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The Witch Trials of Salem Hysteria

Updated on April 29, 2010

Fear can make large groups of people do things that they otherwise would never think of doing. During the 1692 trials following a witch hunt in SalemMassachusetts an entire village was whipped into a hysterical frenzy by three adolescent girls. This was only possible because there was already an atmosphere of fear in the community. By the end of the witch trials of Salem nineteen people (a good number of whom were probably mentally unstable) and two dogs had been executed. The first cause of this fear was a nearby Indian war. The second cause of this fear was preachers like Cotton Mather and John Edwards. Mather and Edwards’s sermons on diabolism and hell probably had people convinced that the witches would start “blowing up and pulling down churches” any moment. In this atmosphere three mischievous youths were able to convince reasonable (and not so reasonable) people that their erratic behavior was actually do to witches, not their own desire for attention. These actions inspired by fear would not have been made had the people been treating the incident in a reasonable manner. One piece of evidence that points to the lack of better judgement among the people of Salem was the ridiculous kangaroo courts suspected witches in. the defendants were allowed no legal counsel, and could not call witnessed in their defense. Additionally anyone who questioned what was happening was also seen to be a witch; such was the demise of John Proctor. In this day and age, where people are not so afraid of such things, I could no more convince people that there were witches in the community than I could convince them to put my work in their literary magazines. As such, only in such a scared community could the populace be convinced to have two dogs executed for being accomplices to witchcraft.

            In the play The Music Man Harold Hill knows the first thing he must do in the community is create fear, for if the townspeople are afraid they will be easier to manipulate. To create this fear Hill sings the song trouble right here in RiverCity in which he makes the town’s new pool a “witch” that they need to be rescued from. Driven by fear the townspeople seek for a savior, which Harold hill is all too willing to provide in the form of a boy’s band. Marian the librarian is not scared and is therefor able to see through the deception. High-pressure salesmen know that scarred people are easy to manipulate and so they always find something that their victim should fear.

            One of the most important things for a soldier to do is to stay calm under fire. In order to instill this trait in even the greenest of troops most all military forces have added elements to their basic training designed to keep a soldier from panicking. One example of this is in boot camp marines must be able to sing the Marine Corps hymn in a room filled with tear gas. Preparing soldiers to deal with fear is one of the primary reasons for all the yelling and abuse USMC boot camp is famous for. The reason this is so important for the military is best summed up with the aphorism a scared enemy is a defeated enemy. Panicked soldiers do not use logic or reason they are likely to flea giving away the position of them and their comrades and will likely get them shot. Fear causes the worst debacle a military commander can face; a route. A route is the result of panic taking hold of an entire army, the command structure breaks down and troops flea the battle, while the army is confused and disorganized the enemy who is not panicked can coordinate their efforts and efficiently slaughter their fleeing foes.

            All these examples prove that fear is the most dangerous enemy of logic, reason, and common sense. Whether in the military or civilian life, public or private decisions, life or death situations or day-to-day situations, fear can severely deteriorate reasoning abilities. Whoever coined the phrase, “people are sheep” is, in at least some respects, correct. Sheep however, are not as likely to respond to fear with violence; this is what makes mob mentality dangerous. A man in a group is capable of violence and horrors he could never even consider while acting independently.


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      Chuck Norris 7 years ago

      This page was so helpful even I learned something from it (and I already knew everything).