The Society for the
Psychological
Study of Social Issues

    

American Indifference to Atrocities on Our Side


Author: SPSSI Council; Source: Excerpt from Newsletter, Apri11966

Context: Statement was released to the press on March 28, 1966. A cover letter was attached signed by the president of SPSSI pointing out that the statement "represents the views of the Council of SPSSI — not the Society as a whole, nor the membership of the Society. Nothing is implied about agreement of the membership with the views expressed in this release. Note: This is the first instance of release of a statement that makes the distinction between the Council and membership.

Position Statement: “The American people's feeling of sympathy for the victims of Viet Cong atrocities is natural and human. It is also one sided. A question that concerns us as psychologists is: why have so many Americans been complacently unaware of the atrocities on our side of the conflict—or if they have been to some extent aware, why have they been only mildly disturbed? Why are they not appalled by the torturing- of prisoners and of prisoners' families that has been widely practiced by our South Vietnamese allies? And by our own use of that hideous weapon, napalm?...

Competent observers have described in detail the water torture, the electric...current torture, and other inquisitorial techniques that the South Vietnamese troops have frequently used in attempting to get information from prisoners and their families ...The psychological mystery of America's indifference is only deepened by the fact that our own military men have taken the position that, on balance, torture serves no military purpose. Bernard Fall, a first...rank authority on Vietnam, was amazed by our own troops' ignorance of their obligations under the Geneva conventions on the humane treatment of prisoners, and, partly as a result of Fall's efforts, on official statement opposing torture and stressing its -counter-productive character has now been distributed to our troops...

The psychological problem of our unawareness and indifference is also highlighted by the fact that the people of other countries are more aware of these cruelties than we are. It is significant that the description of napalm-burns quoted above [see article for napalm description] appeared in the London-Sun-rather than in an American paper. Just as non-Germans were more familiar with the Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers than the German people were, so non-Americans are probably more familiar with American napalm and South Vietnamese torture than Americans are...

One is that there appears to be- a kind of voluntary self-censorship by most of the American correspondents in Saigon; they apparently believe that patriotism requires them to set a limit to their reporting facts that might seem to cast discredit on our side of the conflict...A more important reason for the special unawareness in American minds, is our strong emotional resistance to full perception of facts that are profoundly contradictory to our conception of what America stands for...

No doubt the ordinary American citizen, vaguely and fragmentarily aware of the cruelties on our side, defends himself by making the vague assumption that if cruelties occur they must be necessary. The psychologically spectacular fact is that he has not had enough of the milk of human kindness—yet—to check on this assumption and try to find out whether it is actually true. According to authorities such Fall and Eden, it very often is not.

 


Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin