Psychology and Captivity:
There are certain aspects of being in the modern military that have to be faced or dealt with. The risk of death, for most at least is not one of the issues faced. You understand it may happen, you see it almost daily and it affects a person. That being said, when it comes down to active theatre and combat the brain develops methods to cope with stress and after affects of the role.
One of the areas I seem to find the most interesting is from captive training. It’s a fascinating subject, its effects on people are never text book and how people react can be as interesting as what is actually happening to them. I’ve talked about the important of your brain before. How it reacts to situations depends on how you are trained, how you actively condition yourself and ultimately how strong you are mentally.
Part of the training for most military ‘sectors’ cover what to do if captured. Being a prisoner of war does not mean that the fight is over for you, in fact, the opposite is very much true. This is where you could begin to excel at your role and bring to the forefront your brains abilities. The grey man ethos comes into play in a big way and you need to find a method to cope with what will follow capture. I wanted to skim the surface of this subject. I could write pages and pages on this subject and methods to cope but it would end up far too much for publication here so we will cover some important aspects.
This is going to be tough, there is no denying it. If this is inevitable and an event that cannot be avoided then accept that it will most likely be violent, you will be a prize and you are still at this point expendable. You are doing to get some level of a violent attack by the captors. You may be interrogated crudely at this point, asked questions, searched quickly or partially stripped. You will be full of adrenaline, you will be pushed, shoved, kicked, punched, pistol whipped and possibly more while being captured and while being transported.
Certainly your best bet is to get away as soon as you can if you are sure you can escape any bindings and the vehicle while putting ground between your captors and your location. Time and distance is really the best advantage between you at this point. Also the fact you may not be able to take injured parties with you. This can play heavily on you from the onset. Any party that was captured with you, that was injured prior or during capture will get the best care with the captors, NOT with you. It’s often harder to leave companions, and if they later do not make it the burden is a heavy one. You have to face this. If you are able to escape, alone or with others then the opportunity should be taken to do so. Any small victory will reward the brain greatly. If they demand you leave them, listen to their words.
Let’s be honest about this, it’s not going to be an entire floor of the Hilton. There will be no gold tapped bath for you and certainly no room service. You may be in a hut, shed, garage or other out building. It will be cold, wet, draughty and uncomfortable. This is where the strength of your mind will begin. Techniques will be adopted now to soften you up long before you really get to talk to anyone. You most likely will not be fed or have water. That’s part of the game for them. It will be used to tempt you later on. You certainly will be subjected to stress techniques by being put into positions designed to make the muscles burn, ache and hurt. Visual stimulus deprivation is common, so a black bag over the head makes your ears work harder and at this point your mind will race. They may throw buckets of water randomly over you through the day or night. They may make sudden loud noises, bangs, crashes and keep you awake. You will not be able to go anywhere for the lavatory so what you are wearing, which may be just a simple jump suit or covering at this point will become heavily soiled. This combination of methods builds a force to start breaking down the mind. You have to be strong here. Keep the mind busy, keep alert, learn to sleep in these stress positions and you can it just takes conditioning. Do anything that allows the brain to keep aware of what is happening around you, but occupied so it won’t run away from you. My best method for this is building a house. Plan every detail, you have the time what else are you going to do? You can’t work out the foundations without the plumbing and bathroom or kitchen and utility room considerations so that will help in the beginning. Work it out, go on seriously go wild. Think about where the shower will go, do you want an en suite wet room? What colour taps? Bidet? Double sink or single? A large mirror for the wife and a few shelves for her products and a smaller shaving mirror for you and a small shelf for your razor and toothbrush? (The humour here helps!) Work it all out in your mind and plan the pipe work for that, then build the foundations, don’t forget the damp proofing, cellar rooms, outer wall coverings of brick or wood. You get the idea, make it real, make it as detailed as you can and spend time doing it. This will help pass the time, stop the brain shutting down from lack of stimuli and stop you going insane from cabin fever. If you make a mistake in the construction, good, I cannot emphasis how good it feels to forget sewerage in the foundations and have to mentally dig up all your hard work to install it part way through as the problems it leaves you, makes the brain work harder!
It’s interesting to point out that while in Colditz during WWII they actually built a glider for escape in the attic. This level of resourcefulness as well as determination should not be underestimated or forgotten. Just because you are captive, does not mean to say you have to be a captive. Even looking at the Bridge over the River Kwai you realise that taking control of that problem, gave the best advantage. You are no longer a prisoner, an enemy or object you are an asset. To a large extent also, they were in charge of their own destiny, the taste of freedom was never so sweet.
So, here we are. The beatings have stopped, you are handed over to either a specialist team for questioning or you are moving up the chain to them. You most likely will have wounds dressed, often by a female to distract and give you something to cling too. Learn now, this is still the enemy, you are under scrutiny and realise everything you do will be reported back. No matter how subtle you think you are being, you will give something away. It’s important to learn that and adopt that grey man persona while keeping calm. Anything other than that is playing into their hands and without saying words you are giving an awful lot away. Don’t become any more expendable.
At this point a prisoner who is tired, cold, deprived and who has endured everything becomes somewhat ‘compliant’. You could easily say or do something that gives away more than you can ever take back. By being alert, having slept for short periods of time and being mentally conditioned you are in some way in control of the situation.
Questions here are not going to be straight forward. Most methods of questioning are not to get an answer but to gauge your mental condition, alertness and to see if you will admit to anything. Your equipment may be presented in front of you and you may be told to put some of it on. To fight this now would only lead to beatings. Proceed with caution while doing so and don’t rush, take your time, think everything through. A coat for example. Put it on, you may get to keep it.
Once the coat is on however, the rush to answer questions should be ignored. Think about what is being asked of you before you answer. Think the answer through some more and then answer. A typical example would be to make someone put on a jacket and be told it appears to fit.
Would you like to keep it?
It fits really nicely. If that’s not your jacket keep it. If that is your jacket give it to me.
Now look at the question again. Would you like to keep it offers some interesting results. If you do, then they know you are cold and suffering so what they are doing is most likely working. If you say no then it may get a lot worse for you until you do want to keep it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Would you rather have a jacket or no jacket?
The second part of the question also gives a lot away. It fits really nicely is a compliment and one that can open you up by answering it either way, as before by the ‘Would you like to keep it?’. You are admitting something at a subconscious level. Where possible, this type of question is best avoided for as long as possible. The second part of the question also offers an insight to the trained professional.
If it’s not your jacket keep it. If it is your jacket, give it to me.
Now at some point you are going to be saying something once again. If you give them the jacket, anything found in the jacket is proof of who you are, what regiment or training you have as anything found on or in or secreted in the jacket will tell them a lot. If you keep the jacket they will continue to find a way to get you to crack. The best answer? Drop the jacket on the floor. But that will only work for so long before they start all over again or you are tied to the kit pile until they work out more about you.
You may be paraded in front of your injured associates at this point and told that they are being looked after, that they are co-operating with them. They may even be given food in front of you while you are there to see if you crack. If it’s placed in front of you, get it down you as fast as you can. Know they are doing the same as you and trust your team no matter what they tell you.
Never sign anything, never confess to anything, and never respond on camera. Also never give details of family, if you have a wife or kids as it will be used against you. Give your name, date of birth, rank and number only. Don’t give it to them quickly, take a moment to think it through, do it slowly, and claw back that level of control for you. Respond like the grey man, not too much, not too little. Not too calm, not too aggressive.
Continue to play on injuries, ask for food or water, tea or coffee, that the guards stop beating you. Ask for the nurse to see you once again. Give away as little as possible for as long as you can. Keep building that house, you will want it later on. Don’t forget to plan the garden afterwards too, a fishpond is always a nice addition but in winter it needs some extra care. Find a way to keep the mind busy no matter what is happening.
Your own mind is their weapon:
There is some very clever and subtle ways to make the bravest of people afraid. When humiliation does not work, beatings, or water boarding you need something else. Unlocking the mind of the person you want to question to release their own demons is going to do far greater damage than you can ever do. That level of potential requires a certain type of stomach to do.
Chaining someone to a table and asking questions with the occasional punch is one thing, making that person fear you without a word is quite another. A covered medical tray full of an assortment of medical equipment and general things from the tool box or tackle box placed in front of someone in a poorly lit room as you enter and sit down without a word lets their mind race. It puts them on edge because you are not talking or asking anything, it’s a break from the previous encounters. Look at them, stare at them and let them take you in. Let a few moments pass. Look them straight in the eye and lean in a little with your head slightly down, hands out a little in front of you. Take a shallow breath in and in one low tone say the words while pulling back the cover on the tray.
‘I’m going to ask you a question, and I don’t want you to answer’
Now the presentation of what could happen is in their mind, they are actually making the blanks of this fit to their own fears. This will achieve far more than you ever can. It’s one of the best assets for situations like this and once the mind starts to race it’s often difficult to silence it again.
Control the Mind, Control the Person.
Do not let them do this to you, stay in control. This is where the mind you are in charge of will work for you and not against you as you tire or succumb to mental changes. There is a time and a place for this practice, and if you make a threat it has to be seen through to completion. If you tell someone you will nail their knees to a chair to so you can talk you have to firstly make sure they are seated on a wooden chair, then show them a large hammer and two twelve inch nails. The joining of the items together puts their mind in no uncertain terms that you are telling them you are going to do it, the equipment is available for you to do it, and that you will do it. That fear, once again, works.
Know it may actually happen to you, but that the pain will stop eventually if you are on the other side of the table. Prepare the mind. It’s your greatest asset. Keep yourself in control, keep it occupied with other things and allow it to take a moment when the need arises so that you are sure of what is happening. You can deal with pain, beatings, abuse and direct confrontation. The subtle methods are the ones that in reality you fight yourself over. Control comes in many forms and from many angles. Being aware of them, can help calm you in tough situations, not make rash decisions and realise how fascinating the human mind is, as well as how delicate or fragile it can be.
Know your own weakness, don’t let them know it.