1984, Star Trek, and the Psychology of Torture

This sounds like a cheery subject, doesn’t it?

As I mentioned in my mini-review of 1984, about two-thirds of the book did very little for me. In the third part of the book, however, when Winston was arrested and tortured to become indoctrinated to the ways of the Party, I was much more intrigued. And what especially intrigued me was there were some similarities to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation I remembered in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard was being tortured and interrogated by a Cardassian. In case you’re wondering what a Cardassian is…

Just so we’re clear…

The Number Four

I think you’ll soon see the similarities as well. Here’s a conversation from the Star Trek episode Chain of Command, Part II:

“How many lights do you see there?”
“I see four lights.”
“No, there are five.”
“I see four lights.”

And from 1984:

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back toward Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.
“How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?”
“Four.”
“And if the Party says that there is not four but five – then how many?”
“Four.”

Madred,_four_lights

But of course, it doesn’t stop there for either Picard or Winston. And just so you can understand the full context of these conversations, both men are starved, naked or near naked, have been beaten or degraded, and both experience pain when they give the “incorrect” answer…

“I know nothing about Minos Korva.”
“But I’ve told you that I believe you. I didn’t ask you about Minos Korva. I asked how many lights you see.”
“There are four lights.”
“I don’t understand how you can be so mistaken.”

“Four.”
The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.
“How many fingers, Winston?”
“Four.”
The needle went up to sixty.
“How many fingers, Winston?”
“Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!”

The Psychology of an Interrogation

In the 21 hours of psychology classes I took in college, I learned a few things about how we as people are influenced, for better or for worse. When it comes to this sort of situation, where someone is trying to bring something out of a person who may be very strong and unwilling to provide such information, certain tactics are used. The idea is to transform you from who you are to someone else.

The Stanford prison experiment was a study conducted by Phillip Zimbardo that took place in 1971, where the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or a prison guard proved shocking to all involved. In this experiment, normal college students who volunteered to take part in the study for some money were assigned to either be a prisoner or a prison guard, and to play out their roles in a “jail” that was at Stanford University. Just how quickly the students truly seemed to transform into their roles prisoners and prison guards, and how Zimbardo even got sucked into it himself, was shocking to me personally as a college student when I studied the incident.

Just by playing the role of a prison guard, college students grew power-hungry and beat the prisoners. Just by playing the role of a prisoner, college students grew depressed and rebellious. Things got so bad so quickly that the experiment had to be cut short… after only five days. Tactics that were used included: shock (prisoners were blindfolded and taken to their cells), humiliation (prisoners were stripped naked), and a transfer of identity (they wore prisoner uniforms, shackles on their feet, they were assigned a prisoner number, and their heads were shaved). Some of these elements can be seen in 1984 and Chain of Command. In the latter, Picard is stripped naked and is left suspended by his wrists. He is told:

“From this point on, you will enjoy no privilege of rank, no privileges of person. From now on, I will refer to you only as Human. You have no other identity!”

I saw this pattern when reading Unbroken as well, the true story of a WWII pilot who was taken to several Japanese POW camps. Prisoners were degraded from human to less-than-human, to the status of an animal or even worse. The Japanese culture is high on honor, and to lose one’s honor and dignity is the greatest insult, and that is what they did to their enemies during the war. Laura Hillenbrand wrote:

The Pacific POWs who went home in 1945 were torn-down men. They had an intimate understanding of man’s vast capacity to experience suffering, as well as his equally vast capacity, and hungry willingness, to inflict it. They carried unspeakable memories of torture and humiliation, and an acute sense of vulnerability that attended to knowledge of how readily they could be disarmed and dehumanized. Many felt lonely and isolated, having endured abuses that ordinary people couldn’t understand. Their dignity had been obliterated, replaced with a pervasive sense of shame and worthlessness.

A True Change in Nature

Captain Picard is offered the chance to go… but is told if he does so, his chief medical officer Beverly Crusher will be interrogated. Picard cares for Beverly very much and refuses to let this happen, so he stays. Winston does not immediately say anything to betray his lover Julia, but when he is about to be inflicted with the worst torture he can imagine, he exclaims:

“Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her! Tear her face off, strip her to the bones! Not me! Julia! Not me!”

This is what we are led to believe is the end of Winston’s indoctrination, at least until the very end of the book, which I won’t give away. But his ending is not happy. In fact, at one point after he is released, he finds himself writing:

2 + 2 = 5

…one of the things that his interrogator was trying to tell him was true if the party said so. Picard, on the other hand, as he is being released from his interrogation (as his ship the Enterprise has come to save the day) he shouts out in defiance to his interrogator:

“There… are… FOUR LIGHTS!”

Though Picard’s ending is happier, and I do believe in the end he was a much more noble man, the two are not as different as it might seem. Winston had this experience:

“Just now I held up the fingers of my hand to you. You saw five fingers. Do you remember that?”
“Yes.”
O’Brien held up the fingers of his left hand, with the thumb concealed.
“There are five fingers there. Do you see five fingers?”
“Yes.”
And he did see them, for a fleeting instant, before the scenery of his mind changed. He saw five fingers, and there was no deformity.

And at the end of Chain of Command, Picard has this conversation with the Enterprise’s counselor:

“What I didn’t put in the report was that at the end he gave me a choice – between a life of comfort or more torture. All I had to do was to say that I could see five lights when, in fact, there were only four.”
“You didn’t say it?”
“No! No. But I was going to. I would have told him anything. Anything at all! But more than that, I believed that I could see five lights.”

It Doesn’t Just Happen in Fiction

It’s easy to chalk all this up to these stories being fictional, that this would not happen in real life. But the Stanford prison experiment suggests otherwise. The identity of those college students were truly lost in five days’ time. It’s been seen elsewhere as well. Patty Hearst, daughter of publishing giant William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by a guerrilla group and ended up aiding them in theft, not seemingly out of fear of what they would do to her otherwise, but from a conversion to their side. Afterwards she seemed to have a change of heart again and was fully pardoned by President Clinton.

Here’s a brief interview with one of the students involved with the Stanford prison experiment:

Needless to say, I think both 1984 and this particular episode of Star Trek did a great job of portraying how convicted men can become desperate, and how a good interrogator wears them down. It’s not fun to think about but I do find it fascinating. And it again, it makes me think of Unbroken, particularly the title. Louis Zamperini was broken, not just once but many times. But after a time, after it was all over, he was able to overcome the torture and heartache he went through, able to forgive a particular Japanese commander he had hated and had wanted to kill. From Unbroken:

On an October afternoon, Louie stepped out of an army car and stood on the lawn at 2028 Gramercy Avenue, looking at his parents’ house for the first time in more than three years. “This little home,” he said, “was worth all of it.”

To ease the load of this post a bit, here’s a cute picture of hugging kitties:

I have no idea what question to ask, but I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the subject! I’m also curious as to how you feel about more posts where I incorporate Star Trek and/or psychology into a discussion about a book. 

My Top 10 Books I Have Read So Far This Year

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) is the Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far In 2013. Well, I’m an extremely lightweight book blogger, so I have read exactly 10 books so far this year (if you don’t count a couple of really short companion e-books). Though this isn’t much for some, this is actually pretty big for me as it means I am on par with my goal of reading at least 20 books this year (though I would love to pick up the pace and read a few more!), which will put me at reading more books this year than I have in a single year since… before high school. So there you have it.

Since I have read only 10 books this year, I thought I would rank each book from least favorite (which thankfully I still didn’t hate) to most favorite, and why I ranked them accordingly.

TTT

10. Reached by Allie Condie (2 Stars)

This book, as the end of a series, was fairly disappointing. The beginning of the book showed potential, with a plague outbreak caused by the Rising, who we had believed were supposed to be the good guys, but then it went downhill. For starters, since this was the first book of this trilogy I had read since reading The Giver, I suddenly realized that the Society in this series was a little too similar to that of The Giver. Also, I thought most of the characters felt out of place. I don’t want to re-review the book; you can see my thoughts on it by clicking on the the book title.

9. Across the Universe by Beth Revis (3 Stars)

I loved the concept of this one… a girl who is cryogenically frozen wakes too early on a spaceship still years from its destination. The execution of it… was just OK for me. It featured a really creepy mating season among humans on the ship, a lackluster romance, but some interesting twists. I plan to finish the series one day as I’ve heard it gets better, but let’s just say I wasn’t rushing to buy the second book after finishing this one.

8. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (3 Stars)

The Last Battle turned out to be neither my favorite nor least favorite in The Chronicles of Narnia, with a story that was part boring, part interesting, but wrapped up with a beautiful ending.

7. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (? Stars) 

I still haven’t figured out how to rate Till We Have Faces, because it left me with more questions than answers. Maybe it’s not a bad thing, as I know C.S. Lewis was much smarter than I am, but it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. Still, there was a certain captivating quality to it. Watch for my review to come soon.

7-10

6. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (4 Stars)

This follow-up for Cinder did not do as much for me as the first book of The Lunar Chronicles, but I still found it enjoyable overall. I do love the characters and world Meyer has created, and I am looking forward to Cress!

5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (4 Stars)

Reading this book was me dipping my toe into science fiction waters. It’s an interesting story about a bright boy who is sent to train for a war when he is far too young, and the secrets kept from him. I enjoyed it overall, but there were parts that were slow and that did not enjoy as much. By the recommendation of a friend, I do plan to read at least one of the follow-up books, Ender’s Shadow. I’m also looking forward to the movie later this year!

4. Cinder by Marissa Meyer (4 Stars)

I absolutely adored this first book of The Lunar Chronicles, especially the friendship/blooming relationship between Cinder and Kai. Truly the most swoon-worthy romance (even though it was really a pre-romance) I’ve read this year! The only real reason I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 was because it was just way too predictable. Still, this was a great debut by Meyer!

6-4

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (5 Stars)

A heartbreaking book filled with beautiful words. I’m not sure what else to say without writing another review.

2. Start by Jon Acuff (5 Stars)

If you’ve been on this blog long enough or read my About Me, you know I have been influenced by author and speaker Jon Acuff, who has this idea that anyone can work towards their dream, but it may not always happen the way you expect it. I can’t really do his words justice, though. But if you’ve had a dream banging around the back of your mind, if you’ve ever wondered what your next step in life should be, if you wake up every morning wishing you could quit your day job, read Quitter and Start. They are five star books for me because if you follow his advice, it’s life-changing. I’m still in the middle of the process of working on my dream, and starting this blog has played a role in that. 

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (5 Stars)

Unbroken, the true account of a WWII fighter pilot’s life before, during, and after his incarceration at multiple Japanese POW camps is simply a stunning tale. I don’t read much non-fiction, especially long historical books like this one, but it always kept my interest, and Louie’s story never ceased to amaze me. If you only read one book on this list, it should be this one. I would recommend it to EVERYONE.

3-1

What have been your favorite reads this year so far? 

Review: Unbroken

unbroken

I don’t read much non-fiction, but I have been long interested in WWII history. Unfortunately, once I was finished taking history classes, it seemed I decided I was finished reading on it as well. I don’t think I was consciously thinking that, but keep in mind that it took me until last year to start reading for fun again. I asked for this book for my birthday and received it, but it took me a few months to get around to it because it was more intimidating that the young adult literature I had ready to read as well. But after hearing another high recommendation from a friend who doesn’t even care much for reading, I decided it was finally time to delve into it.

graphic-synopsisThe story focuses on a guy named Louie, who got in trouble a lot as a kid. That is, until his brother helps him focus his energy into running. Louie isn’t wild about running at first, but after a while, it consumes him. He beats high school records, gets a college scholarship, beats more records, and start setting his sights on the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He makes it to the Olympics, though he does not medal, but he starts setting his sights once again for the 1940 Olympics.

But then war begins, and international turmoil causes the Olympics to be cancelled. Louie ends up joining the service. In 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Louie was going to war. As an air serviceman, he was sent to Hawaii. He formed a bond with the men on his plane and other men in his camp, but it was a daily, pain-staking reality that many men would not return from their missions. And one day it was his plane that did not return. But Louie and two other men from his plane survived.

I don’t want to share too much more, because there is a lot to be said for going into this story blind. But I will say that after the plane crash survival, the story is all downhill for quite a while. Louie faces an extreme amount of hardship for the duration of the war.

graphic-thoughtsI knew this book was supposed to be amazing and have a hopeful ending, so I kept pushing through it. It was exhausting and grueling to read through all Louie’s trials, and Hillebrand does such a great job of putting you in Louie’s head and helping you understand the gravity of the situation. I like how she had not just his point-of-view though, but combines what he knows with what people on the outside knew then or what we know now from history, to paint a very descriptive picture that really defines the gravity of the situation. She seriously did her research. And then when he gets home and things seem to get better, things go wrong again.

But, in the end, there is hope and redemption. And it makes everything before it worth it, both for the reader and for Louie. It is emotional and amazing, and it made me respect our servicemen and women ten times more than I already did, especially my grandfather, who also fought in the Pacific during WWII. This is a book that I believe everyone should read (well, everyone about 18 and up I would say). It’s a story about the human spirit and history and how twisted man can become but also how forgiving man can be. It’s a story for everyone. If you haven’t read it, seriously, READ IT. And buy the printed version so you can get a good look at the great photographs scattered throughout.

graphic-quotable“If you will save me, I will serve you forever.” – Louie’s promise to God while he was lost at sea.

Have you read Unbroken? What are your thoughts? Have you read any other great WWII books I should add to my TBR list?