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educate P.O.W.s

dampen the fundamentalism with philosophy
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(+2, -11)
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Near the end of the Gulf War in 1990, the allies were holding a large number of Iraqis prisoner. And no one seemed to know what to do with them. After a few weeks in which the prisoners were left to themselves, they were released to go back to Iraq. (At least, I'm pretty sure that's what happened.) Golden opportunity missed, there. Shortly after, I had this idea.

There ought to be some kind of education program for these woefully ill-educated, uninformed, and thoroughly brainwashed pawns of tinpot dictators. After WWII, the Soviet Union tried to "re-educate" the peoples of eastern Europe, but I am not talking about stuffing propaganda down the prisoner's throats. Teach them some reasoning skills so they can better see for themselves how poor their lives are, and how they might do better.

It's clear no home-bound Iraqi or Taliban flunky has any real idea what the West is actually like. Not even their leaders, who one might expect to be a little more intelligent and educated, really get it. Nor did the Soviets. During the Cold War, the Soviets would often make statements indicating they at least half-heartedly believed democracy was a sham and elections were just for show. For many of them, the idea that democracy actually worked was too absurd to be given serious consideration. And acts of openess and generosity on the West's part continually baffled them. When these acts lead to public support, it seems to them the work of the diabolic genius of secret western autocrats, who, apart from "lucky" breaks and astonishingly successful manipulations of public opinion, were just like them. 2 examples are the Marshall program and the Apollo missions. The first reaction of the Soviets to the idea they might do something like the Marshall program was not just no, but h*** no. No way were they going to pay out good money to fix up other nations, especially aggressors. Instead, the Soviets plundered and squeezed everything they could, partly as punishment, and partly for their own rebuilding and consumption. The Apollo missions were largely run in the public eye. When America screwed up and astronauts died, the world heard the news. In contrast, the Soviets kept everything mum until a success. If instead there was failure and tragedy, no one ever heard a thing. So there is much to be learned, I would say.

A little education (it can't be much in a few weeks) may enlighten some very dark minds. I cannot see any Geneva Convention believers having a problem with that. The suspicious and cynical among them are welcome to join the classes to assure themselves the prisoners really are being educated, not indoctrinated.

ThotMouser, May 18 2002

That's not why 'so many people . . . hate America.' http://www.weeklyst...00/001/102gwtnf.asp
[mrthingy, May 18 2002]

decline and fall of the american empire http://free.freespe...clineFallAmEmp.html
by gore vidal [mihali, May 19 2002]

I said "effective" cures, UnaBubba. http://www.washingt...01/0204.mooney.html
check it out, beauxeault [mrthingy, May 20 2002]

Prison Occupational Consent Decree http://www.halfbake...m/idea/Prison_20OCD
"You're P.O.'D? Let's get to work!" [reensure, May 20 2002]

Why hate? http://www.mwarrior.../WhyhateAmerica.htm
[mrthingy, May 20 2002]


       How are you going to force prisoners of war to take part without breaching the Geneva Convention? And how are they to tell the difference between pro-Western propaganda (routinely delivered as part of a war e.g. by leaflet drops) and dispassionate education materials?   

       Also, have you not considered the possibility that attacking the US may be rational or justified for some people, especially if their country is currently at war with the USA? The USA frequently attacks democracies or countries where the government has considerable public support. Most Americans believe they should support their country right or wrong in time of war, so why shouldn't people of other countries be entitled to the same belief? And by the same token, should American soldiers or citizens not be given a dispassionate account of their country's failings?
pottedstu, May 18 2002

       And if they've been as thoroughly brainwashed as you suggest, won't the POWs reject these 'friendly' attempts at re-education as brainwashing?   

       //It's clear no home-bound Iraqi or Taliban has any real idea what the West is like.   

       The very same thing could be said of Americans with regard to (just about) any other country in the world. Would you have backed VC re-education of captured American soldiers during Vietnam?
calum, May 18 2002

       <MT>Well, she certainly was a curious one, was Morgan le Fay. I have seen a good many kinds of women in my time, but she laid over them all for variety. And how sharply characteristic of her this episode was. She had no more idea than a horse of how to educate a bunch of POWs; but being in doubt, it was just like her to try to do it with an axe. </MT>
neelandan, May 18 2002

       The Soviets first published this exact same idea in 1953.
thumbwax, May 18 2002

       >The very same thing could be said of Americans with regard to (just about) any other country in the world. Would you have backed VC re-education of captured American soldiers during Vietnam?< This implies that the American soldiers had never been exposed to alternate views, to criticisms of their government and way of life, which is absurd. And those here suggesting that introducing the victims of Soviet and Taliban-style fundamentalism to reasoning skills is somehow morally equal to the censorious practices of those regimes are merely demonstrating their ignorance.   

       And, Unabubba, what are some effective Folk and/or Eastern medical cures that have been rejected by Western medicine?
mrthingy, May 18 2002

       Well put [calum], [pottedstu] & [UnaBubba]. This idea is so bad I don't know where to start...but as [thumbwax] points out, it was baked by the Stalinist USSR. [marked-for-deletion]
mcscotland, May 18 2002

       Without, at least, a bit of the specific curriculum [ThotMouser] thinks should be taught, this idea seems too vague to me to be debatable. "Educate" covers a lot of ground.
bristolz, May 18 2002

       mcscotland: I'd like to see a citation, please, proving that the USSR ever taught it's POWs reasoning skills. Are you really unable to distinguish between teaching disenfranchised fundamentalists the basics of empiricism and the techniques of Maoist/Soviet/Taliban-type brainwashing?
mrthingy, May 18 2002

       What has Mao got to do with the USSR [mrthingy]?

"reasoning skills" are subjective in everything except pure science. How can I reason my way round a political system? Any such system has to be based initially on a belief. If that belief is different from that of the USA that does not make it irrational (unless you can prove *for certain* that the USA have got it right). It just means a social order is defined with reference to a different piece of paper than the USA. As for the USSR, their (very well documented) attempts at re-education of Fascist Italian POWs and Nazi German ones were based on "reason", as understood in Stalinist doctrine. Is this any different than [ThotMouser]'s desire that this happen based on the doctrine of the USA?
mcscotland, May 18 2002

       mcscotland: Societies such as China, the Soviet Union, and Islamic fundamentalists have always misunderstood the success of Western Civilization, assuming it to be the result of oppression and priviledge. What they've usually failed to understand is that the west's success is due in larger part to things like individual rights, separation of church and state, the open exchange of ideas, a reliance on empiricism, and a capitalist structure that rewards merit. >(unless you can prove *for certain* that the USA have got it right)< Substitute "Western Civilization" for "USA" and I think we've got a pretty good case. No other culture in history has been so successful while at the same time continuing to expand individual rights. No other culture has given so much to the human race. That doesn't mean I think this idea is so great, but to equate it with Stalinist tactics is silly.
mrthingy, May 18 2002

       //>The very same thing could be said of Americans with regard to (just about) any other country in the world. Would you have backed VC re-education of captured American soldiers during Vietnam?< This implies that the American soldiers had never been exposed to alternate views, to criticisms of their government and way of life, which is absurd. //   

       Remember, having the opportunity to be exposed to other viewpoints is absolutely not the same thing as ever hearing them, let alone paying the slightest bit of attention to them. To assume that the average US serviceman in Vietnam had an appreciable grasp of the political and cultural differences between their nation and the nation they were 'policing' shows a total disregard for the purpose of soldiers. "Ours is not to reason why" and all that.   

       //...the west's success is due in larger part to things like individual rights, separation of church and state, the open exchange of ideas, a reliance on empiricism, and a capitalist structure that rewards merit.//   

       That is (arguably) true but ignores the crucial fact that West's success is due in large part to the Industrial Revolution and the Empire building that preceded it. The West is powerful through political happenstance as much as anything else and is foolish if it loses sight of this fact.
calum, May 19 2002

       or, to put it another way:   

       "he who has steel has bread." - benito mussolini   

       "power comes from the barrel of a gun." - mao tse tsung   

       see link.
mihali, May 19 2002

       I remember a documentary about why Europe - a plague-ridden warzone - rose above China - a powerful, united, culturally developed nation. The basic reasons were clocks and glass. Clocks are crucial to navigation and exploration (followed by empire-building) and without glass science and chemistry in particular would be nearly impossible. The chinese were shown these things by european traders and explorers but werent interested because they already had a system of regular gongs in cities and fine porcelain.   

       My personal view as to why America became so powerful was because you were virtually given a continent with untapped natural resources but didnt have to waste them developing your civilisation. Another advantage was the isolation from Europe - free to use technology developed in the World Wars and sell to countries devastated by the war afterwards without risk of damage to the population or industry.   

       incidentally [thotmouser] the USSR tried to answer the Marshall plan with a scheme called COMECON but ran out of money themselves
chud, May 19 2002

       UB, I agree with you about the xenophobia of western medicine. While I think it's irresponsible to promote the use of scientifically proven folk remedies, I think it's equally irresponsible for the western medical community to stonewall against the chance to scientifically test some of these things. Many doctors and professors seem almost to be afraid that some of the folk remedies will be validated (which I expect they will). And I agree that the ascendency of the U.S. is almost certain to reach its own dusk.   

       I also agree that the proposed idea would be difficult to distinguish from indoctrination.   

       But UnaBubba ["How can you possibly have an objective view of Communism, or Afghanistan, or any of a number of other issues mentioned in your "idea"? You are a citizen of one of the protagonists."] and Calum ["The very same thing could be said of Americans with regard to (just about) any other country in the world"], can we at least be more careful about over-generalizing? After all, UB, you are a citizen of a nation that is generally friendly with the U.S., but somehow you have managed to develop an "objective" view, or at least one that doesn't slavishly follow your own nation's official line. People everywhere (even Afghanistan, Iraq, and, amazing as it seems, the U.S.!) are capable of objectivity. But no one's objectivity is perfect. And while some in the world rationally conclude, with a good degree of objectivity, that the U.S. should be opposed in certain areas, and many Americans are indeed foolish to ignore the rationality of these views, it is also the case that many decisions for which the U.S. is criticized are made with a degree of rationality and objectivity that is ignored by those who are offended by the decisions. It's easier to rail against ignorance than to consider the other side's legitimate viewpoint, *regardless* of which side you're on. I'm not accusing any halfbaker of this; I'm merely pleading for peace.   

       Related to this, I wonder (I honestly do wonder; I'm not trying to persuade here) if any other culture in the position in which the U.S. finds itself wouldn't inspire similar invective. And I wonder whether the degree of disappointment with which some view the U.S. is not fundamentally disappointment with simple human shortcomings with which we all struggle. I mean, what a great opportunity so dominant a culture has to do so many good things in the world, and how sad it is that that potential is so seldom realized. But how many of us, individually, are able to live up to our own potential, even without equivalent temptations of wealth and power?
beauxeault, May 19 2002

       "...I wonder...if any other culture...wouldn't inspire similar invective."
I think it would and probably has.

       "...what a great opportunity so dominant a culture has to do so many good things in the world, and how sad it is that that potential is so seldom realized."
Indeed. Then the questions become who, what, where, when, how, etc. After all, you don't even need to step outside the HB to see that many (American) actions have an equal and opposite reaction.
phoenix, May 19 2002

       Could somebody please state an objective view of anything for me?   

       A view requires a vantage point, regardless of how detached one may feel from the subject of observation. That's how it seems to me, at any rate.   

       [note: that's not to say nobody should even try to think more objectively]
-alx, May 19 2002

       // Could somebody please state an objective view of anything for me?

That's absolutely impossible. We can only approach objectivity, never actually reach it.
mcscotland, May 20 2002

       Anyone interested in the reasons for Western dominance over the world should read Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which describes a number of factors in a detailed yet readable fashion. These include the crops (wheat is very high-protein compared to rice or maize) and wide range of domestic animals available to Europeans, and the consequent animal diseases which we became immune to but which decimated the native American population. Also there are many geographical factors from climate to the mountainous character of Europe which led to the development of a multitude of competitive nations. Plus historical accidents like Japan deciding on isolationism in the 17th century at a time when it had the most advanced firearms in the world.
pottedstu, May 20 2002

       Actually, beauxeault, the U.S. government has spent millions of dollars on studies of alternative medicine techniques, none of which showed any of the them to be effective.
mrthingy, May 20 2002

       <off-topic>Oh I don't know [mrthingy]. At the NHS hospital in Glasgow where my brother works there is a very successful (and hugely oversubscribed) homeopathic clinic, which offers many non-Western treatments. It is particularly useful, he says, for complaints that are not responding to traditional drug-based treatments (Psoriasis, exema, ME, depression, bronchial disorders, stress etc.) Don't be too quick to dismiss them.</off-topic>
mcscotland, May 20 2002

       Anecdotal. I'm totally open to any treatments proven effective in empirical clinical trials.
mrthingy, May 20 2002

       Ehm...a functioning, government funded NHS clinic is not exactly anecdotal. NHS funding is not handed out without a very strong clinical case.
mcscotland, May 20 2002

       But deadmouse, aren't there enough educated folk out here that can function without consensus?
reensure, May 20 2002

       I'm aware that some alternative methods have been tested and proven ineffectual or even dangerous, and I'm happy to see them burned on the scrapheap of history. But most of the official reactions to alternative medicine that I read or hear seem to be along the lines of "that's just silly superstition and there's no reason to countenance it," rather than "yeah, we checked it out, and it stinks." So my perception is simply a personal reaction based on my own observations.   

       I'm not one for conspiracy theories, so if my perceptions are wrong and alternative medicines have been widely tested, then that's good news to me. But it is news to me.
beauxeault, May 20 2002

       POWs: Interrogate, educate (double-agent) and/or, depending on the results and the publicity level, eliminate.   

       Whether you like it or not, it's what happens.
dag, May 20 2002

       Dentistry also had to clean up its act.   

       It's always terribly easy to whine and complain about what a poor job the current leader is doing, be they a country or a CEO. It's even easier for the gifted among us, since the popular average rules the culture. But complaining from the rear is nothing like blazing the trail.   

       Sure there's an arrogance here in the west. In a weird sort of way, it's exactly what pushes us forward. And there is another kind of arrogance in the east. There have been enough wars and conquerings in this world for every culture in existence that to a large extent, only the arrogant are still around.   

       Thot, in order to break the chokehold on those dark minds, oddly you have to engage in some of the same techniques that those brainwashers used, but in a good way. At least at the start. You present the discrepancy to their faces, again and again. There's nothing inherently good or bad about taking advantage of how our minds learn; it's the goal that defines the ethic here, unless someone can come up with a friendlier way to talk sense into senseless people.   

       Perhaps the role of world leadership is too much for any one nation to take for much longer than one or two generations. After the US ages, I'm sure the torch will be passed again to some young upstart.   

       There is some truth to the Soviet view of America. We do have our classes and subclasses as much as the next culture; there is the tendency in politics to keep everything mum until it's successful, and effectively, some elections _are_ just for show. Currently in America, we have the choice of voting for either Tweedle-Dee, the old money backed rich energy/manufacturing Republicans or Tweedle-Dum, the new money backed rich software/tech Democrats. But essentially for both parties, it's about power and money and keeping as much of both as possible.
RayfordSteele, May 20 2002

       I think it would be nicer if we could somehow reverse engineer and de-educate said POW's. We could then make them no longer able to remember how to load their silly little guns   

goatfaceKilla, May 21 2002

       Yes, [Goat...] your de-educate idea is WIBNI. But I like it best.
bristolz, May 21 2002

       mr t: Thanks for all three links, but *especially* the third one!   

       re: indoctrination/re-education of captives. Is there any evidence in history that any of this has *ever* been effective? If not, why is it done?   

       re: forcing one culture upon another. There's the problem of culture A thinking everything would be better if cultures B-Z would be more like culture A. But I think there's also a problem in the degree to which cultures B-Z actually rush to abandon their own cultures for culture A. There's perhaps less violence and oppression in this phenomenon, but it seems much more rampant to me, and I perceive less widespread recognition of what the world loses when it happens. Of course, some of it is inevitable as we become a more global community, which in my mind is a good thing. I just think there's an awful lot being done without counting the cost.
beauxeault, May 21 2002

       Whoa, lot of commentary to answer. No doubt I'll miss something. Thanks for the links, mrthingy.   

       First, there is Truth. (Stalin didn't believe in truth.) Objectivity really exists. There is a difference between "education" and "indoctrination". The sort of education I had in mind is, first of all, totally voluntary. Prisoners may sit in their cells and receive the exact same treatment as any other prisoners in times past (and current) who did not have an option to go to school. So just forget those notions of forcing culture on the unwilling.   

       Those who hold to a vague sense that wishing to teach people is only another manifestation of arrogance and is merely a way for the US (or any self-styled teacher) to show off its superiority are actually saying that they have much to learn, or perhaps much incorrect thinking to unlearn. A desire to teach, to pass on wisdom gained in perhaps a very painful and bloody way, so that others may be spared, is not an implicit declaration of superior intellect, an assertion that students have nothing worhtwhile to contribute, or that the desire springs from a feeling of knowing it all. Good teachers know they have much to learn, and always will. If nothing else, will the doubters at least consider the enlightened self-interest in the desire to not be caught in the crossfire of those who could not think of any other way to deal with their problems, perhaps because they were less fortunate in their educational opportunities, by attempting to remedy that lacks? And that America believes in education as an objective, rational approach to knowledge and the improvement of self and the human condition, not as a tool of indoctrination, though recognizing that the imparting of knowledge and fact (or disinformation) is often so used.   

       So, the subjects: The most objective and least controversial is science. I confess to a little nervousness about giving those who would hang you rope they need to do it. I am aware there are "flat-earthers" out there who instantly slam their minds shut at the first mention of that much malinged word "science", despite their hypocritical use of the fruits of same. Possibly the purest science would be math. Another subject offered would be English. It could be Arabic or whatever, tho English would certainly be easiest for America to provide. Copies of the US Constitution and other such documents would definitely be available, but no one would be forced to read them. I suspect many of the POWs are illiterate. One of the more controversial subjects would, naturally, be history. (I have read Guns Germs, and Steel. Excellent book.) History can be taught in an objective fashion.   

       And then, one could try tailor made education. For example, if it seems that the root of the violence is grinding poverty caused by agricultural failures, teach some farming techniques, subject of course to what the students already know and what is suitable for wherever they're from. Possibly they already know all that better than America, and there'd be nothing to teach and much for America to learn. Or, the deficiency is more of an organizational problem (good crops rotting in fields for lack of equipment or transport, for example) or political. Or maybe the crop "failures" are the result of too many people living on the ragged edge so that any slight and prefectly routine and natural misfortune gets called a "failure" and causes mass starvation. In that case, some family planning may be in order. (I'm not talking anything specific, such as abortion. How about simple abstinence? Condoms? The pill? The rhythm method? Whatever the method, it's the concept. When I read about a widow and her starving children stuck in an Afghan refugee camp and learned she has not just 2 or 3, but 8 children... surely she was not such a fool as to want to have so many children in such uncertain times, that is, long before she ended up stuck in a camp? Likely her dead husband called all the shots and she had no choice. Also likely she was completely uninformed and purposely kept in the dark.) The problem with that is POWs are almost exclusively male, and family planning must reach the women to be effective. Problematical, but how about trying to teach the men a little more respect for women?   

       Anyway, the sort of education offered could be much like that of the average American high school.   

       Mao, the onetime Communist leader of China, had quite a lot to do with the USSR. They were ideological bedfellows at first. In fact, before their relationship soured, China was often complaining that their good friend, the USSR, was being too soft with the capitalistic Americans. I am wondering why mcscotland is so down on this idea, enough so as to slap it with a MFD.   

       // so bad I don't know where to start //   

       As if it should be obvious to all why it is so bad. Well, it is not clear to me, please try to explain.   

       Calum, I beg to differ on Americans not knowing what other parts of the world are like. Do you forget that a fair number of Americans were once citizens of these countries? And that they have lobbies that help Congress formulate policy for those parts of the world that concern them? I cite the Cubans of the Miami area as an example. Sadly, these Cubans do not wish America to soften its policy, and so the embargo remains. If all America cared about was money, that embargo would be so gone. Many of us (those of us too young to remember the Cuban missile crisis anyway), when we are paying attention, are of other mind, but lacking strong opinions, let the Cuban exiles have their way. I am quite glad to hear opinions and recommendations from those who have firsthand knowledge. At times, I can see America as a very powerful tool that will injure if foreigners apply it improperly and recklessly. 9/11 can be seen as an abuse of America in that fashion. If all had gone as these terrorists hoped when they pushed the button that fired up the engine, the American buzzsaw would have promptly swung into the world tree (nuke the bastards, etc) and shattered on the metal spike of Islamic fundamentalism. In other words, an American overreaction would be just the thing to galvanize the Islamic world to their side at which point they feel their eventual victory would be assured. (They don't appear to have considered that the whole Islamic world, if it could be united at all, might well lose such a fight. Anyway, it's a moot point. Didn't happen. Not gonna. Wouldn't be prudent.) Most groups lobby rather than resort to the barbaric methods employed on 9/11. So, in that sense, not only was America the victim, America wasn't even the primary object of the attack. America was used. Crazy statements saying that America staged the whole affair and blew up the WTC and Pentagon themselves only shouts to any perceptive enough to hear that clubbing their own people with America to whip them into line is what these convoluted weirdos mostly wanted to do. They are the ones who'd blow up whatever equivalent of the WTC they have (can't quite see them willing to bomb Mecca tho, but maybe they are that crazy) if they could convincingly frame a handy foreigner (America) and thereby gain followers-- to be used primarily against their internal enemies, and not America.   

       // The USA frequently attacks democracies or countries where the government has considerable public support. //   

       Examples, please, pottedstu? Vietnam? No, not true. South Vietnam did not want to be forced into communism by the north. Grenada? Wasn't a democracy, didn't have popular support. Haiti? Same story, and even more so on the lack of popular support. We are not aggressors, but when a country gets so bad that half the population hops on boats and leaves (not necessarily with America as a destination) should others just sit by? Pretty shakey and doubtful democracy now, too, but Haitians are not currently voting with their feet against their government, so what is America to do, if anything? How about North Korea? Really, removal of the current government (possibly with an invasion as no other means appears to have a chance of working swiftly) would be to everyone's benefit, but China in particular would get very bent out of shape for the obvious reason that if America did that to Korea, maybe they would think about doing the same to China. Phillipines? They had a vote on whether they wanted America to stay. They voted "Yankee go home" and America did, and gladly.   

       "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime."   

       // the purpose of soldiers. "Ours is not to reason why" // That is so unbelievably not the American, and by extention the American military, way. I'll quote Patton on that one: "I don't want to die for my country. I want the other son of a bitch to die for his country." America wants soldiers to use their brains and initiative. Some of the rest of the world keeps hoping America will suddenly get stupid. They are just going to have to keep on being disappointed.   

       If Vietnam had tried to educate captured Americans, more power to them. I'm all for it. If they were intent on an honest education, great. If instead, they just brainwash and indoctrinate (but not to the point of using torture) let them. I'm sure it wouldn't have worked. But to suggest that North Vietnam would have tried such a thing is patently ridiculous. They simply couldn't do it, never mind whether they would have thought of the idea or wanted to do it if they had. "Bridge Over the River Kwai" is a nice example of who had things to teach and who to learn.
ThotMouser, May 26 2002

       Ah. Some of the specificity I was looking for.
bristolz, May 26 2002

       " Really, removal of the current government (possibly with an invasion as no other means appears to have a chance of working swiftly) would be to everyone's benefit, "


       It is not one country's - or a coalition of countries - remit to police the World, and decide whether a government should be 'removed', whether it be for 'everyone's benefit' - although really to Capitialist Democracies' benefit- or not.
ChewTheBeef, Oct 11 2002


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