Similarities Between Military Tech School And The Stanford Prison Experiment

Note: I served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000-2007. My AFSC was 3C0X1 (Communications computer systems operator). My highest rank was E-5 (Staff Sergeant), and I received an honorable discharge.

The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted from August 14th to 20th, 1971 by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University. It was funded by a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and was of interest to both the US Navy and Marine Corps in order to determine the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners.

Twenty-four students were selected out of 75 to play the prisoners and live in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Roles were assigned randomly. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond what even Zimbardo himself expected, leading the “officers” to display authoritarian measures and ultimately to subject some of the prisoners to torture. In turn, many of the prisoners developed passive attitudes and accepted physical abuse, and, at the request of the guards, readily inflicted punishment on other prisoners who attempted to stop it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his capacity as “Prison Superintendent,” lost sight of his role as psychologist and permitted the abuse to continue as though it were a real prison. Five of the prisoners were upset enough by the process to quit the experiment early, and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days. The experimental process and the results remain controversial. The entire experiment was filmed, with excerpts made publicly available.”

The Stanford Prison Experiment was shut down because it violated the ethical standards of professional psychology resulting in psychological and physical harm to the subjects in the experiment. However, the exact same scenario has been repeated every day since before the 1970s on every military tech school in America with full immunity from the law and a deliberate disregard for the ethical treatment of humans.

Here’s how tech school works. Once a recruit graduates basic training, they’re sent to a “tech school” to learn the job skill they’ll perform for the rest of their military career. While life in tech school isn’t as rigorous as basic training, it is the last chance for the military to conform its troops’ thoughts and behavior to its standards before releasing them into “the real military” to succeed or fail at supporting real world missions.  So the environment is designed to indoctrinate the students to embrace willful obedience and let go of their pre-military identity.

Troops live in barracks and are granted small freedoms (such as the right to wear civilian clothing and leave the base) in stages to decompress them from the totalitarian internment they experienced in basic training. Troops march to and from classes in uniform and are assigned some additional duties after school. Many aspects of life for the students are highly regulated in ways that serve no functional purpose other than to get them used to following rules without question. You can’t walk on the grass. You have to carry a flashlight at night. Your uniform must be immaculate. Your room must be cleaner than Martha Stewart’s dream home, etc.

So far, the standard operating procedure of military tech school exactly mirrors the standard operating procedures of a cult, because that’s what it’s based on, which is unethical in itself and would be shut down by the government if any other professional organization other than the government attempted to do the exact same thing.

The parallels between the Stanford Prison Experiment are found in the use of student leaders or “ropes.”  The student leaders are responsible for policing their fellow students.  On paper, these duties can be made to sound innocuous and clinical to the point of boredom. In reality, what happens is the student leaders have a tendency to mimic the intensity and righteous fury of the training instructors and drill sergeant they’ve been getting yelled at by for the past 6-9 weeks. The student leaders tend to feel and express genuine disappointment and anger over the smallest infraction regardless of how arbitrary the rule being violated is. They’ll scream at their subordinates for walking on the grass and accuse them in all seriousness, and with no sense of irony, for having no integrity.

This behavior isn’t an anomaly, and it doesn’t happen behind the backs of the senior military leader’s running the school. It’s actively encouraged and built into the tech school’s official operating procedures. In order for a student leader to advance to the highest level of student leadership they must “host” “remedial military training.” When a student has violated enough arbitrary rules they’re assigned a day of remedial military training over the weekend. During that time they’ll be forced to exercise beyond the point of exhaustion and submit themselves to a full day of verbal degradation. The emotional abuse is overseen by senior ranking sergeants, but the details are run by the student leaders.

The military justifies this behavior by saying it’s necessary to instill discipline, but that’s just an Orwellian way to say, “brainwashing.” To be fair, it’s not like they’re taping troops’ eyes open, feeding them gunpowder and forcing them to watch snuff films. However, the end result of the brain washing techniques used in tech school is that the followers of the military cult will someday kill another human being without question.

The “training” methods used by the military are literally in direct violation of professional standards of the ethical treatment of human beings. This exact same behavior has already been shut down by the government in the Stanford Prison Experiment. This isn’t an opinion. This isn’t said out of spite or ridicule. This is a cut and dried fact. If a professional civilian psychologist recreated the exact same environment that exists on military tech schools, much less basic training, their simulation would be shut down by the government for ethics violations. Period.

This raises a very serious point that deserves to be considered seriously and objectively. Soldiers, airmen, seaman and marines are human beings. However, the government has written the Uniform Code of Military Justice to provide a loophole around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and exempt military personnel from the same ethical protection guaranteed to everyone else.

Some say it’s necessary to subject troops to inhumane treatment in order to protect civilians’ rights and freedoms, but that argument is self-defeating. It says we have to strip the rights of one portion of society, legalize their systematic emotional, psychological and physical abuse, and literally enslave them, in order to prevent the rest of society from suffering the exact same fate.

I don’t support the unethical treatment of the human beings we’ve labeled “troops.” I don’t support the fact that they’ve lost their freedom. I don’t support the military caste system.  I don’t support slaves being led to get slaughtered in wars their leaders can’t give proper justifications for. I don’t support the UCMJ that allows all of this to happen.

I do support ending the UCMJ. I support freeing the human beings we call troops. I support equal rights for all people, even those who have been coerced and misled into signing away their rights “voluntarily.” And I don’t believe the only way we can achieve peace and harmony on earth is to enslave one portion of society, strip them of their identity and reprogram them into unthinking killers. I believe the standard operating procedures of the United States military are in direct conflict with creating a peaceful and harmonious world. I believe that if you truly “support the troops” then you cannot support the UCMJ that allows the unethical treatment of your fellow human beings, especially those you claim to support and call heroes.

 

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