This paper on Sadism is a disturbing look into human phycology. There are some aspects of man’s mind that we cannot explain or avoid dwelling into. Inhuman actions and words have long bothered us - be that of a common man or that of a soldier. They bother us because we try making sense of all our actions and wishing that we remain fair, understanding and humane all the time. But that’s not the case always. The American soldiers in Abu Ghraib have demonstrated in very clear terms that there is always a hidden, cruel side of human mind which cannot be explained.
Experiments by Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo and Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram have shown that normal people become abnormally cruel tormentors when given an opportunity to physically or mentally harm others. We might have seen in our own lives how a small child plays with a dog or even an ant. He will tease the dog, pull its tail, ears or snatch away food as long as the dog reacts to his actions. It is kind of a cat and mouse situation where teasing, killing is cat’s game where as it is life or death situation for the mouse. The child will only learn not to harm a pet dog when he is taught to control his actions and by bringing the sense of kindness into him. Adult soldiers display cruelty when they are in a situation with the three traits necessary for torture (by psychologist Herbert Kelman) authorization, routinization, and dehumanization.
Authorization is a trait where we are given the freedom to act on our whim, for example the soldier is asked to extract information from a prisoner in whatever possible manner to meet the goal. So it is handing down authority to act that triggers cruelty. Routinization is division of labor- one person hands over the hand cuffs, the next person seals them on hands and third person walks the prisoner. This sequence drives soldiers to extreme ways of bettering their jobs- for want of credit or praise. Dehumanization is a trait which we might witness sometimes - if we are doing an act repeatedly like chopping chickens we don’t feel any sympathy for the living being. Soldiers are also in similar situation where they lose contact with the humane side and act as matter of routine. The three traits in combination prove insanely deadly for the prisoners.
There is also a mention in the paper about the soldiers being insecure themselves- about their safety, feeling of anxiety, helplessness often being triggers to cruelty. There are fewer avenues for venting out their feelings like anger or stress and being away from families, home towns or friends could be leading them towards acts of inhumanness. “Toward no crimes have men shown themselves so cold- bloodedly cruel as in punishing differences of belief” (James Russell Lowell). It does peter down to the fact that soldiers are representing their national beliefs but interpreting wrongly. Punishing prisoners for the wrongs of a nation have happened many a times in the wars of the world. With all that said there cannot be an excuse for cruelty- be it towards animals, earth or humans. Abuse in any form is disease of the mind and needs to be treated. The world nations have to adapt to treating the cause of war and eliminating the opportunity for cruelty.
Szegedy-Maszak, Marianne. “Sources of Sadism.” U.S. News & World Report 24 May 2004: 30. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 22 Mar. 2009.