successful in a career, though harming many of those around them. An article called Is Your Boss a Psychopath? talks about characteristics a psychopathic boss will probably have, and the work of a man who studied psychopaths for years and years and is internationally recognised as an expert on the subject, Robert Hare. It says:

... Robert Hare is the creator of the Psychopathy Checklist. The 20-item personality evaluation has exerted enormous influence in its quarter-century history. It's the standard tool for making clinical diagnoses of psychopaths -- the 1% of the general population that isn't burdened by conscience. Psychopaths have a profound lack of empathy. They use other people callously and remorselessly for their own ends. They seduce victims with a hypnotic charm that masks their true nature as pathological liars, master con artists, and heartless manipulators. Easily bored, they crave constant stimulation, so they seek thrills from real-life "games" they can win -- and take pleasure from their power over other people.

… The FBI and the British justice system have long relied on [Hare's] advice. He created the P-Scan, a test widely used by police departments to screen new recruits for psychopathy, and his ideas have inspired the testing of firefighters, teachers, and operators of nuclear power plants. …

Then Hare came out with a startling proposal. He said that the recent corporate scandals could have been prevented if CEOs were screened for psychopathic behavior. "Why wouldn't we want to screen them?" he asked. "We screen police officers, teachers. Why not people who are going to handle billions of dollars?"

It's Hare's latest contribution to the public awareness of "corporate psychopathy." He appeared in the 2003 documentary The Corporation, giving authority to the film's premise that corporations are "sociopathic" (a synonym for "psychopathic") because they ruthlessly seek their own selfish interests -- "shareholder value" -- without regard for the harms they cause to others, such as environmental damage.

Perhaps there should be some system of filtering out psychopaths before they get to be in positions of leadership in politics. Politicians would doubtless never agree to implement such a scheme if current politicians were in danger of being screened for psychopathy; but they might agree to make it the law that new hopefuls who haven't yet quite made it to being nominated as a candidate for parliament by their local party should be.

Another article, called Psychopath in a suit, sheds more light on the way psychopaths operate:

Babiak and Hare, who consults to the FBI on serial murders and child abductions, are developing the B-Scan, a 107-item tool to assess managers, executives, high-potential employees and succession candidates.

Hare's internationally recognised psychopathy Checklist, or PCL-R, is used in criminal justice systems for identifying psychopaths.

Hare himself estimates that psychopaths account for only about 1 per cent of the general population.

But he says there would be a higher proportion in such areas as business, politics, law enforcement agencies, law firms, religious organisations and yes, the media.

"They have a predatory quality to them and the prey is always around certain areas," Dr Hare said.

"In the business world, if I was a good psychopath and I was well educated, bright, intelligent, grew up in the proper way, knew how to talk and dress and how to use a fork, I'm not going to go out and rob banks.

"They're attracted to where the action is. You're not going to find one of these guys out in Alice Springs working in a pub hoping to become manager in five years." …

The B-Scan is a 360-degree assessment that works off an exhaustive questionnaire, filled in by anyone who works with the employee. Typically, these would include the immediate supervisor, subordinates, former bosses, peers and internal business customers.

They will grade the subject's tendencies in areas and categories and sub-categories. These categories include "insincere" (for example, "makes a well-packaged slick presentation", "difficult to pin down on personal details"), untrustworthy ("will say or do anything to get his own way", "tells a larger than usual number of white lies"), manipulative, arrogant, insensitive, remorseless, shallow, blaming, impatient, erratic, unreliable, unfocused, parasitic, dramatic, unethical and bullying.

The results are then sent to the test publisher or authorised consultants and scored.

One of the problems in identifying the corporate psychopath is that it's a world in which some of the defining characteristics are commonplace.

Many successful managers and executives can, for example, be grandiose and narcissistic; but that doesn't necessarily mean they're psychopaths.

Similarly, many organisations are set up in ways that foster these kinds of behaviours.

For example, it's doubtful whether the B-Scan would have picked up widespread psychopathy at Enron, which was suffused with arrogance, where the Darwinian "rank and yank" performance-appraisal system encouraged traders and different groups to sabotage each other, and where reluctance to acknowledge losses resulted in accounting trickery to paper them over.

Psychopaths enjoy being in positions where they have power and control over others. In an article from 2002 in The Times called Snakes in suits and how to spot them, it says:

... At the end of a talk on organised crime, Dr Robert Hare mentioned his belief that some of the year’s worst accounting scandals could have been avoided if all chief executives were screened for psychopathic tendencies. He was quoted everywhere, not so much because of the sensational implication that some of America’s best-known companies had been run for most of the 1990s by people with a major mental disorder, as because of who he is.

Hare defined psychopathy for modern scientists with an exhaustive questionnaire, sold only to clinicians, called the Psychopathy Checklist, or PCL-R. It was introduced in 1980 and has become an internationally recognised instrument for identifying psychopaths. It means that when a subject scores 30 (out of a possible 40) in a prison in Dundee, an expert in Detroit will have a good idea of his proclivities. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the PCL-R revealed that psychopaths are everywhere. Most are non-violent, but all leave a trail of havoc through their families and work environments, using and abusing colleagues and loved ones, endlessly manipulating others, constantly reinventing themselves. Hare puts the average North American incidence of psychopathy at 1 per cent of the population, but the damage they inflict on society is out of all proportion to their numbers, not least because they gravitate to high-profile professions that offer the promise of control over others, such as law, politics, business management ... and journalism.

There's evidence that psychopaths have something physically wrong with their brains which makes their consciences underactive. Also, there are apparently genes that can contribute to people becoming more aggressive. On the BBC World Service, an interview was done with a man who'd realised there was something wrong with the emotional part of his brain: I have the brain of a killer!

Neuroscientist Jim Fallon ... has always been fascinated by the brains of psychopaths and has spent the last 20 years studying the brain scans and genetics of some of the world’s most prolific killers.

But when he underwent a brain scan and DNA test to assess his risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, he made the shocking discovery that he too had the biological make-up of a killer.

Like the killers he studied, part of his orbital cortex, the area of the brain which controls ethics and morality, was inactive. He also had several genes associated with aggression and violence.

Then his mother Jenny revealed at a family barbecue that seven of his paternal ancestors had been murderers.

They included a distant cousin, Lizzie Borden, whose story of murdering her parents is part of American folklore.

He said in the interview that he was treasured as a child, but he said research shows that violent psychopaths have often been abused, so he thinks he might have turned into one if he had been. But he said he still had problems getting angry easily and not recognising danger and doing things recklessly. He said that for instance, he'd once taken his children into a forest where there were lions. He just thought it was a fun trip out. It didn't occur to him that it was a dangerous place to take them.

Bearing all that in mind, it's surely feasible that psychopathic politicians could start or escalate wars, not even realising they're doing something immoral, but genuinely believing they're doing something honourable. The likelihood is, though, that there would be some kind of self-interest in it.

An article from 2001 called Psychopaths Among Us by Robert Hercz talks about self-interest, saying:

… Hare's research upset a lot of people. Until the psychopath came into focus, it was possible to believe that bad people were just good people with bad parents or childhood trauma and that, with care, you could talk them back into being good. Hare's research suggested that some people behaved badly even when there had been no early trauma. Moreover, since psychopaths' brains were in fundamental ways different from ours, talking them into being like us might not be easy. Indeed, to this day, no one has found a way to do so.

"Some of the things he was saying about these individuals, it was unheard of," says Dr. Steven Stein, a psychologist and ceo of Multi-Health Systems in Toronto, the publisher of the Psychopathy Checklist. "Nobody believed him thirty years ago, but Bob hasn't wavered, and now everyone's where he is. Everyone's come full circle, except a small group who believe it's bad upbringing, family poverty, those kinds of factors, even though scientific evidence has shown that's not the case. There are wealthy psychopaths who've done horrendous things, and they were brought up in wonderful families."

"There's still a lot of opposition -- some criminologists, sociologists, and psychologists don't like psychopathy at all," Hare says. "I can spend the entire day going through the literature -- it's overwhelming, and unless you're semi-brain-dead you're stunned by it -- but a lot of people come out of there and say, 'So what? Psychopathy is a mythological construct.' They have political and social agendas: 'People are inherently good,' they say. 'Just give them a hug, a puppy dog, and a musical instrument and they're all going to be okay.' "

If Hare sounds a little bitter, it's because a decade ago, Correctional Service of Canada asked him to design a treatment program for psychopaths, but just after he submitted the plan in 1992, there were personnel changes at the top of CSC. The new team had a different agenda, which Hare summarizes as, "We don't believe in the badness of people." His plan sank without a trace. …

Conventional psychotherapy starts with the assumption that a patient wants to change, but psychopaths are usually perfectly happy as they are. They enrol in such programs to improve their chances of parole. "These guys learn the words but not the music," Hare says. "They can repeat all the psychiatric jargon -- 'I feel remorse,' they talk about the offence cycle -- but these are words, hollow words."

Hare has co-developed a new treatment program specifically for violent psychopaths, using what he knows about the psychopathic personality. The idea is to encourage them to be better by appealing not to their (non-existent) altruism but to their (abundant) self-interest.

"It's not designed to change personality, but to modify behaviour by, among other things, convincing them that there are ways they can get what they want without harming others," Hare explains. The program will try to make them understand that violence is bad, not for society, but for the psychopath himself. (Look where it got you: jail.)

So a psychopathic politician who's got their country into a war, at least one in a democratic society with a free press, might be swayed more by arguments like, "If you carry on with this, you'll be marked down in history books as an evildoer; and over the coming years, people in the international community might speak of you with contempt and you'll have a bad reputation, and the public might start hating you and vote you out of office at the next election because they're upset at what the media are reporting" than they would by arguments like, "You have to stop this bombing campaign; thousands of civilians are being killed and injured, a lot of children among them; and for what? It's not achieving anything significant militarily."

Part Six
Being Humanitarian Can be Good Military Strategy

How Self-Interest Can Stifle Empathy in Ordinary People


Ordinary people can make decisions that appear as cruel as those a psychopath might make, for a number of reasons. One is where self-interest over-rides any concerns that might otherwise bring compassion out in people because of their empathy. It can sometimes be more a case of indifference, due to lack of awareness of the issues or distance from them. For instance, trade agreements can be made by politicians that mean it's difficult for poor countries to compete with richer ones, because taxes are put on imports of what the poorer ones are selling that make them more expensive than the same products from a small group of rich countries they have friendly trade agreements with. Their concern for the interests of workers in their own countries, coupled with the lack of vivid reminders of what they're doing in effect, such as they'd get if some producers in developing countries were there to tell them how their standard of living and that of their children will be impacted by not being able to sell their goods at a competitive price, can result in them happily passing laws that help keep large numbers of people in dire poverty.

When people are living contented lives, they're unlikely to rush voluntarily to the ranks of an army in answer to someone's call to fight an enemy they've got no good reason to fight. People who do rush to join up will often be people who want to escape from poverty and bad living conditions. In countries with records of conflict, when well-off people have no concern to do anything to try to help improve the lives of those less fortunate, they could find themselves suffering when renewed conflict breaks out. So empathy and compassion can be good for one's own interests as well as those of others.

Winning the Hearts and Minds of Those in Enemy Territory Can Be a Huge Military Advantage

It can also be good strategy as well as humanitarian to try to win the support of some of the population in enemy territory. Here's a story about a former war that illustrates this:

From an article about the SAS Borneo campaign:

In the early 1960s, Malaya sought to bring together Singapore, and the Borneo states of Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and itself under the Federation of Malaysia, an idea fully supported by Britain. The Indonesian President Sukarno, however, vehemently opposed the move as it threatened his own designs on the rest of Borneo. The first sign of trouble came in 1962 in the Sultanate of Brunei, when a small Indonesian backed, anti-Malaysian element rebelled. The British forces, however, quickly ended this revolt. By early 1963, the situation had worsened, with well-trained Indonesian insurgents infiltrating over the border from the Kalimantan regions. In response, Britain raised a force of Malaysian, Commonwealth, and British Troops, including the SAS, to deal with the situation. Unfortunately the force was only a small one and the border stretched for 1,120km (700 miles) through thick jungle. Not only did they face a threat from the Indonesians, but also for the internal terrorist element, the Clandestine Communist Organization or CCO, who were made up mainly of Chinese settlers from Sarawak. ...

As well as patrolling the border, the SAS took on another very important task - that of winning the 'hearts and minds' of the native people. By gaining an understanding of their lifestyle and language, by living with them and dispensing medical aid when needed, the SAS gained important allies in intelligence gathering. The local people, who still crossed the border freely into Kalimantan to trade their goods, often brought back valuable information on Indonesian troop movements.

The SAS also recruited some of the local people as border scouts. Their role was primarily of gathering intelligence as they proved to be unsuited in conventional combat roles. Another group recruited and trained by the SAS from 1964 onwards, however, was known as the Cross-Border Scouts and they took part in raids across the border into Kalimantan. So, when the Indonesian incursion started in earnest in 1963, A Squadron were already prepared to repel them. They knew the best amsuh and helicopter LZs, and the 'hearts and minds' campaign was working well. ...

The campaign in Borneo is an outstanding example of the tenacity, resourcefulness and skill of the individual SAS soldier, and illustrates that a small number of well-trained and motivated men can achieve results out of all proportion to their numbers. ...

Here's part of an interview with Denis Healey, where he talks about what happened:

As a student before the war and later as a politician, Denis Healey travelled the world. Here he looks back at more than 70 years of globetrotting.

Just before I became defence secretary in the early 1960s, I spent some days in the jungles of Borneo as a guest of our Special Air Service. I have always had particularly close relations with the SAS and its naval counterpart, the Special Boat Service. Indeed, I first met Paddy Ashdown when he parachuted into the sea as a member of the SBS and swam to the submarine on which I was standing. The general in charge during my first visit was Walter Walker, who recognised the importance of "winning hearts and minds". So when, a few years later, I was defence secretary I would not allow a single aircraft to drop a bomb during the War of Confrontation in Borneo. As a result we won that war against Indonesia with fewer deaths than on a Bank Holiday weekend on the roads in Britain. During the same period, just across the sea, the Americans tried to win the war in Vietnam by bombing. They lost the war despite causing millions of casualties.

It appears that President Linden Johnson who ordered the massive bombing campaign in Vietnam imagined he was actually partly doing it to win over the hearts and minds of the people of South Vietnam, imagining they'd have more confidence about supporting the Americans in the fight if they felt secure, and the huge bombing campaign would make them feel secure. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that turning a place into a killing ground where many of the people you're killing may be relatives of those you're trying to win the hearts and minds of is not likely to achieve the goal you think it will.

To sum up, having compassionate political and military leaders who are open to criticism and revision of their ideas, and who will prioritise the prevention of casualties as far as possible, makes good sense from a tactical point of view as well as from a humanitarian one.

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