Can one kill, conscience intact?
The Dark Side of 'Comprehensive Soldier Fitness'
The APA's enthusiasm for mandatory "resilience training" for all U.S. soldiers is troubling on many counts. This 2011 article is from OpEdNews, Mar 26. Roy Eidelson and Stephen Soldz are psychologists; Marc Pilisuk and Stephen Soldz are professors; and Marck Pilisuk with Jennifer Achord Rountree authored Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System.
by Roy Eidelson, Marc Pilisuk, and Stephen SoldzThe American Psychologist, the American Psychological Association's (APA) flagship journal, devoted its January issue entirely to a new U.S. Army-APA collaboration. Built around positive psychology and with key contributions from former APA president Martin Seligman, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) is a $125 million resilience training initiative designed to reduce and prevent the adverse psychological consequences of combat. The authors of the articles, all of whom are involved in the CSF program, avoid discussion of conceptual and ethical considerations; the special issue does not provide a forum for any independent critical or cautionary voices whatsoever; and through this format, the APA itself has adopted a jingoistic cheerleading stance toward this research project.
Although its advocates describe Comprehensive Soldier Fitness as a training program, it is a research project of enormous size and scope, one in which a million soldiers are required to participate.
Seligman explained, "This is the largest study -- 1.1 million soldiers -- psychology has ever been involved in" (a "study" is a common synonym for "research project"). Despite the fact that CSF is a research study, standard and important questions about experimental interventions like CSF are neither asked nor answered.
It is highly unusual for such a huge and consequential intervention program not to be convincingly demonstrated first in carefully conducted randomized controlled trials -- before being rolled out under less controlled conditions. Such preliminary studies are far from a mere formality. The literature on prevention interventions is full of well-intentioned efforts that either failed to have positive effects or, even worse, had harmful consequences for those receiving them.
In the 1990s, the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) substance abuse prevention program was administered in thousands of elementary schools across the U.S., at a cost of many hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet evaluations of DARE rarely found the desired effects. In response, DARE was modified in the last decade; however, subsequent evaluation found that the revised program actually increased later alcohol and cigarette use in those who received it compared to controls.
Investigative journalist Mark Benjamin noted the $31 million contract awarded by the Department of Defense to Seligman ("whose work formed the psychological underpinnings of the Bush administration's torture program") was no-bid.
Jason Leopold and others have raised serious questions about the "spiritual fitness" component of the CSF program, which appears to inappropriately promote a religious worldview as an important path to greater resilience and purpose.
Writers such as Barbara Held, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eugene Taylor and James Coyne have offered compelling critiques of positive psychology, including its failure to sufficiently recognize the valuable functions played by "negative" emotions like anger, sorrow, and fear; its slick marketing and disregard for harsh and unforgiving societal realities like poverty; its failure to examine the depth and richness of human experience; and its growing tendency to promote claims without sufficient scientific support.
Ironically, mandatory participation in a research study does not violate Section 8.05 of the APA's own Ethics Code, which allows for the suspension of informed consent "where otherwise permitted by law or federal or institutional regulations." Despite the APA's stance, we should never forget that authoritarian planning, no matter how well intended, is no substitute for the protected freedoms of individuals to make their own choices, mistakes, and dissenting judgments. Respect for informed consent is more, not less, important in environments like the military where individual dissent is often severely discouraged and often punished.
For many soldiers, combat awakens questions regarding the meaning of life and of its worth, which can become more persistent after returning home. Too often, veterans face anomie, lack of community, and the replacement of caring ties with the competitive values of marketability when their military service is over. CSF fails to help soldiers grapple with the ethical dilemmas involved in their duties, including killing others in furtherance of state policy.
The CSF program does not include a component whereby participants are invited to listen to fellow soldiers and veterans who have enhanced their own safety, well-being, and sense of purpose by refusing to comply with illicit orders, or by deciding, as have so many other American citizens, that the war they are fighting is unjust and immoral.
Every effort to support military operations is billed as "support for our troops". Whether it is the use of drones that kill from a continent away or tapping into a soldier's capacity to kill without a serious hangover, all are justified as for the brave troops. But the decisions to use military force are not made with the well-being of military personnel in mind, nor are they made by soldiers or even influenced by their desires. Master resilience trainers in the Army will not be urging soldiers to report violations of the rules of engagement by their superiors. They will not encourage soldiers to empathize with the humanity of the adults and children whom they may have killed as collateral damage, nor to use forms of restorative justice for apology and reconciliation that have a potential for deeper healing. And they will not encourage troops to build supportive ties with those critical of the wars they are fighting or the tactics required of them.
To see the whole article, click here.
JJS: How violent would the world be if policy makers had to carry out their own policies? Send their own children to do their bidding? A bit less violent, I bet.
Someday, perhaps psychology professionals would also ask normal people how they feel about getting unearned income from land (the traditional commons). Let the psychologists note how those in control cheerlead for policies that make speculation more lucrative. Then we might get some dissonance going, make people feel uncomfortable about benefiting from injustice, and perhaps we could reach that critical mass of people who’ll push for geonomic reform.
Don’t hold your breath. Instead, fill your lungs and give voice to reason. Question how taxpayers give politicians so much money, no strings attached, politicians give militarists so much money, no strings attached, and militarists give psychologists so much money, with strings attached.
Ask to whom public revenue really should flow. How about if each of us gets a fair share, a Citizens Dividend (from the recovered worth of Mother Earth)? Then, people might feel so much self-esteem, they’d not need to resort to acts of violence.
How about that for some armchair psychology!
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
This any way to mark Gandhi's birthday?
Bucking the Trend, Some Powers Did the Right Thing
No longer above the law?
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What are your views? Share your opinions with The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?