groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 30 Jan 2004 - 05:45:03 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu"

    I'd love to see the resident memeticists stop jawboning about the isolationism of the SSSM and take up the gauntlet of explaining an event in history (a field probably too soft for memeticists) better than a social psychologist named Irving Janis. With social psychology being a
    "soft" social science this should be an easy one for the memeticists to conquer and raise the flag of Universal Darwinism. Maybe this would take some effort on the isolated memeticists part as they would have to find the source material, Irving Janis's book _Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes_ (1983. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston) and merely concentrate on one chapter called "In and Out of North Korea: "The Wrong War with the Wrong Enemy"" which analyses military policy decisions made by Truman and his advisory group when considering the push of MacArthur's forces beyond the 38th parallel in Korea and towards the Yalu river (ie- threateningly close to the Chinese border) in trying to conquer all of Korea for Syngman Rhee's friendly gov't against Kim Il Sung's forces. Truman et al discounted the ChiComs and their bellicose threats and when the push towards the Yalu ensued MacArthur's forces suffered a massive waved assault by the ChiComs.

    Social scientist Janis looks particularly at the decision making process of Truman and his group, including Dean Acheson resulting in this major confrontation with Chinese forces which, after the defense of the Pusan perimeter and the subsequent landing at Inchon allowing MacArthur's forces to take Korea back up to the 38th parallel negating the success of the North Korean invasion of the South, resulted in a setback instead of total victory against the North Koreans. Memeticists might want to put down the Dawkins and Dennett books and actually read some history and maybe familiarize themselves with the social psychological concept of groupthink. Janis, to his non-isolationist credit, refers to historical works when conducting his analysis through the lense of groupthink.

    I'll leave it to aspiring memeticists to find this book and read it, but here's a good quote or two...:

    (bq) "Social scientists who have analyzed the decision to occupy North Korea- De Rivera, George, McLellan, Neustadt, and others - infer that the members of Truman's advisory group genuinely believed that there were solid grounds for recommending the escalation decision and that they exerted a strong influence on President Truman." (eq) [ Janis- page 70]

    Notice Janis uses the term "social scientists" above without scare quotes? I wonder if these social scietists were under the spell of the SSSM...

    Another quote:

    (bq) "In summary, the main reason for the members' concurrence on the ill-considered escalation decision was that Truman's advisory group was adhering to a set of norms that were promoted by the leader and that all willingly accepted. These shared norms enabled the members to maintain a sense of group solidarity at the expense of suffering from many of the major symptoms of groupthink. The most prominent symptoms were excessive risk-taking based on a shared illusion of invulnerability, stereotypes of the enemy, collective reliance on ideological rationalizations that supported the belligerent escalation to which the group became committed, and mindguarding to exclude the dissident views of experts who questioned the group's unwarranted assumptions." (eq) [page 71]

    George Kennan was one such dissident and Janis [page 60] earlier points to a possible mindguarding role for Dean Acheson as member of the in-group.

    Now I wonder if memetics and evolutionary psychology can effectively compete with Janis's groupthink suggestion or if they can put forward any viable theses regarding this historical event during the Korean War. For some reason this social science hating isolationism of the universal Darwinists threatens to translate into a typical Procrustean bed when applied to a topic so complex as this one. Were are the memes and the genes selected in the EEA when you need them?

    At best someone could argue that the prevailing mindset of anti-communism played *a* role in this mess, but to rely on this expanation exclisively would be to greatly oversimplify a complex phenomenon.

    What would the biologists say that historians and social scientists should listen to?

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