There is a difference be-tween cruelty and sadism

Torure, hurting, others, is a subject most of us would like to turn away from. Nevertheless, some of us (we ourselves?) find descriptions and discussions of inflicting pain interesting or even exciting.

We see it in our kids — early on. Kinds are cruel. They will hurt their siblings, playmates, pets, even their parents.

They need to be told (over and over) that it’s not OK to hit, push, or slap and sometimes we need to turn the table so that “you see what it feels like to hit your sister or pull the kitty’s tail.”

However, we aren’t always successful, especially when we send our young people off to a war where we expect that, in the name of defending their country, they might engage in atrocities that would haunt them for many years to come.

Fortunately, there is a difference between cruelty and sadism. Sadistic persons demand dominance and control as they inflict physical and psychological suffering on others while they experience pleasure without remorse.

A sadist’s personality tends to be inflexible and his or her social functioning frequently impaired. Rarely do sadists seek treatment and, when they do, it is lengthy and not always successful.

(Group therapy is the treatment of choice.)

The majority of the American guards and supervisors at Guantanamo and Abu Graib most likely were not sadistic by nature. They were assigned to a job; they followed orders; they adhered to a blueprint designed by a group of psychologists (who, it is reported, were paid more than $180 million).

They should receive psychiatric treatment and be helped to return to a normal life.

It is difficult for the poorly informed public to judge matters of torture, especially when we are told that “valuable information” was obtained and we have not forgotten 9/11.

But the subject should be one of deep concern in the land of the free and the home of the brave,” especially at a time when we, once again are hoping for peace on Earth and good will to all men.

Editor’s note: Hedi McKinley, of Altamont, is a clinical social worker practicing in Albany.

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