War crimes can't be forgotten or excused

How soon we forget.

We forget about the atrocities of World War II committed by the Nazis and the Japanese.

We forget about the murders in Korea, the brutalities of Vietnam and the stupidities of Abu Ghraib. Consider this: All the wars before WWII to the dawn of time had no rules against mistreatment of the enemy.

There were no laws against the things we know today as war crimes.

We forget Stanley Milgram. Stanley Milgram? Who in blazes is Stanley Milgram?

Fifty years or so ago, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment that caught the attention of the world. He was able show how ordinary people were willing to follow orders to apply electric shocks of varying intensity to people they thought were subjects of his experiment.

The electric shocks were very mild at first, according to an article in "Discover," but increased steadily and at 150 volts actors pretending to be shocked cried out in pain. After being told to continue, 80 percent of the people who believed they were administering the shocks continued to increase the intensity to 450 volts, when the actors fell silent.

Results of the experiment rocked the world of psychology. "Although no actual shocks were delivered and the sounds of agony came from a tape recording, many of the volunteers (who believed they were inflicting painful shocks) suffered stress from the task and replication of the experiments was deemed unethical," the Discover article reported.

Actually, that would be funny if it weren't so horrible. The inflictors of the pain suffered stress. If there had been real victims, how do you suppose they would have felt?

Flash forward to today and this time to the West Coast.

Psychology Professor Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University repeated Milgram's famous experiment after first toning it down to meet ethical constraints. The maximum pretend voltage was reduced to 150. The results were virtually identical. Two-thirds of the volunteers were willing to follow orders and inflict pain on others.

Burger has written an article about his study, which is to be published in the next issue of "American Psychologist."

Ever stick your finger in a light socket? How did it feel? Ready to do it again? Welcome to 120 volts. Want to try for 150?

I've been beating this dead horse for a long, long time. I'm hoping that I may persuade a few folks that:

Such behavior is despicable.

Following orders is no excuse.

A fair number of our leaders and quite a few of the followers seem incapable of comprehending those ethical issues.

I've seen how easy it is to cross the line. It's ugly.

And although the following instances were part of no test, I'll wager that in recent months and years everyone has experienced them at least once. They are simple anecdotes that occur in ordinary conversation.

Someone says, "Did you see those pictures from that prison in Iraq?"

And someone pipes in, "Yeah, and the b-ds deserved it." And two or three others nod their heads in solemn agreement.

There are similar stories coming out about Guantanamo, secret rendition and CIA secret prisons on foreign soil where waterboarding and other evil practices go on and much of the American public says good going.

But let me assure you of one thing, most of the people giving thumbs up to torture are not in military service, nor are they veterans. They know that if your nation's policy is torture, it will definitely be reciprocated should you be captured.

And don't give me that nonsense about they already do it. We should be better than that. Let's improve ethics and morality by starting with ourselves.

Who knows, we might end up with a better world.

This just in: We are finally getting somewhere in Washington. U.S.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.) has asked U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to "hold a hearing on the use of torture and its impact on U.S. moral standing in the world. The last eight years have been a dark chapter for U.S. global leadership and have left a deep stain on our moral authority."

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