Interview with prof. Phillip Zimbardo about Iraq, military and education

Discussion took place in profesor Zimbardo’s house in San Francisco 2nd of July 2015.

CLpTlZkWEAAGTDI This meeting was a part of my visit as a fellow in the Hoover Institution. First we had a good conversation through the skype and Professor Philip Zimbardo invited me to his house. There was the continuation of the discussion in that beautiful house beside the Lombard Street in San Francisco. We spoke about many things and this script is just a part of the whole discussion. I had two objectives in this conversation. First was to consult my research about the war in Iraq and it’s influence on US policy. Second was to discuss Professor’s projects. Especially the Hero Imagination Project (HIP) which Professor was so kind to invite me to join it. I admire professor’s works and I believe, that he deserves the Nobel prize for his famous experiment  (even if it was very controversial). This meeting was form me much more than just a consultation or talk. I’ve met man who is legend, as my Egyptian friend Sonia Azer told me when I told her about this meeting. I find his works – his experiments and his projects very basic for the explanation of all wrong what is happening today. Iraq, Ukraine, Palestine, Israel, Yemen, Somalia, Rwanda, Serbia and Bosnia Stalin or Hitler and now Putin or Assad, all wrong starts from the peoples mind and most of it can be explained and described by the Stanford Prison Experiment.

MM – Do You think the psychological trainings in area of intercultural communication or similar to Hero Imagination Project would be helpful for soldiers in Iraq?

PZ – I’m an academic, I work with the high schools and students, but it (HIP) should work for the military of course. The new idea of soldiers, in a peace time, is not to learn how to kill. It is learn people how to appreciate each other.  After Abu Ghraib, I was expert witness to one of the guards who had the night shifts when the prisoners were abused. I said: when You went to Iraq, what was Your cultural training, how did they prepared You to deal with the people of so different culture? He said we had thirty minutes I asked what did they teach You? He said, they gave him the list of all the things they shouldn’t do. But it was nothing about the different religion, about conflict between the Shia and Sunni, nothing. So this was a failure of the military education form the top down. Soldiers have to realize those people have very rich history, they civilization was ancient even before America was even discovered.

MM – What I do in Hoover Institution Archives is an juxtaposition of the US commitments made to the Iraqi people with the decision making process and it’s consequences which created the real disaster for the people there. In Hoover Institution I have found few collections of the materials spread in Iraq and Afghanistan at the beginning of both interventions. In my opinion two major thing which were made wrong in Iraq (despite the reasons of intervention which are also very questionable): lack of proper psychological training for the military and the wrong decision making process. Those two created the so called „Lucifer Effect”.

PZ – Yes, the first thing was the promise and another delivering it. There was a big gap. I’m against the war, but if You go to war, You can do it in a good way or a bad way. That was the bad way.

MM – In my opinion the most important in Iraq was to win support of the Iraqi people – Shia, Sunni and Kurds.

PZ – So if You look on our project of Hero Imagination, You would see it could be also a soldiers training.

MM – I assume it could be implemented as the basic training in the military schools or academies?

PZ – Yes, it is very basic understanding of human nature. Why the people do good things, why the people do bad things. How to get people who do nothing to do something. Because if You have to do something You better do the right thing.

MM – In my opinion, what You do in HIP and what is Your work about, is so basic that it fits all areas of life: military in Iraq, primary schools, students, Ukrainians trying to assimilate in Poland (like in my University in Rzeszow) and so on. Problems starts from the teachers too, many of them in all levels make a lot of mistakes. They don’t have the intercultural preparation so they also use prejudice.

PZ – It is called the teacher prejudice.

MM – like in that another experiment of the Jane Elliott with the Blue eyes-brown eyes children in the primary school.

PZ – Oh yes, we have that lesson in our program and we use the video from that experiment, actually I work with the Jane Elliott personally. When she did the study I have to come to Stanford and she teach me what she did and lectured me on it. I have analyzed all of her data for her. Video is so powerful. You can talk a lot, but that video makes the impression. So now for the record I would like to say, that I Philip Zimbardo would like to work with You Maciek to export our programs on understanding human nature both to Your students through Your institute (Institute for the Research of the National Security in the University of Information Technology and Management) but I am sure it would also work for the military which would be unique. I didn’t prepared it for the military, although I had lectured in America at the West Point and Annapolis (United States Naval Academy) and they actually used some of the ideas from the prison study in what they called the SEAR program – Survival Evasion Resistance Escape. So they play the war games with some people pretend to be the prisoners who escape, and the other ones have to capture them and interrogate, to see if they can get confessions. In many cases, even though everybody knew it was a game, the people who were to catch the captives, physically abused and in some cases even sexually abused the other soldiers. It was a big scandal in the military. So now they use the Stanford Prison Experiment as a warning of the abuse of power. Because even if You know it is a game, like in these prison cells, they knew it was a game, You cross the line and it becomes the real that You are prison guard and not the student. So the main ideas are so general, that when I came to West Point Academy and Annapolis they told me: „Your video is in our program, they watch that in the training”. They make a warning of what can happened. So these are important areas of my work. We have now the non profit foundation in Poland, but we need to expand so we could divide it into divisions – one will be military, other primary schools and another college. So we will meet in Katowice 28-29 of August and You need to have the panel there about Your experience.

MM – Thank  You. I would like to participate in it. Thank You also for Your proposal of working together and joining Your projects.

PZ – I’m sure it will be an important part of it. Now the other thing is, that in America, the strongest influence on education have a group called PTA – Parents Teachers Association. It doesn’t exist in Poland. I have met with the parents association and I have asked: „Do You link the teachers?” They answered: „No, teachers are like the enemies”. I have said, that only parents plus teachers have the political power to change the system! So this is my another idea, how to get the parents association to create a new organization which is parents and teachers in improving the education.

MM – I have to admit that the ground for that is getting better now in Poland. Ministry of Education pressures the primary schools directors to implement the parents. But the objective is just to make the school and lessons more interesting with help of the parents. There is no will to use such cooperation for the system improvement.

PZ – So look: in America the PTA is a very powerful group. They have political influence, they have more money for the schools, they can prevent the school from the closure if the administration wants to do that. What I find also not good in Poland is lack of philanthropy. Rich people don’t have a concept of giving back. They should pay for the good projects which helps the society.

MM – Yes I believe it’s a huge problem in Poland to find a donors. Even if You have a great projects prepared You need to know people to get donations. Thank You for inviting me to Your projects. So we will meet and discuss all of the details in Katowice in August, but I would like to invite You to Rzeszów to the University of Information Technology and Management and to my newly founded Institute for the Research of National Security. If You could find some time I would be very happy to host You there.

PZ – I will try to find some time to get there too. It is not so far from Katowice where we will meet at the end of the August so I will try.

Finally I was invited for the conference in Katowice where the main issue is the project which meant to start the revolution in Polish education system.


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Autor: Milczanowski Maciej

Maciej Milczanowski Maciej is a former professional soldier, participant of two foreign missions: UN in Golan Heights commander of platoon and position (1997-1998) and NATO Iraq Battle Capitan in Tactical Operation Center (2004-2005). Holds an MA in National Defense Academy in Warsaw and Ph. D. in Jagiellonian University both on politics in ancient history and he now works in University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland. Visiting Fellow in Hoover Institution, Stanford University. CEO of Institilute for Research of the National Security and leader of the Zimbardo Center for Conflict Resolution (Z-CenterC&R)

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