The Modern Era: Groupthink vs. Vigilant Appraisal
GOVT 2305: Federal Government
Professor Darrell Lovell
16 June 2014
The Modern Era: Groupthink vs. Vigilant Appraisal
In the cold events of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President John F. Kennedy had to turn to
another group decision method, one that would work in the facing Cuban Missile Crisis. The
presence of groupthink was rather too problematic in effectiveness. As defined by Irving Janis,
groupthink occurs when irrational choices in the comfort of group security are enacted, made
possible by a number of factors: extreme negative views of the enemy contribute to the desire of
taking extreme risks in retaliation; constant pressure bars members from expressing disagreement
towards other members and important figures, such as the leaders of their representative groups
and, obviously, the president; the desire of being secure in conformity and unanimity prompts
members not to take awareness in consequences and ethics of their decisions.
In an accomplished contrasting effort in the face of the crisis, Kennedys antithetical
framework of vigilant appraisal is marked by the feeling of insecurity and irritableness,
attempting to rectify the factors of groupthink, those of which include limiting the involvement
of the president in the sessions, assigning each member the role of critical thinker, and allowing
decisions to be questioned upon deep consideration of the potential consequences. However,
Kennedys effective tactic would only be used in his era as other leaders fall back on groupthink.
With a shift towards the unitary system of decision-making due to the nature of hysteria,
the lower levels of government tend to adapt a more groupthink-like approach. The unitary
system involves an individual having central reign over the decisions involved with little to no
criticism left to the public or the workers. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took over the presidency,
he began New Deal programs, dominating over the government in passing new reform, relief,
and recovery legislations (New). With one-fourth of the nation gripped by unemployment, low
morale would be commonsensical, yet they all experienced high vitality, despite the bare
improvement actually done. By Roosevelts nearly complete takeover of the government, the
matter of the Great Depression gave rise to two approaches throughout the pre-Kennedy era: the
existence of a catalyst to induce the unitary system and the importance of an established directive
to the people.
Indubitably, factors like fear and worry provided a desire to fall back on groupthink for
comfort. Congresss sudden willingness to pass multiple legislations such as the Emergency
Banking Relief Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act emphasized Roosevelts easiness to
influence their decisions during his first term. However, the president is not always the chief
ruler of the unitary-like system. At the height of the Second Red Scare, the public grew in
paranoia as negative attention was focused upon the gaining prominence of the American
Communist Party. Senator Joseph McCarthy was easily able to influence the State Department to
convict and execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for so-claimed espionage (Rosenberg). Even
President Eisenhower dared not to confront McCarthy (Joseph).
In addition, the early usage of the media provided reassurance to the people. Roosevelts
fireside chats gave the American public promising faith in the government and his programs
(FDRs). Even McCarthys televised hearings relieved the American people from the alleged
communists in the nation, even though most of them were probably innocent (Joseph). Both
cases emphasize early media as an advocate of groupthink and the medium to relieving the
worrying factor, for the comfort of the people is reciprocated in and by the comfort of officials.
Adversely, although the post-Kennedy era continued to see the existential catalyst as well,
the media played a different role: its growing state serves to attempt to limit the utility of
groupthink in the post-Kennedy era, especially with the increased involvement in international
affairs, but did not come about until the 1980s. The events surrounding the Watergate scandal
saw top executives negligent to protest in defiance the hysterical Richard Nixon, who was
already unpopular due to the Vietnam War, as the unitary-like system was still embedded
(Watergate). In the Iran-Contra affair, the National Security Council secretly sold weapons to
Iran and gave the profits to Nicaraguan contras not in fear but in desiring support of the rebels,
not accounting for the dire consequences (Vile). Even Kennedy himself saw use to attack the
irritable newspaper reporters and editors in an effort to censor the Bay of Pigs decision process.
The media soon began to become a devils advocate against the government, like that of CNN
and Fox News. The process is slow, given that much of television is geared towards
entertainment, yet the presence of the political media has impacted on politicians and decision-
makers, forcing them to look back on their past and current decisions. However, it is debatable
that barely any departure from groupthink has occurred. Despite opposition from other nations,
President George W. Bush proceeded with the war on terrorism in Iraq upon the September 11
attacks, his actions supported enthusiastically by the Americans (What). Negative extremisms
such as Saddam Hussein supporting al-Qaeda and fears upon the terrorist attacks left the
decision-makers vulnerable and wanting to feel safe as initial support for the Iraq War was
exemplified by much of the nation.
Since the Cuban Missile Crisis, there has not been any use of vigilant appraisal
unfortunately. Most of the presidents, both pre- and post-Kennedy, seem to have carried too
much of their own hysterias and worst moments of the time in order to fully depart from
groupthink and the unitary system, despite the potential archetype made during Kennedys term.
It is by nature for humans to wish to feel safe and sound. The only change is the role of the
media, which has developed over the decades to become more independent and critical of the
decision-making and has given sight to certain features of groupthink within the modern era.
"FDRs Fireside Chat on the Recovery Program." National Archives and Records Administration.
National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014.
"Joseph McCarthy." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2014. Web. 16 June 2014.
"New Deal." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2014. Web. 16 June 2014.
"Rosenberg trial." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2014. Web. 16 June 2014.
Vile, John R. "Iran-contra scandal." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2014. Web. 16 June 2014.
"Watergate." Watergate. United States Senate, n.d. Web. 16 June 2016
"What is Groupthink?" What is Groupthink? PsySR, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014.