The author of this book does not say so, but the alert reader will soon discover that this is indeed one of the author’s implied assumptions. One would expect from the erudite author, some explanation for the incredible scientific success displayed by anonymous Islamists who allegedly threaten the national security of the United States and – if one believes the UN Security Council – international peace and security. Yet, while the author refers to efforts in brainwashing by North Korea or the Soviets in a bygone period, the author does not allude to the alleged feats by non-state Islamists, who apparently have succeeded in these efforts.
One of the assumptions, repeated throughout the book, is that brain research by the military is mainly concerned with “building better soldiers” (the title of Chapter 6 of the book). He mentions the need to reduce soldiers’ fatigue, sleeplessness, hunger and increase their cognitive capacity. The author, however, does not provide evidence for that this is truly what motivates this research. The falling ratio of U.S. combatants in military conflicts since 1991 demonstrates that increasing their combat performance would hardly serve a policy purpose. In the Gulf War of 1991, 148 US servicemen died as against 100,000 Iraqis. It is alleged that most U.S. casualties were the result of friendly fire. Similar, though not so extreme, ratios are found in later conflicts.
The author writes that “since the fall of 2001, government funding for science has gradually been repositioned to address terrorism-related issues.” (p. 46) As an example he mentioned an initiative of the Bush administration called Project BioShield, which provided “an initial outlay of $5.6 billion for new treatments for high-profile health threats such as smallpox and anthrax that might be used as biological weapons.” (p. 46) Regardless whether that outlay was truly directed towards the stated goals or for other purposes, it demonstrates that the author has accepted the claim, that current government strategies do not focus on traditional warfare but on defeating terrorists. Improving soldiers’ combat performance does not fall within this type of warfare. Something does not add up in the author’s logic.
Considering the policies pursued by the world’s governments, it appears that they do not prepare themselves primarily for traditional, inter-state, warfare, but towards warfare against their own citizens. The emergence of national-security states since 9/11, including wall-to-wall surveillance of entire populations, systematic collection of personal data by governments and their preferred corporations, the development and deployment of security devices, training and equipping police for urban warfare, and the broadening of criminal law to “suspicious conduct”, provide sufficient indicators whom governments regard as the future enemy. This makes perfect sense, as more and more people are losing faith in the capitalist order and the class of the super-rich need to protect itself.
The author takes also great pains in justifying brain research by the military by invoking the health benefits that could be reaped. While it cannot be denied that research funded by the military has historically yielded positive fruits for civilian life, it is difficult to believe that the military fund research mainly to cater to civilian needs. The author does not provide a better explanation. While mentioning the various experiments in so-called mind-control carried out in the 1950s under the auspices of the CIA, the author does not provide insight into the state-of-the-art of such experiments, including hypnosis.
In my first paragraph I mentioned the apparent feat of fundamentalist Muslims to brainwash their young, including university graduates, to act contrary to their self-preservation instinct. Take the case of one Mohamed Atta, who was allegedly brainwashed by Al Qaeda mentors and ordered by Osama bin Laden to attack the US and die. Atta was an educated person: Architect and town planner. What technique did Al Qaeda operatives use to make this sensible and gentle man commit mass-murder and kill himself? If one accepts that this is indeed what had taken place, an author writing an academic book on brain science would be expected to demonstrate his curiosity about techniques of mind control that the US military apparently has not yet achieved. Or, alternately, the author would dismiss the legend that young Muslims are brainwashed to kill themselves, but in that case he would, like other scholars, “have an understandable reluctance to jeopardize relationships with research funding sources” (p. 20).
As a reader, I am torn between the view that the author suffered from blind spots, nurtured by his relationship with the national security establishment, and between the view that his book is deliberately deceptive by leading readers to believe that current neuroscience research funded by the US military is essentially defensive and benign in character.