Brainwashing. Have you ever wondered how Charles Manson was able to take a few American kids including an All-American son of Texas and turn them into soldiers willing to commit murder in his name? Ever wonder about the CIA project MK Ultra and its attempt to find the secrets of mind control? While massive amounts of LSD may break a mind down into the perfect putty for molding, there are easier ways to brainwash the mind of a young soul and my friends over at Parris Island know how. So how exactly does the military take kids who were playing kickball a few months prior and turn them into hardened killers?
As a man who signed up for the Marine Corps Infantry straight out of high school, I have to say that everyone of us that signed up was already willing to commit the act in some shape or form. You can blame it on violent movies and video games, but the simpler explanation is that killing is hard-wired into the human mind. Our society has been structured around a warrior mentality since the beginning of time. From hunting mammoths for survival, to tribal clashes and all throughout the feudal system up until now, the evolution of humanity has only been possible through the cultivation of warfare. It is literally in our genes.
So, we already have a certain type of person going into the fighting branch of the military. A young man who more than likely grew up on action films, possibly has a proud lineage of veterans in his family, with an acceptance of violence, its necessity as well as application, and finally, if they’re doing the fighting, they more than likely signed up exactly for that reason. To be a grunt. A ground pounder. A warrior.
The motivations can differ widely throughout the men who have made the decision to join. I say men and not people, because while women are trying to break into the combat fields, they have not done so in numbers that actually change the demographic of those who fight in our wars. For some it’s a simple matter of they lost someone in the war already, or they lost someone in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Some feel a call to serve their country and that means fighting in their wars. For some, it’s an adventure. But the most important part about each and every one of these individuals is that they are already primed for what lays in wait for them during their training.
Now, when I got to Recruit Training at Parris Island, I paid close attention to certain things that were implemented on us. We had these things called ditties. What ditties are in a nutshell is the Drill Instructor says a command like, “Left foot!” and we all responded with, “Kill foot!” This is called Classical Conditioning.
Classical Conditioning is a simple, yet effective way to train a brain and has been used in psychology for some time now. Pavlov was the one to discover this technique of Classical Conditioning and you may have even used it yourself when training your dog or attempting to train your cat. You give an animal a command, it completes the command, and it is rewarded. There are many different ways that Classical Conditioning can be used. Smells, sounds, foods, you name it. The lesson to take away from this is that it is used to train a brain.
While in Recruit Training, recruits have a long list of commands that when heard must be met with the proper response. Most of these responses revolve around killing and death.
“What makes the grass grow?”
“Blood! Blood! Blood!”
You can only say, “Kill!” so many times in a day before you start thinking to yourself, “Damn, I think I want to kill a motherfucker.”
Now, another form of desensitization is in the form of using Dog Targets on the range. These are targets designed to look like the shoulders and head of a human. It gets you in the mindset of being okay with sighting in on a human. Other ranges use targets that pop up and down that look like those rubber boxing dummies you see at gyms.
The next example I have is what they showed us at the School of Infantry. I can’t remember exactly how far along we were in our training, but I remember sitting in a class and being shown videos and pictures of Taliban fighters dying, bleeding out, going boom. They showed us their mangled corpses, pulp spread out on the ground behind them, blood pooling on dirt streets, etc. Seriously, it was the bloodiest fucking PowerPoint you ever saw. Death is never pretty no matter how much poets like to dress it up and one thing you don’t want is for your troops to see it for the first time in combat and freeze. To remedy that, you train them, you show them the gore, you get them used to it.
So, before we even get to the fleet and assigned to our actual units, all of this has already happened. Then you hear the stories about the guys in your unit that were killed or injured on the last deployment. You see the guys that are 20 years old walking around on canes because half of their legs are missing. You see the memorial bracelets adorning the veteran’s wrists that remind you that someone in your exact same shoes a year before has now been reduced to an engraved piece of aluminum. You get taught how to be even better at your craft and you take it seriously, because you now realize that whether they are right or wrong, the enemy is the enemy.
This is what it’s like to be desensitized, brainwashed, and made to believe that killing your enemy is alright. This is the process that defines the path so many young men take. From hardly needing to shave to becoming hardened killers fighting on foreign soil, this is how the mind is shaped to do what their country requires of them. To fight past the fear and guilt. To kill.