Diffusion of Responsibility

Ever hear that popular psychological tale of the person who falls down on the sidewalk, and none of the 50+ people around bend down to pick that person up? The reason no one acts is because they are all thinking at the same time, “There are plenty of people here, and someone will help that person.” But if all 50 people think that, then no one does anything. This is called diffusion of responsibility.

Let us discuss war, because collateral damage seems to be the best example of diffusion of responsibility. The United States government likes to say that innocent deaths in war are to be expected, can’t be prevented, and should be named collateral damage. Like, oops, we killed people! There is no such thing as oops when someone is killed because of war. War is mass murder. To prevent the entire United States army from being tried for murder, collateral damage was invented. In other words, thousands of soldiers, government officials, have diffused their responsibility for the murders they committed.

I recently watched a George Carlin special on Netflix called “Doing it Again.” In it, Carlin references post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Pre-Vietnam war, PTSD was called “shellshock”. As Carlin argues, shellshock is a straight forward term which describes the pain and suffering soldiers feel after going through war. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a soft, non-descriptive term which makes it seem like shellshock is not that big of a deal. Vietnam war veterans came home as drunks, wife beaters, and insane. They had watched children explode in front of them because the little ones had bombs hidden under their clothes. American soldiers brutally raped numerous Vietnamese women. Vietnamese soldiers would steal and decapitate war-dogs to prevent them from sniffing out mines. The sickest part is they would give the decapitated dogs back to the American soldiers. Our media, our government, they don’t openly talk about these things. They don’t show the pictures and videos of people after war. If they did, how many people would actually go into the army? If the knowledge of what happens during war is enough to shellshock someone, imagine what it is like after being in a war. Once again, by avoiding the term shellshock, they have diffused their responsibility.

When I went to Washington D.C. two years ago, I had to visit the Air and Space Museum. It was my favorite of all of the museums I toured. I have always adored planes, rockets, space shuttles, mainly for the way they are built. It fascinates me, because I understand how they work. Many people ask me why I haven’t gone into the Air Force. My answer is always that I don’t want to kill people. That is usually countered with “but you can just build missiles”. True, I could study physics and engineering, and build missiles. But my intelligence was not given to me by nature so I could murder people. If I make a weapon, I might as well learn to fly the plane which can fire it. To say that I made it, but didn’t fire it, is an insult to human life. I’m better than that.


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