No Gun Ri massacre not excusable, inevitable

Elton Wong

Imagine that you are a participant in a psychology experiment. This experiment is designed to test the effects of punishment on learning.

You are the “teacher,” and the “learner” is a pleasant, middle-aged man named Mr. Wallace. Your task is simple: You read a series of word-pairs to Mr. Wallace and then test his memory by asking him a series of multiple-choice questions.

If Mr. Wallace answers the questions correctly, you move on to the next word-pairs. If Mr. Wallace answers incorrectly, you are to administer electric shocks to him through an elaborate machine.

Every time you shock him, the voltage is increased, from an initial 15 volts (labeled “slight shock”) up to 450 (labeled “XXX.”)

When you reach 75 volts, you hear Mr. Wallace grunt in pain. At 120 volts, he shouts.

If you continue the experiment up to 150 volts, Mr. Wallace complains about his heart and shouts, “Experimenter! That’s all. Get me out of here. I refuse to go on!” If you reach 330 volts, Mr. Wallace falls silent and is not heard from again.

When you turn to question the scientist running the experiment, he calmly repeats his commands: “Please continue.” “The experiment requires that you continue.” “You have no other choice; you must go on.”

This experiment was carried out by a psychologist named Stanley Milgram in 1963 at Yale University. His intent was not to study learning, but rather obedience.

The electric shock machine was just a prop, and Mr. Wallace was an actor who never actually experienced any pain. The “teacher” alone believed that the experiment was real.

When Milgram described this experiment to college students, adults and psychiatrists, they predicted that, on average, the “teacher” would stop at about 135 volts, and that no one would go all the way.

In fact, 65 percent of the people who participated in the study went all the way up to 450 volts. This involved giving nine shocks to a totally unresponsive Mr. Wallace.

The percentage held for men as well as women and has been reinforced by thousands of test subjects all over the world.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that American GI’s had killed as many as 300 South Korean civilians at No Gun Ri at the beginning of the Korean War. One American soldier who spoke to the press was Edward Daily, then a 19-year-old corporal who participated in the killing.

Near the village of No Gun Ri, near the border, about 200 confused and panicked refugees — mostly women and children — huddled under a concrete bridge to hide from the North Koreans as well as from the U.S. fighter planes that had begun to raid the area.

Edward Daily and his comrades were ordered to set up machine gun posts on each end of the tunnel to prevent any disguised North Korean soldiers from escaping.

Early the next morning, the company runner arrived with orders to shoot and kill everyone under the bridge.

In the words of Daily, “I again adjusted the dials on my machine gun, lowering the weapon so it would hit the Koreans spread out on the concrete floor and fired for what seemed like 30 minutes.

“Even above the noise of the gun, I could hear the frightful screams of women and children, crying out with pain and fear. Their dying voices echoed out of the tunnels.”

What are we to make of events like these? It would be easy to dismiss Daily and his fellow soldiers as baby killers, cold-blooded and cruel.

This would be simplistic and self-righteous. Daily obeyed.

We cannot say that we would have done differently. We are just lucky that we have never been put to the test.

What are we then to do? Are we to throw up our hands, spout clich‚s about the nature of war and defer to dead political philosophers to justify our moral apathy? No regrets, no apology for the “unfortunate occurrence?”

Such logic is still echoing in the halls at Nuremberg. Hobbes would have accepted Nazi Germany, but we cannot sit idly by and accept atrocity. If there is anything right and true in the world, it is that cutting down women and children huddled under a bridge with machine guns is wrong.

But who is to blame?

The problem with condemning Daily and the 7th cavalry is that it takes responsibility away from those who created the military system, those who fund it, those who accept, rationalize and defend its crimes against humanity and those who bask in freedom it provides without questioning the manner in which it is provided.

It is we who propagated the values and attitudes that made the No Gun Ri massacre possible. It could just as well have been us pulling the trigger. We are responsible, but we can change.

Learning and self-knowledge are the greatest weapons against injustice.

We can learn about psychology to uncover and overcome the weakness of our minds. We can study history to appreciate the consequences of obedience.

There is no reason why No Gun Ri was inevitable, nor is there reason that it need happen again if we develop ourselves in the right way.

This we can do.

This we should do.

This we must do.

Elton Wong is a junior in biology from Ames.